I have struggled with weight and body image issues since high school. I’m not even really sure how it all started, I just know that it did. I remember being in dance and feeling the pressure to stay thin. When I look back at those years I realize how thin I actually was and how much I lacked any weight problems but in the moment I perceived myself to be “too big” and weigh “too much” in comparison to girls around me.
Fast forward to the end of high school. I had spent 6+ hours a week at dance practice along with occasional game-time performances and dance competitions. I did my brief stint in track and field as a (self-admitted) terrible sprinter. I was fit and active but still felt awkward and bigger than I thought I should be. Then I developed a condition that mimicked a seizure disorder and was placed on a medication for several months that had a known side-effect of losing weight. My already fit self dropped an additional 15+ pounds. I was still at a healthy weight but on the low side. I came off that medication right around the time I graduated and the lack of meds coupled with the sudden lack of physical activity made the weight come back. I gained back everything I had previously lost along with a few extra pounds. In college I felt like I was gaining the freshmen 15 along with the sophomore and junior 15. I had gained a decent amount of weight in a relatively short period of time and had both the stretch marks and the low self-confidence to show for it.
When I reached a weight that made me do a double take, I decided to make some changes. I did the well-known Insanity workout and joined Weight Watchers around age 19. The weight fell off quickly – not all of it but enough to get to what a BMI chart would consider “healthy” for my height. When I got to a comfortable number I stopped dieting and the intense workouts and was able to maintain the same weight for a few years without much effort.
Then I got married.
I know a lot of people say that when you meet “that person” you start to get more lenient in what you eat and how you care for your body and subsequently many people tend to gain a little weight. I don’t know if there’s any truth to that but I did start to put on a few pounds each year for 3 years. The 3-5 pounds didn’t seem like much until 3 years later. Much like before, I made a commitment to lose the weight. I had a diet all ready to go and got a gym membership just down the road. I started working with the trainer at the gym and then I got pregnant. Because I was so new to working out and what not, I took a break from the gym. Dieting also wasn’t a great idea with pregnancy. A few weeks later I suffered a miscarriage and then got pregnant again 3 months after that.
Pregnancy was HARD mentally. It’s really hard to know that you will gain weight and that you should gain weight but at the same time all of the pregnancy apps and resources were stressing over how much you should/shouldn’t gain…as if a pregnant woman has that kind of control over her body. So I stressed out big time. I scrutinized the scale weekly, if not daily. I would dress lightly for my appointments so that my clothing wouldn’t tip the scale too much. At one point my OB flat out told me he really didn’t care about my weight unless I unexpectedly gained 10 pounds in a few days. So that eased my anxiety about my weight gain. Then I developed gestational diabetes and got put on a really strict diet full of carb counting and restricting. My body started burning fat for energy because I wasn’t getting many carbs. I didn’t gain weight during my third trimester and even started to lose some of the weight I had gained previously. In my mind I was secretly relieved. Deep down I enjoyed seeing the number on the scale decrease weekly. I knew my daughter was growing just fine but a part of me was still struggling with the changes that were happening to my body not just in my body.
I was hoping that I would lose most of the baby weight when Olivia was born but I came home weighing just 3 pounds lighter because of all of the fluids I had during and after my c-section.
When Olivia was born I planned to breastfeed and believed the lie that the weight would just fall off while breastfeeding. It didn’t. I nursed and pumped several gallons of milk for a few weeks and my weight remained the same. So the baby weight stayed and to some extent I was a little okay with it for a bit. I found a way to give myself grace. After all I had just grown a human and had 2 pregnancies back to back.
As Olivia approached 6-8 months old, I decided to get more active and eat better which led to signing up for Weight Watchers again and finding a new exercise plan that excited me. I was doing well for a few weeks and had dropped the baby weight plus a few extra pounds. I was on track for getting back down to the weight I was when we got married…but dieting almost always leads to quitting which in turn leads to relapse.
The holidays came and went and gifted me with a few pounds back.
For the last few months I’ve been trying to figure out what diet would be best and what exercise program I can stick with.
I’ve been struggling to find enough motivation to commit to something for longer than a few days.
Finally I just decided to stop.
It’s time to break up with the scale.
For the better part of the past 14 years I’ve allowed a number on a scale or the number on the tag in my pants to dictate how I felt about myself. I’ve let numbers measure my self-worth or even how I think others perceive me. It’s affected my confidence, how I view myself as a wife/mother/friend, the way I view other women and friends, and ultimately it’s stolen my joy. A LOT of joy. I can wake up feeling great and have my entire self-esteem completely depleted simply by seeing an unexpected number on a scale. It forever changes my mood for the rest of the day.
I’ll even say that my struggle with weight and body image has affected the intimacy between my husband and me. It’s hard to imagine how your spouse is attracted to you when you don’t feel comfortable in your own skin. It leads to doubt and insecurity that can destroy intimacy faster than anything.
Somehow along the way I’ve grown to believe the lie that skinny equals beautiful and that skinny somehow makes you better. Some of the most incredible, beautiful, talented, and admirable women I know are not stick thin. They’re “average” and exude confidence being exactly who they are. Yet I can’t help but hold myself to some impossible beauty standards that even celebrities can’t achieve. Nearly every photo you see in magazines or online is photoshopped. It’s sad that the very people in the photos don’t actually look like that.
When Ben and I started offering Olivia solid food we quickly came across Feeding Littles and their approach to baby-led weaning. They built their entire approach upon the concepts of Intuitive Eating – which children are innately born with. If we didn’t get involved in telling a child what to eat or how much of it to eat, their natural instincts would lead them to having a diet that is balanced and full of variety because they can self-regulate how much they eat incredibly well. One of the key things the women from Feeding Littles talk about is sugary or traditionally “unhealthy” foods. They don’t make a big deal about them and actually offer them to their own kids as part of an everyday diet. Why? Because if you don’t make a big deal about sugary or sweet foods then your kids won’t either. The more we treat them like “special” foods the more our kids learn to view them similarly and ultimately crave them more strongly. The same is true of us as adults. Somewhere along the line society, culture, and media made a big deal out of fat and sugar and carbs (all of which taste great by the way) and we started craving these “taboo” foods more.
Ultimately, in my attempts to learn how to support Olivia’s journey and relationship with food, I discovered that my own is quite toxic and unhealthy. I’ve spent half of my life battling with the scale and yo-yo dieting, despising exercise because it felt like punishment for having a sweet tooth, and feeling like certain foods are forbidden because they aren’t “healthy”.
So in the middle of my most recent stint of dieting failure, I cancelled my weight watchers membership and started reading the Intuitive Eating book that inspired the women who have helped me finally start to realize just how deeply rooted my struggles are.
As Olivia’s relationship with food is just beginning, I’m learning how to start over and go back to the basics.
It’ll be a journey, friends, but I’m breaking up with my scale (perhaps I’m really divorcing it) and choosing to let go of the chains that diet culture has had on me for so long. I’m choosing to embrace who I am and let God and His Word tell me my worth, not a man-made number on the inside of my jeans. I’m choosing to teach my daughter that her weight and the size of clothing she wears says absolutely nothing about who she is or her worth. I’m choosing to believe my husband when he tells me that he’s attracted to me regardless of how much I weigh. I’m choosing a guilt-free relationship with food.
I’m choosing joy.