“We need to start focusing on what matters—on how we feel, and how we feel about ourselves.” ~Michelle Obama
Do you remember the little girl (or boy) in you? The kid who ran, jumped, danced, laughed anywhere and everywhere they felt like it—before someone told them to shush, that they were too big, too loud, too much.
The kid who didn’t even know what a scale was before someone told them their size was wrong.
The kid who just ate—before someone gave them a mile-long list of “bad” foods and made them scared of food and distrusting of themselves.
After over two decades of fighting with food and my body, I’ve spent the last four years reconnecting with and relearning to trust the little girl in me. And it’s been glorious. The little girl in me, before she was taught to suck in her stomach, lift her boobs, hide her flaws, ignore rumblings of hunger in her belly, or endure the excruciating pain of the perfect heels because beauty is pain and only skinny matters.
We were born into bodies that we loved. Bodies that fascinated us. We learned to run, jump, dance, with no thought of how we looked while we were doing it.
Our relationship with food and our bodies was easy, joyful, and magical.
We’re born into bodies that know how to eat. They know what they need, when they need it. They know what makes them feel their best and what doesn’t, and they instinctively want to move and feel good.
They also come with all kinds of built-in functions designed to communicate with us so we hear their signals.
But slowly, it all changes. We hear people making jokes about weight gain. We hear those around us talking about being fat, needing to lose weight, or otherwise being self-critical. We’re warned against “bad” foods—“Careful, you’ll get fat if you eat that,” as though it’s something we should be afraid of.
And we’re told we are what we eat, as though we’re good or bad based on what food we choose to consume on any given day.
We start looking at ourselves and our bodies critically. We start learning that food comforts and we start learning to numb—to ignore the messages we get from our bodies.
The little kids in us get pushed aside. They get quieter and quieter. We stop trusting them and eventually we forget all about them.
All of a sudden, the wonder and joy with which we used to look in the mirror is replaced with feelings of disgust, distrust, and shame. We feel frustrated, discouraged, stuck…
Rather than carrying the joy and wonder for our bodies that we’re born with, we waste decades stuck in the never-ending trance of self- (and body-) criticism, chasing external fixes to make it all go away.
Because we’re taught to. The sickest part of all is that it’s usually in the name of “health.”
Like you, I grew up in a society where I learned that certain ways to look, eat, live, and be are good, and everything else is bad.
Those messages first became destructive for me in my teens, when I read my first diet book and started my first attempt to lose weight, get fit, and eat healthier.
I was already fairly small, but every time I looked in the mirror, I saw a reflection I hated because no matter how small I was, I was never small enough.
There was my life before that awful Atkins book and my life after. Before the book, I just ate.
After the book, every time I ate my favorite chocolate bar or even just a piece of toast, I felt bad and worried about getting bigger.
Over time, as I continued to try to “stick to” someone else’s rules about what I should be eating to “be good,” only to keep failing and gaining weight, the guilt turned into shame and judgment every time I ate almost anything.
My inner world was consumed with one ever present concern: I have to get my act together and get healthy. I have to get this weight under control.
I’d start and stop a new “weight loss” or “fitness journey” every other month. Vowing that this time would be different because this time, I had the perfect plan, the perfect goals. This time I’d be strict. This time, I’d be good. This time, I was motivated enough to stick with it and I was going to work extra hard.
It never lasted very long. I’d always “screw up,” lose motivation, “fall off the wagon” only to end up feeling even worse.
We pray for the day we’ll finally lose weight and all our problems will be over, the day we’ll finally be able to stand in front of the mirror and feel the way we used to feel—before the world told us our bodies were a problem we needed to solve and gave us a thousand different “solutions” that only end up making things worse.
And we’re taught the solutions to getting there lie in hitting goals. They lie in achievement. They lie in restriction. Deprivation. Suffering. Harder work. More discipline. More motivation.
If we just hit those weight, food, water, lift, run time/distance, step goals (and stick to them), then we’ll be happy and healthy. Then we’ll be living the “good” lifestyle.
So we try. Most of us have spent our entire lives trying, failing, and trying again.
What part of any of that is healthy?
But it’s how our population has been programmed to chase health and happiness. Through this warped need to achieve—to reach goals or see visible progress via the mirror or the scale or whatever.
But human health and well-being has never been about achievement or goal-setting. It’s not the result of how much you can restrict or deprive yourself, how much you suffer, or how hard you work.
It’s a moment-to-moment measure of our mental and physical condition, and it’s constantly changing based on a ton of different factors—only some of which have to do with our choices and none of which have anything to do with whether or not we have a thigh gap or what the scale says.
Yet, those things can make or break our mood, our inner peace, the way we feel about ourselves, and what we think we’re capable of or worth as humans.
We ride or die based on whether or not external measurements of success make us feel like we’re doing something right.
Forget about how we feel and what we need—just be good. Be successful. Follow the rules, hit the goals, look good on the outside.
Less than 5 percent of people will ever be “successful” at the whole “weight loss/fitness journey” thing, and since I was eventually one of them, I have to ask: How do you define success? We’re “successful” at what cost?
Yes, I failed for years, but I was also “successful” for years. I finally had what everyone spends their life chasing through all the diets, lifestyle change, fitness journey attempts, etc.
Was I happier? A better person? Healthier? No.
Sure, I looked it. I was celebrated for how amazing I looked, how hard I worked, how inspiring my “discipline” and “self-control” were. My Instagram account was peppered with #fitspo and before and afters. I regularly had comments like #bodygoals and questions from desperate followers asking how they too could achieve the same “success.”
But in reality? It destroyed me mentally and physically.
Even after I lost the weight, my life still revolved around the internal war I felt between what I thought I wanted to eat versus what I was “supposed” to eat to “be good” or “make progress” or hell, even just try to maintain the progress I had made. Because by that time, I used food as a coping mechanism for everything. And because reaching goals, forcing “lifestyle changes,” and even weight loss success doesn’t magically solve those kinds of food issues or self-destructive, self-sabotaging behavior patterns.
I ended up with bulimia and binge eating so severe that many nights I went to bed afraid I may die in my sleep because I’d be so sick from what I’d eaten.
But at least I was being celebrated every day for my “weight loss success.” At least I looked good. Right?
It’s all so toxic.
Because we’ve been taught to demonize certain bodies.
Because instead of self-trust, kindness, and compassion, we’ve been taught rules and restrictions, hard work, self-control, and “success at any cost,” while ignoring the underlying causes of weight and food struggles.
Forget about how we feel. Forget about what we need. Forget about the cues we’re getting from our bodies when they’re trying to communicate. Don’t listen to those.
Just behave and do what everyone else tells us we’re supposed to do.
We get so caught in this trance of obsessing over it all that we don’t even realize how miserable it’s making us, how much of our life it’s consumed, or how much damage that obsession and all those messages is doing to our health, happiness, and peace of mind.
We waste decades not only distrusting and disconnected from our bodies, but full on rejecting and fighting them.
Why? For health? Happiness? To feel good about ourselves? Because it’s just what everyone does so we think it’s what we’re supposed to do?
We wonder why we struggle so much while being completely disconnected from, and even at war with, not only ourselves but our our bodies.
No matter what it weighs, your body can and should feel like home. It should feel safe, loving, calm, and centered. But it’s very difficult to ever get there if you’re always fighting with it.
Taking care of ourselves and our bodies should never have become associated with work, punishment, suffering, or something that required motivation, discipline, or even lifestyle changes.
What do you suppose determines your lifestyle? Your daily choices.
And what determines your daily choices? Your programming.
That is, your thoughts, beliefs, and patterns of behavior. The vast majority of which have developed and been wired into your brain over the course of your life so completely that they run on autopilot.
That’s why they’re so hard to change and it can feel like we have no control over them—because until we actively work to change those things, we kinda don’t have control over them.
We just go through life in a trance being driven to repeat the same thoughts and behaviors day after day. If we’re not happy where we are for whatever reason, that’s all that needs to change. Change what’s going on inside and the outside falls into place.
The greatest tragedy of all is that all the outside noise has made us stop trusting ourselves, our ability to decide what we should eat, and follow through, and often, even our worth as humans.
All of which affects our choices because we treat ourselves the way we believe we deserve to be treated.
Really, all most of us want is to feel better, am I right? We want to feel healthy, happy, good in our skin, comfortable in our clothes, at peace and fulfilled.
Stop trying to punish and suffer your way there.
Healthy living shouldn’t make life harder. It should all make life easier, better, and make us feel better about ourselves.
It’s time to ditch the healthy living goals, the lifestyle change attempts, and hopping on and off the fitness journey wagon every few months. It’s not working.
Ditch the food rules and restrictions.
Ditch the plans and goals and to-do lists.
Ditch deprivation, suffering, and struggle.
Ditch the fear and distrust.
Trade them in for love. For self-acceptance. Self-kindness. Self-compassion. Awareness.
Get to know yourself so you can start understanding what’s going on inside that’s keeping you stuck in patterns that aren’t serving you. That’s where the power is.
Start finding your way back to that little kid, the one who felt like a superhero before the world taught her (or him) to fear, doubt, and live for achievements and goals.
Forget all the things you think you “should be” doing and start reconnecting with yourself and your body.
Pause and notice. Emotionally and physically—what do you feel? Where do you feel it? What is it trying to tell you?
Try putting your hands over your heart and just breathing.
Ask yourself, “What do I really want right now? What do I need?”
Tell yourself and your body, “I love you and I’m listening.”
Pay close attention to how you feel, physically and mentally, before and after you eat. Before you reach for that thing that you know is going to make you feel terrible ask yourself, “Why do I want it?” Is your body physically hungry, or is it a mindless, learned behavior?
Ask yourself, “Do I really want to feel the way that’s going to make me feel if I eat it?” If you notice yourself answering, “I don’t care” ask yourself why. Why are you purposely eating something that makes you feel terrible?
When I started asking myself those questions, I realized I was doing it to myself on purpose because I didn’t believe I deserved to feel good. That was super helpful information because then I could start practicing compassion and figuring out what I was punishing myself for, and ultimately stop.
We’re born instinctively knowing how to eat, but by the time we reach adulthood, most of the ways we eat and live are learned behaviors.
The beautiful thing about learned behaviors is that we can learn to change them if they’re not serving us, but it starts with awareness and kindness, not goals and restrictions.
The more you love and honor yourself and your body, the more at home and connected you’ll feel. The more at home and connected you feel, the more you’ll be able to hear your body when it tells you what it wants and needs.
You’ll recognize and trust hunger and fullness cues. You’ll recognize emotions and manage them more easily, without always needing to numb or stuff them. You’ll naturally start feeling compelled to move in ways that make your body feel better because you’ll hear your body when it asks for it.
The more you live from this place of love, trust, and connection, the more at peace you’ll be, and the better you will naturally start treating your body.
That’s when health and happiness really have a chance to thrive.
You don’t need another weight loss or fitness journey; you need a journey back to the place in you that is just love and trust.
That little kid I spoke of earlier? That kid loves you, trusts you, and knows what you’re worth and capable of.
That kid is still in you and you need each other.