“Focus on what you want your life to look like—not just your body.” ~Sarah Failla
Growing up I never had much concern for the shape or size of my body. Perhaps once in a while the idea of losing weight or beginning an exercise routine crossed my mind, but it was always fleeting and I was quickly back to gossiping with my best friend or writing a note to my boyfriend.
Once I entered college I gained some weight, what with the unlimited access to Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch (something that never, ever crossed the threshold of my childhood home) and no fewer than five local pizza joints that delivered to the dorms.
Still, though, I didn’t spend much time worrying about my health or what was going on with my body.
In my last year or two at school, I began going to the gym along with my roommates, and by the time graduation rolled around I decided I should try to go on a diet and lose the weight I’d gained in the last few years.
My attempt at slimming down worked, as a combination of restricting calories and increasing exercise will do, and soon I was off on my next set of adventures, which included working at a ski lodge in Vermont, traveling cross country, living for a summer in Montana, and traveling around the southern US, often living in a tent.
During that time thoughts about my body didn’t occupy much space in my mind, though at times there was a fear of weight gain. For the most part, though, I was living my life and enjoying my travels.
A few years down the line, though, things had taken a turn. I was uncertain about the future of both my romantic relationship and my career, and focusing on the health, size, and shape of my body became a very time-consuming diversion.
I began waking at 5:30 most mornings in order to fit in a workout, sometimes completing another when I got home from work. I began feeling a bit uncertain and afraid around certain foods, and felt the need to cut back on the amount I ate. I felt consumed with losing weight and changing the shape of my body.
Though many praised me for what they assumed was my healthy lifestyle, I was increasingly miserable. It didn’t matter that I was losing weight, I still thought my body looked wrong.
I spent more and more of my time, energy, and attention thinking about my body. I was never, ever in the present moment with myself. I felt paralyzed when it came to many life decisions.
When I look back now, I see clearly what was going on. I see that I was afraid, and that obsessing about the way my body looked gave me an outlet, gave me something else to focus on. I was trying to avoid my fear.
I wanted to do something big and bold and amazing with my life, but I was afraid I never would. I was unsatisfied in my relationship, but afraid of being alone. I wanted to do and be so much more, but the thought of change and fear of failure were too much.
Focusing on the food I put on my mouth, the size on the tag in my jeans, and the number on the scale made it possible to avoiding facing up to my deepest uncertainties.
Eventually, with much time spent in self-reflection, coaching, and counseling, I was able to move past my body woes. I was able to stop letting worries about my body stand in the way of taking big, important steps toward living a life I could be proud of and present in.
Today my life and focus is very different. I am very happily married, a mother, and a business owner. I am proud of myself for getting here.
I can’t wish away the years I spent dieting and overly worrying about my physical appearance, because doing so actually helped me cope with things I wasn’t yet ready to face. I wouldn’t have wanted to live that way long term, but at the time it provided me with a valuable escape.
The experience also gave me something I never expected: the ability to help others struggling with the same thing. For that, I am so thankful, because I have found a passion I didn’t know existed, one that wouldn’t even exist, had I not been through all of that.
If you find that you are putting excessive energy into worrying about your weight, size, or other aspects of your body, to the point where you are unable to live life in such a way that is satisfying to you, here are my suggestions for getting back to a place of balance:
Acknowledge that your worries have gotten out of hand.
Sometimes just realizing that something bigger is going on can be the key to getting back to a centered place.
Realize they’re just thoughts, and you can, with practice, make them kinder or even ignore them.
Just because the thought “I’m need to lose weight” crosses your mind doesn’t mean you need to believe it. You can shift it to “I would prefer to focus on what I like about my body” or even let the thought float by and not attach to it.
Learn to value, appreciate, and respect your body for what it is.
Your body does amazing things no matter what your size, shape, or weight. For instance, if you can see these words, it means your eyes work, and finding more positive things about your body is easy once you get started thinking about it.
Practice something that brings you to the present moment.
Being in the present helps you remove yourself from too much worry about your body and focus on what matters most to you. Maybe meditation isn’t your thing, but perhaps stretching, practicing yoga, journaling, praying, or even watching the leaves sway in the breeze will work for you.
Check in to see what you’re trying to avoid.
As I said, I used my body focus as a way to avoid what I was afraid of, so if you’re doing the same, try taking a peak at what’s scaring you in small, incremental sessions. You don’t have to solve everything right now, just begin to open your awareness.
Get professional help if necessary.
Food and body image issues are no joke, and if you’re suffering in a way that is negatively impacting your life, seek counseling from someone who is trained to provide the help you need.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with making an effort to eat healthfully and move your body in a way that feels good to you, it really all comes down to the energy behind your actions.
If you are choosing to exercise because it makes you feel strong and alive or helps you shake off the stresses of the day, that is very different from choosing to exercise because you are full of fear about your life or what would happen if you gained weight.
The same goes for your eating habits. If you are filling your body with healthy, whole foods because you enjoy them and love preparing them, that is very different from forcing yourself to eat a certain way because you are afraid of what will happen to your body if you do not.
Your body is a gift, and it deserves the best care. However, if your focus on it starts to get out of hand and prevents you from existing and inhabiting your life, or consumes your thoughts, it’s time to take a step back and shift your focus to what truly matters to you.
Woman exercising image via Shutterstock