“Loving yourself is the greatest revolution.” ~Unknown
I’ve spent most of my life struggling with my weight and trying desperately to fit the idealistic image of beauty that our culture celebrates.
As a young teen, I was obsessed with magazines and all their secrets to be prettier and have a better butt and get your crush to notice you. I see now how desperate I was at such a young age to feel beautiful. Nothing seemed to work, though, as years passed and my need to fit the ideal beauty image only increased.
In high school I learned to skip meals, and in college I learned to combine food restriction with exercise. Even then, I don’t remember being happy with my body.
Over many years my body and my weight have changed drastically. Also, struggling with depression and anxiety has meant trying different prescriptions, all with weight gain as a side effect. It’s contributed to more body changes, especially in recent years.
The more my weight changed, the harder it became to reside in my own body. I didn’t feel like myself anymore, and I didn’t look or move like I once did.
I looked back on when I was thinner and remembered that I was unhappy at that size, but now I’d kill to have that old body back.
It was painful to look at myself in photos. I started avoiding old friends and acquaintances because I didn’t want anyone to see my new body. Every pound I weighed carried shame and self-blame. My body was the enemy and I was at war.
In the midst of trying new ways to manage my anxiety and depression, I came across yoga therapy. It was life changing for me. I found that I felt better after every session, even amid a severe depressive episode. To feel a mood shift in the slightest degree was miraculous, and I was hooked.
I needed more yoga in my life and, being the academic that I am, I decided to study it. I found a local program that specialized in training yoga teachers and yoga therapists, and a new journey began.
The first thing I learned was that yoga means union. It aims to unify the mind, the spirit, and (lucky me) the body. As a woman currently waging war on her body and studying yoga at the
same time, things were about to hit the metaphorical fan.
Not too many months into my yoga studies, I found myself in treatment for an eating disorder. I had to learn, or in some ways, re-learn, how to connect with my body. Turns out there are a variety of sensations and sensitivities in the body that we can (and should) tune into.
Our bodies give us subtle cues all the time, and when I started approaching my body mindfully, I became more aware of them. For example, as I was more mindful of my breath, I noticed that I’d stop breathing when I had a difficult thought or when I challenged my body to do something it wasn’t ready to do.
My body responded to every negative thing I did to it. When I starved myself or pushed my body past its limits, it responded with headaches and overuse injuries.
Once I realized these things were all related, I began to ask questions: Why am I so tired? Why do I feel so overwhelmed? Why am I pushing myself so hard? How do I begin to recharge? How do I honor my own needs?
This body I’d been at war with for so long turned out to hold the key to healing many wounds.
When I began listening to my body’s limitations and needs, I began to change. Learning to honor my body gave me the confidence to ask for what I needed. I tuned into when I was tired or hurting, and I set up new boundaries. Taking breaks when I needed them and stepping back from certain relationships actually left me feeling more connected and capable.
I realized it was time to end the war. My body deserved peace. It deserved compassion.
All those years of struggle have left a mark on me. I still tend toward eating disordered behavior from time to time, and still find myself comparing my body to those around me. Sometimes the body-hate speech in my head can still get so loud that I can’t hear myself think.
In my recovery, I’ve realized that countering negative self-talk is key. I’ve found a few things that help, and I’d like to share them in hopes of helping someone else who needs it.
1. Every time you notice body envy, thank your body for something it does well.
This will require you to be mindful about when you are comparing yourself to others or checking yourself in a mirror. Take a moment to purposely think about something your body does that is good for you. Doing this may not create an instant change in mindset, but it will, over time, help to re-wire some old thought patterns.
Some things you could thank yourself for are breathing, talking, hearing, and thinking. Maybe thank your body for transporting you from place to place, walking, frolicking, twirling. Feel free to be creative!
2. Find body movements that suit you.
Bodies are magnificent! They are capable of doing so many things. When we tune into our body’s capacity for movement and we’re active, we feel more connected to our bodies. In those moments of connection, we are more likely to be proud of what our bodies can do instead of ashamed of how they look.
Not every person is a natural athlete, so I’m not going to insist everyone start running marathons. You know your body and you know what you’re capable of doing.
Personally, I love yoga, as all good yoga teachers do. I also love the camaraderie of running activities, but I’m a walker. I walk 5ks and am planning to participate in a walker-friendly half marathon within the next year. It’s accessible to me and I feel good doing it.
Maybe for you it’s swimming or dancing or hiking. You don’t have to be the best at it, just enjoy it.
3. Scrub your social media feed.
Nourishing ourselves goes way beyond just what we put in our mouth; it includes what enters our minds.
Nearly everyone has some contact with social media these days whether it’s Twitter or Facebook or Instagram. These places are ripe for talk of new diets and weight loss before and after photos. Of course, it’s mostly full of weight loss stories because no one seems to post their weight gain to social media.
Anyway, I find it important to unfollow anything that’s unhelpful to you. If it elicits negative feelings about yourself, I beg you to consider deleting or unfollowing. Replace these feeds with more body neutral or body positive or health-at-every-size feeds. Add stories and images of successful people who look like you and who behave in ways that make you feel good.
4. Buy clothes you feel comfortable in.
I am so uncomfortable in tight fitting clothes, and I’m not present when I wear them. My mind is constantly focused on how others may be seeing me or interpreting my outfit when I’m uncomfortable in the clothes I wear.
So, I recommend going out and going shopping for a few new pieces that make you feel good. Ignore the numbers and go by how it makes you feel. Take a friend with you for support if you need it. It does improve your confidence when you wear clothes that really fit you.
5. Have honest conversations with your loved ones.
Set boundaries around diet talk. If certain topics and conversations trigger you to feel poorly about yourself, it’s important to talk to people you trust about your sensitivities. Loving friends will want to support you in this and are often really receptive.
I’m lucky to have lovely friends who are respectful of my boundaries and who are honest with me when I ask them questions about my insecurities.
I’ve asked my friends not to discuss diets around me and to avoid calling themselves “bad” for having seconds or eating dessert. Also, we agreed not don’t put our bodies down. Those things really affect me, so I’m grateful to have friends that understand that. I encourage you to find people you can trust and let them support you.
Finding ways to stand up to your own body-hate speech is so important. These little exercises may seem small, but over time can help make a difference. When we habituate self-compassion, our lives will change. Sometimes the smallest things can make the biggest impact.
About Lesa Ashlea Rankin
Lesa is a lover of cats, yoga, and writing. In recovery from severe depression and an eating disorder, she believes in compassion for all beings. Human connection gives her purpose. She is a yoga teacher and in her spare time loves to walk with friends, mentor youth, and read novels. She lives in suburban Philadelphia with two cats and her loving boyfriend.