Like most people born in the ’80s, I was a member of the clean plate club. I’d ask questions like “how many more bites?” and was always told to finish what was on my plate. My mother made sure that we had balanced meals consisting of protein and greens.
I kept up my plate-cleaning practices as I got older, but as a young adult, that quickly meant lots of takeout, fast food, and microwave dinners—all things that have a place in a healthy non-restrictive diet, by the way. But those things became my diet.
My eating habits didn’t change until I started working out in my late twenties. I was beginning to hear nutrition buzz words around the gym, like macros and BCAAs. Being too embarrassed to ask, I’d Google these new-to-me terms to figure out what they were. Slowly, I started thinking more about the food I was putting into my body. I lost around 40 pounds over the course of eight months by eating better and working out regularly.
This interest in health eventually led me to a new career a few years later. As I transitioned out of working in mental health, I pursued further education in nutrition and health coaching. I’m now a holistic health coach with a practice focusing on women and families. (I’m Nutritious Life Certified, too!)
Even still, I was constantly living in fear that I would fall back into my old habits. After living a mostly sedentary life, I was terrified I would lose my motivation and enjoyment of eating well and exercising regularly. I constantly looked at myself in the mirror. I scrutinized the roundness of my hips, measured various parts of my body, and chastised myself because the inches weren’t coming off.
Then I got pregnant…
I exercised throughout my pregnancy, but I really leaned into my carb-y cravings. I had gained weight in places I wasn’t expecting, and the weight didn’t fall off as easily as I had hoped. After I had my baby, I recorded my measurements on my bathroom mirror and took pictures of myself every single week. I’d cry and become angry when I didn’t hit my weight-loss goals, and I had a constant inner dialogue of self-harm and hate.
Rationally, I knew that obsessing didn’t matter. I knew that the doughnut I had for breakfast wouldn’t cause me to spiral out of control. But I would still beat myself up about it afterward. Worse, it seemed that the more I learned about food and nutrition, the more extreme I became.
I realized things were getting out of hand when I was about 24 weeks pregnant with my second son. I told myself that I was going to have a healthier pregnancy. Eat more vegetables but indulge consciously. And I was doing a really good job! I was indulging in extra calories, exercising, and enjoying a fair amount of fruits and vegetables. But I still had a full meltdown when I realized I was gaining more weight than I had anticipated. I was devastated.
My turning point…
I knew that my reaction was abnormal, so I reached out to a friend, who met my downward spiral with love and support. She gave me some amazing advice: don’t look at the scale. She reminded me of what I was carrying (my son!) and why I needed the weight. I already knew this, but I needed to hear it from someone else.
After my pregnancy, I fell back into some of the same habits. But at some point, I just let it go. Diving further into my own wellness journey and seeing the cycle of body dysmorphia and obsessive control over my eating habits and size made me feel a bit ill.
Seeking help from my friends, my doctor, and my therapist best friend helped me break the vicious cycle. I’d ask myself what I needed in the moment: water, food, rest? And if the answer was food, what kind of food?
Of course, I still have times when I look in the mirror and chastise myself for not having the perfect body, but I don’t let it consume me. I share my feelings with someone, or just say them out loud and move forward. Every day, I work to focus on what I’m grateful for, how my body feels, and what my body and my heart need. And during pizza night, I focus more on the laughter and time I’m spending with my family than feelings of food guilt. I know everyone’s journey is different, and trust me, I’m still a work in progress, but self-acceptance is well worth the effort.