I was jotting down notes for my upcoming Working On It: Body Positivity post when I realized that I should probably offer some more background. Yes, I can post salads and turmeric tonics on Instagram and follow it up with a helpful blog article about being #bodyposi, but that’s not even close to the full picture. This is my body story.
It took me a long time to get where I am today. In fact, I often wonder if my chubby, low self esteem middle school self would ever believe I’d be in this place… Working as a registered dietitian, studying to become a yoga teacher, and writing a blog post about finally loving my body. (Probably not since I’m not sure blogs were even a thing back then, but you get what I mean.)
So here’s my story. I hope where I’ve been helps offer more context to where I am now, and I hope you find something for yourself in that transformation.
Growing up, I was overweight. Or chubby. Or fat. I’m not sure what the right word would be, but basically, I was bigger than the other kids. And while I wasn’t the coolest kid, I was generally well liked. Being smart and funny worked in my favor. But that didn’t make me immune to ridicule based on the extra flesh I carried.
I remember taking the bus home from school in 6th grade and there was an 8th grader sitting up front with the rest of us younger kids. Normally 8th graders sat in the back, but the driver would save the two front seats for the poorly behaved. So, needless to say, this kid was a troublemaker. Anyway, I don’t remember all the details, but I do remember him calling me a piggy and pointing out my double chin. It’s been fifteen years and I still remember my shame and how much it stung. There were other incidents just like this, almost always perpetrated by petulant boys.
In early high school, I grew into my body a bit so I started looking more average, but I wasn’t necessarily healthy. I ate as much fast food as my parents would allow, drank Diet Coke daily, and hated physical activity. Hate honestly isn’t even a strong enough word for my disdain. Those state-mandated physical activity tests were my personal hell. We had our body fat and weight taken publicly, and then we had to do a measured number of exercises like push ups, crunches, etc. We also had to run a mile in under 12 minutes, a task that I barely survived, wheezing all the while. Writing this now, I have this faint, phantom feeling of anxiety leftover from those dreaded days.
I dieted on and off throughout my middle & high school years. I’d started and quit Weight Watchers a handful of times before I graduated. Nothing ever worked, and I always felt like a failure for having tried. I felt stuck in a body I wasn’t happy with and and it was one that I didn’t think anyone else would ever like either.
In college, things started to change a bit. I added nutrition as my second major in my sophomore year. Because of my history of dieting, I always understood the link between what you eat and how you look and feel, plus I have always genuinely loved food. Some things never change. I started studying nutrition and my lifestyle became healthier, at least as I perceived it at the time. Looking back, it was still kind of a mess. I calorie counted my way to a personal low weight at the beginning of my junior year, and then gained 10-12 pounds back in the spring semester studying abroad in Barcelona. I came back, started The Slender Student (heeeey to everyone that’s been reading my stuff since then), calorie counted my way back down to a happier weight, and then never. stopped. counting.
I counted every calorie and macro gram I ate during my senior and fifth year of college. My food scale lived on my kitchen counter so I could measure and meal prep nearly every meal I ate. I felt like I couldn’t even trust myself around food. It all had to be measured. I started doing cardio and strength training about 5 times a week. And I was so frustrated why I wasn’t continuing to lose weight doing all that while on a 1200 calorie diet. I decided to get my metabolic rate tested on campus and found that instead of burning the 1400 calories a day that my frame should burn, my RMR was only about 1100. I’d stifled my own metabolism and annoyed most of my friends with my obsessive behavior.
Now that I’m an independent woman (thank you very much), I’m able to see how toxic some parts of my college experience really were. Living with all of my closest friends was incredibly fun, but the diet/drink/binge cycles that are commonplace for so many undergraduate women absolutely took a toll on me physically. And, beyond that, it is really hard to grow or maintain body confidence when you’re surrounded by other (amazingly intelligent, incredibly beautiful) young women who insist that they’re fat, ugly, and/or dumb. I am still friends with so many of these ladies, and it brings me so much joy to see how much we’ve all grown since then.
My world really changed in my first two years out of school. Something about becoming independent really fueled a new fire in me. I moved back to Houston and started working for Snap Kitchen. My confidence grew as I received positive feedback at work (“words of affirmation” is my love language, hello), which encouraged me to live boldly in other areas of my life.
I started dating, I intentionally befriended women who were confident and inspiring, and I started the Houston Food Blogger Collective. All of these little things amounted to a big boost in my overall perception of myself, which made me think a lot less about the way I looked. This was a far cry from my old “look in the mirror, hate yourself, weigh yourself, hate yourself more” routine. And then, after some time, it all came full circle and in the moments that I did think about my appearance, I actually started liking it! Hurrah!
My nutrition philosophy also began to change around this time, which I believe also played a role in my new found self-acceptance. Through working at Snap, I really started to appreciate what we call the transformative power of real food. And then when I did my first Whole30, the deal was sealed. Instead of needing a certain number of calories to tell me whether I’d had enough for the day, I retaught myself to eat intuitively by focusing on nourishing myself with real food, not all the processed, artificial diet food I’d defaulted to in the past.
So that’s the long and short of it. I’m not saying that I have it all figured out, or that I never bemoan the existence of cellulite on my thighs, or that I love seeing every photo of me from the back or profile. There are still some moments that I put undue pressure on myself and my body, but those are fewer and farther between with every year that passes.
Today, I don’t diet. I eat mostly real food but make room for fun food experiences with friends, because life is too short to not eat cacio e pepe from Emmer & Rye. Today, I don’t punish myself with exercise. I don’t workout to change the way my body looks. I do yoga or lift weights because it makes me feel healthy and strong. And I don’t run because I hate it, and I’m just not doing stuff I hate to my body anymore!
Today, I am grateful for my body. It allows me to do incredible things like digest food, practice yoga, and present in meetings. Plus, I think my butt looks awesome in Good American jeans. And I’m saying that out loud on the internet because I want us all to feel amazing about the way our butts look.