Body, I give you permission to change 

Hey, bod. I give you permission to change. I trust you. 

Repairing my relationship with food, with my body and with myself is an ongoing and constant process. I’m learning that loving my body is about more than accepting its current form, but trusting it to change as it needs to. 

The balance between mental/emotional health and physical health is delicate. Each is important, but it’s my belief (and experience) that physical health will never contribute to happiness (and thus, an improved quality of life) if emotional/mental health is neglected, or if physical health is achieved at the expense of mental/emotional health. For those of us facing broken relationships with food and our bodies and selves, the two are often competing. And in a culture that celebrates appearance as an indication of value and worthiness, it’s common (and often celebrated) to push mental/emotional health to the sidelines. 

Switching gears to celebrate, elevate and prioritize mental/emotional health has manifested in my life in a few ways, including completely eliminating food shame; eliminating the need to (and act of) justifying my size/shape/food choices; believing experiences, moments and being present is always more important than food choices; and choosing to focus on my heart’s ability to impact those around me vs my appearance. 

For the first time in my life, I can see my body’s direct role in supporting my mental/emotional health. It’s allowing my mind and myself the space I need to stay mentally and emotionally healthy by adapting to accommodate these new practices I’ve adopted with the goal of healing my relationship with food. (Read: I’m gaining weight.)

In the past week spent with family and loved ones celebrating my brother’s wedding, these new practices were in full motion. I couldn’t tell you what I ate at the rehearsal dinner because it didn’t matter; celebrating with my family mattered. I didn’t skip meals to prepare for restaurant outings. I didn’t beat myself up because I was too busy to exercise. I didn’t bully myself when I snacked more in light of stress. 

I rolled into the wedding a little more rolly than usual, but I reminded myself that this event wasn’t about me–and certainly not about how attractive people perceive me to be–but about celebrating my brother, his bride and our family and loved ones. I refused to miss a moment, to not enjoy myself or to not be present because I was preoccupied with my body. I poured myself into serving and celebrating them, and I loved every single moment. 

But the day following the wedding was hard, and for the first time in a while, I had a hard time feeling good in my skin. I started to feel old tendencies creeping in, including a need to isolate myself, a lack of motivation and an overall feeling of “disgust” with my body. 

That’s when I realized it’s not enough to be ok with what I see in the mirror today, but I have to trust my body’s ability to take care of me, including its need to change. 

I lost me.

Three years ago, a therapist asked me, “When was the last time you felt joy?” I couldn’t answer because I couldn’t remember.

That was a life-changing moment; I was in denial about how much pain I was in, about how sad I was.

It took time, but I eventually traced my sadness to its source: I was lost. I had ventured into the world without defense, and allowed it to shape me into someone new. I became someone I wasn’t. And I stayed someone I wasn’t for so long, I lost me.

Relearning myself was a slow process. It was an odd process. I was amazed at how I remembered myself, like I was having a conversation with a friend I hadn’t talked to in years, and the familiarity of the time we spent together was resurfacing. And though I began reclaiming some parts of me that were true, a part of me was now also this lost girl I faced in the mirror, and she brought amazing empathy, compassion, desperation, awareness of self, acceptance and a capacity to love–no, an urgency to love–that her former self never knew.

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being down, the saving of many lives.”

Genesis 50:20

God, you’re so good.

Love notes 

Hey, bod. Why is learning to love you so damn hard?

It’s not that I feel unhappy with you, inherently.

I wake up in the morning and put clothes on. I look at your round, rolly tummy in the mirror. And I don’t hate you. I know you are what you are, and I don’t think much more about you.

Sometimes I turn around and look at your pear-shaped booty, your ever-present love handles, the fold of your skin in the middle of your back, the slight dimples under your butt. I take it in, and then I let it go. I move on with my day.

I feel ok with you. I don’t know that I love you, but I don’t hate you. That’s progress, and it’ll do for now.

But then I see an old picture of you. You legs are curved with muscle. Your hips are wider than your waist. Your face is slim, and your chin less soft. Your arms are slender. The bones of your neck and shoulders seem delicate.

The stab of longing is so sudden and harsh. I want to be her. I know I can be her. I was her. I will become her.

My mind floods with panic at the realization of what I have become.

What am I going to do? How fast can I un-be what I am? Hurry, Rachel. You need a plan. This is important. Now, you need to fix this now.

Wait. Stop. Take a breath.

You are more, Rachel. You are more than her.

Breathe.

I know this is hard.

Breathe. 

Even though you push against society’s labels criticizing your body, sometimes you find yourself standing with them. You find yourself feeling in the pit of your insides that you’re less because of your skin dimples, belly rolls and think arms, legs and chest.

Breathe. 

You remind yourself those feelings are lies. They’re temporary. They’re fleeting. They’re deceptive.

Find truth.

Breathe.

Truth.

Your impact on the people and world around you is not measured by a scale. 

Truth.

Your ability to love is not determined by your appearance. 

Truth.

You are worthy of love no matter your size or shape. 

Truth.

Your value is not measured by your body. 

Truth.

Your potential is not measured by your body. 

Truth.

Your compassion is not measured by your body. 

Truth.

Your purpose is so much bigger than whether the world approves of your form. 

Truth.

You care more about making people feel loved and valued than about whether they accept your body. 

Truth.

Changing your body won’t make you happy. 

Truth.

Your body is a blessing.

Truth.

You are God’s creation.

Truth.

I want healing more than I want to be skinny. 

Truth.

I trust God and have faith in His ability to heal me. 

Truth.

I feel at peace. 

Hang in there, Rachel.

Breathe. 

This journey is the hardest yet. Patience, perseverance, grace, strength, truth.

One day at a time.

Honoring God and this body He blessed me with. Choosing His will for my life. Choosing to rest in Him instead of seeking comfort in the world’s lies.

Breathe. 

To not diet and exist

On Jan. 5, I wrote two goals for 2017 in the notes application on my iPhone (one of my favorite ways to journal):

  • Learn to not diet and exist
  • Launch a business

The latter isn’t exactly relevant here, but in the spirit of transparency, I threw it in.

I found the first thought so interesting. You see, when I journal–even when I’m setting goals–I tend to use a free-writing-ish method by which I let the thoughts buried in the pit of my stomach (stomach thoughts carry the most intensity, in my experience, and therefore tend to be disruptive until released) freely flow onto the paper on their own terms (very important considering stomach thoughts have fiercely defined themselves and not allowing them to be as they truly are will not stop their disruptive effects).

Hence, the word choice–learn to not diet and exist (seems dramatic, yes?)–was completely intentional, but curated by my innermost self (the self that perpetuates stomach thoughts). This left my standard self (the self that laughs at fart jokes) wondering what it is my innermost self is trying to sort out.

My standard self hasn’t quite figured it out, but I (standard self) started the process of dissecting this thought by recognizing I have two default operational settings: on-diet and off-diet. (Mind you, I started dieting at 12 years old, and have dieted for most of my life.)

When I’m on-diet, I: create food intake boundaries; determine food intake based on boundaries; establish control; thrive when I’m in control (perceived).

When I’m off-diet, I: overeat because I no longer have boundaries; don’t know how to determine food intake because I most often rely on limitations to determine intake (referring to on-diet; and you best believe I’m eating to the limit of my limitations); feel out of control; fight feelings of low self-worth, depression (and often fail).

I know what you’re thinking (I often think this, too): On-diet is clearly where it’s at, Rachel.

The problem is, on-diet isn’t a solution to food addiction, disordered eating (binge-eating, in my case), food consumption-related guilt, etc. It’s a band-aid. And no matter how great the band-aid is, it’s going to fall off. Even the best band-aids (the fabric-y ones that are super sticky–you know what I’m talking about), fall off, and those are the ones that tend to leave behind a sticky residue that tugs on your baby hairs (with surprising tenacity) and seems impossible to wash away. The residue eventually turns black, and it holds on a while longer. In fact, if you don’t actively scrub it away, it’s quite possible it’ll stay forever. (Sidenote–the residue is a metaphor for the emotional and mental health effects of dieting.)

Bottom line: On-diet always fails.

When on-diet fails, off -diet takes over, and life gets messy. Eventually I surrender to on-diet again, because, “Girl, you gotta get it together.” But it feels heavy, and I don’t like it. I feel unenthused, uninspired and in need of a different solution.

I’m ready to off-diet and exist without overeating, feeling out of control, feeling unworthy and feeling depressed.

[Whoa–did you catch that? Standard self just caught up to innermost self. Watch out, stomach thoughts–fart jokes are movin’ in.]

And so, that’s where I’m at. Not counting calories. Not counting macros. Not counting points. I pledged to myself I would take this entire year to off-diet with the ultimate goal of off-diet and exist.

And, guess what?

It’s hard. Like, really hard.

Mental and emotional stability can be so fragile, and when I’m feeling frayed, I desperately yearn to return to a place of familiarity and comfort. In this case, on-diet.

But I press on because I know healing and peace exist for me. And I want more for my life than the constant pursuit of perceived control and poorly placed standards.