This article was originally published on February 20, 2017.
I used to want the perfect body more than anything. I wanted it to feel good and to look “right,” like the endless editorial images of beautiful, gleeful women dancing around in their lingerie and yoga pants, laughing and smiling because they were perfect and had more self-control than me.
I wasn’t always that way. Growing up, I lived a fairly sedentary life and had a penchant for all foods sugary, processed, and fast. It’s the way my family lived, and I didn’t give it much thought until I was 18. I knew nothing about healthy living, but I knew I felt terrible on both the inside and the outside. I had been thin as a teen, but suddenly my body felt uncomfortably heavy and my energy (along with my confidence) reached an all-time low.
In order to feel better, I made the decision to “get healthy” through classic diet and exercise. I counted calories religiously and took up running. To my delight, I lost weight and gained compliments. The “adult” me was healthy, skinny, and confident. It felt amazing.
But something else happened, too. I wanted to resist my body at every turn. It became my enemy. To my mind, hunger was lack of discipline and low energy was laziness. I was convinced that my body was conspiring against me to turn me back into the chubby, sad little girl that I didn’t want to be.
To combat this threat, I became increasingly out of touch with my body and found myself trapped in a cycle of disordered eating. I resisted hunger until my stomach couldn’t resist anymore, and then I filled it until it was on the brink of explosion.
The shame and pain of my binge-eating often resulted in some iteration of a purge and a newfound determination to be good next time. I repeated this cycle almost every day for over five years. Over that period of time, every pound I lost found its way back onto my body.
In a desperate last attempt to lose weight, I hired a counselor who specialized in disordered eating. Much to my initial dismay, she encouraged me to focus less on the weight, and more on self-reflection. I wanted to lose weight, not talk about my childhood.
But as I worked through my tumultuous emotional relationship with food, I unexpectedly realized my discomfort in eating animal by-products. At that point, I ate vegetarian for ethical reasons but still consumed eggs and dairy out of convenience. I was fully informed about the cruelties of factory farming, but I ignored this information during meals, just as I ignored my body’s intuitive signals of hunger and fullness.
During that period of reflection, I decided to listen to my inner voice and transitioned to a plant-based diet.
After that, my inner voice started to grow louder.
It started with food. In many ways, veganism was an opportunity to hit the refresh button on a lifetime of information about how to eat “healthy” because the old rules no longer applied–“for a snack, eat three cubes of cheese,” “for breakfast, choose an egg white omelette or greek yogurt
I explored food and hunger with an almost childlike curiosity. For the first time in my adult life, I actually paid attention to my body and the experience of eating. I noticed what food I really enjoyed and what I only pretended to like because it was “healthy.”
I started to crave more adventurous vegan options and after years of kitchen anxiety, I finally had motivation to learn to cook. I poured over vegan cookbooks and began to experiment. I started small–salad dressings, 15-minute lunches, no-bake granola bars–and got braver with each new recipe. Before I knew it, I was cooking real, nourishing meals that tasted damn delicious. And because homemade food doesn’t come with a handy nutritional fact sheet, I finally ditched the calorie counter and was forced to rely on my stomach to calculate how much food I needed.
Instead of the constant dread I felt in the past, I looked forward to eating and used it as an opportunity to slow down, reconnect, and refuel my body. My commitment to choose a more compassionate diet encouraged me to grant that same mercy to my own body. The result was a peaceful, spiritual experience that brought me back to the roots of the earth and my connection to it.
I had no idea that first act of listening would lead me on a journey to eating disorder recovery and body acceptance.
It is a journey that’s transformed my life in more ways than I can count. I have more energy and vitality. Because I no longer experience a near panic attack before every meal, my anxiety is manageable and I am more relaxed. Because my face isn’t glued to my food diary, I have more time to focus on people and activities that I love. Friends tell me that I’m glowing. And yes, those extra pounds are gone, too.
Only this time it matters less because the pride I have in my body has nothing to do with the scale. No, I’m not rocking my old size two jeans, but I’m stronger and happier than I’ve ever been. I like the person I see in the mirror. I don’t see someone who is flawed and needs more “self-control.”
Instead, I see a compassionate, beautiful, imperfect person who respects herself and all other creatures who inhabit this earth. I see a person who, one day at a time, is finding peace.
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