I was a chunky baby. I was never stick-thin like many girls naturally are before puberty. I was self-conscious about my body in my teens and early twenties, leading to several weight loss projects over the years. My best friend from high school can remember the exact times when I lost a dramatic amount of weight in both high school and college (isn’t friend-record-keeping the best?).
These were the times when I lost at least 20 lbs by working out all the time, counting calories, controlling portions, and keeping a food diary. Each time, I was motivated by the desire to “get into the best shape” of my life. How often do you see that kind of fitspo quote on social media? It sure is motivating. But each time, after I’d gotten into the best shape of my life, I got out of it after several months–and felt bad about it, too. Was there no way a girl could eat a whole burrito in one seating and still maintain the body she likes?! Is that so much to ask?!
These tips (calorie-counting, portion control, food diary, etc) were all from well-known health mags quoting nutritionists and other experts, but they pushed me in the wrong direction. Somehow though, I was able to find my way out of the woods and learn to enjoy food, workout joyfully, and generally stay stress-free regarding my body–not because it’s “perfect,” but because it makes me happy.
As editor of PD and a Pure Barre instructor, I’m happy to be able to share how I stopped struggling against my body. The key isn’t to try to get into your best shape ever, but to live a lifestyle you’re truly able to maintain and enjoy. Here are some tips to having a loving, healthy relationship with your body.
1. Be whole plant-based vegan.
Eat mostly nutrient-dense, un- or minimally processed, plant-based vegan diet, with a lot of water. Occasional less pristine meals (like a vegan bacon cheezburger) are totally okay, but the more you focus on healthy whole foods, the more you know what your body should feel like when it’s nourished and hydrated properly.
2. Cook or prepare most of your dinners.
I might never have learned satiety had I not started cooking. Knowing exactly how much ingredients go into cooking a dinner for one (or two, or three…) helps you understand portions without sweating it too much. I know that when I’m cooking for two, it takes 1/2 onion, etc, to make an entree. When you see your frying pan start to fill up with each colorful ingredient, you don’t take that dinner portion for granted–it’s literally filling.
Note: When I go out to eat, I generally finish my food (just ask Jen and Molly–they’ve seen me demolish some pretty big vegan plates). Eating occasionally larger meals is a part of a normal eating behavior so don’t worry!
3. Enjoy your food.
I usually spend about an hour preparing dinner so I really want to enjoy it when it’s ready. That means no TV, always sitting down at a table, and having only conversation and/or soothing music. This is in keeping with the mindful eating approach that studies have shown to be effective for reducing binge eating.
But for me, enjoying my food extends beyond just tasting everything. It also means emotional satisfaction, such as asking my partner how the food tastes (knowing someone else also likes it makes the taste way better, right?), and having something sweet afterwards, like a cup of frozen blueberries. The more emotionally satisfied you are with your meal, the less likely it will become a source of frustration or control, which makes dieting so unfulfilling and self-defeating.
4. Clean up right afterwards.
This is a habit I acquired due to living in dorms, and then living in a NYC apartment. Do you know what those places have in common? Vermins. Yes, those beautiful brownstones that cost millions of dollars all have them, we all deal with them occasionally (especially around 3 or 4 a.m. in August, just saying). Anyway, apres-dinner time is like war due to having to put up the dishes, pots, and pans, but it makes you less likely to graze or feel like you’re just not quite finished. I notice a tendency to graze more when I go to my parent’s sprawling (and clean) home, probably because they don’t have to hide their food as soon as they’re done eating.
5. Move every single day.
Unless I’m physically unwell, I stay active. That means I workout (or teach 3 or more barre classes, which ends up being a workout) about 6 days a week. On my “rest” day I tend to either do a lot of strenuous chores and errands, or go for a long walk. I do sweat bullets every day of the week. Even if you’re just starting to workout, try moving almost every day and see how much better you feel not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. If you’re eating well (#1-4), you should have enough energy to be able to do moderate-to-vigorous activities most days.
6. Know your body isn’t static.
Your body changes all the time, so put the focus on feeling good now rather than trying to get into (or “back” into) a certain size or weight. I know that I slim down during summer, and that I gain weight during the colder months. These fluctuations are not worth stressing out about, as long as you maintain consistent healthy lifestyle habits. I just gauge what I need to tweak based on how I feel and how my clothes fit. (My jeans don’t lie!) There is a pretty wide range of “normal” body for you depending on the month and the season, so be familiar with your normal.
7. Have confidence and love your body no matter what.
When I was 21, I was dating someone who thought I looked great (bless his heart). So I felt incredibly sexy and confident.
Looking back, I’d been on the high end of my weight spectrum, due to not working out (due to unpaid internship in NYC). And here’s what I look like, exactly 7 years later to the day.
I think this is interesting because I often see Before and After pics showing how much happier and better you look in the After, with all the motivational and inspiring “I-changed-my-life-so-can-you” phrases. But what I see in these two photos is actually that a) I look more or less like myself in both of these photos, even down to the popped heel and b) I look happy and comfortable in my body.
You don’t need justification for why you should be happy with your body. Love it now! Life is too short to put off loving your body until it’s more to your satisfaction.
How has your relationship with your body changed over time?
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Photo: Peaceful Dumpling