Yoga Saved Me From Body Dysmorphia—But Confidence Is Still A Process, Not An End
As a teenager, I had many body image issues from body dysmorphia to eating disorders. I was quite thin, which at the time was what I wanted, but I couldn’t see my body for how it really was. I was obsessed with calorie intake and burning. Even before the time of My Fitness Pal (which is also a dangerous tool for me), I was researching how many calories were in everything I ate and how many calories I could burn with certain exercises. I was completely disregarding the calories required to just be alive, to fuel my organs and power my brain. Partially out of ignorance but mostly because I wanted to reach negative calories, whatever that is. I wanted to burn more than I ate because that meant I would be thinner and that meant I would like myself more and be happier. Right? Wrong. So, so wrong. Now, as a 32-year-old healthy person both in mind and body, it pains me to know how completely wrong I was.
Along with calorie counting, endless crunches, and staring sadly at my body in the mirror, I was also obsessed with the numbers on the scales. We always had scales at home growing up, the old analog kind that were probably not all that accurate. But I relied on what those scales said. Those scales would determine if I felt good or not on any given day, at any given hour. I would weigh myself multiple times a day depending on if I had eaten, peed, pooped, vomited etc. There were even times I wanted my appendix to burst or have one kidney fail so it would be removed and I would weigh a bit less. I mean…wtf. It horrifies me now that I ever reached such a point of desperation and sheer obsession with something I know now to be so insignificant to happiness and fulfillment in life. That I would hope for such trauma on my body that other people suffer through against their will. I hated myself for wanting it, but I still wanted it. Overcoming that self-hatred and finding a way to forgive myself for this was a whole other uphill battle in itself.
By my twenties, I had a healthier relationship with food, but my body image was still terrible. Back then it wasn’t well understood that ‘thin’ people can have body image issues too. People were very quick to dismiss my comments about my body because I was thin therefore there was ‘nothing not to like.’ On the outside perhaps I had what many people considered at that time to be an ‘ideal’ figure, but on the inside was a terrified girl who hated her body. I was rapidly growing into a woman and hoping desperately that with age would come some kind of self-esteem and self-acceptance.
Approaching adulthood, I began to learn more about being healthy, not just thin. I was desperately trying to be healthy so I started going to a yoga class at 16 on advice from my GP. Outside the confines of my bedroom and with a teacher providing structure and guidance, the classes meant I couldn’t go off on my 1000 crunch tangents or run up and down the stairs until I could barely breathe. It was a ‘safe’ exercise. Additionally, there were no scales there so I couldn’t weigh myself immediately after the class like I usually would after any kind of exercise. By the time I would arrive home after the class, I would have lost the urge to weigh myself and be so caught up in the high I felt after doing yoga that I didn’t want to do anything to affect it.
I also noticed a different kind of hunger happening after classes. It wasn’t the hunger I had become so used to, the hunger I strived for and felt a sense of pride that I could fight against. It felt like a real cry from deep within my body for fuel. I had collapsed in a couple of classes from dizziness and lack of food and I was really noticing that I got far more out of the classes if I had sufficient fuel in my body than if I went empty. So I had a decision to make. I really felt that yoga was like wrapping my body in a blanket and giving it a huge hug. It was taking care of myself…something I had not done until that point. If I wanted to continue to get that feeling, I needed to fuel my body properly.
the scale obsession continued, but to counterbalance the hate and regret I felt seeing the numbers go up, the yoga was giving me a boost in confidence and I started to feel something that resembled self-esteem. As we had always had scales at home, I thought they would always be around so it was down to me to resist the urge. So when I left home for university and didn’t have scales anymore, it was quite a shock. But I noticed a sense of relief that a part of my bathroom routine, regardless of the primary bathroom task, was no longer there. I couldn’t weigh myself whenever I wanted anymore but more importantly, I didn’t want to. There were so many more interesting and fun things I could be doing with my life than obsessing over my weight! If only it were that easy. Ok, so I didn’t have the desire to weigh myself when there were no scales around but when they were, I would absolutely have to weigh myself. Friends’ bathrooms, gym scales, pharmacies, even the Ikea scales to weigh your cart full of new flat-pack furniture before going up the ramp.
After many years of hard work and figuring out what helps and what makes it worse, I moved past my obsession. One thing that has helped me to not get obsessed with weight is by not having scales at home and learning to judge my weight on how I feel and how clothes fit. I also have a better understanding of my body in general and how an array of things can affect your weight, your mood, your mental and physical health. I now have a very healthy relationship with food although I still suffer horribly with body image and self-esteem. I occasionally weigh myself at the gym but it still sometimes stirs something inside me. When things are good in life and I’m happy, standing on the scales is no issue. I love my body and all the things I have done and can do with it. I feel strong and powerful and completely confident that my body and my weight are fine. Heck, sometimes I even consider it more than fine! Who’d have thought it!
I’m a healthy weight for my height and build, I eat healthily and exercise on the reg. But when life is throwing lemons and I’m struggling to make lemonade, I still struggle to be okay with what stares back at me in the mirror and number shown on the scales. I continue to lack self-acceptance and self-esteem, but I’m constantly searching, believe me. If yoga has taught me anything, it’s that every time you step on the mat, it’s a new challenge no matter what you were able to do yesterday or the day before. Even if I don’t feel empowered by self-love and confidence every day, that’s okay. I know that that’s just a challenge waiting for me on the mat, the next day.
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Photo: Mark Zamora on Unsplash