Okay guys, for the first installment of Beyond Food Fridays I’m going to get a little personal. Today I want to talk a little about body image and self love as it is something that I’ve been working on a lot lately in my own life. I’m going to try to do this topic justice as best as I can since I know it can be a little bit of a sensitive issue.
I’ve struggled with my body image for as long as I can remember. I was a ballet dancer growing up and I think that really set the stage for the idea that I needed to be skinny to be beautiful. That paired with all the other societal influences like TV, magazines, etc. I certainly was never fat growing up, in fact I was relatively thin. But I never had that stick thin “dancer body” that I thought I needed, so in my head I was never skinny enough.
When I was in 8th grade it was deemed necessary for me to have surgery in order to fix some issues I was having with my acid reflux disease. The surgery involved sewing a portion of my stomach lining around the opening to the esophagus to prevent the reflux from occurring. I was told that I would not be able to eat solid food for a while until the swelling and scar tissue went down and that I wouldn’t be able to eat large quantities of food at one time because I could choke. I was almost happy to hear these things because I thought that if I couldn’t eat much at one time and was forced to eat super slowly, I would be eating less overall which would cause me to lose weight. As a 13 year old I was excited to get surgery because it would make me skinnier. I think back on this now and it makes me so sad. I just want to go give 13 year old Kiersten a big hug! In the end, the surgery helped my acid reflux symptoms, but it did not give me the skinny “dancer body” that I wanted.
All throughout high school I struggled with my body image, engaging in negative self talk on a regular basis and spending way too much time in front of the mirror pinching the fat on my body. Between going to the gym and dancing, I exercised a ton and I ate way too few calories with my breakfasts of light yogurt, peanut butter sandwiches on whole wheat sandwich thins for lunch, and lean cuisines for dinner. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t getting thinner when I was doing everything “right.”
In college, I made semi better choices as far as food goes (and by semi better choices I mean I ate more vegetables and went gluten free), but I was still obsessive about portions and I overdid it on the cardio for sure. The weighing myself, fat pinching, and calorie counting continued as well and I just didn’t feel good in my own skin.
Then, back in September of 2013 I discovered the Paleo diet through my wonderful friend Natalie, after a year long stint with vegetarianism (that was a mistake). I switched to a whole foods diet and started feeling a lot better. A couple months later, after a foot injury and a ton of research on why weight training is better for you than running (see here and here), I gave up my excessive cardio habit, which at the time had me running almost 30 miles a week, and started doing HIIT (high intensity interval training) and a lot of body weight exercises. Despite the fact that I was only exercising about 20-30 minutes at a time, as opposed to roughly an hour, my body started changing more than it ever had before. I was getting stronger, my muscles started to get more toned and I felt better and more confident than I ever had before. So I gave up running for good and started adding free weights into my workout routine.
Despite the fact that I now weigh more than I ever have before (because of an increase in muscle mass), I have never felt better. I no longer weigh myself (expect when I have to at the doctors office) and when I look in the mirror I see a strong body that is capable of doing amazing things. Sure, I have plenty of moments when I don’t love what I see, but these moments are fleeting and I am able to turn the negativity around pretty quickly instead of spiraling down a path of self hate like I used to.
I love my body because it enables me to live a happy, healthy, active life. I may not look like a ballet dancer or a supermodel or a competitive athlete but that’s okay with me. I look like Kiersten. I am still not exactly where I would like to be, but I can move toward my goals with a healthy mind set, self love, and the overarching goal of optimal health that I was lacking before. Because that should be our goal: to be healthy and happy, not to look like a supermodel or whatever society says is “beautiful.”
I am so thankful to my wonderful husband for always loving me despite my insecurities and who has always done an amazing job of making me feel beautiful and sexy. But ultimately I had to find this within myself. It’s a journey to get to a place where you can love your body, and I doubt I will ever get to a place where I am completely free of all negative thoughts, but I am doing the best I can. I encourage you to do the same. Ditch the scale, stop the negative self talk, and love your body for what it is and what it can do. If you have goals you want to reach then go for it! But do so in a healthy way, with the right mind set and a focus on overall health.
In vibrant health,