Our Lives Are Not Meant To Be Spent Trying To Shrink Ourselves
I remember the very first time I ever felt ashamed of myself. I was ten years old and in 4th grade. We were learning about health, and I remember the teacher making everyone get on the scale to weigh themselves, I'm not sure what lesson she was trying to teach, but none the less everyone got on it, and the teacher read everyone’s number out loud as they got on and off. When I got on the scale- she says 105 pounds, I didn't feel any different until someone yelled out "you're the fattest girl in the class," and everyone laughed.
I was only ten years old when I learned what shame felt like.
I spent most of my teenage and adult life trying to change what I looked like. I have spent thousands of dollars on weight loss clinics (Dr. Bernstein, U Weight loss, LA Weight loss), diet pills, laxative teas, weight loss supplements, diet programs, diet books and subscriptions. I've binged, I've starved myself, I’ve excessively exercised, I’ve counted calories, I’ve restricted, I’ve cut food groups, all for what? for the belief that thinness meant acceptance, that weight loss would bring happiness, that I would feel better about myself if I was thinner, had smaller legs, bigger boobs…. my hate list can go on forever. When I first started my social media platform to help other women in health, I was too embarrassed to share the things I had actually put myself through. At that time, I hid it from my family, my friends, my husband, everyone! I read somewhere that “you cannot heal in the same environment in which you got sick in." Somehow me keeping it all a secret gave me comfort in knowing that If I ever wanted to go back to those habits, I would be able to do it without anyone ever knowing. Me sharing my story makes me accountable to myself. I owed myself the honesty; I owed myself the freedom of just letting it all out. By sharing my story, I felt like I was finally able to heal- truthfully and in return hopefully helping someone else.
Part of my story is that in 2015 I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease called Rheumatoid Arthritis. The reality is that there is no cure; it's a chronic disease that can go in and out of remission (I am currently in remission). For a long time, I simplified my story to say that my self-love journey began when I got diagnosed and that is when I started to make changes, and although part of that is true, it's not entirely the truth. I think what is hard for people to understand is that severe body image issues and disordered eating doesn't just stop its something people like me will live with forever, the key is to be able to find ways or strategies to help us work through the negative thought process, because it’s not a matter of physical health, it’s a matter of mental well-being, and although I am in a good place now- it took me a very long time to get here. I still sometimes catch myself starting the negative thought process, especially when I am in an environment or around certain people that trigger me to feel inadequate.
With my diagnosis, I was put on an extensive list medication to control the disease; these included: disease-modifying drugs, chemotherapy, and steroids (Prednisone). My side effects were anxiety, depression, fatigue, nausea, vertigo, and weight gain. The whole experience was absolutely a rude awaking, its what made me start making really big and important changes to my lifestyle, habits and how I took care of myself physically, but I still struggled with how I spoke to myself, how I felt about myself and my confidence, especially from the weight gain and because of this I still continued the behaviours that I thought were "healthy”. I followed all the diet rules that made me believe I was doing the healthy thing. Through everything, I still put all my focus on losing the weight I had gained while trying to fight my disease. I wish I knew then, what I know now.
I’ve spent a lot of time recently asking myself if I caused my disease if I somehow had a part in triggering it. Did all the years of starving, depriving, and abusing my body for weight loss cause my body to give up finally? If I'm honest here, I believe aside from genetics, that all the years of what I put my body through played a role in triggering my auto-immune disease, because if I was able to heal and get into remission by taking care of my self through nutrition and movement, then I must have played a part in my illness too. I don't say this out of guilt, but rather out of self-awareness, acceptance, and acknowledgment of my actions. I understand that sometimes we don't have control over illnesses, but I also believe that in some cases we do- in my case I did. In somethings about our health, we have a choice, we get to make decisions, we get to have control of how and what we think, we are fully responsible for our own well-being, I 100% believe this. Even if sometimes we don't have control over whether or not we get sick, wouldn’t you still want to try not to make it happen, wouldn't you want to try and prevent it? If given a chance wouldn't you want to try now versus waiting until something does happen? Aren't you worth it? Isn't your life worth it? I wish I thought this way before, I wish someone would have said this to me when I was in my twenties heck, I wish I heard it in my thirties, so I am saying it to you, the person reading this who is battling with themselves in the mirror, the person wrestling with their body image, I know this may be your truth right now, but I want you to listen to me- this journey of becoming healthier is not one that starts with hate, it’s one that can only start with peace or you will continue to fight against your body instead of working with it.
Our lives are not meant to be spent trying to shrink ourselves, to conform to social standards of what a woman's body should look like. Our job is to live our lives, to be present, to be in control of what we think, to eat freely and without regret or guilt. When we work with our bodies, we allow it to adjust to what is happening at that time in our lives. Sometimes we will gain a little and sometimes will lose a little. Sometimes our gains are from making the extra memories with our family; sometimes the loss is because we’ve had a lot going on. These ups and downs are not because we are "bad" or because we "cheated” on a diet, it's because LIFE happens and if we spend all our time worrying about what we ate we are going to miss the life that is happening right in front of us.
Changing how you view your health and understanding what health really means to you (because healthy looks different on everyone) your perspective changes too. When exercise stops becoming about your body size and physical changes, and it starts to become about creating movement for your body, about creating energy, about healing- all the reasons why start changing too. When eating stops becoming about calories or carbs, and starts becoming about enjoyment and feeling energized, we start understanding that food is not the enemy, that food is fuel. Health isn’t a look, it doesn’t have weight range or size number, it doesn’t have a specific workout or membership. Health is your body working and your soul at peace. Health is understanding what you need, listening to your body, acknowledging that your worth is not dictated by how you look, but rather how you feel about yourself. Your health is made up by what you can do not by what you feel you are not. Health means eating with the intention of loving who you are, health means moving the way that makes you happy. Health is happiness- not a size, not a shape, not a number.
If someone would have told me 2 years ago, I’d be able to do CrossFit 6 times a week, I’d laugh and would have told them they were crazy, but here I am, turning 40, a mom of 2 boys and finally proud of all that my body CAN do.
Author: Denise Ferreira