Lately I’ve been asking myself these questions:
Can I change the way I feel by changing a core belief? Can I take a closer look at what I have always believed to be true and consciously decide to think differently so that I can feel more freedom and joy, and less angst and anxiety?
The answer is yes.
Over the past few months, I’ve been able to apply this shift in perspective to several areas of my life. Some have been big. Some have been small. But hands-down, one-hundred percent, the most catastrophic change has been the way I see and think about my body.
I’m adjusting the way I feel about my physical appearance.
And not because I can’t be bothered or don’t have time to “get my body back” after pregnancy.
I could be bothered and I could make time.
I just don’t want to anymore.
I’ve realized that the way I view my body is a bigger issue than I’ve been comfortable to admit. And so instead of going to the gym and altering my eating habits like I’ve incessantly done for the past thirty years of my life, I’ve gone to the source of the problem – my core-beliefs – and have done some rewiring.
I want to be off my life-long, bullshit mental rollercoaster of having a good day because I feel skinny, toned, and have successfully restricted the foods I put into my mouth (“healthy eating” included), and a bad day because I feel fat, flabby, and have shamefully over-indulged in something tasty and savory both out of an emotional need or a want.
I thought I had reached a place of self-acceptance a few years ago, but I realize now that that was only the beginning of the transformation. It was the awakening and awareness that I needed in order to get to where I am now.
And where I am now is a hopeful, please-God-let-this-stick ebb and flow of freedom, nervousness, letting-go, and oh-my-God-am-I-really-doing-this, just-keep-going relief.
When I was in college, I taped magazine cut-outs of waify Gwenyth Paltrow and toned Jessica Alba to my dorm room fridge. I wanted to look just like them. I would drive to cvs twice a week and shamefully buy diet pills loaded with ephedrine. On “successful” days, I would limit my food intake to a can of tuna and a few carrots. On “unsuccessful” days I would eat an entire pizza, a big bag of chips, and a pint of ice cream. I ran, but not because I liked it. I ran because I needed to be skinny. When I moved to Manhattan and worked in marketing, my boss paid for me to have a personal trainer and gym membership. And despite being a size very small, when I told him that I had a consultation with a plastic surgeon on the Upper East Side to remove cellulite, he didn’t bat an eye. I canceled the appointment from fear of needles and knives and he suggested we order salads for lunch. When I got married the first time around, I became depressed because I was directionless. Up until that point, there had been an obvious life trajectory laid out for me and suddenly I had peaked and was left with too much space and too many options, but zero insight or inspiration. So I stopped running, and instead drank magnums of cheap Woodbridge chardonnay and made put-an-animal-protein-here alfredo every night. I would order crab rangoon from a Chinese food place down the street and discreetly eat the entire carton on my walks home. I gained so much weight. I went to a therapist and she said “you have an eating disorder,” and prescribed me antidepressants. But I was in this not-really-eating-disorder place because I was neither anorexic nor bulimic. “Disordered Eating” wasn’t quite a thing yet and I felt so stupid and lonely being part of the middle group that didn’t seem to even exist. It was like I was acting like a regular woman going through regular self-esteem highs and lows, but internally my mind was a complete cluster of really thick body-hate. After a year, I took myself off of the meds and, on the outside, I finally pulled it together. I met a new friend, Katie in Portsmouth, and she introduced me to yoga and swimming. I found clean eating. Seven years later, the divorce diet of anxiety, stress, and red wine took off even more LB’s and I became really physically active with all of my free time. My body began taking the shape that I had always wanted it to, but I would still wake up feeling like a piece of shit, worried that I had put a little too much Caesar dressing on my fucking romaine the night before. I met Mike. I was in shape and I was “the healthiest” I had ever been. I was still restricting my foods to only clean-eating and lived on a diet of no gluten, no dairy (at the time for actual health reasons) and limited carbohydrates. We decided to have a baby. I got cancer. I had a feeding tube that I barely filled. I lost weight.
So basically, in regards to body image, for as long as I can remember, my mind has looked like this:
What. The. Fuck.
Since cancer and my insatiable need to find authenticity and question everything, I have put A LOT of time and effort into figuring out a way to get off this ridiculous ride.
Two years ago, in an effort to submerge myself in a new way of thinking, I started following body positive influencers on Instagram. I replaced fitness accounts that I had originally followed as motivation to be small and muscular with accounts that featured very large women dancing around in their bikinis. Their words were inspiring and they had freedom with the foods they were eating, the clothes they were wearing, and the places they were going. They were confident and happy. I was like a moth drawn to a flame. I knew that I wanted the same feeling for myself.
I got pregnant with Jesse. I ate whatever I wanted. It was so liberating. I used pregnancy as an exercise in listening to my body without restricting anything. Foods that had once been off limits like bread, cookies, and sometimes even cheese were delicious again. I ate the pancakes that I made for my family instead of fixing a separate breakfast for myself. For the first time ever, I was able to keep my body-hate to a very dull roar and I was finally getting a taste of freedom. Two months after Jesse was born, I started to panic. I went to yoga on two hours of sleep with the sole intention to lose weight so that I could go back to looking the right way. I made a self-deprecating comment to someone in the lobby of the studio about “my fat ass,” and I immediately regretted it. I was caught in a strange, in-between time. I knew I didn’t want to go back to my old belief system, but I also couldn’t imagine trudging forward. I started restricting my food and began obsessing about what and when my next meal would be. I could hear the narrator of my life screaming at the top of her lungs as I rode, stone-faced and soul-empty up the mountain of my Disordered Eating rollercoaster.
“Stop, Jaime, Stop! Don’t do this shit again!”
I paused. I started asking questions.
Can I change the way I feel by changing a belief? If I can see beauty in other people’s imperfect bodies, can I see it in my own? Can I believe that this size X body is just as beautiful, worthy, healthy, and lovable as my size x body? Can I believe that weight and muscle definition doesn’t define me? Can I look in the mirror and smile because these are my actual genetics, the amount of time I’m willing to put into exercise right now, and the outcome of what I feed myself? Can I be done with labeling food and fitness as good/successful and bad/unsuccessful? If I were on this planet alone, would I hate my body if I had no one else to compare myself to? Can I be ok with other people holding a belief system that says “skinny is best” and continue to hold a belief system for myself that says, “no it’s not.” Can I buy bigger sized clothing without feeling defeated, and instead feel empowered because I’m not preoccupied with a muffin-top at my waist or tug across my shoulders? At my funeral in fifty years, will anyone mention my toned physique? No. No they will not. I want to be remembered for what I DID and how I made people feel rather than what size pants I wore.
Despite being a yoga teacher who has preached, “listen to your body,” I did very little of it because I didn’t even know what listening to my body meant without putting some sort of “healthy spin” around it. It was always, “listen to your body because I know for sure it’s telling you to eat five bags of raw kale and a sprinkle of chickpeas every day!” You know what it means for me now? Intuitive eating. Throw those words into google and see what comes up. It’s a definition for taking away decades of negative energy surrounding food and body image and freeing up space in our minds and our lives to think and do things that are actually important. No more good, bad, diet-on, diet-off, back-on-track kind of verbiage. No diets whatsoever. No restrictions. This is for me. This is the only language that has made an actual change in my body-hate and this is where I fall into place. Thank. God. I eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full. Sometimes I eat when I’m full – and when that happens, I tell myself that it’s ok, it’s truly not a big deal, and that I am still worthy, I’m still a good person, and I’m still going to move forward and not let the excess calories ruin my day. I’ve also taken up intuitive exercising. When I want to run, do a few lounges and push-ups – I do it. And when I don’t want to because I’m tired or busy doing other things, then I don’t do them or stress about it. How. Motherfucking. Revolutionary.
So all of this is easier said than done. I sent a draft of this blog to my friend Lauren and she responded with commentary about a recent article she read that said the number one thing that people judge about other people, upon first glance, is their WEIGHT.
I cannot change the world. I can only change myself. When I have feelings of insecurity, I bring them up to the surface and take a look at what is causing my angst. When I notice someone else’s body and it is fit – muscular arms, flat belly, and strong legs – I pass through the familiar wave of jealousy and shame with these two mantras: “I am not her, how she looks has nothing to do with me,” and “I am in transition, nothing is permanent.” Because both are true. I am not pledging my life as a size X. That’s not what this is about. I’m pledging my life to freedom. To honoring where I am in this place and time, and choosing beliefs that make me feel happier and more at ease.
To be clear, I’m not against diets-that-work-for-you and healthy food. I’m not against anyone who wants to be a smaller size or working hard towards a physical goal. I’m not against exercising, running, going to the gym, being fit, or size small bodies. I make a living by teaching yoga to people who want to strengthen their minds and their bodies. I’m into it. I want to strengthen my body too. But I’m (me, doesn’t have to be you) against feeling restrained. I’m against thick, chaotic body-hate. And I’m against holding a belief system that defines healthy and worthy by my physical appearance.
I’m FOR change. I’m for growth. I’m for freeing myself from old belief models that cloud, taint, and limit my one precious life.
Old belief system: Skinny is best.
New belief system: Freedom is better.