I’m currently fighting a terrible sore throat and cold that crept up on me all week and hit me full force yesterday. My appetite is shot. My kitchen tools weep. I sound like Kermit the Frog. And the most I can manage to get down is banana soft serve, Green Monsters, and other cold liquids to soothe my throat. I’m also trying to gargle with salt water, but nothing seems to be helping that much!
Yesterday, I used my lack of mobility to get caught up on emails while planted at my desk with a blanket and Kleenex. Many of my emails are from readers who struggle with weight, self-acceptance, happiness, and eating disorders. I also receive emails from readers who are making positive changes in their lives such as career changes, finding love in fitness, or entering recovery for an eating disorder. Sometimes I am so inspired by these stories I want to hug the screen!
I thought I would take a moment to talk about lessons I have learned since I began my road to health. Many of these are ‘light bulb moments’ that stick with me and keep me on the right track in times of difficulty. I hope they will help you too!
Lessons in Self-Love
1. Self-love is a work in progress…there is no finish line!
For me, accepting myself can be hard work. I didn’t just wake up one day and exclaim that I loved everything about myself. I still don’t, but I work at it. It was a lot of work to build up my confidence after years of destroying it. I still have days when my confidence is shaky and I feel down about myself, but I feel like those days are much less frequent now. My goal is not to eliminate negative thoughts, but to reduce the frequency of those thoughts and to counter them with positive ones.
Negative thought –> ‘I wish my thighs were thinner.’
Counter thought –> ‘Those thighs helped you run a half marathon in 1 hour 55 minutes, so beat it!’
2. Not having a crutch can be scary…but positive coping mechanisms help
For most of my life whenever something stressful happened to me, I would rely on negative habits like starving myself to numb the pain or anxiety. I had to learn how to turn negative crutches into positive coping mechanisms. Instead of internalizing negativity, I now try to talk about it with a loved one or write my thoughts down. Sometimes all I need is a walk or run outdoors to change my mood around. It also helps if I see the stressor as just a bump in the road and that this too shall pass.
3. Food is not just about calories or fat grams.
I used to think food was the enemy because I was either over-eating or I was starving myself for punishment. Over the past few years, I have created a very good balance. I have not binged in probably 3 years, which I think is a record for me since it all began (for my 3 binge eating posts, see here). Instead of focusing on calories, I now focus on eating food that makes me feel great and I experiment with all kinds of healthy recipes. Over time, food and I became BFFs!
4. Eating a vegan diet gave me a greater purpose in my life.
Becoming a vegan allowed me to put my focus on something outside myself. I finally was able to get out of my own head and connect with something I believed in. While some people assume that a vegan diet would be restrictive, I have found that it has been very freeing and I’m a more compassionate person than I used to be.
5. Eating intuitively can take a long time to figure out.
One of the questions I get asked the most is how I stopped counting calories and learned to eat intuitively. When you tell your hunger signals NO, NO, NO for many years, it is very difficult to turn that around, but it is not impossible! I needed patience and determination when learning how to eat intuitively. When I first tried to stop counting calories, I still did it subconsciously for months and it was very hard to stop, but eventually I was able to stop 100%. I never hear the rambling of calorie or exercise numbers in my head anymore and that is very freeing.
Listening to my hunger signals comes natural to me now and I am able to eat until satisfied and stop before becoming too full. I used to eat based on how many calories I had allotted, but if I listen to my hunger signals I can maintain my weight in a much more easy going manner.
6. I am responsible for my own happiness and no one else.
I used to play the victim role and I didn’t believe that I was in charge of my happiness. Ultimately, for a change to happen I had to take responsibility for my own happiness. No one was going to be able to help me if I was not ready to embrace change.
7. Weight fluctuations are normal.
Some days my pants feel loose, some days they feel a bit tight, and some days they feel just right. I don’t freak out about this anymore because as long as I stay committed to eating right and exercise it will balance out. I can usually tell if I am not eating great by how I feel and that is usually motivation to clean up my diet a bit. Nothing extreme. No deprivation. No freak outs. No negative self-talk. I’m in this for the long haul and I would take happiness and a healthy body any day over the alternative.
8. Create hobbies in your life.
I used to think that going to the gym each day was a hobby. In job interviews, I would be asked what my hobbies were and I never knew what to say. Weighing myself? Counting calories? Drooling over rail-thin models in magazines? Working out and healthy eating were usually my answers, but I knew deep down I didn’t have any real hobbies that were positive at that time. I don’t mean to imply that working out or going to the gym can’t be a hobby, but for me at that time, it was an obsession and a punishment when I overate.
Over the past few years, I have created so many hobbies that I enjoy almost every single day! The first hobby that started everything was this blog. When I started writing here, something clicked inside of me. I was able to talk about my struggles and triumphs and connect with others. I truly believe that once the happiness flood gate opens, you will seek it out more and more. Happiness becomes a habit over time, just like unhappiness.
I soon discovered a passion for cooking, baking, inspirational writing, hiking, recipe creation, racing, and photography and I was able to turn some of those hobbies into a career. Now I am getting into vegetable gardening as another hobby. Instead of searching for answers when asked what my hobbies are, I now think to myself, ‘Where do I start…there are so many things I love to do!’
9. You can be happy or you can be unhappy, the work is about the same.
I would rather work hard for something positive than for something negative. If you are struggling with self-love you can always take positive steps to change your situation. Talk to your loved ones, see a therapist, join a support group, find a mentor, check out Operation Beautiful, see a Registered Dietitian, make a list of your goals, read self-help books, etc. You can always change!
‘Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself: I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.’ - Groucho Marx
Can you relate to any of these lessons or have you learned other things along your journey?