Dearest readers, I know my blogs usually err on the “meatier” side of writing, with a lot of research and information that I jam-pack into each one. But, you know what? This one’s going to be a little different. No documents. No data.
Think about how much we change as people throughout the course of our lives. On the inside, the unique cocktail of emotions, beliefs, wants, experiences, dreams, attitudes, etc. that constitutes our “us-ness” is a private river running through us. But the outside, our physical body, is the poster child for all the world to see – and we’re not always so glad for that. We’re not always happy with the body standing in the mirror.
Looking back at old photos can be hard, triggering strong reactions to the old “us” etched forever in time. It truly brings awareness to who we used to be, and facing our old self isn’t always easy. But isn’t that a good thing? To be able to look back at who we were, it means we’re not that person anymore, and we’ve hopefully changed for the better.
As a blogger, I realize that I’m “behind the curtain,” if you will. Other than what’s in my “About Me” page, you know little of me and even littler of what’s led me to the here and now. So, I figured I would raise that curtain, to share my own journey to where I stand.
Writing this post made me reflect on the “me” that I am in this moment, and how much I like this me. Just simply being able to say that is a wonderful thing! Society tends to discourage us from such thoughts, as if it’s narcissistic to simply be happy with yourself. I’ve been many, many versions of me in my 29 years, but they haven’t always been versions I’m proud to look back upon, nor was even proud of at the time.
In my pre-teen years, about to enter 6th grade, I started having body envy. I basically put my friend Nicole up on a pedestal and wanted to have the same long, skinny legs she did. I got Delia*s catalogs in the mail, and wanted to look just like the lanky models on every page. (So to anyone who claims this kind of thing has no influence on girls’ self esteem, I raise my middle finger to you.) For pre-teen me, skinny = perfection. I wasn’t even 13 yet, but I had decided that it was the only acceptable way to look.
As you can see in the picture above, I was nearly a stick figure. In no way is being that über skinny my natural body type. There was nothing natural about the way I achieved it either. Throughout the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade, I went through phases of unhealthy behavior that included extreme calorie deprivation, excessive exercising, and horrific guilt after eating. The “low calorie” and “low fat” fad was in full swing during those years, and I jumped right on the bandwagon of demonizing fat and calories and eating fake diet “food” items. My own eyes lied to me daily, only seeing fat in the mirror, when in reality, I was down to a size 3 at one point, and still wanted to weigh less. My fanaticism usually peaked during the summer before the next school year, since apparently my brain thought that showing up in August skinnier than I left in June would make all the difference in the world.
Luckily, becoming an athlete started reforming my jaded body image issues. I made the track team in 8th grade, and started appreciating my body for what it could do. Enter muscle tone. Going into 9th grade, I made the volleyball team, so my body truly became something I was proud of – 135 lbs of lean muscle. More muscle = stronger & better athlete; you can’t be a skinny twig when you’re playing volleyball all summer/fall, then running track all winter/spring. As a typical teenage girl, I felt a ton of pressure to look good, but being that physically active, I didn’t have to worry much about my weight. I never realized during those years how good I had it, but hindsight is always 20/20! Regrettably, even though I was avoiding a lot of really bad, fattening foods, I still didn’t know enough to put a focus on whole foods and ingredients (I shudder thinking how many chemical-laced Powerades I drank). Fruits and vegetables weren’t on my radar at all either, sadly.
As I entered my college years, I actually managed to avoid the dreaded Freshman Fifteen since I commuted to college and wasn’t relying solely on campus dining like my comrades. The winter of sophomore year, I got mono, and lost (no joke) close to 30 pounds – I had no clothes that fit. So, for the next 6-8 months, I was skinnier than I’d been since, oh, 8th grade, and enjoyed it while it lasted! I eventually came back to normal, but stayed active enough throughout the rest of college to ward off most of the effects of stress eating and 2 am pizza or Taco Bell runs (double cringe). I would park my car in one spot and walk everywhere all day long, so it really helped. I was still decently active in volleyball, plus had a nice fitness center to use. Still, though, my weight yo-yo’ed up and down a bit. Looking back, I was far from the best me I could’ve been. I wasn’t “fat”, but I wasn’t overly happy with myself either. Losing weight was on my wish list often, but I was more or less okay shrugging it off and riding the “skinny fat” train. Other than eating salad and avoiding high-fat items, I placed zero focus on true nutrition.
After college, it started catching up with me. When I moved in with my boyfriend (now husband of 5 years) in 2008, focus became saving money. Unfortunately, cheap food is crappy food, so we were eating horrible processed foods because we didn’t know any better, and because, well, it was the cheapest way to grocery shop. It wasn’t immediate, but after working several years at a depressing job where I could literally sit all day without getting up from my desk other than to pee, and using unhealthy cafeteria food as an escape mechanism, I was starting to gain weight. Then, I hurt my back badly enough to keep me away from volleyball permanently, so the struggle became harder. I worked to lose some for our wedding, but after that, in late 2011, I ballooned up to roughly about 170 lbs. on my 5’5″ frame. For the longest time, I was in Denial City. It was the first time I’d ever really experienced gaining a lot of weight, so I didn’t think it could happen to “athletic” me. I wasn’t sure what to believe when I looked in the mirror, since my eyes had always told me I needed to lose weight – this time, though, they were right. It was the perfect cocktail of stress + eating junk + overeating junk + not exercising. I hid from the truth and didn’t weigh myself, so I didn’t have unbiased data to rely on (though, having to buy size 13 jeans should’ve tipped me off!). I did reel it back in somewhat after I realized I’d peaked, and made a conscious effort to get more exercise (walk, walk, walk!) and be more careful how much I was eating, but I had to really keep a close eye on it – I was on thin ice. I thought that this was the way it would be from there on out; I thought, “Well, I’m not a kid anymore, my metabolism is slowing down, etc. etc.” and other such nonsense.
Luckily, in 2013, I experienced my real turning point. I’d been away from the awful job for about a year, and at my new job, had the good fortune of meeting a person who introduced me to the idea of healthy smoothies. I started to realize that we’d been eating all the wrong things and none of the right things, so the first major change was buying a NutriBullet and incorporating breakfast smoothies into our diet. From there, the thing snowballed. Smoothies led to us bringing more fruit and veggies into our home, which led to making better choices when we shopped, which led to more cooking. Then, I started getting really into reading labels and learning what the ingredients are, and started making steady changes toward eliminating junk products from our kitchen.
Three years later, here I am in 2016, feeling like the best version of me yet. What started as eating better has overflowed into all aspects of life, including the personal and household products we use. It’s grown and evolved over time into the beautiful beast it is today, which is still evolving, and the love of it has resulted in my creation of this blog site!
Here are pictures of me, taken today. I’m now at 136 lbs., and recently bought a Women’s size 6 jeans and Junior’s size 9 cropped jeans, so that was a nice surprise! Don’t get me wrong – focusing on numbers isn’t the way to go. However, it’s a testament that seeking the best all-around you (eating clean and healthy, as well as exercising) will result in many wonderful changes to your body. I don’t drive myself crazy exercising, but I walk about 5x a week for about 30-45 min each, bike 1x, and do some light toning stuff with 5 lb. dumbbells, plus crunches. I’m definitely an advocate of fitness being 80% nutrition and 20% exercise.
As you’ve seen, I’ve been many different versions of me over the years. Even though I’m enjoying the current version, I’m really excited to see what better version will evolve next. Although I feel like I’m finally starting to have this figured out, I still think it’s important to find ways to always keep bettering your routine.
Feeling in control of your weight and wellness is unbelievably empowering, especially for those of us who’ve always felt like our weight is a constant battle. One step encourages another. It’s an upward spiral that opens up your thinking bit by bit, and gives you the ability to make better health decisions with greater clarity.
I’m very proud to say that I feel in control now. I no longer fear the calorie. I still love to eat, but feel more satisfied now than ever. The food I eat is real, delicious, and nutritious, and I’m relieved to have broken the hold that the Big Name Brand villains used to have over my mind and body. When you give your body good, real food, you don’t have to feel guilt or count calories. Your body can actually use real food as fuel instead of being confused and perpetually in a state of inflammation from chemicals it doesn’t know how to process. You don’t have to fight to maintain your weight. You feel better. You look better. You’re happier. You’re living, instead of slowly killing yourself.
The me in 2012 never would’ve believed that the 2016 me could exist. It used to be rare for us to have more than one type of fresh produce in our fridge. Now, fresh, organic produce composes the bulk of our shopping hauls, so our fridge is usually stocked to the brim with a nice variety. It really is a beautiful thing.
This is why I blog. I want others to feel their own awakening, to break free, to be able to one day look back in awe at how they used to be. Even if I can just plant a seed in one person’s mind, I’ve done justice to a greater good.
Fighting for the Best Version of You
In this journey, it’s so important to stop comparing yourself to others. It’s a big world out there, so there’s always going to be someone out there who has a better butt than you, or better calves, or whatever. It’s okay to take inspiration from others who are farther along in their journey, but it’s not okay to judge yourself based on what another person looks like. (This is why celebrity idolization drives me nuts – you cannot hold yourself to a standard set by people whose every photo is edited and whose bodies are constantly being nipped, tucked, or injected.) You can only compare yourself to you – past, present, and future. Your goal should always be to achieve the very best version of yourself. Be proud to be who you are, and be proud to treat your body with the respect it deserves.
It really frustrates me that there are so very many things in our American culture that work against the average person who’s trying to be healthy and fit. We’re assaulted with ad images of skinny, fit people, but junk food and fast food are mass advertised just the same, as if the “American Dream” should be to eat garbage, but still be fit and look great. Sorry folks, but it doesn’t work like that! Garbage in, garbage out.
Most of all, I hate the word “diet,” and its awful connotation in our American psyche. Not only does it imply a limited-time undertaking with an opt-out button, but it suggests deprivation and unhappiness in the name of looking thinner temporarily. It focuses on dress size rather than health. It suggests enduring misery to look better. And, in our “Hurry up! Now, now, now!” society, everyone wants a magic solution, magic diet, or magic pill to fix it all overnight.
Unfortunately, many people mistakenly associate eating healthy with a “diet”, thinking it’ll result in boring, tasteless food, plus constantly being hungry. However, the reality is far from that. True wellness is a lifestyle, not a diet scheme, not a fad; it’s about holding higher standards for what you’ll put in your body. It’s about nourishing your body with real, whole foods whenever possible. There isn’t an expiration date on a lifestyle change. And it’s actually enjoyable, sustainable, and satisfying.
But, I can see where the misinformation stems from. All of those gimmicky weight-loss programs make people think that’s what eating healthy is like – miserable. Sure, they can teach you how to quickly lose 15 lbs. by counting points or whatever, but that’s not long-term sustainable. Who the hell wants to count points the rest of their life?! And any program that claims it’s okay to still eat junk, but just less of it, has got it dead wrong.
Kicking the chemically, processed stuff is literally like kicking a drug habit, and the pushers know what to do to keep you coming back. Most things on grocery store shelves or coming from a drive-thru are not food – they are merely food-like. They’re purposely fabricated with the right chemicals to get you to eat the whole bag in one sitting, then feel compelled to keep buying because you “need” it, all while starving your body of real nutrition. And don’t forget, their marketing teams have been working for decades to embed their brands into your homes and hearts as unbreakable habits!
But you can break those habits and take your power back, and doing so makes all the difference in the world in finding the best you. Your brain behaves and craves differently once you’ve removed all the items that trigger your brain to overeat or that mess with its ability to regulate your weight naturally. You actually taste food when you eat real food, rather than tasting chemicals. Until you change your lifestyle, and kick the crap and the chemicals to the curb for good, you can’t truly be free from the hamster wheel known as the American yo-yo diet.
The graphic above explains a theory that our bodies actually gain weight (and keep it there, loss-resistant) because it’s protecting us from the toxins we ingest/encounter. When you go on a “diet” and lose fat, but still eat junky, chemically stuff, those toxins stay in your body, but now at a higher ratio. Your body responds, producing more fat, to lower the body mass-to-toxin ratio. The solution? Stop with all the chemical toxins! I truly believe it, because I’ve lived it, and it’s helped me achieve the best me. The cleaner I eat, the more weight has naturally come off of me. Truly amazing! This is in reach for anyone – I’m not special! I haven’t done anything that any of you cannot do, I promise.
Believe me, the old me from several years ago would’ve thought it all sounded too hard or too ludicrous too. But you know what? It happened. I stand before you as a person who craves vegetables harder than I ever crave sugar or fat. Bad things that I once thought tasted amazing have literally repulsed me now. Trust me. These are all things that will happen when you go in search of the best you.
I hope all of this will help you pause for your own reflection, and find hope and inspiration on your own journey! Think about it: How many different versions of you have there been? Are you happy with the version you are right now – is it the best you? If not, think about one change you can make today. Remember, every little change counts! You’ll soon be on your way to the best you possible!
Wishing you healthier, happier days!