Throughout this blog’s lifetime I’ve tried several different diets with a mission to excavate through my belly flab and unearth a long-hidden abdominal muscle or two.
Why???? Because I’m vulnerable to the images of beauty that bombard women. As free-thinking, open-minded and decently-read as I like to think I am, I tapped into those insideous messages from a young age and let them take root in my self-esteem. There was (and still is, sometimes) this cruel critical voice in my head that told me I was lazy, greedy, unattractive, undesirable, even dysfigured. I didn’t feel like a woman because at 5ft 11, I wasn’t dainty and petite like my friends. I felt too big, even though I’ve never been technically overweight (perhaps borderline after 3 years of hedonism at uni). I felt like I took up too much space, space I didn’t want or deserve to take up. I actually felt ashamed and apologetic about the size and shape of my body.
I still feel these things, in a deeply-embedded unconscious way, because it’s not easy to change a lifelong way of thinking.
This is why restoring a healthy body image and healing these deep-rooted insecurities is an important ongoing task of mine.
So why do I still do these crazy diets?!
Earlier this week I stopped eating for 40 hours. My plan was actually to do it for 5 days, like I did with the juice cleanse at the start of the month, but this time something snapped in me. I didn’t have the resolve to see it through – it suddenly felt like the wrong thing, to deprive my body of vital nutrients for so long. I realised I was slipping into a toxic mindset (which I do from time to time). I needed to see the weight on my scales drop and I was prepared to starve myself to achieve it. Not healthy.
It’s good that I recognised this. It’s perfectly fine to experiment with different diets in order to become healthier and fitter. I actually enjoy challenging myself, testing my will-power and documenting my experiences. Each new change in diet is like a mini science experiment. I track data with my Fitbit and record my thoughts and feelings here and (for the private stuff) in my journal.
However: I have to recognise when a health kick is becoming toxic.
How do you know if a health kick is becoming toxic?
- You get really upset when you weigh yourself and don’t see the number you hoped for.
- You feel sad and hungry all the time.
- You feel like a failure if you eat something that isn’t ‘allowed’.
- Food and eating makes you anxious.
- Whenever you look in the mirror you think ‘yuck’.
It was time for me to pull back and reassess my goals. Why do I always feel like I want to be thinner? Like, really…why?!
I’m fit, I’m healthy; my body is a complex and precious vessel that carries me around this extraordinary life and I love what it does for me. I am learning to love what it looks like too, by telling myself I’m beautiful whenever I look in the mirror, and drowning out my inner critic, which theatrically gags whenever I get naked.
I’m following more body positive activists on social media and I find this remarkably helpful: just to be exposed to different body types. I’m so used to seeing flat stomachs in the media that I didn’t even know it’s perfectly natural and not necessarily unhealthy to have a belly.
Seeing other women so confident and happy with themselves makes me want to be like that. I don’t need to lose weight…I’m the perfect size for me and my chosen lifestyle. I may still try a cleanse or experiment with my diet from time to time but that doesn’t mean I love myself any less.
If you’re struggling with body image too, I hope you take some comfort from knowing you’re not alone, and that the truth is, you’re beautiful. Whatever size or shape you are – your body is beautiful, I promise you that.