New Year, New Mindset: A Different Kind of Resolution
Do you have a New Year’s resolution for 2019? If so, does it have anything to do with changing the size or shape of your body?
For most of my life, I spent every New Year’s Eve plotting ways to “fix” everything I believed to be wrong with my body. I would spend virtually every other day of the year hating my body in no uncertain terms. But something always felt different about my usual disdain for my body at the start of a brand new year. My usual sense of hopelessness was replaced by motivation. I found myself feeling like the air was alive with possibility, that this was finally, finally going to be the year I would fix everything that I perceived to be wrong with me. This was it. In retrospect, I realize that the only thing different about those moments is that I was romanticizing my own self-hatred instead of seeing it for what it truly was. It felt like liberation- using what normally only caused me pain in order to motivate myself to be more disciplined. But a gilded cage is still a cage.
I am a firm believer that we can learn not only from our own experiences but what others have been through, too- if they are willing to share and we are willing to listen. It is my hope that even just one person will resonate with what I am saying and experience tangible positive changes in their life as a result.
I have learned the hard way that guilt and shame may be powerful motivators momentarily. However, they are not sustainable. Feeling ashamed of ourselves and like our bodies are fundamentally wrong never has been and never will be the path to feeling at peace in our own skin. Very rarely is the root reason for our pain anything to do with the amount of space our bodies take up. It is a trap to believe that changing our appearance will “fix” what is hurting inside of us. I fell into this trap too for many years. It took me doing a lot of uncomfortable internal dialogue with myself to face the truth. This particular truth was that even at my absolute thinnest, I still hated my body and felt like it was all wrong. I still wanted to hide from the world. I still felt unloved and unworthy. Lying to myself and pretending that losing the 100+ pounds I had gained as a result of multiple chronic illnesses would solve all of my problems gave me something to look forward to. It let me believe that happiness and self-worth could be mine someday, as long as I was willing to suffer enough right now. I had a deep subconscious belief that I had to somehow atone for my existence. I internalized this belief at a very young age, due to repeated abuse and assault at the hands of more than one person. I grew to believe that there was something fundamentally wrong with me that caused all of these people to want to hurt me and to take pleasure in doing so. I internalized the lie that I deserved what I was going through, that I somehow brought it upon myself.
There is no quick fix to undoing a lifetime of not knowing how to love yourself, but we all have to start somewhere. I began to completely change the way I treated my body once I had the revelation that we will always remain stuck if we continue to operate from a mindset of believing ourselves to be fundamentally broken. We will never feel whole as long as we view our bodies as something we need to “fix.” There is an enormous difference between trying to fix ourselves and trying to heal ourselves.
The former implies that we are broken, damaged goods; it objectifies us as if we were nothing more than a defective toy. The latter implies that we are worthy of being nourished and cared for with compassion; it helps us to rediscover our own humanity and the resilience inherent in that humanity. It is liberation.
Trying to change our bodies through behavior modification almost always leads to more problems, rather than actually solving any. This is in large part because it widens the gap between who we are and who we take ourselves to be. It communicates to our bodies; “I don’t trust you. You are unworthy. You don’t know what’s best for me. You are a part of myself I’d rather didn’t exist. You must be beaten into submission.”
Trying to fight against our bodies will never be sustainable because at some point they will fight back- and win. This is not as an act of stubbornness or vengeance on your body’s part. Your body is trying to protect you and keep you safe. When you eat a restrictive diet and deprive yourself, your body perceives it as a famine. When you are under extreme stress, your body perceives it as a primal environmental stressor such as being too cold. Your body has no awareness that you are inducing the famine as a conscious choice via dieting. It only knows that it wants to keep you alive.
No matter how strong your willpower, I promise that your body’s defense mechanisms are stronger. Once upon a time this frustrated me and made me feel hopeless. But now I know that working with my body is so much more powerful and sustainable than working against it.
My own personal turning point was when I stopped trying to change myself. I slowly but surely stopped believing that some so-called expert knew more about my own body than my body itself did. I chose to trust that if I stopped trying to change and fight my body, that it would take care of whatever it needed to to get me to a state of optimal health- even if that didn’t look like the image I had in my head of my ideal body. I finally realized that it’s impossible to hate yourself healthy- it’s inherently paradoxical. It was a tough pill for me to swallow that all the years I spent obsessing over every bite of food I put into my body had actually damaged my health severely. The truth was that nothing I had put into my body, even during some of my most epic food binges, had harmed me nearly as much as the toxic thoughts I had been letting take up residence in my mind all of those years. I’ve learned that what I allow into my mind matters even more than what I put into my body.
I had been at war with my body for as long as I can remember.
When I was eight years old, someone I looked up to and loved told me that my body was developing curves way too fast and that I should starve myself to help combat it. She told me that if I didn’t get my curves under control right then, that I would be to blame if grown men lusted after and hurt me. She taught me how to make myself throw up my food that day. A few years later, when my worst fears came true and grown men did, in fact, hurt me, I blamed my body and therefore myself. I was 11 the first time I took diet pills and I remember feeling like my heart was going to beat out of my chest and fly away. I struggled with multiple eating disorders and always at any given time saw myself as either being “good” or “bad.” If I ate something on my bad list, then I figured it made me bad and I would find various ways to punish myself. As my body endured even more trauma over my childhood and teen years, I began to abuse myself in increasingly worse ways. At 17, my body hit a breaking point and I developed two chronic illnesses, PCOS (poly-cystic ovarian syndrome) and endometriosis- and gained over 100 pounds in less than a year.
I had already felt betrayed by my own body, blamed it for the repeated abuse and assault I endured- and now I felt it was betraying me yet again by getting sick and gaining so much weight. I felt more detached from my body than ever. Living in my body felt like being an unwanted stranger in someone else’s home. I hated my body and believed that it hated me too.
My body had been a literal crime scene so many times and I figured nothing about it was worth saving. Other people have destroyed me to the point where it felt natural for me to destroy myself too.
One day, I found myself thinking about this destruction and I had a mental breakthrough in the way I thought about destruction. I am not somebody who believes that destruction is never justified- I have seen far too much evidence of the contrary in my own life. It may be a truth that is difficult for many to digest, particularly those who have lived a life where they never had to defend themselves- but sometimes the only viable path to peace is war. So many of us have spent much of our lives at war with our own bodies. I know I personally spent over half my life exhausting myself by fighting against the wrong enemy. Few things are as destructive as the wars we wage within ourselves, taking on the position of both oppressor and victim, each role knowing us from the inside out and being able to annihilate us that much more as a result. Our minds are the most powerful tool we have. I do not propose that we lay down our weapons altogether. Instead, I propose that we stop using them on ourselves and instead attack the reasons that we want to hurt ourselves. The hurtful things we have internalized and taken to be true are the very things that need to be examined, uprooted and replaced with the truth.
One of the most powerful things I’ve ever learned is how simple it is to distinguish what is true about ourselves from what is false- lies feel bad. The truth feels good. It takes practice to learn to listen to our bodies, but they do speak to us on a daily basis. When I had bad thoughts about myself, such as that I am ugly or unworthy or that my body is unlovable and damaged beyond repair- I would feel physically sick. My head would hurt, I would feel nauseous, my stomach and chest would hurt and I just wanted to escape from my body. I realize now that my body was viscerally rejecting those lies. Those feelings don’t hurt because there is any truth to them- they hurt because we’re trying to force ourselves to internalize what our bodies know to be poison.
On the contrary, when I had good thoughts about myself, it felt like my whole body was smiling. I felt energized and vibrant and present in my own body.
Lies felt bad, and the truth felt good. It was truly that simple, although unlearning everything I had believed about myself and life itself for so long was complex. Emotional detox- exploring and then purging bad feelings sometimes hurts us the same way metamorphosis hurts a caterpillar who is in the throes of becoming a butterfly. I know from personal experience how overwhelming it can feel to try to figure out how to apply things you have read in a way that is useful in your own life. I have fallen into the trap of paralysis by analysis many times myself. I want to help you turn information into action. Here is what I recommend you do right now to start making peace with your body and your relationship with food:
Where To Start:
•Get a notebook with the sole purpose of journaling to explore things you’ve internalized about yourself when they come up. Even if you only spend five minutes a week journaling, it is time worth investing and will help you begin to sort out these feelings. Whenever feelings about your body or food come up, explore them on paper. Three journal prompts to get you started if you feel stuck:
1.) What does the image of your ideal body look like in your head, and when and why did you come to internalize this as your ideal?
2.) What do you want more- to change your body or the things you think changing your body will give you/add to your life?
3.) What are some foods that make you feel sick or in pain when you eat them? What are some foods that make you feel nourished and vibrant and satisfied when you eat them?
•Get a copy of Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth- whether you borrow it from the library, or buy your own copy. I think anyone and everyone seeking to make peace with their body and their relationship with food should read this book at least once. I cannot stress enough how much this book has healed my entire life, not only my body and food issues. Spoiler alert: this is not a religious book despite the title, and it is applicable to anyone regardless of their gender.
•Whenever you think a negative thought about yourself, talk back. Question the validity of that thought. Examine where it came from- when did you first believe that? Who or what did you learn that from? Is that person a credible authority on you? Dark thoughts will wither away over time when brought into the light. As Geneen Roth recommends in Women, Food and God, it can even be helpful to mock “The Voice” and insult it in defense of yourself. Remember- the voice is not you.
•IF you feel that losing weight is a healthy and not harmful thing for you at this moment, then I highly recommend using visualization as an aid to help your body coming from a loving, peaceful place. My favorite visualization tool is Jon Gabriel’s app called The Gabriel Method – Visualization App. I use this app daily to de-stress and it has been an extremely powerful tool for helping my mind and body to work together in harmony. I suggest starting with the free evening visualization, just let it play as you go to sleep.
•I will touch on nutrition and using food as medicine in my next health article here on Millennial Muse but start with paying attention to how certain foods make your body feel. Start working on tuning into what your body has to say and what it is asking for and do your best to give it what it needs. Eat with minimal distractions- try your best to avoid watching tv, driving, being on your phone, or reading while you’re eating. Avoid upsetting or otherwise emotionally strenuous conversations during your meal times. While removing these distractions may feel uncomfortable at first, it will help you learn to start listening to what your body is trying to tell you. Take your time eating and enjoy your food.
•Drink lots of water.
•If you want to start exercising, try to make your motivation come from a place of celebrating your body- not punishing it. Experiment with different ways of moving your body to see what feels good. Instead of thinking about what exercise can do for you long-term, focus about the immediate benefits- I will touch on this more in my next health article as well, but for me exercise has a way of instantly taking the edge off of some of my depression and anxiety and PTSD symptoms. I have found that to be a far more powerful motivator than exercising in the hopes of maybe changing the appearance of my body someday months or years from now.
•Love yourself as a verb- even and especially if you are unable to feel that love for yourself just yet. The action will eventually inspire the feeling. To love yourself as a verb means to be your own advocate and act in your own best interests. For me, it was helpful to try to take care myself the way I would look after a child. I began constantly asking myself questions and answering them from a place of non- judgmental curiosity, with the objective of my inquisition being to better learn how to treat myself with compassion. A good rule of thumb is to treat yourself with the same patience and kindness you would show to a small child.
•Instead of focusing on changing your weight, focus on gaining health instead. Ditch the scale for the foreseeable future and pay attention to how you feel. Tip: at the doctor’s office, you can ask to stand on the scale backward and request that you aren’t told the number. I have done this many times when I was in the most difficult stages of recovering from my eating disorder and it helped me a lot. As someone who lost over 100 pounds, I can say with complete sincerity that the biggest changes in my body and overall health were the things I felt, not the numbers I saw.
Healing is not always linear, and you have not failed if some days feel harder than the day before. You are doing the best you can at all times. When you know better, you can do better. Whether you realize it yet or not, you are already deserving of all of those things you believe changing your body will get you. You already deserve to feel comfortable and free in your own skin. You already deserve to love and be loved. You are worthy- just as you are. Thank you for taking the time to listen to what I wanted to say here. Although these are things I have already lived through myself, I want to always do my best to articulate and share what I have learned in the hopes of it helping others. So if there are any questions or topics you would like me to touch on in future posts, feel free to leave a comment on this post.