***

“I mean, you were never fat, but…,” a friend.
“Freshman 15? More like the Freshman 30,” a boyfriend.
“Over capacity on elevator! Elevator’s going to break because of girl in green jeans,” a stranger.
“She looks like she’s lost weight, has she? No? Oh, I thought she had…” a family member.

These things were all said to or about me over twenty years ago. It’s funny how I can still hear them all so clearly in my head even today. I know exactly where I was. I can tell you exactly what I was wearing.

No, wait, scratch that.  It’s actually not funny that I remember it.

It’s incredibly sad.

Words can do a number on you, right? It’s amazing how much power they hold, how quickly they can be rattled off and how long they can stay bouncing around inside your head.  Positive, kind words can stick and push you to excel, give you confidence, remind you what you’re capable of. Negative words can shatter your spirit, make you question your capabilities and leave you grappling with self worth for years.

My weight has always fluctuated. I was never naturally thin, but I was never considered very overweight. I have gained and lost the same twenty pounds my entire life (sometimes a bit more, sometimes a bit less). And I have always struggled mentally with my weight and my identity in relation to my weight.

So, as I was going through old photos last weekend, trying to find a particular picture from a trip years ago, I stumbled on this shot:

This is me on New Year’s Eve in 1999.

I remember this night. I remember that dress. I remember thinking I had no business wearing it (and not because it looked like maroon tin foil). I remember worrying that people would think I looked chubby. I remember holding in my stomach a lot. I remember drinking more at the party so that I wouldn’t be so self conscious. And this was during a thin time in the the never-ending hamster wheel of my weight fluctuations.

I look at this photo today and I think: What the f*ck?!

I wish I could go back in time and tell this 20-something girl that she is worth more than the shell that she is wrapped in.

I’ve written about body image before and my struggle with the same, but I want to be very clear: I don’t write about this because I want comments on how you don’t think I’m overweight or how you think I look great or don’t see what I see. As sweet and as kind as that is, I actually want us to learn that it has nothing to do with me needing reassurance and everything to do with why we are talking about it at all.

No matter what size you are, you can have body issues. Let me say that again: no matter what size you are, you can have body issues.  Don’t let people dismiss your very real feelings, because they don’t think you have anything to complain about. It doesn’t matter if you are ten pounds or one hundred pounds away from where you think you should be.  If you feel it, it exists. And there is no quota you have to reach before the number on a scale can do a number on you.

I wasn’t raised in a household where weight and appearance were a large focus. My mom was a naturally thin person and she never dieted or set a poor example with food or body image as we watched.  Unfortunately, somewhere along the way on my own, I decided beauty and weight were important to my self worth. And ever since that switch was turned on, I have struggled to push it back down or snuff out the thought altogether – especially since entering my step-daughter’s life and having my own daughter, Ivy.

I definitely have failed in the past as an example, especially in the early days as a new stepmom. My step-daughter watched me do every “diet” program out there. She overheard me telling my husband multiple times that “I just needed to lose…” and she was there as I joked about feeling like a busted can of biscuits.

Do I think small comments like this can do harm? Absolutely. Especially when they become a running theme in your household.

Months ago, I was attempting yet another new diet and every morning I would strip down and weigh myself, as my three-year old watched.  She has asked what the scale is numerous times, but she doesn’t (thankfully) yet understand what it means.  On about the tenth day of doing this, and looking over to see her waiting patiently to go downstairs for breakfast, a flash of complete shame washed over me. Shame, sadness and anger at myself.

One of the first things I started doing after I had Ivy was make decisions based on these factors: “Would you want the girls doing this? Is this something you would want your daughters to feel?”  And it has helped me so much to be a better person to myself and others. So, what was stopping me from doing this when it came to my own appearance and self-worth?

I finally decided to make a full stop. A full stop on diets, “skinny” gimmicks and the exhausting hamster wheel of “If I just lose this much…”

I decided that I needed to focus on health and less on weight. I spent hours online doing research. And I kept coming back to this Whole30 book.

Ok, I’m going to be honest.  Initially, every time I saw this Whole30 thing mentioned on social media, I thought it was something people were selling. I skipped right past it. But then I started to read about it and the theory behind it – and the main fact that this is not a diet. This is not a quick weight loss challenge. This is a way to learn about and look at food differently.

And it has changed everything for me.

As much as I loved this program, I also kind of hate calling it a “program” and saying it’s name, in general. It makes me sound like I’m writing a sponsored post and I am not. I’m writing to tell you how this has rocked my world and changed my mindset completely. And let me tell you, it took decades to get here, so hell yes, I’m going to write about it.

I am not going to go into the specifics of the program. (Sorry, you’re going to have to take the initiative and learn about it on your own.) I will say that the entire concept is going back to whole foods and eliminating processed garbage filled with sugar and mood-altering chemicals. Yes, mood altering. By eliminating some food groups for a temporary period, I learned which foods affect me positively and negatively – as well as a whole lot of other things about myself.

This is what happened when I did the Whole30:

  • My energy skyrocketed
  • My chronic anxiety lessened dramatically
  • I was diagnosed with PMDD years ago; my cycle came and went this month without the usual horrific mood swings (this one was a total shock)
  • My suspicions that I have a lactose intolerance were finally confirmed
  • My daughter now asks for yogurt and fruit for a snack or apples and peanut butter, rather than chips or chocolate (it’s amazing how when options change, littles quickly adjust)
  • Constant cravings for junk have completely subsided
  • I feel healthy

That last one? Yeah, that is the kicker for me. As the weeks went on in this program, I started focusing less on how my jeans fit and more about how great I felt. There is something about eating whole, healthy foods that makes you feel strong – and makes you think less and less about what number is on a stupid scale.

Did I lose weight? Yep. Am I going to tell you how much? Nope. Because weight loss is NOT why I did this. I started this program with the determination that I would focus on health and not weight. And that mindset is what got me through this and ended up delivering a whole new outlook on life for which I will be eternally grateful. I feel healthy and strong. And I’ll be damned if I ever make food the enemy in my house again. Not for me and definitely not for my children.

Whole30 is hard. It is. If you’re looking for a quick low carb diet that will get you in a bikini next month, don’t bother. You’re not doing it for the right reason. If you want to make a real life change and be more mindful about what you are eating and feeding your children, then do it. You can do it if you do it for the right reasons.

Decades of self-damage do not dissolve in one month and I’m sure I haven’t miraculously solved all of my body issues in thirty days. But I do think that I have finally found a way to live moving forward that feels nothing like a diet and everything like a choice.

The Whole30 may not be for you.  But if you are struggling with body issues, find something that does work for you. Keep looking. Find a way to live that gives you confidence and strength.  Retrain your brain.  Talk to someone, know you aren’t alone. Never stop trying to know better and be better.

Make that choice for you and make that choice for the beautiful little eyes watching.

xo,

Jen