“Healthy” Series: Body Image

Welp, so much for keeping up with a “normal” schedule! The past few days have been a total whirlwind and I have hardly had a chance to sit down.

Friday was my husband’s 30th birthday and we had a big party (35+ people) so we spent the week preparing and then had the party on Saturday. And then today is Father’s Day so we visited with my dad and my father-in-law to celebrate. Wow, we are worn out!

 

But back to the purpose of this post… my series on “healthy.”

For June I am focusing on mind and body.

I think the most difficult thing to understand about being healthy is what does healthy actually mean? It can mean different things to different people and in different contexts. Even the inverse is difficult to answer…what is not healthy? Figuring out what your “healthy” is can be quite mind-boggling with all the buzzing info and conflicting “studies” that are available online or in print. It can be quite difficult to wrap your head around and find a balance that works for you.

This post is specifically dedicated body image. I would say I generally have a healthy body image. I know when I need to cut back on the sugar and junk food and beef up on the healthy veggies and lean proteins. I have certainly had my ups and downs when it comes to how I see myself physically.

 

Back in the day (11 years ago, when I was in high school), I was incredibly thin. I graduated high school at the hefty weight of 92 pounds. Yup, you read that right…92, not 192. I was quite the skinny minny and definitely identified as such.

 

When I headed off to college I had a rude awakening that I cannot continue to just eat whatever I want and decrease my daily activity and stay that same 92 lbs. I also started having issues with some different foods while I was in college. At the same time I was dealing with some home-sicknesses and suppressed my feelings by eating junk food. At some point in our lives, everyone realizes that food is not comfort and cannot make you feel better. But its a tough lesson to learn and a tough habit to break.

I will still pretty thin after college (Dec 2006) as we headed toward our wedding in 2008. I was a very “healthy” 115-120. Which, truthfully, is a good weight on my smaller frame. I could definitely have used some toning and been a bit more active, but I looked and felt pretty good.

 

After our wedding we sped into a crazy three months of wedding, house buying, honeymoon in Paris (woohoo), move into house, and start law school. It really took a toll on my physically and I ended up having serious issues with my eyes around Thanksgiving (conveniently right before the start of first semester law school finals). To explain briefly, I had to stop wearing contacts and had blurred vision for about a month (right over finals!) It was terrifying and absolutely miserable and I would not wish that upon anyone. The stress of that, on top of everything else, became overwhelming and I again resorted to food for comfort. Add to that the toll of a law school schedule (reading 250-500 pages of legal text each week, a competitive grading environment, and a crumbling job market) my lifestyle quickly became extremely sedentary. My weight and body image suffered seriously as a result. One day I stepped on a scale and realized that if I gained one pound, I would be considered overweight (based on BMI). For me, a person who was always thin and identified as being “thin” that was a rude awakening. For ME (and I want to emphasize that this is personal to me), having that much weight on my frame was definitely too much. I knew that I felt bad, but putting a number on it helped me realize what the problem was. I felt like sausage in sausage casing that was three sizes too small. This was fat on me. This was not muscle or being big-boned. It was me binge eating and trying to swallow my stress and emotions with junk food (a lot of fast food, candy, cookies, soda, etc.)

At that point, I really had a choice…buy all new clothes or get myself healthier. I decided to get healthier. In about six months I lost about ten pounds. I did it by doing three things. 1) I changed one of my prescriptions. I had switched it a year before after having trouble with my eyes (the one previous to it had said dry eyes could be a side effect, which was the root cause of my eye trouble during my first year). Since I wasn’t wearing contacts anymore (I had LASIK by this point), I switched back to my previous med. Over that year I had been excessively tired and sluggish. Almost immediately after switching I felt much better. Call it placebo, but I don’t care… 2) I cut out a lot of junk food. I just stopped keeping it in the house. Yup, it really is that simple..just don’t buy it to begin with. Shop the outsides of your grocery store or head to the farmer’s market. Don’t bring it home. Don’t tempt yourself with it. 3) I started walking more. I parked my car further away and walked an extra block or two each day. I just got up on my feet and off the couch/desk chair.

Look, ten pounds over six months is by no means a miracle. But it was enough to make me want to get up and put on clothes in the morning. My jeans weren’t restrictive anymore and I could move around more easily. Its amazing that a few pounds, and better fitting clothes made me want to improve those healthy habits more!

That fall I ran my first half marathon (which I should have trained better for, but hindsight is always 20/20)! The Nike Women’s half Marathon in San Francisco. I vowed never to do it again…until about a week later.

Since then I have had quite a few ups and downs and have realized a lot about myself. In January I hit a low point on body image. After dropping out of the marathon, then catching a cold after we returned, and work getting very stressful I resorted to my old tendencies and packed on some pounds. I was almost back to that “almost overweight” number, but caught it early and nipped it in the bud.

Here are some things I realized:

1 – I have a tendency toward being an emotional eater and also a tendency to reward myself with food. I need to find other ways to cope with emotions and should not allowed food to be a celebrated thing or use food to reward myself (duh). Also, I should not use celebrations as an excuse to indulge and should make smart choices all the time. More on that in #3.

2 – I let photos of other people influence how I feel about myself. I am not a victoria’s secret model (I’m way too short) and will never be one. I live a completely different lifestyle and I can only do my best to look my best. It is not my job to have a supermodel body. It is my job to make this body the best it can be, under the circumstances that I exist. Ugh, that’s a tough one. I want flat abs and a toned rear. I am working to make myself the best I can be, not the what someone else is…

3 – Making smart choices doesn’t mean total deprivation. I truly love food. I love the concept of food. I love to feed those around me. I love to cook and experiment and baking is a stress reliever. The hard thing is… I need to find recipes that are healthier for every day use and only eat the special foods once and awhile. Making smart choices means having a large salad on my plate with a little bit of the potato salad or mac and cheese. It means choosing the grilled chicken instead of the greasy, over-sized sausage on the white bread/flour bun. It means cutting a half piece of cake and savoring the bites on my husband’s birthday, rather than eating three cookies and two chocolates every night of the week. You get it? Its tough and I’ll fall off the wagon. But I am learning that FOR ME an 80/20 diet seems to work best. I hate to even call it a “diet” because of the negative connotation, but that’s what it is definitively. So, 80 percent of the time I am eat clean and 20 percent of the time I allow myself to “cheat.” Ugh, again, I hate to even say cheat. Indulge, is a little better… not worry/stress is probably the best definition.

4 – I need to track what I eat. When I track what I eat, I eat better. Also, up there where I said about having issues with foods starting in college…that’s still happening. But I can’t seem to pinpoint the foods that are causing it. When I track my food I am more cautious about what I consume…each and every bite…so I know better what foods are causing me issues. I also avoid more of the “bad” foods in life like…processed foods, fast food, sugars, etc. I know my big culprit is in one of those categories so overall I feel better when I limit this. Read that…FEEL better…we’ll get to that in #5. I know that I need to be careful with bananas and peppers because they often cause me gastrointestinal distress. I also know I need to limit my sodium intake or my hands and feet swell and my joints ache. What I can’t figure out is why I wake up some mornings and every joint in my body is aching, my head is pounding and I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck or hit in the face by a frying pan. I’m not sure what’s causing that and frankly…I need to find out because I’m tired of it.

5 – I need to focus on how I feel not how I look and not what the number on the scale is. I get so frustrated when the scale doesn’t budge or goes up, and forget that I woke up that morning feeling great. There are two things I use as tools for how I feel. One is how my clothes fit. This is a great tool for if I’m doing things “right” for me. If my jeans slide on and aren’t digging into my stomach, I feel good. I can move easily and freely and have no physical restrictions to bind me. The second thing is my joints and stomach. If my joints are aching, then I don’t feel like getting up and moving. If my stomach is feeling off, I just want to eat sugar (weird, i know…). When I feel good, I want to keep doing good things. I need to take a few days off from stepping on the scale or obsessively checking my fitbit for how many steps I’ve done. Feeling good is what matters.

 

I’ve realized MANY more things, but these are the main ones.

This is MY story of my body image. I think everyone needs to form their own image. There are many people in my life who struggle with their weight and body image. I had friends in high school who had eating disorders and know adults now who cannot talk about anything else but losing weight.

 

For me, I want to stop thinking about my body and how I look. For me, a healthy body image means I’m not worried about it ALL the. For me, right now I am focusing on getting myself to a good “status quo” so that I can focus on getting on with my life. I do not want to be the person who spends all day every day struggling with their weight and image. I know I will get there but it will take a little time.

This body is awesome…I have completed 6 half marathons, 3 10ks, numerous 5ks and 16.5 miles of a marathon. And, that’s just the measured stuff.

 

What does a “healthy body image” mean to you?

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