In a society that profits from your insecurity, self-love is a rebellious act.
I was told early on when launching my private personal training business that I should post “Before / After” pictures because “everyone loves a weight loss success story.”
But that’s not my story. Mine might be more of a weight gain success story. Or even more accurately, a self-hate/love story.
Over the course of my entire life, my weight has fluctuated about 20 pounds. Which on my small frame (4’10”) is kinda a lot, but in the grand scheme of things, not really.
My lowest weight was 108 lbs. I hit that weight first when I was addicted to meth, and again when I was actively anorexic. (I tried to find pictures of those days but couldn't).
My second lowest weight is in the picture above – 110lbs. I was actively bulimic and alcoholic. Shortly after that picture was taken, I would go to my doctor for a routine checkup and she would tell me my liver enzymes were elevated and I need to stop drinking. I was only 28 years old.
But I looked great, didn’t I?
The irony is that higher our levels of dissatisfaction with our body image, the less likely we are to lose weight, if that is our goal.
The irony is that the higher our levels of self-compassion, the more mentally and physically healthy we are likely to be.
I spent 15 years of my life trying to become thin. I thought being thin would make me happy. I told myself, “If I was thinner, I could be more confident, and if I was more confident, then I could do better in life.” I told myself, “I was thin, I wouldn’t be so depressed, and if I wasn’t so depressed, I would have more friends and people would like me more.”
I told myself a lot of things. But mostly what I told myself was, “I hate that I’m so fat and ugly and if only I could be pretty & thin, everything would be ok.”
I drank to numb myself from my own self-hatred. I would starve and run and do sit-ups until I wanted to cry and then I would feel so terrible, all I could do was eat cake until I threw up, and then, for just a few moments, I wouldn’t feel anything at all because I was so numb from the self-abuse that I just couldn’t feel anything anymore.
I got a lot of compliments and attention when I was thinner. I was never the girl that guys would hit on, but when I weighed less, it would happen occasionally. When I was heavier, it never happened at all. My friends would say, “Wow, you’ve lost weight! You look great!” We’d go shopping for clothes at consignment stores and it would feel so good to fit into a size 2 or 4 or 6 or whatever it was. It felt like I was actually somebody.
But the reality was, I was dying. Slowly. From the inside out. If the bulimia wasn’t going to kill me, the drinking would. Women have smaller livers than men so we often start seeing physical health effects at younger ages. That was definitely that case for me.
It took a lot: I went to therapy, I went to 12-Step meetings, I went to SMART Recovery, I tried yoga, I took psychiatric medications, I went to acupuncture, I worked with a naturopath. I did all the things. Not because I wanted to, not because I was wealthy and could afford to, but because I didn’t really have any other choice. It just hurt too much to keep doing what I was doing, and I was so desperate, I would do anything to feel better.
There were many turning points, and one came when a friend organized a trip to climb Mt. St. Helens and invited me to join. For the first time in my life, exercise wasn’t about losing weight and looking good. It was about getting strong enough to do something incredible. And because I was part of a group, it wasn’t just about me anymore. Those things made a big difference.
Summitting Mt. St. Helens for the first time felt so good! I had never been somewhere so strange and beautiful – like walking on the moon. And the fact that I had worked so hard to get there made the success all the more sweet – unlike anything I have ever experienced in my life before.
I started hiking regularly after that. It wasn’t even exercise at that point – it was a healing experience to be in the woods, on the trail, among the trees and ferns and silence. Just me, my body, and the quiet. I couldn’t throw up my food because I needed the calories to keep going. I couldn’t drink because if I was hungover, I wouldn’t go hiking the next day. And I didn’t want to drink on the trail because… well, I didn’t need to. I wasn’t unhappy in the woods, and I didn’t need a beer to make the experience better. It was enough, exactly it was. I was enough, exactly as I was.
It still took a long, long time to get sober. I quit bulimia first, somewhere around 2011 or 2012. I quit drinking for the last time in 2013.
When I first stopped throwing up and starving, my weight hit an all-time high of 128 lbs. That didn’t last long. I seem to have stabilized around 120 lbs. Sometimes I’m a bit more, sometimes a bit less.
The charts say I’m overweight for my height. And that’s ok. My body says I’m fine, and I’d rather listen to her. It’s taken a long time to establish a relationship of love and trust with myself and with my body. I’ve spent most of my life hating myself. When I’m the only person who has ever actively tried to kill me, it becomes a really big deal to say, “It’s ok to trust me now” and actually believe it. It’s taken a lot of time, patience, and commitment.
Would I be a faster runner or more efficient climber if I lost five pounds? Ya, probably. But is it worth losing my serenity? Absolutely not.
These days I eat intuitively. I eat when I’m hungry. I stop when I’m full. Some days I eat a lot. Some days I don’t eat much at all. And anytime I try exerting control over that, it doesn’t feel good. So I don’t do it.
I’m not saying losing weight is bad and we should never want to lose weight. I’m not saying we should never want to get strong or in shape or any of those things.
What I’m saying is that real happiness, real health is actually an inside job. It’s not about how much you weigh or how fast you can run or how many mountains you climb or what size pants you fit into or what kind of pants you can afford.
It’s about knowing you are enough, exactly as you are.
It’s about accepting your weight, regardless of the number.
It’s about running at your own pace, even if it’s slower than everyone else.
It’s about being still with the all the imperfections of you, feeling the joy of getting to experience this life, in this body, with all the mess and pain and laughter that comes with it.
 Austin, J. L., Serier, K. N., Sarafin, R. E., & Smith, J. E. (2017). Body dissatisfaction predicts poor behavioral weight loss treatment adherence in overweight mexican american women. Body Image, 23, 155-161. doi:http://dx.doi.org.proxy.lib.pdx.edu/10.1016/j.bodyim.2017.08.002
 Bea, A. W. (2018). Evaluating the role of self-compassion as a mediator of weight-related stress, body dissatisfaction, and health (Order No. AAI10606964). Available from PsycINFO. (1992037583; 2017-54455-238). Retrieved from http://stats.lib.pdx.edu/proxy.php?url=http://search.proquest.com.proxy.lib.pdx.edu/docview/1992037583?accountid=13265