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For most of my life, I’ve struggled with body image issues. I’ve always been a curvy girl — never heavy, just “softer” than most of my friends. I was the first in my circle to get breasts, erupting from a training bra to a C-cup over one summer. And I’ve always had a butt.
There were absolutely things to love about those curves, but I often just felt chubby next to my rail-thin friends who hadn’t quite developed yet. I know now that was really the start of it.
I started throwing up meals when I was 13, and that unhealthy behavior continued into my early 20s. Eventually, I got help. I started therapy. I made strides. And by my 30s, I wish I could say I was at a healthy place with my body.
But the truth is, I always remained a bit fixated by those numbers on the scale. Then, I put on 25 pounds pretty much out of nowhere.
I eat a well-balanced, mostly whole foods, diet. I exercise. I have worked hard to place an emphasis on health and strength over scale numbers and pant sizes. My doctor has told me the weight gain has to do with age (my metabolism is slowing down) and hormones (I’ve got endometriosis, which causes my hormones to roller coaster about). Neither of those explanations made me feel especially good about the extra baggage I was now carrying and didn’t feel like I deserved.
So gaining weight was a blow. One that had me falling back into unhealthy territory. Not binging and purging — but desperately seeking out a diet that might get me back to where I was.
Unfortunately, nothing worked. Not the intense workout plans I’d tried before. Not cutting carbs. Not counting calories. Not even the expensive meal delivery service I signed up for as a last-ditch effort. For two years, I tried to lose that weight. And for two years, it didn’t budge.
Throughout that battle, I was punishing myself. My clothes no longer fit, but I refused to buy larger sizes because that felt like admitting defeat. So I stopped going anywhere, because it was embarrassing to be bulging out of the clothes I had.
I kept telling myself that if I could just lose 5, 10, or 15 pounds, I would feel comfortable again. I kept telling myself it should be easy.
It wasn’t … Unlike my teens and early 20s, when I could drop 10 pounds within two weeks if I tried, this weight wasn’t going anywhere.
I finally hit a breaking point a month or so ago. I was basically starving. All I wanted was a banana, but I kept trying to talk myself out of it. I told myself I’d already had my calories for the day.
And that was when it hit me: This was crazy. Not only was it not working, but I knew better. I’ve been in therapy and talked to nutritionists. I know that dieting doesn’t ever really work in the long run, as researched by Traci Mann, PhD. I know that Sandra Aamodt, neuroscientist, says restriction only makes it worse. And I know that ignoring my body when it tells me it’s hungry is never a good idea.
I also know that my history has me primed to go to extremes, which is exactly what I was doing. And it’s something I’ve never wanted my daughter to witness or learn from.
So, I said “screw it.” I’m not going to waste any more of my life trying to control the size of my body. I joined a body positive anti-diet community a friend suggested. I started reading more about mindful eating, and trying to add those practices into my daily life. I spent a few hundred dollars on pants, bras, and even swimsuits that actually fit. I made a conscious decision to never diet again.
Does that mean I’m 100 percent healed from my body image issues and unhealthy thinking? Absolutely not. That’s a process. And the reality is, I might fall down this path again at some point in the future. I’m a work in progress, and there are some lessons I may need to keep learning.
I know now, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that dieting isn’t the path to being healthy. Not for anyone, and especially not for me. I don’t want to waste my life counting calories, restricting food, and trying to force my body into submission.
You know what? My body doesn’t want to submit. And the more I fight it, the unhappier and unhealthier I become.
There’s a whole community of nutritionists, researchers, doctors, and health advocates supporting an end to our culture’s diet obsession. It just took me a little longer to get on board. But now that I’m here, I truly hope I don’t ever fall off this wagon again.
Mostly, I hope for my daughter to grow up in a world where that obsession doesn’t exist at all. I know that starts with me and it starts at home.
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Leah Campbell is a writer and editor living in Anchorage, Alaska. A single mother by choice, after a serendipitous series of events led to the adoption of her daughter. Leah is also the author of the book Single Infertile Female and has written extensively on the topics of infertility, adoption, and parenting. You can connect with Leah via Facebook, her website, and twitter.