I have never really had a positive body image. Based on the posts I see on social media and conversations I have with friends about the lack of body confidence, I know I’m not alone.
Over the past 30 years, I have fluctuated back and forth between my ideal body weight and an extra 20 pounds. In the past few years, that number has crept up even higher. It’s an ongoing battle.
During of my overweight times, I despised myself. I wanted to hide, to be unseen. Then at my ideal weight, I still grumbled about cellulite and imperfections. I still wanted to lose more.
No matter how much I lost, it was never enough. I never felt like I was enough.
That was my normal, until recently, when my nine-year-old daughter shed a light on my unhealthy thinking. One night while I was preparing dinner, she announced she wanted to go on a diet. Her words stopped me in my tracks.
My nine-year-old on a diet? That’s crazy. She’s not overweight. Not only that, but at each annual check-up, she’s always been in the 40th percentile of height and weight. So when I heard her say she wanted to diet, I was alarmed. I was blindsided and stunned. What makes a healthy, lean, nine-year-old feel like they need to go on a diet? How did this happen?
My bad example.
Then, it suddenly occurred to me that she is learning from my bad behavior.
Me. It happened because of me and the unhealthy example I have been setting.
True, we live in a culture that praises and glorifies thin. We are bombarded with messages about our bodies and our weight. Thin is beautiful. And healthy. And valued. Take this pill or try this cleanse. Do this workout for a summer bikini body. I am always intrigued (and honestly, a little tempted) by the cover of Women’s World magazine as I stand in the grocery store checkout line, promising me yet another easy way to “Lose 20 pounds in 2 Weeks!”
But even though we are shaped and surrounded by these messages all around us, I am actually her biggest influence. I am who she watches and listens to, daily. I began recalling the behaviors I have been exhibiting and the words I have been saying for years.
“Nothing looks good on me.”
“I’m going on a diet.”
“I need to lose weight.”
“I hate how I look.”
“Does this look okay?”
“My stomach is huge.”
She’s seen me break down and cry over my weight. She’s watched me eat a small piece of tilapia and six spears of asparagus for dinner, every night, for six weeks straight, and then heard me to complain to my husband that I had to just go to bed because I was hungry and wasn’t allowed any more food than that.
This is not okay.
When she said she needed to diet, my heart fell. In that moment, I realized I needed to change, immediately.
But un-programing is hard.
Changing my beliefs about the one thing I have let define me my entire life is not coming easy. Honestly, I’m still in the middle of the battle.
If we want our daughters to be stronger, do more, live the lives we want them to live, then we must try harder to overcome the self-deprecating and limiting beliefs that we were taught as little girls.
I know I can’t flip the switch on years of unhealthy thinking. But I can start shifting my behavior and her perspective. I decided to start changing my behavior with three things to change both mine and my daughter’s perspective on healthy eating and body confidence.
I Will Speak Differently
I will change my words. It’s only been within the past few months that I have really come to understand on a deeper level what this means. The way we speak to ourselves, including the ongoing inter chatter that seems to be constantly running, has a huge impact on how we behave.
I will change the words I use about myself. As I mentioned earlier, the words we use, internally and out loud, matter significantly.
I wasn’t aware of just how many awful things I had been saying to myself, unconsciously, until a few months ago in one of my first ever yoga classes. The instructor told us that the words we speak and think about ourselves can really affect our mind, body and soul connection.
I began to realize just how horribly I have been speaking to myself. I’ve had a stream of ugly chatter running in the background for years. Now, I try to be more mindful about what I tell myself. When I start to think negative things about my reflection in the mirror, I stop and make a conscious effort to say something good.
I Will Implement the 80/20 Rule for Healthy Eating
Once, a therapist I was seeing told me that everything I did was “all or nothing.” That was eye-opening, but I realized it’s very true.
If I am on a mission to lose weight, (which lately has felt like all the time,) then I will go hard and extreme for a while, like doing a smoothie cleanse for ten days. Or eating only fish and chicken and broccoli until I lose 15 pounds. Don’t eat after 6 p.m. Cut out all the carbs. Intermittent fasting. The list goes on and on.
The problem with that is, like anything else I do “all in,” is that I get burned out fast. It’s not realistic, I have learned, to go at things this way. And it doesn’t feel healthy to me.
So instead, I plan to adopt more of an 80/20 approach. That means eating healthy about 80 percent of the time but allowing myself some latitude in the other 20 percent. So, for example, if my family screams for Mexican food on a Friday night, I can go and enjoy myself, because for about 80 percent of the time, I have made healthier food choices.
I won’t swim in the queso and then gulp down three margaritas. (Although that can be tempting.) But, I can go and opt for maybe some soft chicken tacos or a salad, enjoy a night out with my family and not feel like I derailed a week’s work of smart eating.
I Will Express Gratitude for What My Body CAN Do
Instead of expressing frustration about my body’s limitations, I focus on gratitude for what my body can do. My body is strong. I am physically able to go to the gym and take a class or lift weights.
I am healthy, and I should appreciate it! When I do something as simple as walk my dog, I realize that I can express gratitude that I am able to do it. I know that may sound silly. But think about it. So many people can’t even walk through the mall. So, I choose to embrace where I am and practice gratitude for where I am at this moment.
Lately I’ve been having issues with my ankle, so I can’t run anymore, and I can’t jump around too much in some of the fitness classes I take. But I can modify. I can walk out a burpee or step lunge instead of jump lunge. And I will be grateful for it because I can show up, I can move relatively well, and I’m freaking alive. So, I will choose to love my abilities and not curse my challenges.
I suppose this will be life-long journey. I have years of undoing to undo, going all the way back to things I heard from my great-grandmother that are still imprinted on my eight-year-old mind.
I know it’s not something that will change overnight, but it’s a start.