"How did you start loving yourself?"
I was recently asked this question by someone who's been struggling to feel happy in her body for long time, and the first thought that came to mind after reading her email was this: "I know exactly how you feel, because I used to be you."
I know because I struggled with my own body for a long, long time.
Throughout a 10-year period, almost everything about how I looked felt wrong and deeply disappointing to me: My chubby face and arms, protruding belly, the cellulite on my butt (yes, it's still there), and how none of the clothes I wanted to wear didn't fit or look 'good' on me. I wished that I could slice off all the extra layers of fat that were stopping me from zipping up my jeans. My physical self and how I wanted to feel on the inside just didn't align.
I loathed myself.
I knew that I had a lot of work to do when it came to what and how I ate, but I also knew that how I felt about myself was going to have to change if I wanted to break free from the vicious cycle of constant bingeing that I was stuck in, so I started experimenting with a couple of things that I instinctively felt would help me get there.
Here's what I did:
I forgave myself
By the time the awareness that I needed to do this came around, I was close to breaking point.
I was sick of the disapproval, hate and disappointment that I was constantly directing at myself. I was ready to move on and feel something else, something good, that didn't drive me to eat even more.
So I cleaned the slate by acknowledging everything I had done to hurt my well-being up until then, take responsibility for it, forgive myself for it, and vowed to go in a different direction. An empowering direction. One that would let me heal the painful dysfunction I had with the food in my life, and feel good about being me.
I changed how I spoke...to me
I wrote down everything single word that came to mind (or out of my mouth) whenever I looked in the mirror or got dressed.
Frighteningly enough, 100% of the time, I found myself using these words: Fat, ugly or 'Ugh'. Ugh. I'd never speak to someone else using these same words, so why was I verbally abusing myself multiple times a day, every single day with them?
I didn't have the answer to this question, but I knew this: I needed a better vocabulary. One that made me feel good about being alive, and would motivate me to push ahead.
So, I started replacing 'fat' with 'capable', 'ugly' with 'beautiful' and 'Ugh' with 'you're getting healthier and stronger every day'. After awhile, I started to feel better about my physical self, and thankful that I was perfectly healthy and able-bodied, rather than critical of how it looked.
And really, isn't that how being able to run, jump, walk, dance, and experience the world with our eyes, taste buds, ears, hands, feet and skin, is supposed to feel?
I became my own best friend
As humans, we constantly crave for attention, validation, love and care from others, and having spent a good part of my life as a people pleaser who traded compliance for approval and acceptance, I know how easy it can be to lose your voice, strength and ability to care for yourself as time goes by.
I was sick of relying on others for happiness, and to treat me better than I treated myself, so one day, I made a pact with myself to be my own best friend.
This decision manifested (and continues to manifest) in a number of ways, but most notably...
- respecting my body enough to stop abusing it with food daily.
- shedding the emotional weight that makes me feel suffocated by cutting ties with anyone who drags me down (although admittedly, this one does take a long time to master, and it's not always easy to tell if someone's affecting you in a good or bad way until much later down the road).
- learning how to say "no" so that I can focus on the people and things that I truly want to say "yes" to.
- exercising regularly to keep my body healthy, strong and capable enough to allow me to live the way I want to.
- learning as much as I can, whenever I can, to give myself the opportunity to be better than I was yesterday.
If the thought of doing all of these things at once feels be daunting to you, try not to. Pick one (I recommend starting with forgiving yourself) and focus only on that one thing.
Aim to be as consistent as you possibly can with it before moving on to the next. The better you get at developing these skills, I promise you that better things will start falling into place.
Need a gentle nudge in the right direction? Start with my free Daily Self-Care Ritual Workbook.
Photo credit: Ian Schneider
This article originally appeared on michelelian.com