If I said that my body image issues started here (imagine a picture of me, three years old in pink tights and a black Leotard, long pigtails and barrettes) would I be exaggerating? Probably not. Studies indicate that girls as young as three show signs of body image issues. Dance class at this age brought me a lot of joy but I recall as I got older dance became a rocky trail. I was told when I was going on pointe that it would probably be best to “watch my weight.” My super skinny friend in school told me she wasn’t chosen for a dance company because her “thighs were too big.” Mine were twice as big as hers.
There’s another picture of me around this same age that I have. It’s me in a little dress standing next to my tricycle. My ankles are adorned in those thin white socks with the lace around the edge and my thighs are robustly smushed together. I once looked at that picture and said, “See, even at my lowest weight, I didn’t have a thigh gap.” I thought I was being clever.
I used to do all kinds of self-degrading humor. “Do I look like I missed a meal?” was often my refrain when people asked if I was hungry, wanted to do lunch, etc. It went on like this for years and years. It seemed that everything pointed in the right direction, that I would always be the chubby friend who was doomed to travel the world alone. Of course, I wanted a way out and the media told me that the way out was to change my body. So I recorded every step I took, ran on boring treadmills, skipped dessert and guilted myself into eating mainly salads and hummus. And with every bite I took, I felt guilt. EVERY.SINGLE.BITE. The guilt didn’t stop there. I also felt guilt for every workout I missed, every time I put cream in my coffee, everyday that I still weighed what I weighed.
Once I had my kids, things got weird. Suddenly my body had done this amazing thing, but it had also changed so drastically that I barely recognized myself. All the “eat this not that” went out the window when I was pregnant and breastfeeding; it was like my body took over and wouldn’t allow anything but what it needed (thank goodness). I was exhausted, changed yet happy and terribly perplexed on what to do next.
My relationship with my body needed an overhaul.
Going back to my yoga practice and then taking my first Embody Love Workshop helped me do a 180 on my body image. My health got worse before it got better though. I had always had a sensitive stomach but my stomach issues got really bad. I was having full blown intestinal illness. I spent at least one day a month throwing up and then curled in a ball on the floor of my bathroom. My stomach cramps could be so bad the pain was excruciating. One night we ended up in the ER, leaving only after I was pumped up with morphine.
I tried everything. I changed my diet hundreds of ways to try to stop the pain. I went vegetarian, then vegan. Cut out every allergen I could think of. Eventually, at the advice of my gastroenterologist, I went in for a full colonoscopy and endoscopy. It resulted in good news and bad news. There was absolutely nothing wrong with me.
I started to think it was all in my head. How could I be so sick yet there was nothing wrong? I decided to see a nutritionist but I figured for sure the first thing they would say would be to lose weight. So I specifically looked for a nutritionist with a weight neutral approach.
For the first time, someone saw my struggle and didn’t ask about my weight. I was allowed (but wasn’t I always?) actually encouraged to eat what I wanted, when I wanted, however I wanted. She suggested new and different tests that my gastroenterologist had not recommended.
My nutritionist had me write a diary of everything I ate and my symptoms. The perfectionist in me did as asked down to the last morsel. Then she stopped, put down her notebook and told me as I cried that she didn’t care that I had eaten a whole bag of potato chips. That it was okay. No one had EVER told me that before.
I started to get really serious about intuitive eating, Health at Every Size and plunged down the rabbit hole of TRYING (cause it’s SO hard y’all) to love my body. I got tested for food allergies and then allowed myself to eat anything but those foods. No restrictions, no guilt.
A crazy thing happened then, I started feeling better. When I was able to eat without guilt, when I stopped obsessing about my weight, ironically I was able to lead a happy, healthy life. I was definitely heavier than when I was “healthy eating” (which meant me watching every calorie and guilting myself for ever cookie) but I was no longer having throwing up fits. I was spending WAY less time in the bathroom in general (if you know what I mean) and my pain was almost gone.
In the midst of my changes, I learned that intestinal issues are more common in women who suffer from eating disorders/disordered eating. I also learned that women in bigger bodies who exhibit eating disorder behaviors are usually not treated for the disorder. Mostly they are told to “keep up the good work” on their journey to a thinner body.
My journey was long and windy but I no longer look back at these pictures and see anything but a smiling happy kid. I no longer try to displace my body issues on to my thick three year old self, cute as can be in those pigtails and barrettes. Somedays I’m even able to channel that smiling happy girl into this vibrant healthy woman I am today. Thick thighs still included.
Read my thoughts on yoga, teaching, parenting and everything in between.