I distinctly remember my cheerleading coach in high school measuring my body in front of the team during practice one night. She needed to take my measurements because I didn’t fit into the uniforms my other teammates were wearing, and we had to have a new one made.
I was embarrassed and humiliated, especially as a 16-year-old girl who so badly wanted to fit in. It confirmed what I already knew: that my body was a little bit bigger than my peers.
I was always a little bit overweight, starting at the age of eight. I wasn’t obese or excessively unhealthy, but I never felt my body was “normal” while growing up. But as I moved from high school to college, to graduate school to the real world, I slowly and consistently gained more and more weight. This was due to a chronic spinal injury, changes in anxiety medication, emotional eating, and binge drinking with my friends on the weekends (always followed by pizza and chicken tenders).
I tended to ignore some of the weight gain, telling myself, “it’s fine,” and getting excited about ordering new clothes when my jeans no longer buttoned.
My first move after grad school was to Chicago. I quickly made some amazing friends who loved having as much fun as I do. On New Year’s Eve of 2020, my friends and I had an amazing night ringing in the decade. This was one of my favorite nights of my life. However, that magical night started off somewhat bumpy when we took photos of each other before heading out to dinner.
I’ve always tried to not let how I look in pictures dictate what I think of myself, but the photos taken that night were different. Although I was at my largest—about 45 pounds overweight—that wasn’t what made me sad. There was a sparkle in my eye and a radiance in my smile that were missing. There was a glow that had faded, and I ever so badly wanted it back.
The next day, I did what most of us do on January 1st. I committed to losing 40 pounds by the end of the year in hopes that shedding extra weight would bring back what I thought I lacked in those photographs. I had always wanted to lose weight and be fit, and this would be my new beginning.
I quickly started working out 3-4 times a week which increased to 5-6 times a week. I started buying and cooking fresh meals, cutting out sugar and soda and was more thoughtful about what went into my body.
Things were going well, and then came the pandemic of 2020. I packed my bags and moved from Chicago to my parents’ home in Detroit, Michigan. What was supposed to be a two-week visit quickly turned into almost three months. However, it also allowed me to live in an entire house of vegans.
I slowly started adopting this new vegan lifestyle which I had never tried before. My mom started teaching me how to cook different foods that didn’t contain any animal products, avoid sugar, and what ingredients to steer clear of when grocery shopping. And because I was working from home, I had more time to exercise. My dad and I went for walks and runs, I took up weight training, and I deepened my yoga practice.
By June of 2020, I had lost 20 pounds. And people were noticing.
My friends said I looked healthy, glowing, and lively. I felt great physically, but mentally I knew that something wasn’t right.
I still felt sluggish at times. I was continuing to experience chronic stomach problems I had dealt with for years, and I knew that something was just off overall. However, I tended to push those feelings to the side, knowing that I was looking thinner than ever before.
That’s what matters most, right?
Fueled by other’s compliments of my body, I increased my workouts from five days a week to 6-7 days a week. I fiercely cut back on almost all of my favorite foods, including chocolate chip cookies and sandwiches. I counted the servings of vegetables I was eating per day, how much protein I had, and how many “cheat” meals and snacks I consumed.
I even started letting my weight loss journey dictate my schedule. I have always been a night owl, but I had read that it was more effective to work out in the morning on an empty stomach. So that’s what I did. I started getting up hours earlier than I would have liked to ensure I had enough time to wake up, work out, shower, and get ready for the workday.
Needless to say, after about three months of this strict regimen, I was exhausted.
Yes, I had lost more weight, but that is when the weight loss stopped. No matter how hard I tried to count calories, weight train, etc., I couldn’t lose another ounce. I was absolutely devastated. I had worked so hard to reach my goal, and no matter what I did physically, I was blocked.
Now, I have always been an advocate for mental health and wellness. I and those I love have been deeply affected by mental illness, suicide, and trauma. However, during 2020, I rarely put two and two together. It wasn’t until the beginning of this year that I realized that I wasn’t losing any more weight because of my mental blockers, not physical ones. More specifically, I was living a life that was not authentically mine.
I didn’t like waking up early to work out. I would rather start my day with warm coffee and a cozy crossword puzzle. I didn’t like strength training daily. I would rather go for long walks and Facetime with my sister while we laugh together. I didn’t like avoiding cookies and ice cream. I would rather enjoy dessert in moderation than cut it out altogether. I didn’t like counting calories and protein. I would rather use that time to read and write.
This was when I decided to start embracing the wants and needs of my heart, soul, and mind, and I hoped that by doing so, the healthiest version of my body would follow.
I adopted an 80/20 philosophy. Eighty percent of my time would be spent ensuring my holistic health was taken care of, my mental health being my number one priority. Twenty percent of the time would be more relaxed; eating a huge ice cream sundae just because I wanted one.
I quit working out in the mornings. I now take long walks 3-5 times a week while maintaining daily stretching and joint mobility and strengthening practices. I don’t count calories. Instead, I eat enough fruits, veggies, and grains to ensure I am getting enough vitamins. I drink a lot of water to stay hydrated, I read and write in my free time, and I stay connected with my friends and family. I do not identify as a vegan, but I am working to educate myself on plant-based diets and the meat industry.
It finally clicked for me that I was gaining self-love and confidence by living my most authentic life—two things I have never had much of before.
And guess what? I have lost 10 more pounds. By putting myself first, by truly prioritizing self-care and self-love, the body I have always wanted is starting to follow. I may always have a little bit of a tummy, and my thighs will definitely always kiss, but I am happy.
I have taken this happiness in my life one step further by quitting a job I didn’t love to join a company I have always wanted to work for. I also moved into my own studio apartment (rather than with roommates) to ensure I always feel comfortable and at home in my very own space.
Weight loss journeys are not easy. But neither are journeys of the soul. I realized some of the behaviors that contributed to consistent weight gain throughout my life stemmed not from laziness or lack of willpower but from my lack of self-love. I wasn’t willing to take care of myself physically because I didn’t love myself mentally.
What I have found is that when I put my heart, soul, and mind before anything else, the rest falls into place. And I am exactly where I am supposed to be.