My Unexpected (but Totally Worth the Wait) Journey from Diet-Obsessed to Body Positive

I’m not sure when I first started worrying about my weight, but I suspect it started around the same time I started growing breasts and worrying what boys thought of me. Or, more likely, what other girls thought of me.

Until then, I assumed that adolescent girldom came the way it was depicted in movies — at least back then. The “average-sized” girl always played sidekick to the model-type who had it all: the grades, the looks, and the boy.

So by the time I was 14, the word “diet” to me meant “eat like this until you reach your goal weight and then everything will be OK.” Though it never was, I spent those formative years trying to balance my love of food and my disdain for any form of exercise that broke a sweat outside the swimming pool — my weight yo-yoing within a narrow range through the remainder of my teen years.

When I went away to college, this range moved (mildly) up the scale. Still, since I constantly charted my weight, I didn’t see it as concerning. Instead of losing the initial five pounds, I’ll just have to lose 10 pounds, I thought. And on came the weeks, if not months, of fad diets before they officially entered the mainstream (paleo, keto, and Dukan come to mind) and charting my ups and downs — at first on paper with a habit tracker and later with a Fitbit.

At 24, however, I reached my heaviest: 137 pounds. I was two years into therapy and one thing became increasingly clear: I did not have “it” (whatever it was) together, especially when it came to my body.

Consumed by my day-to-day life — school, work, and the social life that comes with college — I didn’t even realize my initial weight obsession started out of sheer neuroticism. Working out blanketed me into believing I was in control of my anxiety.

With a Fitbit, I was constantly reminded of my daily goal and whether or not I had reached it. I would jog on the spot until midnight to make it, or excuse myself at a friend’s and take a freakishly long call or an extended visit to the restroom until the black band on my wrist started buzzing to signal that I was done.

On days I missed ticking a box or making my step goal, I’d mentally scold myself like a child, guilt myself into doing more tomorrow, and watching my food twice as closely in the days that followed.

Until therapy, it never occurred to me that my anxiety and eating were also enmeshed in something bigger — that gaining weight during my years of therapy was linked to reliving repressed memories.

When I happened upon old diaries from my teenage years, one thing became obvious: Every hundred odd pages, without fail, I’d start a health kick, hoping that “this” would be “it.” My monologue was always consistent: “If I’m 110 pounds, my anxiety will go away, and I’ll be happy and not have to binge-eat when life gets tough.” For me, food was comfort, and I needed extra comfort in those days.

But that was then – and this was now. I was at my heaviest weight ever, and something had changed. It wasn’t until the elastic of my underwear was digging into my hips that I realized this bout of weight gain was different. Unlike years gone by, this time I didn’t hate myself for it.

At my largest, I suddenly discovered that I was much more than my weight. For the first time, I didn’t feel exhausted by the continuous cycle of weight watching, and I realized that being healthy wasn’t at all about vanity.

I was, without knowing it at the time, body positive. So much so that when I did start working out again — on my terms this time — I questioned whether or not I was being true to my new, body-positive self.

I thought, just as many women did, that body positivity couldn’t go hand in hand with weight loss or healthy eating or working out. And that’s simply not true. As cliché as it sounds, for me, body positivity is a mental state that involves accepting my body the way it is today.

There’s a slightly cheesy quote I think of whenever I do weigh in after a swim, about how it’s not the destination, but the journey itself. For me, my journey involves swimming because I enjoy it and it expels anxiety from my mind — or choosing to meet a friend at a chocolate workshop because that’s something I enjoy too.

There’s so much more to a healthy life, I’ve found, without all the extra weight that comes with chasing a goal that ends where it’s met.

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