The question I'm about to ask you might be an impossible one for you to answer. Self-esteem is such an elusive thing to understand, and I know that! I'm going to try to explain where I'm coming from. Growing up, I didn't have real issues with self-esteem, at least that I was aware of. I will say that I don't think my parents ever instilled much confidence in me, as far as appearances go. I know that looks shouldn't be emphasized as much as they are nowadays, but to my parents, looks were never focused on (perhaps a good thing!). I was never athletic, but I had an average body type and felt like I fit in with my friends. As I got older, I got a little chubbier, I still wasn't athletic, and I had a very poor diet, and I didn't care. I was quite overweight in my 20s, tipping the scales around 200 lbs I'm sure. Something snapped me out of all that and I lost all the weight and began working out to make my body strong.
Since then, I've had two healthy pregnancies, so my weight has gone up and down, and up.... and finally, down again. At 37, I'm currently in the best shape of my life. I eat well, I exercise 5 days a week doing a variety of different workouts. I mostly work out to feel good, not to look a certain way. I definitely still treat myself and I definitely do feel guilty when I do. I truthfully like what I see when I look in the mirror, however, I am usually surprised by my reflection. I am surprised to see a healthy, lean body looking back at me, as that's not how I feel that I look. It has been 11 years since I initially took all the weight off and I still somehow have very little confidence in my appearance. I enjoy following the body positive movement on social media, however I don't always feel that the messaging resonates with me. I've been looking for a good book but haven't found one that seems like what I'm looking for.
I'm not trying to say that my entire self-worth is wrapped up in the way I look, but this is something I do find myself struggling with. I wonder if you could offer any insight into how you got through to yourself in your own journey to body acceptance? I have a lot to be thankful for, and I want to start living my best life!
I don’t know if I will ever truly accept my body every single day I wake up. I can honestly go from staring at myself in the mirror in the morning as I get ready and admiring my abs to spending a good chunk of my day grabbing the fat that sits around my waist and telling myself that I shouldn’t have eaten those chips last night while I caught up on all of my recorded shows.
I know some really amazing people, people who I aspire to be like, who do not have the perfect body and at the same time I know some incredibly thin “perfect body” type people who are horrible. Completely self-absorbed and rude. On the other hand, I have some amazing people in my life who, in my eyes, have it all figured out but I’m sure they would be quick to argue that they don’t.
So let me ask you this - Why do you feel guilty when you treat yourself? Even if you overindulge? Who cares? Sure, if you are eating a carton of ice cream in a sitting every night, you may need to figure out why, but allowing yourself some simple pleasures in your day is not the worst thing in the world. That is one of the first things that I work on with my clients: detaching emotions from food. Telling yourself that you can’t have something is never a good idea. As long as you are eating relatively healthy (and I don’t need to explain what this looks like) it is ok to “treat” yourself. Just make the calories worth it! Like if you are going to eat chocolate make it really good chocolate and never drink bad wine.
Also, it is ok to be dissatisfied with your body. To want to be stronger or faster or fit into your jeans more comfortably is not a bad thing to strive for. It is ok to want more definition in your arms or a sexier back. There is a reason why the fitness industry is such a massive, money making industry. But what is not ok is telling yourself that you are not good enough because you have more cellulite dimples on your thighs than your best friend. It sounds like you have lost a lot of weight and maybe you have spent much of the time while you were overweight telling yourself that you weren’t good enough. I think you need to dive down that rabbit hole and acknowledge those feelings when they come up.
Try to stop attaching meaning to your thoughts of how you look. When you look at your body and see how amazing you look, leave it at that. Don’t associate it with anything to do with who you are as a person. Rather than telling yourself how skinny you are, think about how hard you’ve been working at the gym or how healthy you have been eating lately. Use words like strength, dedication, determination rather than skinny, thin and pretty. On the other side, when you look at yourself and maybe see more of your imperfections, rather than telling yourself that you’re fat, ugly or worthless take a moment to look back on the last few weeks and how you have been living your life. You may come to realize that maybe you’re not taking care of yourself as much as you deserve to be taken care of and it is time to make some changes. I can always recognize when I’m in the early stages of a bit of depression or my anxiety is higher than usual by looking at my body. My skin is dull and puffy, I look (and feel) tired and my clothes are tight. This is usually a sign that I’m spending too much time sitting still or trying to erase my thoughts with food and wine and that’s when I start to make plans to exercise more, pick up a new book, and usually make a weekend plan with a good friend.
And one more thing. What does “athletic” really mean? Am I athletic because I am really good at exercising? Because other than volleyball you do not want me on your sports team. Are my friends athletic who once played national level soccer and now barely go to the gym? A woman who I practice yoga with regularly has considered herself unathletic for most of the 70 years she has been alive. Except now she is killing her handstand, because someone encouraged her to try and helped her believe in herself. Let go of whatever stereotype being “athletic” holds and accept that we are all athletes in our own way.
Your relationship with yourself is like any other relationship in your life. It takes a lot of work and requires a lot of love, attention and nurturing. There are ups and there are downs and it is important not to get attached to the highs or the lows. You have to keep checking in with yourself and reminding yourself that your physical body is just a vessel that carries who you truly are inside.
Attached - Jennfier Garner leaving a boxing class today in LA.