Change starts inwards.

by lauren atkinson

Many people struggle with body image. For some people, it's a phase that they go through in their teens, and subsides somewhere around the time that they reach adulthood and move their attentions to other things. For others, body image is like a disease, interrupting much of their life. And for some in each of those groups, body image plays a role in changes both positive and negative. 

Now in my life, I would never describe myself as ever being fat or ugly because I know that I never was nor am I now. But there were many times that I did get on myself because I felt like I wasn't as pretty as other people, or as skinny. Sometimes that did plague me with self-defeating thoughts of "maybe you just shouldn't eat" and the thoughts certainly contributed to radical changes in my appearance; I was constantly experimenting with my clothing and hair. 

I would argue that MOST people feel this way about themselves at some point.

Somewhere around my heaviest weight, when I had the most self-defeating thoughts and felt the least "pretty" I decided that I needed to make changes. I took a look at the things contributing to the negativity, and more than the issue of getting down on myself, I just was not taking care of myself. I was eating out at greasy diners and bars 3-5 nights a week, and didn't have a schedule for meals. I was drinking lots of beer. And I wasn't working out. I didn't sleep at normal times: I'd get only about 4-5 hours at night and take an hour nap during the day. I ate about 8-12oz of high-calorie, high-fat ice cream daily, sometimes twice a day. Looking back, my calorie intake was 2500+ in high fat foods with little nutritive value outside of keeping me from falling asleep. 

I'm not saying that these choices are terrible for everyone, but for me they weren't just causing me to gain weight, they were distracting me from a bigger issue. If I feel down on myself, maybe there's a reason. Maybe it's bigger than feeling unattractive and fat. Maybe I felt those things about myself because I wasn't doing the things to take care of myself and my confidence. Not to get all "Dr. Phil" on you, but if you don't take care of yourself, how can you care for others properly? How can you expect others to care for you? 

So I started small. I got a gym membership and worked out a little each week. I swore off fast food. I ate ice cream only twice a week. Slowly, more than weight coming off, I had more energy. I had more energy AND I was sleeping at night. I felt more confident and more fulfilled in my days. And soon, I stopped being so self-defeating, despite looking quite the same: The change happens first inwards before it can happen outwards. 

Now, it's been a little under 3 years since I've started working on myself. I've had ups and downs: severe weight fluctuation, slip-ups in my workout routines, changes in eating and sleeping behaviors and some bad moments of feeling depressed. But I can tell you this, the times that I started to slip were the times that I stopped taking care of myself and became distracted by other people. Always remember that other people's progress with themselves is personal. Use it for inspiration but remember that what works for some won't work for others and sometimes the healthiest routes are the slow ones. 

Remember, you're not perfect. I'm not perfect. But that's what is so wonderful. The journey towards change. It happens constantly and it's a beautiful thing. 

All that sappiness to say: You're allowed to have goals and celebrate when you reach them. From three years ago to today, I've lost over thirty pounds. I can bench press more than my weight, squat the same and I completed my first half-marathon in October, despite an injury. I sleep at night. And really, I am happy. 

Sometimes, you have to live for yourself and everything else will fall in line behind it. 

What advice do YOU have for people struggling with weight or body image? What things have worked for you?