I Gotta Be Me, When It Comes to Health and Fitness

I found myself feeling inspired by some before and after pictures on Instagram the other day. They weren’t the usual before and after pictures you see of someone’s weight loss/fitness journey, though. They were pictures of women, whose “before” was them at their thinnest, in the grips of an eating disorder, and whose after was them showing off their more healthy figures.

These women’s bodies came in many different shapes, but many of them made a point of showing how they prefer to be photographed devil may care, with a belly roll here, an imperfect angle there, and showing also how easy it is to photoshop and/or suck in and angle the same shot and have a completely different, more traditionally Instagram “inspo” type picture. Many of these pictures shared their story, and were incredibly open and difficult to read in some cases.

The mere act of looking at women with eating disorders can be/was historically triggering for me. “Thinspo” did not exist when I was a teenager/young woman, and I am so, so thankful for that. Many times I have seen these types of stories in magazines and newspapers, but they tend to focus on the gory details and almost glorify the horror show of someone being near death’s door that dare I say it, glamorizes it.

They rarely manage to capture the human effort and willpower it takes to break free from it, the story is mostly about the “wow factor” of the before and after. They always made me uncomfortable and I felt it was maybe weird that I didn’t relate much to them. It further cemented my idea that I had never had a “real” eating disorder because I had never been hospitalized.

And while the Instagram posts that made their way into my feed for being the most liked were in most cases also extreme cases, they made me feel differently. They made me feel ok about my body for the first time in a while if I’m honest. I had reached a point last year when I was exercising regularly that I felt pretty good, despite the fact I wasn’t losing weight. I do believe exercise endorphins make you feel better, regardless of how you feel about the act of exercise itself  (I wrote a post about how dancing in particular makes me feel good here).

But here’s where I differ from the masses, or so it feels sometimes. I have to work at it. If I don’t, if I let that feeling of self -love and non-self- judgement slip, I open myself back up to feeling deeply unhappy/self-loathing pretty quick. That’s life as someone who used to starve, binge and purge, for years, as a means of weight control. 

It means I can’t look to most sources of fitness/wellness inspiration, be they “clean eating”, “Positivity” or most other fitness girl gang hashtags. I am not disparaging that they may help other women, but I am realizing more and more that they harm my psyche because of my history. "Right" and "Wrong" when it comes to food and fitness trigger unhealthy thoughts in me pretty damn quick.

Pictures of other people eating nothing but healthy stuff makes me feel inadequate. And truthfully, aside from the positive crowd, we are still surrounded by an awful lot of “acceptable” self- bashing, fat shaming from women around us. The unhappy when fat happy after now thin brigade. I know, for me, that my size does not dictate my happiness. I have been thin, oh so thin, so thin I can’t imagine now, and do I remember happiness? No. I remember wishing my size six shorts were a little baggier because my ass still looked fat in them.

Pictures of women at the gym makes me feel lazy, at least the majority of the way these things are presented and described. I belong to a Facebook health/weight loss group that is just friends and friends of friends being generally supportive/non judgey, but when someone on there tells me that I too can succeed like they have and in the next sentence says that “Vegetables are a carb” I die a little inside. I am done with diets. I swear on all that’s holy. 

Diets don’t work for me. And I’m sorry, but clean eating is a diet. Any food plan that excludes large sections of perfectly healthy foods is a diet. And seeing/hearing people sing its praises just frustrates me, because I know people with eating disordered pasts can latch onto stuff like this and tell themselves they are being “healthy” when all they are is orthorexic. It doesn’t mean I’m not going to try to eat more salads and less delicious junk, I am trying, day by day, to do a little better. But I am sticking to my size 16 (U.K.…not that it matters) guns and doing it my way.

I was weighed at an asthma review last month and it really depressed me for a bit. And it pissed me off because I purposefully don’t weigh myself anymore for this exact reason. And hearing the nurse say I’d packed on a few, well, yeah, that’s never good for me.

I felt like I really tried, for a good portion of this (last) year, to be my best, healthiest self, without putting unhealthy pressures on myself. But it wasn’t enough to stop the scales creeping up the minute I stopped working out. I have a demon inside me that tells me I’m not good enough every time I look in the mirror on a bad day/see an unflattering picture/try on jeans that seem like half a million years away. That only takes a few throwaway casual words from one person to make me feel like I will never be good enough. In my head, I fight enough battles that I no longer wish to hear input from anyone about my body or what I should be doing differently.

Anyway, I feel I am coming out of that cycle now. I started Pilates again last night after a few months off, and it felt good to see some familiar faces, to dust off my mat (it was literally dusty lol!) and just concentrate on my body and moving it and feeling all of the pains and releases and sensations that movement brings. It felt natural, and like something I am supposed to be doing, in a good way. 

My Monday Motivation series last year did help me to get back into an exercise routine, I do hope to do so again in the coming weeks, because I like how I feel, inside, when I am moving more. It makes me focus less on the external flaws, and care less/compare myself less to a lifestyle or size I feel I will never attain. It makes me feel almost…self accepting. And maybe I will remember that the next time a scale tries to tell me otherwise.