As I mentioned in my previous post, my campaign for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is centred around self-love. Today I’m tackling the subject of body positivity.
At 17, I developed a rather unique eating disorder – it was a mixture of starving myself and binge eating. I used to wake up at 5pm just before my parents got home from work, eat 3 packets of crisps and loads chocolate, have a couple cans of fizzy drink and then wait for them to come home. Because I’d be awfully bloated from this binge eating, I never used to be able to eat dinner properly in the evenings with my parents, so I’d normally end up crying at the dinner table because I was sad about the eating junk food earlier in the day. It was a vicious cycle – wake up late, binge eat unhealthy food and then cry about it after.
I started to lose weight rapidly and my parents delicately suggested it might be time for me to seek help with my weight and food issues. After undergoing intense psychotherapy for about a year, I grew to understand that I was essentially punishing my body for battling against itself after I had my gallbladder taken out at 16. Because I struggled to recover from the surgery in time to sit my a-levels, I performed rather catastrophically in my first year of college. Thus, to retain some sense of control over my life, I decided to limit what I ate in order to control my weight. When I started seeing quick results from this awful diet of mine, I ran with it because it gave me a sense of achievement. The way I looked at it back then was, “maybe I failed my a-levels, but at least I’m one step closer to being a side 8.” I had a terribly unhealthy and negative relationship with my body which in turn affected my mental well-being detrimentally.
7 years later and I finally have a better relationship with my body. My eating habits have dramatically improved – I’m eating minimum 2 meals a day instead of 1! Breakfast is still a sticking point for me as I hate eating when I wake up in the mornings but I’m always eating something during the day, every other hour or so at least! I’ve learnt to accept that whilst I’m battling health issues with my body at present, and having done so since 16, I shouldn’t be punishing my body for its struggles. I should be celebrating my physical and mental achievements. Going through the pain, the surgeries, the countless procedures that I have over the years has made me a stronger person. It sounds incredibly cliche but it took being sick to appreciate how healthy I am now.
Since I started personal training in the gym, I’m also painfully aware of the bad habits that can be picked up from excessive and obsessive exercise. My personal trainer kept me in check every now and then, even in lockdown, to keep me motivated to exercise whenever my body allowed me to, and maintaining a healthy, balanced lifestyle has always been at the heart of our training together. Everyday I’m trying to ensure I don’t go overboard with my exercise routines – I give myself rest days every other day to ensure my body isn’t being worked into overdrive. With my current condition and the painful periods during that time of the month, I’m unable to move from my sofa let alone work out so I make sure I give myself a week’s rest, too.
My personal training sessions have taught me that it’s not about looking my best, it’s fundamentally about feeling my best. Whatever my reflection shows me in the mirror doesn’t compare to what I think of myself from the inside. In an era defined by social media which essentially only reflects the best moments of people’s lives which they choose to share, we find ourselves subconsciously comparing our progress to one another. With the rise of fitness content creators comes a dangerous need to look as good as they do, to eat as clean as they do, and to work as hard as they do at maintaining a conventionally attractive physique created by society, yet deemed perfect by our own selves. Even I find myself wishing I was as toned as a Gymshark model but I have to remind myself that I am not an athlete – I have not been training rigorously. Any progress I make should be celebrated, not belittled in comparison to that of others online. We spend so much time thinking about how we can improve our appearances when our focus should be on improving our state of mind, our perceptions of ourselves. I have good days and bad days just like everyone else, but I’m grateful to be surrounded by so many people who are such positive sources of light and encouragement in my life. They celebrate my successes, support my achievements and promise me a safe place to land if I ever fall into the trap of feeling low.
Your self-worth is defined only by how you see yourself, and the relationship you have with your body. If you want to exercise 7 times a week, you can but you don’t have to. If you want to eat healthy food everyday of the week you can, but again, you don’t need to. Listen to your body and work out what’s best for your mind. Our bodies are essentially vessels for the mind and we ought to treat both with simultaneous care, love and respect.