Being Thin Didn’t Help Me Love Myself, Getting Fit Did

There are few things more difficult than being comfortable and confident in your own skin. I thought losing weight would do that for me, but after reaching my goal weight, I realized that I didn’t magically love myself or feel better now that I was skinny. That would only come after I focused on gaining back every pound I lost during my months of restrictive calorie counting.

Don’t associate being a better version of you with having a better body. When I first set out to lose the weight I gained during my freshman year of college, I thought that I would emerge from my diet as skinny, beautiful, and above all, happy. It wasn’t until I reached my goal weight that I realized that being thin didn’t fix my self-confidence issues. Truth be told, I still had the low body confidence that I did before, only now my self-image had been warped by months of restrictive eating. I would never be thin enough.

Losing weight isn’t always healthy. Yes, you can be too thin. Not all diets are created equal, either—you can lose weight in unhealthy ways. However, I convinced myself that losing weight was a good thing no matter how I did it, and for months I lived on sub-1200 calorie diets paired with a daily hour of cardio. While you can diet in a healthy way, that is not what I was doing. I didn’t watch what I was eating to make sure I was getting proper nutrition, and I definitely didn’t look after or listen to my body.

Losing weight shouldn’t come at the expense of your social life. I started obsessing over outings with friends, which often revolved around food. I started obsessively Googling calorie counts for every meal and flat-out refusing some invitations because of the caloric expense. This isn’t to say that you can’t make healthy choices while out, but restricting social outings to meet calorie goals isn’t healthy, mentally or physically.

Obsessing over calories can leave a lasting impact. I counted calories religiously. I mean Googling calories in gum and mints, making sure that my coffee was under the number it was supposed to be, and feeling like the days I went over my limit were markers of personal failure. This has left a lasting impact. To this day, I still have some calories memorized and have to constantly remind myself to focus on nutrition, not calories alone. Counting calories is an amazing tool when used properly, but I took it to the point of obsession.

Listen to your wake-up call. I hit my goal weight and I was still unhappy with my body. I couldn’t understand why. I was thin, wasn’t I? Shouldn’t I be happy? Then I tried to do a simple push up and realized that my diet and endless cardio had made me incredibly weak. This wasn’t the body I wanted.

Don’t associate thinness with fitness. I lost all my fat but I lost all my muscle too. I spent that summer trying to regain a meager amount of my strength, starting with doing standing push-ups against the wall. I was too weak to do them from my knees for a few weeks and spent months building up to one push-up. But the sense of achievement I got from that push-up was enough to make me commit to the idea of getting strong.

Ditch the scale and focus on your strength, not your weight. Instead of weight, I started marking my success by other things such as body fat percentage. I’m now focused on making my body the strongest it can be. My sense of achievement doesn’t come from having the willpower to skip meals, it comes from moving my body in ways that are good for it and make me feel strong.

Don’t neglect your mental health. One of the main features of my journey to gain muscle was my mental health. I knew that the best way to fuel my workouts was to stay mentally strong. I didn’t want to go back to the way I was before, where I didn’t even enjoy my thinness or my ‘perfect body’ because I was locked in a haze of calorie-related guilt and being hungry. Focusing on my mental health as well as my physical health was a key part of continuing my fitness journey and getting me back in the gym again.

Accept that everyone’s bodies and goals are different, including yours. When I first entered the weight section of the gym, I was incredibly intimidated. It was full of muscular, strong men—and me, lifting my tiny weights and struggling with the bench press. However, the more I conquered my fear of lifting weights, the more I realized that no one really cares about other people in the gym—and I mean that in the best possible way. Everyone is focused on their own individual journey. Can I do the same reps as that buff dude? Definitely not. But we’re not on the same fitness plan and we don’t have the same fitness goals, so why does it matter? Acknowledging and accepting the differences between my fitness journey and others’ was a huge part of kicking my “gym-timidation.”

Give up the endgame of “the perfect body” and find a different way to be proud of your accomplishments. The single best thing I did for my health—both mentally and physically—was give up the idea of the perfect body. Now, instead of having an unobtainable endgame, I’m focusing on the journey and on becoming the strongest version of myself that I can possibly be. For me, that’s the best way to love my body. After all, my body has done some pretty wonderful things for me. It’s carried me to classes, climbed mountains, and struggled through so many yoga poses. Isn’t it about time that I started giving it some good things back?

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