girl in field with lake in background
Happy Living,  Mental Health

Relearning to Love My Body

I love this picture. My face shows pure happiness. This was taken on my birthday a few weeks ago, right after running for the first time in 3 months. One of the first thing I noticed when I saw this picture, was wow I don’t even look that “fit,” you can’t see my six-pack. But in that moment, I didn’t care what I looked like-I was just happy to be moving my body, happy to be breathing in the Colorado air, and happy to be surrounded by someone who loves me.  And after those first initial thoughts when I saw that picture, I reminded myself that those were things that mattered. I reminded myself how I was relearning to love my body. Who gives a F*** if you have a six pack if you are feel confident, happy, free.

The Six-Pack Appeal

This picture, this moment was a marker for me. For the past three years, through weight loss, an eating disorder, and the recovery journey, body image has been something I struggled with. As much as I could cognitively tell myself that I need more calories, more fat to fuel my body properly, my mind was scared. I was scared to lose the six pack that showed sickness rather than strength. I thought it showed that I was stronger, had more willpower, tried harder than everyone else on my team. And while yes, I did (and still do) a have a strong core and I have worked hard to achieve that, it is not those ridges on my stomach that show that.

I was scared to lose the six pack that showed sickness rather than strength

There is nothing inherently wrong with a six-pack. It can mean you fuel yourself properly and work your core. Take a look at some of the strongest female athletes out there. But you can also have a six pack if you are genetically lucky. I’ve seen girls who are perfectly healthy and never do crunches and yet they have a six pack.

Or It can also be a sign of under fueling and extremely low levels of body fat to the point that your body is not functioning properly. This is what it became for me. I had a strong core, but I was also too lean, as seen by amenorrhea and an eating disorder. As I developed this six-pack and leaner body type, I became obsessed with it. In my head, a six-pack meant you were a great athlete. But the truth is, having a six pack does not equal being a great athlete, and being a great athlete does not mean you have to have a six pack.

I not only thought it was helping my performance, but I was also constantly comparing my body to everyone else on the team. I wanted to have the “best” body on the team. Being on a team when you are hardly ever wearing shirts doesn’t help. Even as my relationship with food improved, it took longer for my relationship with my body to improve.

The “Perfect” Body?

In the age of social media and the cultural pressures on females, it is easy to get sucked up in wanting the “perfect” body-whether that be a six-pack, a certain size butt or breasts, or whatever it is for you. But the truth is there is no perfect body. Everybody is different. Even if everyone did the exact same exercise and ate the same time, we would all look slightly different, thanks to genetics. Fat is distributed differently and metabolism rates differ based on genetic variants.

Some social media influencers and exercise and diet programs make it easy to think (sometimes even promising) that if you act and eat a specific way, then you will look like them. That’s not the case. This is not saying exercising and eating right is bad or you shouldn’t care for your body. The opposite is true. Nevertheless, you must respect that your body is uniquely yours and will not look like any one else’s.

Redefining What My Body Means to Me

girl riding road bike with mountains in the background
My body allows me to power up mountains

Even as I have recovered from my eating disorder, I cannot say I am perfect. Some days I still look in the mirror when I’m changing and flex, looking for my six-pack and scrutinizing the “fat,” or more likely skin, on my stomach. But I am relearning to love my body for what it does, instead of what it looks like.

Now more often, I don’t bother to look at the mirror when I’m changing, I am happy with how I look, and I can remember that having a six-pack means nothing. I know I am strong, not by what my body looks like, but what it is able to DO. My butt and quads have grown because it now powers me up mountains on the bike. My stomach is not as flat as it used to be because I eat cookies and bread and cheese and all the things that make me happy. Some days I have a six pack and some days I don’t, but no one can tell me I don’t have a strong core. I planked for 22 minutes on my birthday and a weak core is not gonna cut it.

two young adults planking and looking at each other
Thankfully I didn’t have to plank for 22 minutes by myself

I know I am strong, not by what my body looks like, but what it is able to DO.

Loving Your Body for What It Does

There are days when I don’t like how my body looks, and I’m sure many people feel the same thing. It would be impractical to expect yourself to love your body daily. But you can love what your body does for you. I love:

  • FEELING STRONG in my body
  • FUELING my body with plant foods
  • ENJOYING a fudgey brownie with ice cream on top
  • MOVING in powerful ways
  • CLIMBING up mountains
  • PLANKING for 22 minutes
  • LYING in the plush green grass in the sun
  • RUNNING through nature
  • BIKING through farmland and hills
  • HUGGING my loved ones
  • EXPLORING the beautiful world around me.
girl running on trail

What I am saying is the specifics of what you look like DOES NOT MATTER. If you find yourself looking in the mirror, searching for abs like I have done for years, scrutinizing the smallest parts of your body, here’s a reminder:

What matters is being confident in yourself, being able to do the things that give you joy, appreciating the beauty of the world, enjoying those around you, and loving yourself for all that you are.

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