“You have to accept yourself the way you are and love yourself”. These were the words my therapist told me during college when we discovered my relationship-triggered depression actually had roots in self-esteem issues relating to my weight. I knew what she meant, but that always felt like settling for less than I could be. It seemed like the easy way out. “Yeah, I’m overweight, but I love myself, so let me eat this whole large pizza by myself”. She would make me think about the good things about myself, the points I was proud of and she wanted me to realize that being overweight or not liking my physical appearance didn’t make me less intelligent or creative or less of a good person. She didn’t mean for me to stop trying, but to stop obsessing over it and not let it be the most important part of my life. And I understood that, and I loved my good points, but I also wanted to love the girl in the mirror and that made it hard.
There was always an underlying sense of self-hate and lack of self-esteem and self-control which led me to fail in several occasions and left me even more unhappy and left me feeling like a failure. And I did, in fact obsess over this. I was constantly thinking of what my body looked like, comparing myself to others and never feeling good enough. Not to mention I was always thinking about food, then bingeing and then hating myself for doing it. It was a horrible vicious cycle.
Eventually, after many years, I learned that my issue was rooted deeply in a sense of inadequacy brought on by being raised on the Mexican side of the border always watching American TV and reading American magazines and wishing that I was as perfect as all the women I’d see in them. While even many American women feel like this, my inferiority complex stemmed more from feeling like an outsider as a Mexican on top of being faced with the unattainable Western beauty ideals. My issue was I always wished I had somebody else’s body. There was something I wanted to change about myself from the top of my head to the tip of my toes. Nothing was perfect like it was on TV or magazines. If I had realized that was my problem from the beginning, as well as the fact that I can only become a better version of myself and not someone else, my body image issues would have been non-existent and I would have been able to control my weight and take care of myself better.
Based on my years of studying and doing research psychology as well as years of personal experience, I’ve realized that you first need to know how you got to be so unhappy or unhealthy (or both!) in the first place.
I still believe that if you don’t feel happy or comfortable in the body you have, there is nothing wrong with wanting to change it! In fact, taking care of your body is a perfect way to love yourself. But you must do it right. Without obsessing about it, looking inwards instead of constantly comparing yourself with others and what you think others think of you. Get to know yourself, understand yourself, be patient and forgiving towards yourself, but most importantly, love yourself.
You bring on the feelings of inadequacy on yourself.If someone criticizes you or takes a jab at your appearance, you have the power to let it crush you. But you also have the power to not let it bother you. Know that those who judge you by your appearance and try to make you feel bad, are probably not happy with themselves either.
At the same time, try not to take comments and looks personally. Sometimes, our self-consciousness and low self-esteem can make us see enemies even where there aren’t any. Don’t be paranoid, the whole world isn’t obsessing about your size, what you’re eating or how you look in something. The truth is, most people really couldn’t care less.
With all this in mind, the first step towards a happy, healthy, beautiful you is a series of questions to help you get to know yourself better. There are no right or wrong answers, only real answers. Nobody will see them but you so be truthful, there is no point in lying to yourself. Grab a piece of paper and write your answers so you can look at them later. It really helps to see your thoughts on paper.
We’ll start with positives first.
- What do you like the most about yourself? What are you proud of? These can be physical, or non-physical qualities. Are you smart? Funny? A hard worker? A great artist? Very creative? Great at video games? A born leader? Do you have super cute feet? An enviable nose? A great smile? List as many things as you can. You can always keep adding items.
I was on the dean’s list for 4 years out of my 5 in college, so I was proud of my intellect, and I put myself through college and more, so I considered myself an independent person. I was also very good at makeup and hair styling. These were things that would never go away no matter what I looked like, I could always be happy and proud of those achievements.
Keep these positives in mind always. No matter what size or shape you are, you will always have those positive attributes you love about yourself, you will still be you. Just an upgraded version of you.
- What do you want to change? Why did you end up on DIYMBU? Do you have a belly that won’t go away? Jiggly thighs? Do you feel like you could lose a few pounds? Are you way softer than you wish you were? Do you want to feel physically stronger? Do you just want to eat better and be more active? Do you want an overall change, inside and out?
For me this was an easy question, I wanted to get rid of a soft pudgy belly and muffin top. I also wanted to be able to sit down while wearing shorts and not feel like my thighs spread out like big white dough balls on the seat.
- Why do you want to change? What made you start wishing for this different you? Your favorite jeans won’t zip up? Do you feel tired easily? You suddenly realized you’ve let yourself go? You don’t like what you see in the mirror? Your outfits don’t look as good as you think they could? Did you try carrying or moving something and realized you’re weaker than you thought? You recently realized you could live a healthier life? You found out the person you are attracted to is into fitness and health? Do you want to look like a celebrity or any other person on TV or magazines?
In my case, it was a combination of hating the body in the mirror and watching way too much Hollywood TV and reading too many magazines. This last part is one of the most common reasons people (women especially) have for wanting to “lose weight” (I’ll explain why this is in quotation marks later). Unfortunately, it is also one of the most damaging.
First of all, people on television have makeup, special lighting and, post-editing. More importantly though, they are not YOU. Staring at a Victoria’s Secret model and wishing you had that body will only hurt your attempts at improving your health and body. They are models for a reason. They have the body type for it. And if you’re reading this, chances are – like me – you were not. A lot of them don’t even need to exercise, though I assure you all of them watch what they eat. This is another important point to keep in mind, all the celebrities whose bodies you admire, work hard in one way or another to have it. Sacrifices must be made and, as they say, you can’t expect something for nothing. You have your own body type and shape, and while you will probably not look like a Victoria’s Secret Angel, you can aim to make your body look and feel the best it can! (Read more about setting realistic goals)
As for being attracted to someone who is interested in fitness and health, this can go in 2 different directions. It’s motivating (and easier) to change your lifestyle when you have inspiration and support. However, don’t do it for that person. Remember you are doing this for yourself. If it doesn’t work out in the end with your fit love interest, keep going anyway. There are plenty of other healthy, fit people looking for love! And remember you must love yourself first, before you can truly love someone else.
Next we will start asking deeper questions. They may be things you hadn’t thought about or realized yet.
- How did you get to this point? Did you suddenly start eating more? Do you feel like you have little to no self-control when it coYou can find info on things like emotional eating and such in the Mind section.mes to eating? Are you an emotional eater? Do you eat when you’re sad/ angry? Did you stop being active? Have you always been overweight or inactive? Do you dislike the gym or physical activity? Are you depressed? Are you stressed? Maybe you got married and are super happy and comfortable? The reason may not always be negative.
In my case, I was always a bit fluffy, but I also had trouble controlling my eating. I exercised off and on during college, but then I moved in with my boyfriend and went through a long depression and gained around 25 lbs on top of the fact that I was always a bit… soft. I would eat past the point of fullness, it was physically painful to keep eating, but I would. I had no control.
Then it became a cycle. I would eat a full bowl of pasta, then make a snack run and eat a bag of Doritos and ice cream with soda on the side. And then later I would break down and cry hating my jiggly body and hating the way I looked and felt. It was rough, I wished I could just dig in my nails and rip all the fat off. I did actually dig my fingers in so hard once I bruised my stomach. I would punch my belly and claw at it and call my self awful names. But then I would go back to uncontrolled eating again.
I was happy while I ate, but then I was depressed the rest of the time. I was an emotional eater. Food was making up for something I was lacking.
The reason for weight gain or an unhealthy lifestyle isn’t always negative though. Other reasons can be a life change that keeps you from eating in a healthy way or a schedule too full to fit exercise in. Sometimes being too happy and comfortable can be the culprit. Like in a new relationship we tend to go out to eat and drink more or veg on the couch and order takeout. Maybe you got a new job or promotion that allows you to splurge on meals and outings.
Or you’ve simply never thought about it. You don’t really know about nutrition or much about training but never really cared to. You were fine eating whatever and not exercising, but now you’re getting older, and decided your lifestyle could use a healthy upgrade.
Whatever the reason is, it is important to know how you got to the point where you realized you wanted a change. Once you are aware of the behaviors or situations that put you here, you will know how to identify them and address them! You can find info on things like emotional eating and such in the Mind section. Or if you feel like it’s too difficult to face the problem or identify it clearly, you can always see a counselor and try to work together to find the answer.
And remember to be patient, understanding and loving towards yourself. You only get one body and it keeps you alive by doing its best to function properly. Love your body by treating it right! It will treat you right in return.
Next, let’s set some realistic goals!