If you said yes to any of those questions, read on.
Five years ago, in 2007, my body wasn’t perfect. I hated it. I thought I was hideous. (Can you relate to this?)
But now, it’s 2012– and five years later, my body is absolutely perfect.
How did I get from there to here? How did I reach the seeming impossibility of having a perfect body?
I don’t think I ever told you how I did it in exact detail, so here’s a refresher course for the both of us.
1. Stop counting calories.
This is something I’ve never talked about on cynosure because I thought it was a given. Then I realized that maybe it wasn’t a given and that people still might be doing the very thing that sparked my self-destructive, body-and-life-destroying eating disorder.
Calories in, calories out is not just a myth– it’s a lie. I can’t explain it well myself, but read this article for more information.
Beyond the science, letting go of counting calories means that you eat food because you actually want to (shock!), rather than based on how many calories it has. Plenty of good, delicious, nutritious food has plenty of calories. I don’t care if those Oreos filled with super-processed ingredients are in a snack pack of 100 calories. I’d rather have delicious home-made cookies that probably give me more heat energy, but (and really, this needn’t be a “but”) that will actually nourish me and make me feel satisfied.
Here’s another example: diet soda. So what if diet soda is calorie-free? Does it really satisfy you? (On another hand, are you really sure the artificial sugars won’t cause problems later on?) There’s been plenty of studies on how diet soda can actually make you want to overeat, but I won’t go into that here. I think you get the point.
Conclusion: Calories are just a number. It doesn’t tell you how nutritious or delicious a food is. It won’t tell you if you’ll like it or if you’ll feel satisfied. It won’t even tell you if it’s good for your body. It simply gives you an indicator of how much energy it contains in order to heat water.
Let go of counting the calories. Listen to your body. Humans have lived for years without needing calorie counts on labels.
Letting go of calorie-counting was my first step to recovery. Nowadays, I don’t even look at food labels (well, for the most part I do my best to make my food from scratch, therefore bypassing the labels completely). The only part of the label I look at is the ingredients, so I know what’s going in my body. I deliberately choose not to look at the calorie count because I know it won’t tell me anything important, and that my body knows what’s right for me.
2. Throw out the scale.
Throw it out. Stop weighing yourself. Whenever you see a scale, run. Whenever you’re tempted to put even just one foot on the scale, take a deep breath. Step back from the device.
The number you see there will not tell you anything– it will not tell you how much you are worth, how much your friends love you, or how much you contribute to the world. It won’t even tell you how healthy you are, because weight (and size!) is just a number that doesn’t say anything about your lifestyle or how much you take care of yourself.
Most importantly, it won’t tell you how happy you are.
Remember: You are not your weight.
The number on the scale is absolutely meaningless and tells nothing about your health, lifestyle, body composition, or, most importantly the brilliance of your spirit.
3. Throw out the diet books. Throw out the magazines filled with manipulated photos of people with their flesh cut off and colored in.
Let go of the fad diets. Start trusting in your body again, in yourself again. (If you need help with this, check out Nourish Yourself, the awesome free e-book you get when you sign up for the newsletter.)
Throw out the fashion magazines. Alright, if you really like them so much, you can keep them. But I do encourage you to take a break from them for a while (a while being at least several months), and start appreciating the beauty of the naturalness of real bodies. Realize that pretty much every photo you see in a fashion spread or billboard or commercial has been touched up and modified.
Real people have real blemishes, scars, and wrinkles. Real people have flesh. The editors simply cut out all the real parts so you think you’re still looking at a photo of a human being– when you’re really just looking at an image manipulation.
People that look like store mannequins don’t exist. For one thing, real people aren’t made out of plastic.
Even now, when I read a yoga or vegetarian magazine, I rip out all the diet ads and fold over all the photo-manipulated bodies. I refuse to absorb images of a beauty ideal that serves no purpose other than to make real flesh humans feel bad.
4. Let go of ALL restriction, deprivation, and denial.
“Health is not associated with denial of anything.”
D. W. Winnicott
This was the quote that shocked me into awakening seven months ago. This was the quote that made me realize I was relapsing.
Here’s my confession: I spent the first half of 2011 obsessed with raw foods. I was done with restricting the amount and intake of what I ate, but after a minor illness in January, I wanted to “take better care of my health.” This manifested in an obsession with eating “healthily.”
So this is what happened: I’d eat raw for a couple of weeks because I thought I was “supposed” to, I thought that was what was healthiest for me. And then I’d eat some cooked food because I couldn’t take the cravings anymore, feel like I “failed,” and then binge on junk food until I “bounced back” again.
This happened for several months, and what I remember was not the “nice, healthy” feelings I had when I ate raw, but the nightmares of me stuffing as much cooked food in my body as possible– binging just as much as my severe eating-disordered days– because I felt so deprived.
Reading this quote made me realize that true health does not mean deprivation or restriction or denial, in ANY form. I can CHOOSE to not eat something because I am deathly allergic. (I know friends who still eat what they’re allergic to because they’re relatively minor allergies and, gosh darn it, they like the food!) I can CHOOSE to not eat animal products because I don’t support the system that creates them and because I simply don’t consider them food anymore.
I’m going to trust that there is no such thing as eating “perfectly,” and that the healthiest eating is listening to what my body wants and actually choosing to eat it, mindfully.
The funny thing about this is that after you let go of your restrictions, you usually find that you don’t even really want the food you deprived yourself of, anyway. I tried even over the summer to cut out sugar and gluten. The result? I binged on sugar and gluten. When I let go of the belief that sugar and gluten were inherently unhealthy (note: no food is inherently unhealthy, the thoughts and beliefs around the food are what’s unhealthy), I stopped binging.
And I stopped craving sugar and gluten. I ate it because I chose to, but I only chose to eat it once in a while since I didn’t feel deprived anymore. And when I do eat it, I sometimes think, “Okay, this doesn’t make my body feel really great,” but I don’t tell myself I’m never going to eat it again. I tell myself that I’m going to continue to make conscious choices for myself and what I eat, with love and kindness.
Which brings me to my fifth point…
5. Eat what you really want with awareness and love.
Listen to your body. Listen to yourself. You deserve to eat what you want. You deserve to listen to the body sensations that tell you if your body likes it and when you’ve had enough.
Pay attention when you eat. Actually enjoy the act of eating. Indulge with real indulgence. Take deep breaths. Honor your food. Give thanks to your food. Taste your food.
If you have a craving, you can choose to fulfill it. You can also be curious with yourself ask– where is this coming from? Is it an emotional need? Is it a physical need?
Make a commitment to explore the way you eat. Do your best to be aware before, during, and after you eat. Truly listen to what your body wants and how it responds to what you put into it. Eat with love and kindness to yourself, every time.
6. Learn to deal with your feelings and needs without binging, restricting, exercise addiction, or obsession with “healthy” eating (or any other addiction, for that matter!).
Learn to give yourself empathy. Learn to feel your feelings. Learn to look to yourself and others for support rather than to food or compulsive behaviors.
Learn to be present with your feelings. Learn to be okay with crying. Learn to be okay with being depressed sometimes. Learn to be grateful for both sadness and joy.
Learn to fulfill your needs– emotional, physical, spiritual. Learn to be there for yourself.
Learn to love yourself more.
7. Inhabit your body and move in ways you love.
Your appearance does not define you. You are not what your body looks like.
But you ARE in your body.
BE your body. Inhabit your body. Truly live in your body.
How do you inhabit your body? Move. Take a walk. Explore your body. Touch yourself all over. Let yourself be absolutely bare, naked– and touch every bit of your skin with love. Give yourself massages. Make love– with yourself or a partner. Forgive yourself for negative thoughts you’ve had about your body in the past.
Find a way to move (aka, exercise) that you absolutely adore. A way of movement that you do naturally because you enjoy it, not because you’re trying to make it a means to an end (a different body, etc.). Don’t force yourself to do it all the time if you don’t want to. Do it for the sake of doing it.
Dance. Make up crazy dance moves when nobody’s looking. Bonus points if you do it when everybody’s looking. (I personally love acting crazy like this in public, like singing ridiculously and skipping around. My friends love to proclaim loudly, “Gosh, stop being so drunk!” even though I’m sober.)
Jump up and down and run around with your friends or children. Skip. Jump rope. Play a sport.
Pump your fists in the air.
Do some deep breathing, and truly center within your body.
8. Love your body. Appreciate your body. Treat it like the perfection it is.
Realize the blessings of your body. Express gratitude for everything it does for you. It’s the reason you’re even alive.
Give thanks for your health. Realize how amazing and lucky it is for you to have the body that you do, that you are able to breathe and read this right now. Realize that there are so many who would kill for the abilities your body gives you.
Treat your body well. Only wear clothes that make you feel amazing in your body. Get enough sleep. Floss. Go to the doctor at least a couple times a year. Eat the best quality food that you can afford. Don’t settle for anything less.
9. Realize that your body is already perfect.
The final step to getting your perfect body is to realize that you already have it.
The body you have, in this moment, right here and right now, is your perfect body.
The “perfect” body doesn’t exist– except right now, in your body.
Not the one you think you want. Not the one you wish you had. Not the one the magazines tell you you need in order to be happy. Not the one that your parents told you you should have. Not the one companies market to you. Not the one you see in magazines or on TV. Not the one you see photoshopped to oblivion.
Not the one you’ve spent too much of your precious, irreplaceable life trying to mold your current perfect body into.
Your body is perfect, with its softness and its hardness.
Your body is perfect, with its blemishes and its scars.
Your body is perfect, with its smoothness and its wrinkles.
Your body, the one you have right now, is perfect.
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