I didn’t realise we weren’t friends, my body and I, until I properly started loving it. A few years ago, as a new mum, I felt huge gratitude for my body for growing this baby, but I still felt a bit disconnected from it, like I should probably go into battle and try to mould it into a different shape. I’d look in the mirror and suck in my stomach, or pinch my thighs when I’d squeeze them into jeans that were too tight. Not many weeks went by without weighing myself, and thoughts of food – what I “should” and “shouldn’t” be eating – were often at the front of my mind.
I’m not saying I don’t still occasionally have difficult days where I don’t feel amazing in the skin I’m in, but these moments are fleeting now. They pass in a minute or two and don’t sit with me for hours on end informing all my choices that day – what I wear, what I eat, what activity I do. It’s liberating.
Equally, when I don’t feel amazing, I don’t blame myself. In fact, I think it’s a miracle anyone can feel good when you consider the toxic messages constantly put on us all, all the time. Be thinner, be younger, be fitter, be more toned. That health only looks one way and that anyone who doesn’t look that way, or who isn’t “healthy” is somehow worth less in the world.
I used to think my body needed to be constantly monitored. I’d keep tabs on it like a prison warden, doing regular weight checks, assessing foods and dress sizes and exercise regimes.
I was never “on a diet” but, looking back, my periods of “healthy eating” WERE diets. They were about restriction, rules and regulation. Drink X amount of water every day, fill up on herbal tea, don’t eat the potatoes as well as the bread, do a HIIT session at least twice a week etc etc etc. I treated my body like an errant toddler, terrified if I took my eye off it for one second it would do something naughty.
And I didn’t even realise I was doing it. It’s so normal to live this way, to discuss what we aren’t eating with our friends, to moan about clothes not fitting us, to pick over “problem areas” in the mirror, that we don’t even see the damage it’s doing. We don’t realise we’ve drawn battle lines against ourselves, with our brains on one side and our bodies on the other.
When I was not friends with my body I thought I was actually being good to it. I’d eat the salad telling myself it was for the best. I’d force myself to do a HIIT session when I really didn’t want to, because I felt like I was “being healthy”. But that mindset never worked. I was either fully on the “being good” bandwagon, or fully off it. When I was on it I felt virtuous, in control, an A star student. And when I was off it I felt a gnawing pang of guilt mixed with a drop of fear. What would happen? And so it would all begin again. Over and over and over.
And then something changed. To be honest it just all got a bit exhausting. I felt like there must be better things to occupy my brain with than calories and more important things to feel guilty about than missing a HIIT session. It was just all taking up so much energy, you know? And so I started really working on making myself feed good without changing anything.
The end result was surprising. I went from a state of body neutrality to body joy. AS WELL as appreciating myself for all that I am REGARDLESS of my dress size, I started to appreciate my body for exactly what it was. I started to see the soft tummy, broad shoulders and delicate boobs as beautiful, rather than feeling dissatisfied with them. And when I’d made friends with my body in this way I started to respect it more. Instead of pulling at the soft bits of flesh on my body, kneading my tummy and thighs, I’d stroke them or smile at them. I started moving my body for joy, for the feeling it gave me, rather than with the sole intention of trying to change it.
I got into running. But rather than forcing myself to run really fast I’d put a podcast on and just jog along at a comfortable pace. I realised I could run quite far like this, and actively started to look forward to my runs. And if I couldn’t run one week (or month)? No biggie. I trusted my body to take me out again next time and didn’t feel like I needed to punish it by withholding food in the meantime.
I started to really enjoy – and make time for – Yoga again. I’ve always loved Yoga but had stopped making it a priority after the birth of my second baby. But once I became friends with my body I wanted to start doing nice things for it, things that made me feel good. Instead of putting myself last I started to put myself first occasionally.
I ate the food. But once I gave myself permission to eat without guilt, taking away the moral value of food and seeing certain foods as the devil, interestingly the foods I’d previously seen as “bad” held less attraction. I eat cake and ice-cream and anything I fancy, but actually sometimes I just really want a colourful salad. There is no “good” or “bad” any more.
In the past, I’d had this idea that my body didn’t know what was good for it. But now I’m friends with it, living connected with it, not letting thoughts of how it should be different take up brain space every day, I know that my body is very good at making the choices it needs to keep it happy. It doesn’t need me standing over it, monitoring it all the time.
And I feel free. And happy. And beautiful. And I think this must have been what it felt like to live in my body as a child. And I hope that my own children will continue to keep this freedom as their bodies grow and change. Because being friends with your body, loving it, appreciating it, feeling connected with it, is a far nicer place to exist than being in constant state of battle.
P.S. Episode One of Body Cons went out earlier this week and the response has been amazing. If you’d like to discover a new relationship with your body or just start to think about the subject in a new way then you can listen, rate and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.