I was probably 8 or 9 years old when I first stepped onto a scale outside of a doctor's office. This time, meant something other than a benign measurement taken by a man in a white coat.
I was called a lot of things growing up: chubby, big-boned, solid, sturdy. I was both taller and wider than my delicate fourth grade peers and despite being an avid dancer, soccer player, swimmer and all-around active girl, my size was starting to be a cause for concern.
My mom, a performer and always sensitive of her own appearance and health, and my dad, a doctor and "fixer" by nature, were worried. I stuck out like a sore thumb compared to my lanky, athletic brothers. That day on the scale, I heard comments or ridicules about my body in my own head and heart.
My weight continued to climb through adolescence and young adulthood. Sure, I loved food. I also loved being active, though, and food just reacted differently in my body than it did in my peers'. I also developed unhealthy habits around eating because I knew I should temper myself. I'd hide wrappers, trade out healthy home-packed lunches for not-so-healthy options, or lie about what I'd eaten at a friend's house.
I was 21 when I found myself the heaviest I'd been and a contestant on NBC's "The Biggest Loser". Although I made it to the finish line of the weight loss reality show 113 pounds lighter than I started, I know my journey will never truly be over. My fat cells will always live in my body — whether inflated or not — and although it's an uphill battle every day, it's one I'm continuously grateful for.
Here's what I've learned through my journey to find my ideal, healthy body and inner peace:
I know things aren't always as they appear.
I remember a guy I dated in college once told me he didn't understand how people "stayed fat" and why people couldn't just "push themselves away from the table."
It didn't matter that at that point, my body was in relatively decent shape; I knew from the times it hadn't been in shape that just because someone is overweight, underweight or perfect, that doesn't always reflect the choices they make. Metabolic disorders are common — especially with the onslaught of processed foods, medicines and chemicals in our world — and they all disrupt our bodies' natural processes and hormonal balance.
Just because someone appears to be out of control of their body doesn't mean they aren't totally regimented and making a valiant effort to better themselves.
I'm in touch with my weakness AND my strengths.
Everyone has an Achilles heel, something that makes them question their worth or that dents their self-esteem. I've always had a relatively healthy sense of self, but that doesn't makes it any easier to feel like it's not fair that I have to work harder than others to better my weight or maintain it, or that I have to live with imperfections it seems like others never have to face.
Ultimately, I believe in myself and my value above all, but believing in yourself and being strong doesn't equate to having no weaknesses at all, though it certainly helps to cushion those weaknesses and build you up when they seem to be the focus.
My focus shifted from what I can't be to what I am.
I'll never look like Jennifer Aniston. But in knowing what or who I won't be, my focus has shifted to what I am. Strong: I can lift heavy weights, swing my son around in circle and rearrange furniture in my house whenever I want. Robust: My body, despite being strong, is feminine and curves in ways only it can or will. I've mourned the loss of the idea that I can or will be like anyone else, and now I get to enjoy being ME.
I've learned to be healthy rather than skinny.
I can't tell you how many diet frozen dinners, heart-racing metabolism-increasing pills and other crap I loaded into my body for years, hoping they'd make me skinny. Hours on the elliptical, threatening my body ... hating my body. Somewhere along the line, I decided I didn't want to live like that, even it meant I'd never be skinny.
So researched the chemistry behind how food reacts in your body and how I might heal my metabolism from the inside to make them more efficient and healthy.
Does it mean I'm perfect all the time? No. But most of the time, I'm purposeful in how I eat, workout and talk to myself. If I had never struggled with my weight, I don't know that I would have learned that my body doesn't feel its best when it's its smallest, but when its treated the most kindly.
I possess the perspective gained from many experiences.
I've had great relationships with some pretty amazing wellness and fitness professionals, some of whom have triumphant stories of their own. Others are masters of their crafts, constantly learning, growing and challenging themselves. But only a few of them know first hand how deep the struggle can be when you're battling your body.
I remember one trainer who looked at me and some other clients who were struggling with their bodies, and asked what she believed was the very innocent question of, "So ... what do you guys even do when you're this big?". Jaws dropped.
Looking back, I think she just didn't get that the size you are doesn't define your humanity. You still dream for your future and go to work. You still go outside, travel, workout, cook. I'm grateful that my path has given me perspective I couldn't have had with a perfect body.
At the end of the day, my body — despite its weaknesses, flaws and history — feels, looks and is the perfect body because it's mine. It's the only one I get. And I'm honored that it carries me through life as strongly and courageously as it has and will.
Photo courtesy of the author