At 23 years old, I was overweight and didn't like the person I had become. I had hit a low in my life and had a difficult time moving past it. I had a stressful job, was a coffee addict, ate very poorly (takeout and prepackaged food all the time), didn’t exercise, and drank wine to relieve stress on weekends.
All of my bad habits, combined with an enormous amount of stress, debilitated my body. I suffered from chronic infections, severe back pain, dermatitis, and was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. I was constantly tired and knew that something had to change. I gathered up all my courage and resolved to turn my life around by prioritizing my health.
Here are some of the key mindset shifts I made, enabling me to shed 40 pounds, become healthy, and change the course of my life.
1. I stopped blaming my weight gain on my genes.
I grew up in a family in which most of the women were overweight, and I grew up with the belief that, sooner or later, I would also become heavy. Whenever I gained weight, I’d tell myself that it was due to my genetics. I became a victim of my belief.
The new science of epigenetics shows that genes do not control us, but instead our environment and behavior affect gene expression. Various studies with identical twins have confirmed that environmental factors and habits lead to different amounts of weight gain, independent of genetic background. So even if you’re genetically predisposed to carry extra fat, you can take action, like exercising and eating healthfully, and influence how your genes are expressed.
Once you realize this, you no longer have to be a victim of your genetic heritage and can start taking responsibility for your health and life.
2. I realized that my weight was just a symptom.
My issue was that I didn’t love myself enough; I had limiting beliefs about myself; and I often felt unworthy, disconnected, and empty inside. I often tried to fill that inner void with food. I didn’t have the skills and tools to deal with stress and my problems.
It’s important to dig deep to find the underlying cause for your distress and address it. Once you start loving yourself, you make better food choices and look after your body. When you learn how to recognize and deal with your emotions and acknowledge your inner void, you no longer need to turn to food to make you feel better within.
3. I realized the importance of a healthy lifestyle.
Excess weight and poor health became my catalyst to self-discovery and improvement. It put me on the road to learning how to eat, exercise, and look after my body. I also realized I need to work on my mindset, and I discovered meditation and yoga.
4. I understood that my weight does not define me.
I used to associate my self-worth wholly with the way I looked. If I looked attractive, was at a healthy weight, and had nice clothes to wear, I felt good about myself. If I gained weight, I’d feel horrible, didn’t want to go out, and felt unworthy of male attention, which was my main measure of success during my teens and early twenties. Nowadays I just want to roll my eyes at my younger self for having this attitude!
Now I know that my body does not define me, and I have no need for others’ approval. I know that I have innate worth and don’t need to prove anything to anyone.
5. I raised my standards.
Your body is a direct reflection of your standards, which you choose (usually subconsciously) and which you can change. I decided to raise my standards for how much I love myself and how well I look after my body. So I started exercising and eating healthier. It did not require willpower. It just followed naturally from setting my new standards.
6. I decided to enjoy the journey.
If you want these changes to last, the whole journey must be pleasant. You can’t punish yourself with starvation diets and torturous exercise in the hope of achieving the body you are happy with. If you want to have the body you love, you must start appreciating the body you already have.
If you want to get a beautiful, fit body, you can only get it by making a decision to love yourself and be happy now. Happiness is not something that happens to you when you get something. It springs from a choice you must make moment by moment.
7. Motivation can only come from within.
Lasting motivation only comes from deep within — not from following unrealistic idols on Instagram. It has to spring from aspirations and emotions that are true to you. Like wanting to live your life to the fullest, to feel truly free, and to express yourself openly and spontaneously. Self-acceptance and determination to become more loving toward yourself must lie at its root. Lasting motivation cannot grow out of superficial vanity.
Photo courtesy of the author