*Before you read this: I will never share photos of my physical appearance or what my number on the scale says as I very much appreciate that this is a sensitive topic. I would never want to influence anyone into thinking that they would need to look a certain way or aim to weigh a specific number on the scale based on my personal experiences/goals.
I generally lived a healthy lifestyle up until the point I turned 18. I really have to thank my parents for this- they always made sure I ate home cooked meals and we hardly had any sugary snacks/drinks in the fridge and cupboards. That’s not to say my parents restricted me from enjoying some junk every once in a while- generally it was all in moderation. They also always both encouraged me to live an active lifestyle. I participated in extracurricular activities (mainly dance- a big passion of mine) a couple times a week. Additionally, I was fortunate enough to have grown up in a hot tropical country, I spent a lot of the weekends on the beach and swimming in the ocean. Being active and staying fit felt natural.
Then I turned 18 and my attitude towards being healthy slowly started to change.
The issue with everything I explained in the previous paragraph is that my attitude towards health had come from my parents motivation and encouragement, not from self-motivation. The truth is I that as far as I can remember I have always fallen into some unhealthy habits due to my anxiety (a struggle I will discuss on another post as I don’t want to go on a tangent). When it comes to living a healthy lifestyle, my anxiety manifests itself into various ‘self-defensive’ (which are actually self-harming) techniques. To put it in perspective for the topic of this post, I’ll give a few examples:
. When I’m scared, I won’t eat at all
. When I’m stressed, I will indulge in ridiculous amounts of fast food (e.g. eat a whole dominos pizza followed by ice cream). Some healthy people may do this every once in a while because of enjoyment, but my problem arises in that the cause is stress, and more times that not the result for me is guilt and self-pity.
. When I’m sad, I retract into my own shell and spend an endless amount of time in front of the television. Once again this can be perfectly fine to occasionally do out of enjoyment, but once again the cause that leads me to this state is sadness. When my sadness has reached its lowest it has therefore led to times of prolonged inactvity.
The above are examples of what happens when my anxiety reaches its peak.
Up until the point I was 18, I had my wonderful parents encouraging me to be a healthy individual, and I have only recently discovered that the above encouragement I refer to needs to come from myself.
So what happened when I turned 18?
Well, I moved to London and started university. Mom and dad were thousands of miles away no longer encouraging me to eat healthy and to stay active. My rebellion in the pursuit of freedom from my parents wasn’t binging on alcohol, instead it was drinking a can of coke nearly every day. It meant going without any food until the clock hit 3 PM and then scarfing down McDonald or Subway. Suddenly eating healthy for me meant having a Tesco Meal Deal. At the time I didn’t think I was being unhealthy- I felt very happy living in London and had a very healthy lifestyle. The thing about anxiety is (in my personal experience) that it’s always going to be there in the toughest and most wonderful of times. Anxiety is not a choice, but it is our choice to decide how we manage it. Well at the time I was choosing to not acknowledge that my anxiety needed acknowledgment- I needed (and still do) to be making healthy lifestyle choices in order to manage my anxiety. During my first year of uni, I signed up for a 6 month gym membership and I believe I went two or three times.
None of the above seemed like a problem to me because I was still skinny and could fit into a size S comfortably. It wasn’t until I noticed a significant change in my physical appearance and weight on the scale that I realised how much I had let myself go.
It was then that I decided that I needed to lose weight. I hit the gym consistently and started to attempt to control my calorie intake. Within a few months I lost most of the weight I gained and felt happy because people were commenting on all the weight I lost.
There is so much wrong with the above thought process, but I have shared and it and italicised it on purpose because it is important for me to have discovered how dangerous this mentality is. Let me breakdown all the problems with this thinking:
- My motivation to lose weight was based on my physical appearance and a number on a scale. My motivation was never to be healthy, after all I was unhealthy for 2 years and remained skinny so I never questioned my decisions.
- My motivation should never be to lose weight- I cannot stress this enough. Losing weight for me was being driven by a place where society leads me to believe that I only look good when I’m skinny, and it has nothing to do with health.
- I was controlling my calorie intake by constantly checking nutritional labels and trying to stick to an intake I thought would make me lose weight (once again would like to emphasise that this is not a healthy mentality for me). I was also feeling guilty each time I chose to eat pizza, I would just end up feeling guilt.
- The end resulted in me losing weight and basing my happiness because everyone else seemed to be with happy with how I looked. I never stopped to consider how I felt, and I immediately felt back into old habits of eating like crap and not exercising.
So what happens next?
So I fall back into old habits and 2 years later (basically the same time frame from my first journey) I notice some changes in my body and I decide to weight myself on the scale. My reaction is essentially the one from the first time around- that I need to exercise and control my calorie intake.
This time around though the weight didn’t come off and I did not find any motivation at all. I continued with my bad habits and simultaneously felt terrible about my physical appearance (I was basically throwing myself a self-pity party, and I am saying this as some tough love from me to me). My anxiety was at a peak at this point, and was being consistently increased due to some of the most difficult personal circumstances I had yet to face. As I mentioned, anxiety is not a choice, but we choose how we manage it. Once again I was ignoring my anxiety and generally not looking after myself, a terrible combination.
So where am I now?
I am happy to say that in the past year, life has taken a turn for the better because I have taken a turn for the better. By that I mean I started making choices that benefited me and started changing my mentality towards health. I have a job that constantly challenges my learning, I travel regularly, I have an amazing group of friends scattered across the globe, I live a fairly regular social life, and I have a loving partner. These above may seem irrelevant to this post but they aren’t- I have these amazing aspect of my life due to the choices I have made. They are healthy choices which have made me reflect on my physical health.
I’ll be honest, at the moment I am at the ‘biggest’ I have ever been. I have stretch marks all around my hips, and cellulite on my thighs and arms. However, I am much happier and healthier than I was a few years ago. I eat a more balanced diet and I am starting to exercise on a regular basis.
What’s different this time and what changed my mentality towards physical health?
- My motivation to be healthy comes from me and only me- not from my parents or what I think society wants me to look like. I had this enlightenment when I finally reflected on my intentions behind becoming ‘healthy’ in the past.
- I am aiming to eat a more balanced diet on a regular basis because I want to- I immediately notice a change in my mood when I eat healthy foods. That’s not to say I’ve cut out pizza and chocolate, but I certainly try to include more veg and fruit in there and have recently started cooking homemade meals myself. I also am exercising because I enjoy it and it makes me happy.
- My motivation to eat healthy and exercise is not to lose weight. I don’t want to be skinny, I want to be strong. I want to be healthy.
- I have discovered that I can love myself and feel motivated to change myself simultaneously. By that I mean while I work towards building my body into a strong and lean machine, I can still love it and appreciate it at every stage. I used to want to cry every time I saw my stretch marks and cellulite, but now I accept that it’s there and I don’t let it define how I view my physical appearance. I actually can look at myself in the mirror naked and love myself and feel beautiful.
That’s not to say that it’s easy and that my old mentality doesn’t try to creep in every once in a while. The difference now lies in that I don’t let it control my lifestyle choices. And of course my anxiety is still there, and there are times where I give into the negative habits mentioned in the previous examples. However I don’t beat myself up over it and I can always pick myself up and get back on track.
The major difference is that I am now living my life based on self-motivation and self-love.
I accept that life will be challenging and will have set-backs, but those set-backs do not mean I need to permanently place myself in bad habits.
So what is my definition of physical health?
Everyone will have a different opinion on this as it is so personal to your own life experience. Mine is simply allowing yourself to constantly work on the person you want to be versus who you think other people want you to be. This of course also applies to your mental health (which I will discuss in another post), ultimately mental and physical health go hand in hand. We must always ensure that neither is being ignored.
Thank you to anyone who has taken the time to read this. It is very personal and was very difficult to write. Please do feel free to let me know about your own personal experience or any questions you may have for me through my ‘contact’ page.