I used to hide behind my super lean, 5’9” frame because calculating macros was easier to control than hard conversations—with myself and with others. As a bikini competitor, my body was judged ad nauseam. Sure, the training that went into my stage-ready physique taught me a lot about discipline, but the dieting lifestyle it invited was not worth the clinical eating disorder I went on to develop. That’s part of the challenge for all of us: You just get the fucking math wrong sometimes.
There are many paths to arrive at healthy, and people-pleasing, for me, no longer serves as a source of validation. People-pleasing is laced with corn syrup—too artificial and sweet for my liking—not nearly as decadent as seeing or connecting or listening to my body’s innate wisdom.
For years, I squandered my needs and tempered my feelings. My people-pleasing game was so hard that it eclipsed my truth, my individuality. A resounding no became the scalpel I wielded as I moved through the stages of recovery, slicing through the tender tissue of what needed to go and what I wanted to remain. I don’t know a way to transform anything without first taking down the existing structures, and that’s what no does—it pumps the brakes on your pursuit of perfection and gives you a chance to survey the damage caused by it.
For me, the results of that damage were damning. I ate according to rules rather than hunger cues. I eliminated entire food groups, didn’t eat past a certain time, and sometimes, I would fast or skip meals as a punishment for overeating. I thought I had to do complex calculations down to the gram to ensure I was losing body fat while creating a caloric deficit that was far too low for my level of physical activity. I became neurotic, stepping on the scale several times a week and using appetite suppressants and caffeine to curb my hunger.
I began my days with 90 minutes to two hours of cardio, followed by strength training in the evenings. I wasted thousands of dollars on a coach who promoted cookie-cutter strategies, with no regard for my wellbeing or how those strategies would affect me and my hormones years later. Said another way, I put too much emphasis on my physical appearance and allowed that to define who I was.
What I have found myself gravitating to is personal agency. This is not a group decision, nor is it a think tank. I do not need a body of experts telling me how to fuel or move my body.
These days, I love intensely and wholly, and that’s because I learned how to love myself first, strengthen my boundary neurons, and march to the beat of my own drum. From that, sprang a quieter, more subtle connectedness; no longer was it about anxious proving and scale measurements, calorie counting and overtraining.
It’s not your responsibility to answer to a wide swath of people and their opinions, however well-intentioned they may be. Frankly, some are so wrapped up in their diet craze that it’s a personal affront to their value system when you say something reckless like, “I’m sorry, but I’m working on being kind to my body.” Bless their hearts, but they can do you no good.
You possess, deep inside of you, a set of dreams and idiosyncrasies. This life you’re building is entirely your creation, fashioned out of your own unique experiences. You can live on a farm or out of a backpack. You can work from the comfort of your own home or in a commercial high-rise. You can wear Nike’s or heels, eat steak or kale, read poetry or study spreadsheets, fall asleep to city sirens or in the suburbs under the stars. You can train for a triathlon. You can buy all your clothes at a vintage shop. You can learn to speak Farsi or Italian.
How do you want to show up in the world? What ways of living have you acquiesced to because someone told you that’s how it ought to be done? Because their approach is more popular or mainstream? Do those words best describe how you want to live?
People, individual people, matter more than the celebration of cultural pathologies. People—as in What People Think, that nameless, faceless swamp of opinions—has less to say to me now than it ever has.
And that quiet liberation is second to none.
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