Learning To Love Your Body

I became vegan five years ago this month. It has been an unexpected, yet transformative journey. Before the switch I constantly worried about my weight and I was never happy with my physical appearance. My thighs and arms were too fat and my face was too round. My stomach was lumpy and I hated my cellulite and stretch marks. I remember these feelings starting around the time I entered puberty.

I always loved food, and had a very large appetite. The family joke was that I would eat more than my siblings at mealtime, including my older brother. I had a tendency to over eat and as I got older it began to catch up with me. Or at least I thought so?

I played sports my whole life but despite my active lifestyle and athletic figure I developed a distorted body image as I matured. I would overeat and then deprive myself… which led me to overeat again. It was a vicious cycle. It got worse as I went away to college; I gained and lost 30 pounds in two years and when I hit 180 pounds my self esteem was lower than ever.

When I was on a healthy kick I did enjoy dieting and was good at it. I attended Weight Watchers meetings and was disciplined when I would go out to eat. I would feel great about myself for a few weeks, but then I would have a late night binge and make myself sick. I woke up feeling terrible about myself both physically and mentally. I would give up on the diet and fall back into old patterns. I associated food with guilt and I accepted that as normal.

I loved cheese just as much as anyone else. I consumed about five to six servings per day on average. Muenster slices were a staple of every meal and in between. Even when I was “dieting” I did not have the willpower to overcome my cravings for pizza, chicken parmesan, string cheese, etc. Although my feelings of self hate and desire to lose weight were strong, they were not not enough to stop me from eating the foods that caused me the most guilt.

(If I had a dollar for every time I heard, “But OMG I could never give up cheese,”…)

In May of 2011 I consciously chose to stop consuming animal products for ethical and health reasons. I watched a documentary showing the torture that is factory farming, and was shocked by the environmental havoc it is wreaking. I was specifically appalled and distraught by the standard dairy industry practices. The entire industry is a horrifying nightmare for both the cows, calves, and our planet. My heart breaks every time I see the absurd volume of milk gallons lining the supermarket shelves, or children leaving an ice cream shop. It is so engrained into our culture we don’t even question it’s ethics.

I was also addicted to coffee, bagels, pizza, boneless spare ribs, potato chips.. the usual processed, dead foods that makes up the standard american diet. Today I can confidently say that I have quit eating the foods that once had such a hold over me. However, one big lesson I’ve learned is that it is not about deprivation; if I am in the mood for some french fries, I enjoy them and move on. No guilt, no great debate. The best part is that most of the time I don’t even want them so it’s an easy choice.

Throughout the past five years I’ve noticed people admiring my willpower, but what they don’t understand is that I have the same willpower I always did. The difference is that I don’t want cheese, or bagels, or any processed foods anymore, so the decision is not a decision at all.

My mindset towards my body has totally shifted. I no longer worry about my weight, which is amazing! It is still hard for me to believe that I love the way I look and feel (MOST of the time). I used to weigh myself twice a day and now I don’t own a scale. I challenge you to lose your scale. It is one of the most liberating things I’ve ever done. I get weighed a few times a year at the doctor and it is always the same. I have leveled at about 150 pounds give or take a few yet I feel smaller and healthier as the years go on. I do admit that of course at times I feel waves of my old self hate; I see my distorted reflection again through my own eyes. I see the same body that I was satisfied with yesterday, yet now there is fat in places that wasn’t there, and dark circles under my eyes that I never noticed. However, I have an awareness that I did not have before. I had hateful thoughts and feelings about myself for most of my life and that takes time and focused energy to heal. Through self-care such as meditation and writing I remind myself how healthy and perfect my body is.

I used to hate my body and now I love it.

The change is in learning to appreciate the beauty and miracle that is the human body. I had a realization about six months ago. I was in a barre class at the gym, working out in front of a mirrored wall. I had a moment where I looked at myself and really saw me, and I realized how amazing I was. I don’t mean that narcissistically; my mind was just seeing my body for what it was — a self sufficient vessel allowing me to live my life. I beat it up in the gym, I exhaust it day and night dancing at festivals, I hunch uncomfortably at a desk all day and barely give it a break.. I stared at it in awe, mesmerized and grateful for having all of my limbs intact, for my beautiful curves, strong, clear senses, and a beating heart.

How can we hate our one and only body?

Once I realized that this is the only body I have and I need to live in it for the rest of my life, that’s when it clicked, “Wow, I better take care of this thing!” But how?

First, take a look at what you are putting into your body. We have the choice to either support health and immunity with natural substances or challenge our biological functions with chemicals and toxins.

Begin to be aware of how you talk (think) to your body. Do you talk down to it? Do you look at yourself and feel fat, ugly, and disgusted? Do you guilt yourself after overeating? This needs to stop! It will not happen overnight but the first step is the consciousness behind these actions.

(“Be gentle with yourself, you are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars..” — Max Ehrmann)

I once felt and thought all of those hateful, hurtful, shameful thoughts. I was in pain but it was all I knew. I learned to retrain my mind by replacing hateful with grateful. I know it sounds corny but it is the truth. I began to feel appreciation for all of my moving parts, for an instinctive beating heart and breathing lungs, for our effortless ability to heal. Think about the power of speech and the ability for our brains to communicate with our lips.. The brain is phenomenal. Today I look in the mirror and even when I’m not feeling 100%, I still always feel the love and appreciation for how strong and precious my body is, and I tell myself that. It is not uncommon for me to say out loud, “Body I love you!! Thank you for being so strong!” (It is also not uncommon for those comments to come after a festival bender or some other not so restful venture..) Life is about balance right?

The last piece might be the most important. How do you FEEL? Do you feel tired, bloated, foggy, deprived, weak, heavy? Our physical feelings are great indications of the thoughts we are having. This has helped me more than anything.

When I eat healthy and FEEL light, I look at myself in the mirror and I am satisfied with my physical appearance. Everyone knows that after a week of solid workouts and healthy meals you feel super fit; that is the best! Realistically your body has not physically changed that drastically in one week but your view is completely different. And conversely, we’ve all experienced a lazy weekend laying on the couch eating ice cream and watching reruns of Friends.. That Monday after we change out of our sweats we feel full and gross, but we also THINK we look fat. Our shape does not change that suddenly; our physical self-reflection is truly in our minds.

I live a wholistic lifestyle because it feels too good not to!

Each time I overindulge I do it less and less, because I am reminded that I don’t want to feel that way. KEY POINT — indulging is natural! No one makes the “right” decision every time, but our choices do not need to be buried in guilt and shame. Succumbing to the momentary pleasures of eating toxic foods is a facade that can be overcome, I promise you this. This is how I am evolving, and over time these small changes have transformed my self-perspective and self-care practices.

This transition began quite suddenly for me and there were two driving factors. Firstly, realizing that the core function of my body is most important, not the physical appearance. That concept resonated with me and completely changed my point of view.

The second piece was realizing the detrimental impact that the animal agriculture industry has on the planet. (If you have still not seen Cowspiracy, WATCH IT!)

Those two ideas together are what drove me to make drastic lifestyle changes and those same factors continue to motivate me today. I only want the best quality substances inside and on my body. I am no longer tempted by the foods that used to control me. I used to order the sampler platter at the diner with extra ranch (my friends can vouch for that) and now those same foods sadden and disgust me. Knowledge is willpower.

Knowledge can also not be unlearned.

This is where my neurosis comes in a bit. I don’t have a problem saying no to what others may feel are tempting foods. YAY! This is because I am obsessed with keeping toxins out of my body. However as we know in our society, unfortunately that is nearly impossible, so when I eat something that does contain preservatives or chemicals it gives me anxiety. Contrary to my past it is not because I am scared of gaining weight, now I stress because I am scared of damaging or weakening my body. My thoughts align with a condition called Orthorexia, which is an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder relating to obsession with healthy eating. I’ve learned to remind myself that my body is strong and has sustained years of abuse, it can handle some toxins.

I try not to let it interfere with my social life but it would be a lie if I said it didn’t. When going out to eat with friends I always check the menu so that I am prepared and know the options that will be the healthiest for my body. Luckily these days most restaurants are able to accommodate! However for my own sanity I need to check beforehand. I was never a fan of boozy brunches but now I have absolutely no desire. I don’t eat eggs or meat and not into bottomless mimosas (one to two will surely give me a headache.) I’ve learned that I prefer preparing my own food, and when eating out I need to be very specific choosing conscious restaurants that source local ingredients and promote healthy eating. The great thing about the health revolution is that these places are becoming easier and easier to find, especially in San Francisco.

I admit it can be stressful at times, trying to keep my body free from toxins. However is it really a bad thing that I love my body SO freaking much? It is the most amazing polarity from my past of hating it and being disgusted by it. I only want to feed it the highest quality, nutrient dense, yummy goodness! My goal is to reach my peak health and maintain that for the rest of my life!

If you’ve wondered about veganism or vegetarianism but are detered because you don’t think you could do it, I hope you can see that your body learns to love the wholistic lifestyle. It is about much more than saving animal lives, but that in itself is unbelievably rewarding. Our nutrition is about learning to love our bodies and planet, and to support physical health instead of disease.

Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and feel the cool air spreading to each inch of your body. Pick one aspect you love about your body and be filled with gratitude for it. Instead of focusing on what you don’t love, make an effort to focus on how amazing you are and how strong your body is!

If you have any questions about learning to love your body, or anything at all, please contact me (alexaj@gypsyuniverse.com). This journey for me as been isolated but yours doesn’t have to be.

Here’s to living forever,

Alexa