For most of my life, I’ve remained on the thinner/slender scope of body types. It’s partly due to genetics (my mom, grandmother, great-grandmother, so on and so forth- were all on the small side) and partly due to keeping active and eating right. In my teens and my early twenties, staying in shape was an afterthought. I could devour cheeseburgers or pizza at 11 PM or not move from the couch for a weekend and still fit into the tightest and tiniest of clothes, but when I hit my late twenties and my metabolism started to slow down- coupled with working jobs that kept me relatively motionless and chained to a desk for hours on end every day- I noticed my body began to change and suddenly fitting into those tight, tiny clothes was a little more difficult.
Growing up, my parents had taught me that my body was beautiful- no matter what shape it took or how much I weighed. As long as I was healthy and felt good- that’s all that mattered, and it’s what I believed. That’s not to say I didn’t encounter challenges during the years where people struggle with body image the most. When I was still a child, I developed a phobia of eating in front of people which ultimately led to me having a brief brush with anorexia and required a few hospital visits to address. When I was in my pre-teens and taking multi-weekly dance classes- my teacher decided everyone in her school was going to go on a strict diet and start running regularly for an entire Summer- and a lot of us became very, very ill as a result due to excessive weight loss and overworking ourselves.
And in high school, when self-esteem is at it’s most fragile and can be easily shattered- I struggled with my looks and still-changing body while simultaneously trying to figure myself out, what I wanted to do when I got older, what boys I liked, etc. It was a mess. When I finally hit my twenties and was able to maintain the same weight/figure while doing/eating whatever I wanted- I assumed it would last forever and finally started to feel comfortable.
And then, of course- it didn’t last forever- and my confidence began to fade with every pound gained or every photo of me taken that I felt was unflattering and awful. I started to cover up more. I stopped wearing two-piece bikinis and shorts for a period of time. When I was intimate with anyone- I made sure the lights were off for fear they’d be repulsed by my body and hate looking at it as much as I did.
It went on that way for a long time, worsened when my father died, when relationships ended badly, so on and so forth. The last guy I dated had a habit of compulsively “liking” or commenting on fitness models’ social media pages and photos to sing praises about their bodies and how attractive they were- and although I don’t believe he had any intention of hurting me and thought it wasn’t important, all-that-serious or detrimental- having the person you love fawn over other women who look nothing like you can be extremely damaging to your psyche and self-esteem.
When it comes down to it, depression can be just as harmful to your body as junk food or remaining sedentary- maybe even more so because you can lose the will to do anything other than just sit with it for long periods of time.
I found myself saying the same thing every New Year’s Eve- “I’m really going to get into shape next year! I mean it!”- and I would always start with the best of intentions, but by March it would fall apart and when Summer came back around- I’d be covering up at the beach again and swearing to have it together by Fall- which I rarely did.
This year, it’s been different.
COVID-19 has taken so much from everyone: plans, jobs, time with our friends and loved ones, finances, but if this pandemic has given me anything- anything at all- it’s some perspective and a chance to better utilize my time to actually focus on myself, my body and my mind since keeping healthy and staying safe if the ultimate priority these days.
When I first started working from home for the long-haul this past Spring- I thought about what my parents had told me growing up- and asked myself the hard questions. Was I healthy? No. I knew I wasn’t. Did I feel good? Absolutely not. Day after day I felt sluggish, exhausted, sad and unmotivated. I blamed long hours at work and a busy schedule- but ultimately I knew that my own poor time management and more often than not- just being lazy- were to blame. The thing about preparing to change yourself is that it involves taking accountability for your own actions or, in my case- inaction- and facing it head-on without coming up with excuses.
And from there, after admittedly being a little harder on myself than necessary- I made gradual changes. Working from home has allowed me to prepare my own meals (instead of grabbing something on the go- which I did frequently on mornings when I was running late,) which has been rewarding and fun and makes it easier to keep track of the things I’m putting into my body. My lunch breaks are no longer spent ordering takeout or sitting in my car- but are used getting fresh air and going for walks around my neighborhood to stretch my legs and get my heart rate going so that I don’t hit a mid-afternoon slump.
I set reminders on my phone to drink water and to get up and stretch frequently at my desk- something I may have felt awkward doing back when I was in the office with my co-workers. When my work day is done, I run errands and/or do chores and make sure to fit in a final workout at night where I can do squats, planks, sit-ups, push-ups, yoga, etc. I try to get a full night of undisturbed rest- although that’s still a challenge at times. I allow myself a “cheat day” once a week where I eat something I probably shouldn’t or skip a workout- but it’s only for my own sanity.
Doing this every day since March has shown gradual results. I have more energy. I’m able to do more throughout the day without feeling tired. My skin has cleared up- and I’ve lost enough weight where I feel comfortable enough wearing a two-piece bikini again- something I haven’t been able to do in years. It’s a black, vintage pinup-inspired number- and I love it.
Of course, I know that there will be difficult days ahead because there always are. Eventually, I will have to return to the office. Some days I feel sad and tired and want to give up- and I allow myself to feel those emotions and I know it’s okay- because I also know I’ve ultimately developed a routine and a regimen that works for me and I understand that I’ve formed habits I can more easily stick to- and even adjust around my schedule if needed.
Every day yields better and more rewarding results- so I’m looking forward to checking in again a few months from now when it’s time to try on all of my Autumnal clothes and see how they fit (and maybe even buy some new stuff!) For now, though- I’ve got a beach body I’m learning to embrace and am proud of because I’ve worked so hard for it.
I write this post not as a way to brag or make anyone feel bad, because I know a lot of people who have been struggling with both their physical and mental health during this pandemic- and they may not have the same results I do with their own journeys to wellness and self-care. But I write it in the hopes that anyone out there reading this, who may think they don’t have what it takes to change themselves or their routines in the middle of a global health crisis- can look at this, and at me- and say “what do I have to lose?” because if I can do it- then I’m sure others can (and probably will do it better than me!)
Just remember that it’s all about being healthy- and feeling good. That’s literally all that matters.
Hang in there, everyone- and be kind to yourselves.