I have been saving this post for Valentine’s Day, a day when romantic love is celebrated and when often-overlooked-but-super-important self-love is slowly becoming more widely accepted. This isn’t to say that self-love is a new idea; it’s most certainly not. It is something that can take years to become comfortable with, though. We live in a society where there is big money to be found in perpetuating the dislike of oneself, but there’s a big difference between wanting to make a change from a growth and development mindset than from an I’m not good enough mindset. The latter is a mindset I’m painfully familiar with, and I’ve only quite recently started a journey on the road to self-love. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
1. How I feel about myself influences how I speak to myself, but how I speak to myself immediately impacts how I feel about myself.
I feel like this heading is equal parts obvious and confusing, so bear with me here. If I’m feeling poorly about myself then obviously my self-talk will have a strong negative undertone; however, if I start to speak to myself with a bit more love and a bit less hate, I can sense a shift in how I feel about myself straight away. So much of the health/wellness/wellbeing industry is based on negative discussion. Fix this, lose that… I only need to pick up a women’s health or fitness magazine and read the competing articles promoted on the cover to be simultaneously comforted and repulsed by myself. How to become bikini-body ready in only two weeks! Because of course I couldn’t possibly simply put a bikini now and be bikini-body ready, right? Right! A magazine cover that says Don’t change a thing about yourself because you’re pretty perfect isn’t going to sell many copies (or maybe it would?) but this is the kind of language I’ve had to significantly re-wire my brain to even consider, let alone accept.
Imagine waking up one day and accepting that there actually isn’t anything wrong with you at all. You don’t need to lose anything, nor do you need to fix anything. You’re not broken. You are enough. I can’t honestly say I feel like this every day, but I’m having more of these days lately than days when I wake up loathing myself, and a large part of this is because of how I’m re-training my brain to process both internal and external dialogue. It’s easy to say that hatred and negativity isn’t an environment conducive to cultivating a healthy mindset, but it’s far harder to understand how to quell the hatred, or at least keep it down to a hoarse whisper. It’s a slow process, but once you begin to consciously process negative talk and file it away in boxes labelled ‘shit that doesn’t make life better’, the changes do come.
2. Focussing on health rather than weight-loss is life-changing.
I feel this was a logical next step after changing the tone of the language I used when speaking to myself. By forgetting all the other crap that I’ve been taught to focus on, like shedding kilos or obtaining a thigh gap, and focussing on a better standard of health overall, I’m instantly in a better mindset. I’m no longer losing weight or losing flab around my inherently generous thighs, I’m gaining a better standard of living. I’m gaining more good years of my life. I’m gaining a stronger and fitter body that will help me be more productive, both at work and at home. What I do have to lose, like bad nights of sleep or irritable stomach movements, is well worth saying goodbye to.
Side note: there was virtually no scale weight difference between these two photos.
The left was taken in September 2014, the right in May 2015. I originally posted this comparison on Instagram back in 2015 and noted that while the woman on the right was still learning and growing, she was in a far happier and healthier place than the woman on the left, and I still believe that today to a certain extent. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but the woman on the right still really didn’t like herself much at all.
My life is no longer dictated by what number the scales present to me. If I can shave a few seconds off my 5K time, I’m happier and prouder even if I weigh 500g more than I did yesterday. Hashtag fuck the scales. Seriously. Give me some non-scale victories (NSVs) any day! I’m a smart person and I know when I am and, importantly, when I am not being healthy. I can feel it in my stomach and in my head. My skin will remind me when I’m no longer putting my health first. I want to be on this earth for as long as I possibly can and I won’t get there in the long-term if I’m obsessing over whether my thighs touch. They will, and that’s okay.
3. Food is not the enemy.
I’m always hungry, and so I’ve never been one to starve myself. Like, it’s just not something I could ever be capable of doing, and people who’ve encountered me when I’m *really* hungry can attest to that. I also have such a phobia of vomiting (emetophobia, if we’re being technical) that forcibly regurgitating my food has never and will never be part of my life. I feel sick just writing that. Because of these two factors, I’ve had a far better relationship with food than many other people I know, but it still hasn’t always been what I would consider healthy. Heck, it’s still not always healthy.
What I have done to improve my relationship with food is listen to my body to help determine which foods are good for me and which foods are not. I try to make healthy choices as often as possible, and a large part of my success in this respect is weekly meal planning. Matt and I plan out all our meals for the week ahead, most importantly all the Mon-Fri lunches and dinners, and then do one big weekly grocery shop. When you’re on a budget, it’s a lot harder to justify going out for lunch or dinner when you’ve got pre-cooked tasty food waiting for you.
I’m also working to understand which foods make me feel my best at certain points of the day. For example I’ve tried to do the bircher + fruit breakfast, which is super simple to prepare in bulk on a weekend, but I find that I’m hungry again by 10am. Alternatively if I have scrambled eggs on rye bread (more effort than bircher by far but easy enough to do at work with a microwave and a toaster) I find that I don’t start to think about eating again until midday. Making food work for me rather than making me work for food has been an important self-love step to take.
4. Cutting myself some slack is incredibly important to have any sense of balance in my life.
This month I set myself a goal to blog every day. I was killing it until Friday 12 February (two days ago). Life got in the way. We’re likely going to be moving within the month and we made a spur of the moment decision to go camping for the weekend. I had no blog posts prepared, and instead of coming home to write something half-heartedly and post in a rush, I packed up my stuff and took off for the night. Matt and I had a nice dinner together in Katoomba, then fell asleep under a clear and starry sky in Mount York. I felt bad for a moment that I wasn’t going to make it through a whole month of blogging each day, but then I remembered that I would be the only person who would truly care about it, and so I let it go. I needed a break before the next few weeks of rental inspections and cleaning and packing. Now I feel refreshed and ready to tackle the move.
If I spoke to other people the way I spoke to myself sometimes, I wouldn’t have any friends. If my friend skipped a workout because she’d had a shitty day and just wanted to curl up and read instead, I’d tell her that taking care of herself in both a mental and a physical sense is so much more important than just focussing on physical. In the past when I skipped a workout, I’d beat myself up over it and tell myself how lazy and not good enough that decision was. How boring.
I’m not training for a marathon. I’m not entering a body builder contest. I’m not completing a 12-week exercise challenge. I’m in this for the long haul. I’m not begrudging the training that people undertake for specific events, but I’m certainly not putting a time limit on my health and fitness. If I have a bad day or a bad week, it is okay. What a relief it is to say those words.
I didn’t exercise today. I hiked for two hours in the heat yesterday, got incredibly sunburnt (which I do deserve a slap on the wrists for), and then stayed up late after seeing a 9pm session of Deadpool. I didn’t exercise today, but I will tomorrow. I didn’t exercise today, but I’m not a lazy person who isn’t good enough. I didn’t exercise today because I am tired. I didn’t exercise today because I wanted and likely needed a day off. I didn’t exercise today, and that’s okay.
I am good enough.
I am okay.