GOOD BYE DIET CULTURE! HELLO FREEDOM!
By: Michelle Mayefske
Fat, plump, husky, obese, fluffy- over my lifetime I have been called all of these things and more. I have struggled with body image issues for most of my life and remember being called Ms Piggy and other cruel names as a child. Some of my earliest childhood memories include me feeling guilt or shame about my body and food. It was only recently I realised that I've spent more of my life than not on a diet or some strict regimen to help shed those excess pounds. If I look back at old pictures I can tell you not only what I weighed but which diet I was following at the time. Every diet, every daydream of plastic surgery or effortless weight loss was fuelled by one thing- wishing my body were different.
During each of my pregnancies new struggles with food and body image would surface. I would set limits on how much weight was reasonable to gain. I tried to balance my pregnancy cravings, increased nutritional needs and the nasty habits of restriction from my past. Maybe I can allow myself to eat more if I exercise, I would argue.
Pregnancy is often a time when women become more self conscious regarding their weight. For some it's an opportunity to allow themselves some freedom with food choices. For others pregnancy and the extra (normal) weight that comes with the territory is fraught with even more issues with body image. Some women even despise their body during pregnancy- they may feel fat, lazy, unattractive- and the list goes on. The fact that their body is nourishing a baby makes no difference- any excess weight is still unsettling.
I was no different. I constantly felt like I needed to gain "only what was necessary" to sustain my pregnancy. The less weight, the better. I found myself an even bigger slave to my scale, weighing myself once or twice weekly. I tried to persuade my body to gain less weight in the first trimester because I knew most weight gain was expected during the third, right? Don't gain to much weight too soon or you will really be a whale at the end.
When you have struggled with these issues for decades, it's hard to flip the switch and think differently just because you're pregnant. During my last pregnancy I knew exactly what I weighed every week and my total weight gain the day I went into labour. I also weighed myself after I gave birth and every day after for about a week. Those numbers NEEDED to go down, right!? And they did for two weeks.... then I plateaued.
Then I GAINED WEIGHT and found myself in the pit of self loathing and body hatred once again. I would check my Instagram feed and see the wave of before and after pictures of women during pregnancy and after. Their thin, perky bodies looked perfect as they nestled their adorable newborns. And me? I felt fat, lazy and guilt around my food choices again. The temptation of restriction, dieting and obsession with numbers was calling my name. "Come back to the life of calorie counting, scale watching and point counting" my inner voice told me. "We will help you, we promise!"
It took months but eventually I said f*ck this! You see, I'm a mum of four. That's FOUR children who need my time, attention and love! My life of self loathing immediately postpartum required me to spend so much mental energy counting, tracking, planning, weighing and more. I would plan out my "new diet" and create my new set of rules, which would always begin on a Monday. I would begin operation weight loss, stay "on track" for a few days but eventually slip up, call myself out, remind myself how useless I was, shame my lack of willpower and binge. Plan, fail, binge, repeat. And all of that mental real estate that kept the cycle going? It meant LESS of my attention and focus was on my family (and don't get me started on the lack of self care). My negative postpartum body issues were taking over my life and the rules of dieting and restriction were creating more harm than good!
This past year I've been learning that there's so much more to life than chasing a body type. I'm learning loads about intuitive eating and what it means to really feel connected to my body! I've also learned that being thin does NOT need to be a major life goal. Ignoring my body's hunger cues is not self care. Being fat, plump or overweight is okay. My worth is not solely based on my appearance. I'm worthy of love and success no matter my body shape. I'm an excellent mum and my weight has nothing to do with that. I don't need to "get my body back," as I never lost it to begin with. My strong body has always been here and it has brought me four beautiful babies.
I haven't weighed myself in months- which initially felt strange and frightening. I don't punish myself if I eat past feeling full- I simply own it and move on. I choose exercise that I enjoy versus what's going to burn the most calories. I don't track my distance or calories burned. I don't exercise to earn a meal or as punishment for something "bad" I ate before. I start each day new and don't carry any negative feelings with me that might have popped up yesterday. Instead of eating and moving with THE GOAL being weight loss, I'm making healthier choices because they feel good inside and out.
Instead of "I hate (or need to change) my body so I'm going to improve it with a diet, detox etc" I choose to say "I love and respect my body so I'm going to listen to it and make choices that support health!" I still eat cake sometimes, I still feel lazy some days and there are days when I overeat--- hello Christmas! But you know what? The freedom and peace of body positivity and self love is such a beautiful place to be!
To my plump postpartum body... I love you and thank you for bringing me this far. My days of hating you and disrespecting you in an effort to change you are over.