A small brown suitcase sits open and empty on my bed as I prepare to pack several days worth of clothing for a retreat in Southern California. It will be warmer than my current climate much further north so I reach into the back of the closet for shorts, tank tops and light dresses, none of which have seen the light of day since the previous Summer. “Hmm, maybe I should try them on…”, I think to myself, noting that since making a commitment six months ago to halt all dieting, food restriction and excessive exercise it was quite possible, in fact likely, I had gained a bit of weight.
Not one thing.
And not the “well things are a little snug but I can squeeze myself into them” kind of not fitting. No, it was the “I cannot even come close to doing up these buttons or zippers” kind of not fitting. The kind that completely deflated me despite the increased bloat in my belly.
I knew that I was on a path of healing my exercise addiction and compulsive eating. I knew that what I was doing in refusing to buy into the diet and fitness industry’s harmful messaging was absolutely the right thing for me and that I was playing the long game this time around instead of just attempting to band-aid the situation. I also KNEW without a shadow of a doubt that I was going to be ok, but that feeling… the constriction of those clothes on my flesh in that moment, the heavy disappointment and shame of standing there in my bedroom with a pair of shorts half way on, zipper pulled agape by my hips and belly; I’m not going to lie, it stung. A familiar panic swelled inside my chest, a feeling that in the past had demanded immediate relief. Relief that had typically come in the form of a weight loss or fitness program sign up, a plan to starve myself and to exercise for several hours that day and in the days to come. But I had promised myself it was time to try something different and somewhere deep in my core, none of those actions felt truly desirable. Instead it was time to use all that I had learned in recent months about the roots of my compulsions and about accepting my body as it was in this moment and put it into practice.
At that particular juncture on my road to healing, all of the theory made perfect sense to me. The fact that I had been binge eating for much of my life in order to dampen emotions, anxiety mostly; sometimes pain and sadness. The tendency for type A overachievers to strive for perfection in all areas of life including physical form and often fell victim to various compulsive behaviors including exercise addiction. The understanding that the tidal wave of emotion from which I was attempting to run from into a tub of ice cream or with my 3rd gym visit of the day would not actually wash me away into the abyss as, on a primal level, it felt like it might. Intellectually, this all made sense. The little cloud of essence deep in my solar plexus that resonates as my soul shouted YES! YES! YES! to all the information I had soaked up so far and yet here I stood in my bedroom, attempting to stuff myself into a pair of now too small denim shorts and all the self assurance I had about stopping the cleanses and the diets and the endless working out began to slip away.
Here was a moment. A chance to not only think differently but do things differently.
I let the panic wash over me. I let my mind fondle all the various solutions to the “problem” of this weight gain and when it had had it's fill, I took a deep breath and exhaling the last few minutes worth of angst, self-flagellation and disappointment, I looked in the mirror. Pulling the shorts off of my body, I continued to strip down until I was naked. There in that moment, I made the decision to look at my body through new eyes, to start my healing and to start living what I knew was truth; My weight did not determine my worth.
My curves popped out at me at once, the fullness of my hips and bosom. My shoulders looked strong, like those of an athlete who had spiked many a volleyball to the floor over the years. And my rounded lower belly? Certainly not taut as it was before childbirth, but was it as truly unacceptable as I had been brainwashed to believe? No, it was not. In fact, it was actual quite feminine and sensual.
I took in my whole self one last time and made the following commitment:
I am telling myself the truth in this moment and this body is not the body I feel most at home in. That is ok. As I move through this next phase of healing, I am committing myself to liberating myself from my body no matter what the numbers on the scale or the tags on my clothes say. I am committed to trusting the path I am currently on. This path includes no food restriction or dieting of any kind, no fitness weight loss programs or cleanses and no excessive exercise. It does include practicing the concept of mindfulness in order to create more self awareness as well as self-compassion. I am choosing to believe that truly loving and caring for my body will eventually allow me to find peace and I am no longer in a rush.
From that moment, a new and wholly different “solution” came to me as began to put the clothes I had pulled out back into my closet. I would go and buy new clothes for this trip, clothes that fit my body as it was right now, clothes in which I would feel comfortable fully participating in this retreat. I would not be draping myself in the energy of resignation with this weight gain, as I may have once thought this behavior signified, but instead in a giant and loving cloak of acceptance.
I couldn't know this at the time but things were about to change drastically for me for this was the first of many moments that I would end up choosing compassionate curiosity, acceptance and self-love over panic, disgust and my next new diet and exercise plan. To my delight it would also become easier and easier to make that choice as I continued on my journey.
The retreat was a big success. I ended up laughing, crying, dancing, learning, connecting and witnessing magic; all of the things I had so desperately hoped would occur. The weight gain had prevented none of what I had been seeking.
Lori Race is a healer, health clinic owner and writer with a passionate message to share from her past as a fitness instructor suffering from compulsive exercise disorder.