Sunday, January 4, 2015

{Musings} Why I Stopped Hating My Body

{image via}

I can tell it's January at work. Where a week before, the work room was filled with candy, cookies, soda, and chips, the table is now bare. Everyone is "being good." The gyms are packed; Google Express suggests I order healthy cookbooks and whey protein powder. It's tradition to make goals at this time of year, and I'm going to take a wild leap and guess that a high percentage of those goals involve being healthier, thinner, stronger.

I'm certainly not immune. I'm jumping into 2015 with a few fitness goals of my own. However, in the last several months, my focus has shifted from wanting to battle my fat cells into limp, starving submission. I'd like to be thinner, yes. I'd like to make healthier choices, yes. However, the self-loathing voice that used to drive my exercise and diet choices (or, more commonly, berated me after I didn't make good diet and exercise choices) has been quieted, and the difference has been dramatic for me.

I've never been skinny or had a body that I would want to show in a bikini. Part of this is because I love food and haven't mastered the art of restraint, part of this is because I dislike physical discomfort, and part of this is because my genetics did not equip me with a fast metabolism but did bless me with a generous butt and a short upper body (so I eat one potato chip and get a food baby). For most of my life (read: up until a few months ago), the fact that I was heavier than my ideal plagued me constantly. I was one of those girls that talked about her diet all the time (while simultaneously stress-eating chocolate chip cookies). I went more than a year past having my son wearing a maternity swimsuit, because I was afraid to try on a non-maternity one-piece. Sometimes I would get ready for church and I would look in the mirror and cry because I didn't like how I looked.

In some ways, this got worse after I had my son, because not only did I have a body shape that I didn't like (and it was worse than ever after having a baby), but my body had also failed me. It hadn't gone into labor on its own. Once it had been forced into labor, it wasn't able to deliver, and my son had to be cut out of my abdomen via C-section. Once he was out, I produced only a fraction of the milk he needed. I felt completely betrayed by my body. I didn't just wish that I had a different shape; there were moments when I hated myself so much I couldn't stand to look in the mirror or at photographs.

I accepted myself more as I made some healthier choices. I lost twenty pounds. I ran seven miles. I fit back into my pre-pregnancy jeans. I did yoga, slow and easy, moving my body to feel good rather than to lose more weight. But the turning point for me came through someone else's tragedy.

There was a patient on my unit who was beautiful, body and soul. She came through experiences that would crush almost anyone with her faith and spirit completely intact. And then she passed away very suddenly. I think everyone I work with was stunned by this loss -- one of the nurses said, "It sounds cliche, but she really was so full of life."

I'd had other patients I'd cared for die before, but for some reason this one was frequently in my thoughts, and as I was saying my prayers and remembering her family, I realized just how blessed I am to be in this body. This body is free of disease. I ran three miles this morning. I can eat without throwing up, and don't need calories infused into my veins. When I want to move, my body obeys me. I even have some "extra" blessings -- I don't need glasses to see, something my husband reminds me is a huge blessing. I was able to get pregnant and have a baby, even if his method of coming into the world wasn't "perfect."

I think all my life I had this idea that I should be grateful for my health, my mobility, my senses, but in those pondering moments after this patient passed, I realized that it wasn't just a cliche, but a true gift. My perspective passed from feeling that I should be grateful to actually feeling grateful. I don't know why I've been blessed with a whole body, when I see so many sweet children with broken ones. But I know that this realization erased the hatred away. I don't know if I'll ever fit into a size six, or produce enough breast milk to feed a baby without formula, or have a flat stomach. I do know that I exercise more and eat better now that my actions are motivated by love rather than fear. The journey of appreciating with gratitude the body I have and treating it the way it deserves to be treating is just beginning, but I've finally started walking in the right direction.

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