fixing my body was easy, my brain, not so much

Change is in the air, my friends. And this change has been a long time coming. Little by little, an important movement is gaining steam. A movement focused on learning to accept and love ourselves just as we are.

All over social media you’ll notice content celebrating women of all shapes and sizes:

  • Think you know what a yoga body looks like? Look at this.
  • I’m sure you’ve seen this ESPN cover that everyone is talking about.
  • And then there’s this ‘perfect imperfections’ campaign.

I’m excited for where we’re headed. I’m hopeful for a new generation of young women who will develop a healthier self-image than those who came before them. And I’m reminded of how far I still have to go.

I wrote the post below nearly two years ago. Two things are note-worthy: 1. I still struggle with much of what I struggled with TWO YEARS AGO, and 2. I recall that I hesitated to share the photo back then because I thought I still looked too chubby. This brain still needs fixing.

— originally posted Aug 28, 2013 – edited

Photo is my own. Quote belongs to Marianne Williamson

Photo is my own. Quote belongs to Marianne Williamson

Shopping is the one sport I’ve been good at for years. Shoe shopping, in particular, is an area in which I excel. See, your feet, unlike other body parts, can look good in shoes even after the most decadent of meals. Your midsection in a bikini after a big lunch? Nope. Not even those flattering rose-tinted mirrors installed in the fitting rooms of the bikini shop can disguise a jiggly belly.

I have carried an extra 15-20 pounds my whole adult life, and was, for the most part, at peace with it. I wasn’t skinny, but I wasn’t fat either. Then, in my late 30’s, due to circumstance: a stressful job, lack of exercise, the natural aging process and metabolic slow-down, to name just a few handy excuses, I wound up gaining a bunch more weight.

That last bunch of weight crept up on me gradually, the way a bad flu might. First feeling a little achy and lethargic, then building to a low-grade fever, and finally ending up knocked flat on your ass in bed for a week. That’s how my weight gain went.

Over a 2 year period, I slowly gained 5 pounds, then 15, then 25, until I found myself 40 pounds overweight, and not knowing what had hit me.

Because the gain was gradual, it wasn’t so painfully obvious how big my clothing sizes had become. And, being the good shopper I am, I was able to adapt my style to cuts and fabrics which were much more forgiving. I was the master of hiding. I didn’t look obese, and yet, with an extra 40 lbs on my 5’5 ½” frame, and a BMI at ~30, clearly I was.

Around this time I began to avoid the camera. Pictures forced me to see the changes in my body, in my face. Changes that made me uncomfortable. But not so uncomfortable that I was willing to do something about it.

I also avoided mirrors. Other than that hour in the morning when I’d be doing my face and hair for the day, I made sure I didn’t make eye contact while washing my hands in a public restroom, or passing a mirror in a department store. I didn’t want to see what was reflected back.

The human brain is a fascinating thing. And mine may be stranger than most.

Now, here I am, down 20+ lbs, thanks to a lot of sweat. So, I’m back to my pre big weight gain; i.e. still up ~15-20 lbs from my “ideal” weight. Still, I couldn’t be more different from that Nancy. My body shape has changed — much more than the raw number would indicate. My clothes are too big now. I’m down two dress sizes. And I’ve crossed the threshold from (L)arge (or, GASP, on a bad day XL) to (M)edium because I’m tighter and more toned than I’ve been in a long, long, long time.

I should be shopping up a storm, right?

So why aren’t I?

Maybe I’m hesitant to buy stuff in smaller sizes for fear of jinxing myself. Or, more realistically, for fear of regaining the weight. Other girls seem to rush out to buy new stuff in a smaller size as soon as they’ve dropped 5 or 10 lbs, as a reward for their hard work. Me, I’m busy second guessing how it’s even possible that I’m a Medium for the first time in too many years.

And even when I actually do some shopping I find myself, by default, bringing two of the exact same item into the fitting room. One in an (L) and one in an (M), because I’m sure that I couldn’t possibly fit into that particular item’s cut in an (M). And each time, I’m genuinely surprised when the (M) actually fits.

New sweat gear -- all in Medium. Colour me surprised.

New sweat gear — all in Medium. Colour me surprised.

The amateur psychologist inside of me wonders if it’s because I don’t feel like I’m small enough to be a Medium. My brain thinks the tags must be wrong. I’m still a Large. These must just be very generous cuts. Right? 

In retrospect, losing the weight was easy. If only fixing my brain was as straight forward as fixing my body.

Me, all sweaty, in my size M gear.

Me, all sweaty, in my size M gear.

In the meantime, at least I’m no longer avoiding mirrors (or cameras) as much. Baby steps…

Keep moving!

xoxo nancy

124 thoughts on “fixing my body was easy, my brain, not so much

  1. I am in exactly the same boat!!

    I try to fix my brain! and half the time it works and have the time I think “well you are a lump aren’t you” when ever I see myself!

    this post reminds me I need to write about my “this girl can” poster!

    • I think it’s so easy to focus on the physical (and in many cases, through hard work, to fix the physical), with the assumption that the mental part of it will just sort itself out. When you’ve spent an entire lifetime obsessing over your body, losing XX lbs isn’t going to address all that’s broken in your head as it relates to body image. Reading so many others’ stories, I realized how stuck I am in this endless loop. Enough is never enough.

      • I agree! It is So much easier to believe that you need to become that perfect unattainable ideal and feel inadequate when you don’t that it is to know you are good and valuable the way you are, even if you still want to change things…

      • I would just love to wake up one day and not feel that I still want to change things. I look at that picture now and think: woman, you are nearly 47 years old in that photo. That’s enough. You’re good enough.

      • I would too!
        I look at all the things i have achieved and still can only focus on what is left to do!
        It is hard to accept that despite vociferously stating the opposite, I am still a product of the media and the world that stipulates that thin is worthy and anything else is less!

      • You are not alone. This is why seeing all this recent flurry of positive body-image content across social media is so wonderful (and important). Baby steps in the right direction. One day maybe all these small voices will become loud enough to overpower the din of the mass media machine.

      • we can only hope!!

        the funny thing is, I wholeheartedly believe that if you are healthy, and capable of doing what you need/want to do then size doesn’t matter…
        unfortunately I can apply it to other people a whole lot better than myself!!

      • Totally, Sam. I am way more judgmental of myself than I would ever dream to be about anyone else. I recognize beauty and strength and ability in others in a way I wish I could for myself.

      • it really makes no sense does it!!

        I think part of the problem is, that some of me believes that other people are as judgmental of me as I am of myself, which make me very paranoid!
        I know this is not true of friends, but strangers and random people…which leads me to the question…why do I care what they think!!??

      • The really ridiculous thing is, I don’t care what they think about my hair or my shoes or my dress sense or my choice of car but size…that is a crazy other thing!

      • Don’t put your hopes in me, woman! I’m the one who thinks I’m large (as in too big) for wearing a medium. Which, logically, makes zero sense. 🙂

      • probably, and the other twisty ones, or the ones where you have to resist twisting at any rate, the round the body pass., and most kettlebell moves work your core 🙂

      • p.s. thanks for the tip to just hold the KB in my lower hand for windmills because this 20lb one is too heavy for me to keep good form if I hold in my upper hand. Great advice!

      • It works just as well and you have less chance of dropping it on your head! I have to do it that way because the shoulder I damaged last year doesn’t like holding weight up and twisting the way it needs too 🙂

      • it definitely still works them as you have to resist the extra force on the way down and pull it up on the way up, it may work in the opposite direction to the other version, but as you do both sides this is not really an issue 🙂

    • Yeah, and I can objectively see that NOW. 2 years ago I remember waffling on posting it because all I could see was a muffin top. I can pull out photos from years ago when I was at my thinnest, and remember how big I felt. It really is bonkers how a lifetime of mass media images of a specific beauty standard has fucked with so many heads.

  2. Nancy, here’s what I know. And I don’t know much. Honestly, I’m a vacuum of knowledge, largely because I’m not adept at gathering it or remembering it. But one thing I do okay is feel. I just feel, and that’s why I write, because occasionally that feeling is a bit too much to keep in a container on the shelf. And what I know is that you are a great soul and that you are beautiful. These are things I know. Amidst everything I don’t know, this is something I do. And I’m happy for that.

    • Thank you for your kindness, Trent. Here’s what I know: I know that I’ve spent a shit-ton of time working on my body – and, in fairness, that work has paid off in an improvement in my health – so that was well worth every drop of sweat. What I also know is that I haven’t spent nearly enough time working on my head. Undoing the crazy thoughts embedded in there for so long is going to take effort.

      • Keep at it Nancy. I hear you. There are so many things that are hard to contend with, nothing moreso than what’s in our own heads. But it’s a battle worth fighting, and I’m on your side for sure.

      • My generation is screwed, and even my daughter’s generation is screwed. My hope is that the next generation(s) are a little less screwed up. Maybe this recent swell of positive body image messaging will serve to start to right this ship. Hope springs eternal.

      • I got my three little uns and I’m going to fight for the positivity of who they are and who they will be. That will win in the end, I know it will be. All this shaming based on bodies has got to end. Kind of like Republicans.

  3. I wonder if we’re ever good enough for our brain. It has a way of keeping us in our place, doesn’t it? Our bodies or life circumstances might change for the better, but we struggle to intellectually leave the place where our thoughts spent the most time. But at least you recognize the mental roadblocks, and that’s the first step in chipping away at them.

    Enjoy your medium-ness. You’ve earned it!

    • You’re so right: ‘our bodies or life circumstances might change for the better, but we struggle to intellectually leave the place where our thoughts spent the most time.”

      I have cousins in Australia, who – thanks to the magic of Facebook – I get to keep in touch with now. My first cousin’s eldest daughter was quite heavy when we first connected on FB several years ago. Since then, she publicly shared that she was having a gastric band procedure done (she did) and posting pictures and updates along the way. A few days ago she posted a picture of herself in her mom’s wedding dress and mentioned hitting the weight her mom was when she wore it (54 kgs). That would make her 118 lbs. She also talked about how her confidence was still so fragile and that she still didn’t think she looked good enough. I wanted to reach through the computer and smack her. At 118 lbs, she didn’t feel ‘enough’. Good lord, what a messed up society we live in.

  4. Great post, Nancy. I’ve been following some yoga blogs because I think that it can help me. I found the diversity in body types rather comforting, and hopefully I’ll have enough willpower to follow through. But to your larger point, the real struggle is with our minds. The physical part we can do, convincing ourselves to rethink either body types, what is real, what is acceptable – that all needs work.

    • That’s the hard work, for sure, Rob. But is peace possible without it? I don’t think so. Time to roll up our sleeves and do this different form of hard work.

  5. Hi Nancy! I do believe a constant diet of outside input that focuses on skinny, sexy, cute and young is a huge problem for all of us. The MORE we look at it, the more we tend to compare ourselves to what we are seeing. A BIG solution is to stop looking at those comparisons. Disconnect from them as much as possible. I don’t read fashion magazines (which is probably OBVIOUS!) I don’t watch TV commercials (we DVR everything or watch movies) and I seldom follow blogs or read online information about fashion or diet. (yours is the only exercise/diet or motivation blog I DO read because you write from the heart–not from the superficial outside.) With that said, while I’m no poster child like Amanda Bingson on the ESPN cover (thanks for sharing that BTW!) I do know that all the work I’ve done on my thinking and perceptions allows me to appreciate myself exactly as I am–body, mind and soul. Maybe a little change of your blog title would help? How about “My year of mental sweat!” From my perspective…that journey would be equally riveting and even more fulfilling. ~Kathy

    • Funny you bring up a change in blog title, as I’ve been thinking a lot about where I go from here. I’m kind of attached to the whole history of My Year of Sweat – because it was such a pivotal journey for me – but now that I’m no longer ‘sweating’ 365 days a year, the title seems a bit misaligned. I need to give this one more thought.

      In the meantime though, I will continue working on the mental sweat piece!

      p.s. Driving back from my meetings in Irvine last week, we decided to play hooky Thursday and spend a leisurely day in Palm Springs. I literally spaced on the fact that you live in the area until we were well on our way back to Vegas. Missed opportunity. 😦 Hate that!

      • Ha! If it makes you feel better we aren’t home right now anyway….we are up in Idyllwild in the mountains where it is lovely and cool….BUT, next time you’re in town we will definitely have to get together! Oh….BTW….I don’t know if you follow the “Bloggers from Midlife” on FB but they will be holding a conference in Vegas on April 14-16 next spring and I plan to go…if you’re in town it would be great to meet up with you before, after, during???

      • That would be awesome, Kathy! It’s next to impossible for me to commit to dates that are more than 3 weeks out :-), but I’ll definitely keep those dates on my radar to see if I can make them work. Would hate to miss you while you’re in my other hometown. 🙂

  6. Hey Nancy. I agree with everything you’ve said but feel I should point out that feeling crap about your body or your appearance is not necessarily the preserve of the curvy. I’m not sure if you have a show called “Super Size versus Super Skinny” in the US or Canada. It takes two people who are unhappy with their appearance, one significantly overweight and one significantly underweight, and swaps their diets for a period of time. They attend counselling for their feelings about their body as well as diet and exercise advice. The skinny folk were just as uncomfortable with their appearance as the curvy folk. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve never really struggled with my weight. My diet and exercise are more about my health and flexibility than my weight. That said, I’m none too fond of a camera. I don’t look my age, I have a figure that lots of women would die for and yet I’m still not very confident about my appearance. I cringe when I look at photos of myself and seldom share any. I cringe when I look at this post and I still haven’t framed any of the final shots from the photographer: I have no idea how my lack of confidence came about but I can’t seem to shake it, no matter how gorgeous my husband tells me I am. I think you’re so right in that sometimes it’s much, much harder to fix the head than to fix the body.

    • June, thanks for adding this important discussion point to the thread! You are so right, body image issues are not limited to just those who are curvy or overweight. I know many women who hate their ‘boyish’ figures. A figure I would kill for. Similarly, while I lament my larger breasts, and constantly tell my husband how much I long for small ones – the kind that don’t even require a bra – he tells me I’m mental. Small breasted women fork over good money to have silicone shoved into their bodies, and here I am wishing I could wear a deep v-neck without looking like a hoochie-mama. Sigh…
      I so wish I could just look in the mirror and be content. Not even thrilled. Just content. Just to stop beating myself up. I just want to fix my head.

  7. I was just thinking earlier on today how much mental energy we expend over the things we cannot change… wouldn’t it be better spent on the stuff we CAN do something about? It’s all in the head.

  8. That’s a great pic – you look happy and healthy! But you’re right – fixing the mind – that’s a harder job than anything else. I’m working on it, still, at 40. Hoping to finally be there by 60 and have rip-roaring retirement! xxx PS LOVE the yoga link – what an eye-opener!

    • Doesn’t it drive you mad that we’re HOPING to be fixed by AGE 60??? (And I say that with sheer frustration, because that is my hope, too.) Such a sad state of affairs.

      That yoga link blew my mind!

      • Hahaha!! Actually, YES! It’s totally unacceptable!!! The thing is, I listen to my mum talk about herself and the world and at 66 she’s still learning about acceptance… Sigh. How lovely would it be to just wake up tomorrow and be at total peace. Is that even possible…?? Mental stuff is so damn persistent. Grumble grumble.

  9. As long as I focused on how my body looked to others, I felt self-conscious about my looks because life was a constant comparison. Once I decided to focus on how my body felt (strong, adept, coordinated, able-bodied, etc.), it took LOTS of pressure off.

    Any time we use an external yardstick to judge our selves, we lose peace of mind.

    • “Any time we use an external yardstick to judge ourselves, we lose peace of mind.” <– YES! (And also chunks of sanity. Not to mention bits of our soul.)

  10. I have one particularly wonderful memory from my years in Africa: I was skinny. The cultural norm there is different from our western one so in that environment I was seen as really thin 🙂 Coming back I haven’t gotten into comparing myself to others, just decided I was good as is, skinny enough 😂

  11. There is so much truth to what you’re saying that I am applauding! I’ve been “up and down” in weight my whole life and when it comes to body image I’m never really any more content–up or down I’m too critical. I had an eating disorder in my teens, long before the general public new anything about them, and even though that was decades ago, I can recall how that felt. I absolutely loved the links you’ve shared–all new to me! They do tell a more truthful story of the human body and hope they continue to proliferate!

    • Those links (and so many more I could have listed) are such a great step in the right direction, Debra. It will take a huge force though to quiet the behemoth mass media machine that still serves up photoshopped-within-an-inch-of-their-lives models with ‘thigh gaps’. Baby steps.

  12. You look great in that photo! Being strong and fit at any size is a beautiful thing. I hadn’t seen the ESPN cover before–what an amazing picture of a strong woman, just beautiful!

    • If you get the chance, Linnet, read the accompanying article. The way Amanda Bingson speaks about her body is amazing. It was a very uplifting article.

      And, absolutely, strong and fit should be the goal. Which makes me wonder why thigh-gaps and flat stomachs are still so important.

      • Well, my solution for that is to tune out those voices. They are mostly women’s mags and TV, right? Ugh. To me these women look like they’re in drag, with all that makeup and fake tans and the rest of it. It is grotesque. IMO making an effort to have a healthy BMI is great, but “making an effort” to fit someone else’s template of beauty is a waste of time.

      • Yes, but I feel lucky that I was a little girl during the 70s when we had Earth shoes, unisex jeans and T-shirts (no designer jeans then), and “the natural look.” It seemed to me that those “beauty” tapes started playing in the 80s when people began to worry about hard bodies and put gel in their hair and get plastic surgery, and fashion became much more dictatorial. I always had definite ideas about how I wanted to look, and I was self-conscious about certain aspects of my body (like my big feet) but I did not care what the cool girls thought of me. One of the benefits of being an extreme introvert is not paying attention to them and their weirdness 🙂

      • I was a little girl in the 70’s, too, Linnet. Born in ’66. I don’t remember the ‘issues’ kicking in until my teen years – probably age 12-13 onward – so right at at then of the ’70s and into the early ’80s. Funny thing is that I don’t necessarily remember a bunch of fashion mags or TV commercials being the source. I just remember going on my first diet at around age 13 – and eating one apple all day. Craziness.

      • I never went on diets, but I do recall baking myself in the sun to have a tan, because it seemed to be expected. Given that I burn after about 5 minutes, I ended up with a seriously blistered back. Absolute craziness!

  13. I love how you’ve totally changed your life, which constituted a big change in your head. You may still struggle with the same thoughts, but you get up and kick them in the ass every day. I’m also glad to see people standing up and staying NO to the unhealthy images we’re fed. It’s about time. I hope it continues.

  14. Pingback: This Girl Can | Midsummer 365 Projects

  15. You look so fab! Great job! And yes…a TOTAL head game! One have struggled with all my life. So I can relate. Anyway….I loved those links…especially the yoga link!

  16. LOL, I was surprised the other year when I discovered my pants were too big because I was two sizes smaller, and I adapted and have been buying the smaller pants ever since… but I’m super busty, so my top size hasn’t changed, even as I am getting healthier, my tops isn’t changing… until recently when all 10 pieces I grabbed to take to the fitting room with me didn’t fit. I was insanely shocked and had to go get them all in a smaller size! It was a baffling and amazing at the same time! So, with you, I will struggle… but I bought clothes at Walmart the other day. Plus size, of course, but for the first time, I could pick up a pair of pajamas and know they would actually fit.
    It feels good. 🙂

  17. As are all of your posts, Nancy, this one strikes me as wonderfully written and incredibly important. I LOVE the yoga article and have sent your post on to a bazillion of my friends because I think they need to read it. But the other thing I believe is so relevant is the whole ‘fat shaming’ issue. It’s especially pertinent to me because of the position I’m launching into with kids. I absolutely have to make sure my message to kids is one about health and well-being, and not SIZE.
    I’m still in the middle of tweaking everything for all my school, library and bookstore visits, asking pediatricians to weigh in (sorry for the pun) on how to carefully construct the message in a way that does not make parents or kids feel they are being identified as “bad” because they’re suffering from obesity. It’s such a thin blade to walk on, but reading posts like yours is super helpful while editing these last drafts and preparing to answer tricky questions when the topic will surely come up.
    You are a powerhouse to me, Nancy. I’m rather addicted to your strength. ❤

  18. Hi Nance. You just bring tears to my eyes. You write with such honesty and it’s always from your heart. You know it all just comes down to a daily balancing act. Balance in every single thing you do. And you already know it’s about health and not appearance. So I think you’re just shining here – not only physically, but mentally as well. You give us all the gift of your example, and that is one of the greatest gifts you can give to other people. So know that, and let yourself feel good about it.
    And you look fucking fantastic as well – so just spit that back in the face of any lingering fucked-up thoughts left in your head, okay? You rock my friend. xoxo

  19. In that photo, ole’ blogging bud, you not only look extraordinarily not overweight, but you look like one vibrant lady ’bout to go fix some wagons. Seriously, you look great . . . in part because your spirit looks on fire. For what it’s worth, that to me is what makes people of both genders compelling–fire in the belly, even if the belly shakes a little. Peace, John

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