About a year ago, I wrote on my first year of intuitive eating, and upon rereading that post just now, I am overwhelmed. There is so much pain in those words, so much loss and fear, and also so much courage. I’m proud of that post and all that I shared. It felt, and still feels, so good to not be alone as I’ve let go of dieting and faced down body shame.
While so much of what I wrote feels familiar now, as the pain is and always will be part of my story, it also feels far away. A year has made a big difference, which is part of the overwhelm. So much has happened over the last year, and a lot has changed.
For one, I have found that I never regret being in a photo these days, and I often regret not taking photos. I sometimes find myself wishing I’d captured more moments and given myself at least the chance to save and remember specific events. Before, when I based my decision to be in photos or not on how fat or skinny I felt that day, what dominated my memories of those unphotographed moments was how ugly and therefore unacceptable I felt. Now, even if I don’t love the way I look in photos, I can see what else there is to focus on from the memory. The beautiful scenery or my sweet kids or the genuine smile on my face. And I have found that 100% of the time, after a few hours or days and with enough emotional distance, there is no picture of me that I cannot stand. I just see me. From different angles – some less flattering than others – but it’s just ME. This is how I look, and it’s no big deal. I know this change is real and deep because even when the camera catches me in a “flattering” way, I don’t get the thrill I used to. I don’t hurry to share the photo on social media, I don’t feel that crazy-making combination of relief and dread that used to own me. What a relief.
Another big change is how much less brain space eating and body image thoughts are taking up. While thinking about this very post the last few weeks, I’ve struggled with what to share. What is there to say? I hardly think about this stuff anymore. Those of you who are or have been deep in diet culture and body shame know how monumental that is. To not think about food and calories and rules and the morality/ rightness/ wrongness of eating felt IMPOSSIBLE when I started all of this two years ago. To not wake up rehashing everything I ate the night before? Forget about it. To not feel physically ill when I couldn’t button my jeans from last year? Unthinkable. To not collapse into a heap of despair when I couldn’t zip up the dress I ordered a size bigger than I’d ever “let myself” order before? Inconceivable. And yet: Not only do I wake up thinking about how beautiful my life is and how wonderful the day is going to be, not only do I eat whatever I want whenever I want without guilt or internal negotiations or counting a damn thing, not only do I unapologetically dress comfortably and simply get rid of clothes that don’t fit anymore… I hardly think about it all. I just do it and move on with my life. I eat the thing or wear the clothes and move along. Which brings me to the best change of all.
Without all those distractions around food and body image, I get to do SO MUCH MORE than I used to. Within the last year, I moved from an okay office into a beautiful one, I started working full-time hours for the first time since having children, I nearly doubled my income, I launched an online workshop, I created an online course, I started taking on coaching clients in addition to therapy clients, and I started writing my first book. Come on! That list blows me away. And those are just the professional accomplishments. I also helped improve communication and connection in my marriage (thanks so a great couples therapist and, of course, my husband), set better boundaries in many of my relationships, deepened many of my friendships and family relationships, forgave myself and others, developed a very solid and dependable self-care rhythm, read more books than I have since my college/English major days, laughed and played and cooked and baked and traveled more than ever and with such ease. It’s hard to describe, and yet it all comes down to this: Without body shame draining the mental, emotional, and physical life out of me, I have done everything I wanted to do. This last year, I’ve done so much that I had thought about doing for years but could not muster the energy for because I spent most of my brain space afraid of being fat. Holy hell, how ridiculous – and yet so many of us have lived that way.
So many of us still live that way. As I look back at the last two years, I still feel overwhelmed, but in a good way. Overwhelmed with gratitude, humility, optimism, and hope. I know more good is coming for me. I know more hard is coming for me. And I know me, better than I ever have before. I’m not skinny, and I’m not fat. I am not a body. I’m Caitlin, and the way my body happens to look is the least interesting thing about me these days. Writing that and truly believing it still blows my mind, and I don’t know a better feeling than that of blowing my own mind.
When I wrote my first post in this series, I heard from so many of you about your own body shame struggles and food issues. It helped me more than you could ever know. I hope this new post gives you hope that it really can be different for you, too.