The New Year has often been a chance for me to make anew a commitment to my “health.” Sometimes I call this a commitment to “wellness” but I’ll just call it what it is—a commitment to the pursuit of thinness.
New Year’s 2016 I re-downloaded MyFitnessPal and started obsessively tracking my calories.
New Year’s 2017 I tried to make Whole 30 a lifestyle.
Last New Year’s I told myself I’d give intermittent fasting another go.
Each year, the diet ended sooner. I deviated from the plan, I started binge eating, I would over-exercise out of fear, watch myself grow out of new clothes, and feel miserable in my skin throughout.
But 2018 was the year I decided to be done with all that that. Done hating my body, done bouncing back and forth between dieting and binge eating, done choosing exercise over work, over friends, over free time.
Of course, saying I was “done” didn’t immediately make it so. This year involved a lot of uncomfortable, demanding work to rid myself of restrictive behaviors, self-hatred, and exercise compulsion. It turns out that in many ways it’s easier to hate yourself than to learn to love yourself. On the surface, loving yourself sounds easier than self-loathing—but we have no blueprint for it. It’s much more profitable to be taught about our “flaws” and told to dedicate time, money, and energy to fix them.
Diet culture leads us to latch onto a plan, attach our self-worth to the fulfillment of that plan, and “motivate” ourselves with familiar running commentaries of self-hatred. Although this is a bizarre and unnatural way to live, it’s become normalized in our culture. So it feels a lot harder to step into the wide open space of no food rules, no exercise plans, no inner mean girl. I sometimes call this “free fall,” and it’s exactly as terrifying and exhilarating as it sounds.
Shedding rules and self-hatred feels like “letting yourself go.” And in many ways it is: letting go of the things that kept you small, that sapped your power and your confidence, that told you that to be most “yourself” was to look completely different. It is difficult to realize how much trying to be someone else, or to look like someone else, has harmed you.
Stepping into free fall was scary. But it allowed me to find new footing on ground far more stable than the fickle opinions of my inner critic.
I’m no longer trying to shrink myself, to become dedicated to eating “clean,” or more motivated to work out. I’m not attempting to fuel myself on dreams of a different body and loathing for the one I have now.
Besides, it all seems so futile now, fighting biology. It feels disrespectful—to myself, the vessel that keeps me alive, the creator who made me. It feels like the desperate distraction of a woman who hasn’t found what really sets her soul on fire, and who redirects undue attention to her body to compensate.
I’ve been that woman, but I am not that woman today.
This year I want to write. I want to dive deeper into my friendships, my faith, my career aspirations, and the passion projects that keep me up late at night even when I have a thousand other things to be doing.
I want to give myself space to become more me, and none of those things happen to involve my food intake, my exercise routine, or the shape of my body. Self-love is more than affirmations or feel-good books, it’s the realization that I am everything outside my body. And leaning into myself means leaning away from things that keep me small.
I will continue to love myself for who I am, understanding that to wage a war on what I look like is to halt this process. This is the self-love I am giving myself this New Year. I invite you to join me.