Our relationship with our bodies can be an interesting and complex arrangement. While some people never struggle with what they think when they look in the mirror, some people will constantly be in a state of worry about what they look like.
Where does this all start? I’ve asked myself this so many times over my life and I cannot pin point one moment where I suddenly thought negatively about my body. Instead it’s a gradual process – a comment here, and brushing off there, a sneak at my friend’s body in the pool changing room at like 10 years old! Comparisons were constant from a young age for me, but I don’t really know WHY.
It could have been a look I was given when I said I needed a bigger size skirt for my Pop’s funeral when I was about 12 – a size 16 I wore in the end. Or it could have been how my quite skinny friend at primary school would stand in front of my mirror and talk about how fat she was. Or maybe it was being teased for needing to wear a bra (but not actually getting one….) before I went to high school. Perhaps it was being told I run “funny” by my “friends” when we were doing triple jump at high school. Maybe it was constantly feeling uncomfortable in the clothes I wore, as they were just generally a little tight. Or what if it was the fact that no one ever sat down with me to talk about nourishing food and healthy body movement at all, until I was old enough and had access to doing my own research in to these topics.
I feel, now that I’m growing a small human of our own, our words can mean so much more than we might realise at the time of speaking. How deep and serious they can be taken by someone listening, and also by ourselves. Words, interaction, actions and unspoken signals can all play a massive part on a small persons body perception and thoughts. From a young age, children can take on board how we talk about the size of clothes we wear, how a workout made us feel, the way we discuss our bodies with other people and how we voice our relationship with food.
I was always more on the chubby side growing up, through primary school and the majority of high school. I don’t ever remember it affecting me at primary school, until about the last year I was there. It was about this time I started going through puberty so I can imagine there were A LOT of hormonal changes going on that I didn’t understand.
Once I moved on to high school, the classes were a lot bigger and there were so many different body shapes around. This also meant a lot more people watching what you were doing, and I remember being extremely self-conscious about this during PE class. Running, jumping, ball skills etc etc were just a struggle for me. I was more of an academic, yet my ability to keep up with everyone else in the physical challenges seemed to affect a lot of my life.
It wasn’t until I was about 15 that I started playing golf with a friend of mine. I wasn’t particularly good at it, I won the odd prize and was in a junior team that got to travel to different courses to play. I never started this to “lose weight”, but it just so happened that this was a side benefit of all that walking! I don’t remember exactly how much I lost without even trying, but it was probably about 5-10kg over a year I think.
Once this started, for some reason I decided to look at the food I was eating. I remember specifically not eating bread, potatoes, dessert, crackle (on a roast meal) and most sauces. I don’t think I did any research around this (I was about 16 at the time) so don’t ask me what prompted these decisions. I must have read about these foods in a magazine or something! I got down to a size 8/10 and I remember going to our year 13 school camp which was at the start of the year. I had many comments about my weight and how good I was looking etc etc and I remember thinking “oh wow these people might actually like me or talk to me now that I have lost some weight”. Cue the eye rolls from current me – if only I could have told myself that I don’t need other peoples acceptance to be happy! But looking back now my confidence was still really low.
Fast forward a year when it was time to move out of home and start studying in Hamilton. So this was a huge turning point in basically every aspect of my life. Suddenly I had all the freedom you could ever want, and I was 17! I had a job to earn money, a car and full licence, my own study schedule and even better – a big group of new people who didn’t know a thing about me or my past so it was like a clean slate!
Well, enter the alcohol and parties.
And, also enter the weight gain.
Over the next 5 or so years my dress size and self love fluctuated constantly. I could never maintain a healthy weight for more than a couple of months, nor did I have an ounce of self love to treat my body and mind with the respect and nourishment it craved. Instead, I would seek this from every one around me including my boyfriend (now husband) in the form of being needy, selfish and moody. I would exercise to punish myself for the food I had eaten, then go and eat more of it. I would stand on the scales and almost cry because they either hadn’t changed or they had gone up – again. I would get dressed up for a night out and spend the whole time comparing my thighs to the girl across the room, while sculling back a Smirnoff Black. Or I would refuse to go out and instead stay home and binge on all the junk food I could get my hands on – pick’n’mix lollies being a favourite!
So how did I get from the girl described above, to me right now?
I remember a particular turning point after an amazing family holiday in Greece of 2013. I came home to New Zealand in the middle of winter and lived with my parents for a while. One day not long after getting back I thought to myself, ok this has got to stop. It’s time to make some permanent life long changes, and start embracing your body for what it’s worth.
Initially I started following the Ashy Bines clean eating guidelines, and basically looking in to what was considered a healthy balanced lifestyle. I learnt about the 45 minute power walks first thing in the morning on an empty tummy for fat burning, lemon in warm water for toxin elimination, the effect that processed foods/dairy/gluten can have on our bodies, and also a healthy mindset – which is the biggest piece of this puzzle!
The next few years my approach to health changed and evolved as I experimented with food and exercise. I remember standing on the scales at one point about a year in to this, and the number that showed up was below 60kg. The emotions that arose from this were so vast that I find it hard to describe them. Happiness, elation, disappointment and deflation were all in there. Once I stepped off them I remember thinking – So is that it? You saw that number now what? Isn’t that what you wanted? The answer was no, I hadn’t found what I was looking for through a number on a scale. In fact it actually meant very little to me at the time. It didn’t tell me that I had been thriving off learning new recipes, or that I had met new friends at a bootcamp I joined, or that I was offered a great job in a new city. I’m pretty sure that was the last time I stood (voluntarily) on a set of scales!
The next couple of years I fell in love with strength and HIIT training. These are both empowering forms of exercise for me, and the benefits seemed to flow in to the rest of my life. I was a lot more confident, I met new people, I was happier, I felt GOOD at something even though the other ladies in my class were 10 times more badass and could lift miles heavier than me! These comparisons just gave me new goals to reach. There was no belittling, no snarky comments from “friends”, no teasing and A LOT of encouragement.
I also experimented with clean eating and raw baking through this stage. I loved that I could share my food and recipes knowing they were nourishing for every body. Cravings and mood swings went out the door, and my self love walked in. I never punished my body for something I decided to eat, so the self-destruction cycle was cut off. I talked nicer to myself, and to other people. I offered support and guidance when people sought it from me, but I was conscious not to off load too many personal opinions as I’m a firm believer in working these things out for yourself. I’m not an expert so I’m not going to tell you what you can and cannot eat, because what works for me won’t necessarily work for you.
Now I am in to a new chapter of my life, and one I would consider to be the most important one. Becoming a mother and growing a human inside me. I am still blown away every single day that we have been blessed with this gift, and I have not taken it for granted at all.
From my first trimester blog post you would have got the drift that my healthy eating and exercise routine sort of went out the door. I always remember thinking oh I’m going to make sure I have the fittest pregnancy, eat really good food for bubs and make sure I’m nailing all the milestones along the way.
WELL, I didn’t see much of that happening while my head was in the toilet throwing up my lunch! Or worse, first thing in the morning bile because I couldn’t stomach anything! Don’t get me wrong, I was no where near how some women can be where they have to go to hospital for a drip to rehydrate – my heart goes out to you all that have experienced that. But the way I was feeling was bad enough, and I wondered if it would actually end or if it would be like that the whole 9 months! My Mum kept telling me it was a good thing I wasn’t feeling well because obviously things were going how you might expect them to at that point, but really it didn’t make me feel any better!
Cue the potato chips, toast, lemonade, lemonade ice blocks and frozen cokes. This wasn’t all I lived off for about 8 weeks, but it was pretty close. Anything else was a struggle to eat, and I really had to be tactical about it – no meat and never a big meal. Bland food without much flavour was a winner.
So combine this with feeling no motivation whatsoever to exercise, and those feelings of unworthiness started to creep back in. I didn’t have the energy to help on the farm as much as I would have liked, and I definitely didn’t want to cook any dinner, so really, what use was I? All I wanted to do was nap and eat potato chips!
Physically on the outside you could see zero changes to my body regarding the pregnancy. I wasn’t until about week 9-10 that my boobs grew impressively, and I also noticed more cellulite on my thighs and bum – purely from my food and lack of exercise. I could still fit my clothes until about week 12-14 when everything just went up a size. The hard thing about this is that I know I couldn’t just change my mindset and be like “Ok Tessa, sort yourself out, this isn’t you! Clear out those cupboards and write up some workouts!” because, well, I was pregnant! No way did I feel comfortable trying to “tone up” or fit back into my shorts because I had a very small human growing inside of me.
This has been the challenge ever since. Gradually I’ve had to buy bigger clothes including togs, but I am struggling with the changes happening. I LOVE my growing belly – feeling movements and kicks is an incredible experience. And then I try on a top and I’m like, well that’s not going to work anymore! Or I want to wear some jean shorts and nope they don’t do up without digging uncomfortably in to me (yes even using the hair tie trick!).
It’s hard not to feel like I’ve “gone backwards” in my body shape and body image. I know this sounds crazy but the feelings are real and I just want to be honest. I would LOVE to smash out a high intensity workout (and I know some pregnant mamas do these their whole pregnancies) but the uneasy feelings about doing something like that outweigh the endorphin hit I know I’ll get. Running and jumping just don’t sit right with me, so I’m not going to push myself. However, I’ve still had the odd cry for my old routine. I’m so fortunate that my husband reminds me that I have the most important job at the moment, and that’s growing our baby. Any feelings of unworthiness are then swiftly shunted away and replaced by gratitude and love.
While I’m only half way through this pregnancy, and the majority of the growing is yet to come, I hope I become more comfortable about my changing body. Learning to work with it instead of against it is a priority, and the first step of that was buying a couple of maternity clothes. I figure if my belly is going to be getting stretched to it’s maximum potential, I might as well wear clothes that make me feel fabulous!
The physical strength I’ve lost over the past 4 or so months has been replaced by a strong desire to plan a natural birth for our precious little human. Preparation for this is vital, so yoga, walking, swimming and stretching are my new endorphin hit.
What my body is going through is a gift that not every woman gets to experience, and I will be forever grateful for being chosen to participate.
PGD Part 3
December 5, 2018
Why do we do what we do, when we know what we know?