This story features one author's personal, anecdotal experience and should not substitute medical advice. If you're having health concerns of any kind, we urge you to speak to a healthcare professional.
Between social media, remote work, Zoom calls, and virtual events, you've probably spent the past two years staring at your reflection in ways you've never intended. Honestly, I was already trying to acclimate to my body pre-COVID. I was coming off the heels of a bad breakup, friendship breakup, loss of a grandparent, and a miscarriage. I didn't enter 2020 optimistic. Instead, I was trying to survive and navigate grief. Still, 2020 brought the pandemic, which would not only change my life but the world at large, and none of us could have stopped it.
My relationship with my body has always been complicated due to years of intense scrutiny from family members who compared me to my younger sibling. Boobs, curves, and self-love were not celebrated or tolerated. Instead, I was taught that it needed to be stripped and squashed via diets, at-home workout videos, and pills. I truly began embracing my body and developing healthy habits in my mid-twenties. While my weight has always fluctuated, I felt steady and consistent during that time in my adulthood. That is until 2020—the year that was not kind to my body—rolled around.
I somehow dislodged my rib early on, which led to a good eight weeks of intense chiropractic treatments and limitations on my body movement. That was followed by a sprained ankle, leaving me in a boot for a few weeks. The icing on top was a locked back at the end of the summer. I spent those crucial first five months of the pandemic feeling lazy, lethargic, stressed, and frustrated because my body literally wouldn't let me progress.
My timeline was flooded with celebrities and influencers doing at-home workouts, running, and getting in their best shape ever. I simply couldn't relate. On my 30th birthday, I felt disheveled and ashamed to buy a bathing suit for my own party because I had gained so much weight. I avoided shopping for new clothes and tried to force myself to fit into pre-pandemic garments, digging a deeper hole lamenting at what once was.
Going into 2021, I decided to regain confidence, motivation and, ultimately, get comfortable with myself. I was tired of feeling uncomfortable. My joints were achy, walking up the stairs got harder, and living in my athleisure (while comfortable) was not practical for everyday life. I couldn't avoid my body anymore, and I needed a radical change. Due to the ever-changing regulations of the pandemic, I didn't want to rely on a gym membership, and I invested in a personal trainer.
I'd love to say that I hired a personal trainer, and they solved all of my problems, but it wasn't that simple. I had to undergo a massive attitude shift and change how I approached my physical fitness. I had to look deeply into the contributing factors that made me feel better about my body. Yes, eating better, taking vitamins, and breaking a sweat made me feel empowered. Still, it didn't change my anxiety about shopping for new clothes, disappointment when my old size didn't fit, or toxic nostalgia reminiscing about my body on "better days." I needed to consider how to improve my health mentally and physically.
Instead of investing in tools and apps to propel me forward, I decided to look at what I already had in my apartment. I decided to change my Fitbit goals to a step goal that was challenging but practical, so I wouldn't feel defeated if I didn't hit that coveted number. I began reading Dare to Bloom: Trusting God Through Painful Endings and New Beginnings to help me reflect and journal each night. I started cooking using Melissa Alcantara's recipes from her Fit Gurl book to help provide practical eating solutions to curb my cravings. I also paused my athleisure membership until I hit a wellness goal to treat myself.
As I began to gain more control of my life, I stopped hyper-focusing on my body and used exercise as an asset to a healthier life. The goal wasn't to get skinny or meet a weight requirement, and it was to improve mobility, flexibility, and strength. When my 31st birthday came around, I felt happier and prouder. I didn't step on a scale until October 2020 and was surprised to see that I was down ten pounds. While the numbers aren't indicative of my total success, they reflect the results of the work I did and plan on continuing. Learning to love my body at all stages was a revealing process, but it's taught me to appreciate myself in totality. Ahead, find three major lessons I've learned along the way.
Meet the Expert
- Melissa Rifkin MS, RD, CDN is a New York dietitian who specializes in weight management and bariatric. She has over 11 years of experience in meal planning and guiding clients to live healthier lifestyles. Her approach utilizes food and exercise as means to happiness and health.
Start From the Inside Out
Loving your body may be easier said than done, but it is an important concept to practice. "You can love your body even when you want to improve and set goals that impact your body internally and externally," Rifkin says. "One of the ways you can re-love your body is by choosing wholesome food and supplements that nourish your body."
Rifkin recommends Monat's Vegan protein, which is also a great plant-based option. During my time exploring wellness, I used Alani Nu's Protein Powder, protein bars, and energy drinks for a boost on days when I felt sluggish. According to Rifkin, providing your body with wholesome foods and nutrients is an excellent way to care for yourself without practicing harsh dieting or restrictions.
Your Weight Doesn't Determine Your Health
Rifkin put it simply: "Your weight is not the only factor that determines your health and should not be the only metric you consider when evaluating your body." The reality is that weight gain might be frustrating for some, and if you are uncomfortable with it, you can do things to lose unwanted pounds. Rifkin says increasing your fiber intake is a good place to start. "It can improve satiety, which may lead to less snacking and a decrease in weight," she says. "You can also work towards weight loss by increasing the number of steps you take each day, eat meals that include lean protein, complex carb, healthy fat, and fruits and vegetables, and limit your intake of processed food items."
Getting active is not only a way to help your body feel better physically but it plays a huge role in mental health. "Exercise and activity release endorphins that can improve mood," Rifkin says. "Also, better-quality sleep may lessen stress hormones in your body." When I changed the way I perceived exercise and physical wellness, it made a huge difference in how I felt about it mentally.
I've learned that there are many ways to stay active without a gym membership and even a personal trainer. Starting with the little things can make a big difference. "You can use the stairs in your house or office to get cardio and add resistance training with body-weight movements, like squats and push-ups," Rifkin says. "There are also many apps and online resources for guided workouts you can do at home without any equipment." While working with a personal trainer was the best option for me, I realize that isn't an option for everyone. Luckily, there are small steps you can take at home (like tracking your steps with a fitness device) or following workout videos to help get active.
The Bottom Line
Overall I can't emphasize enough that a significant part of my journey was about giving myself grace. I understood that massive life events and circumstantial changes played an important role in how I felt about my body. Still, healthier habits started with learning to forgive myself. I've had to let go of old mindsets, photos, clothing, and fitness goals that represent the past and embrace this new stage of my life. The beauty of the body and mind is that they adapt—and I'm excited to see how I continue to evolve on this self-love journey.