Love Letter To My Body

Now that we’re deep into the months of summer, I’ve been reflecting on my relationship with my body over my lifetime, particularly in relation to the seasons. The summer season was traditionally a season of manic ups and downs, depending upon the reflection I saw in the mirror, the number on the scale, or the food I had consumed. The past few summers, however, have been seasons that I simply allow to come and go. I honor my body as it is in that season of my life and continue to treat it with love.

I suppose as I develop to nurture my relationship with food and my body, this is a natural result, and can also be easily overlooked. I am taking a moment to pause and celebrate how far I have come because there were times when I truly never thought I could have the relationship I have with my body. For that I am eternally thankful and grateful!
In honor of these reflections, I have written a love letter to my body.

 

To My Uniquely Perfect Body,

Wow, what a journey it’s been so far!

First, I come to you to humbly ask for your forgiveness. Although I don’t have clear memories of loving and appreciating you prior to when I started hating you and then harming you, I do remember days of childhood where I felt completely comfortable within you. Memories of wearing colorful swimsuits as an 8 year-old without feeling the need to cover up; of coordinating daily outfits that included shorts and tank tops throughout the summer without picking apart each piece of flesh that was exposed.

Remember when I sunburned you so badly at cheer camp in eighth grade…? Me too. Sorry about that. I was only trying to toast you slightly. Unfortunately for you, it would take me years to realize we are both much happier sitting under the umbrella, with a big floppy hat and sunglasses.

Throughout the years we’ve definitely been through our ups and downs. There are too many years when I told you how disgusting you are, while abusing you day in and day out. But all the while, you were there. You’ve always been there for me, talking to me, supporting me, healing yourself to show me how strong and amazing you truly are. I only needed to listen.

Years went by and then slowly, very slowly, I started to see you differently. I began to eat  foods based upon what you needed. I started to drink more water and less alcohol. And I felt you responding to me with love and comfort, which only made me want to continue to provide you with more abundant goodness.

When we finished our first 10k… how amazing was that?! I could feel my heart pumping with enthusiastic euphoria- asking when we could do that again! And in the dim lights of a yoga studio, when I started to feel you again. When tears of gratitude, shame, and support overflowed down my face. And I could hear you whisper to me “Stay here with me, and we can find each other again. I want our healthy relationship back. I’m here.”

I can’t wait to continue to discover more of you, and all of the amazing things that we can do together.  May I continue to come as I am to my mat, and to live each day to fully embrace this body I’ve been blessed to inhabit.

With gratitude,
Jessica

 

The light in me honors to the light in you. 

Advertisements

Let’s Talk Diet

Diets and diet culture have been on my heart lately. Probably because I’ve been in a few encounters recently with women who have been discussing a diet they will be starting soon, are currently on, or a recent diet failure. In some instances an open dialogue is welcomed, and other times I need to remove myself from a conversation and reach out to a supportive friend to maintain healthy boundaries in my life.

I don’t know about you, but when I find that I am becoming more grounded in my truths, I am put in situations that challenge those truths. While these challenges provide me with affirmation that I am following my path, these situations have been just that- very, very challenging. 

What has stood out to me as a common denominator throughout these conversations has been the concept of cutting oneself off from their cravings. Cravings equal bad, control equals good; it’s just that simple. Control the cravings, gain control over your life. This has become the goal- to become completely detached from our body in order to dictate what is in it’s best interest. While we may deceive ourselves into thinking the only goal of dieting is to lose weight, I challenge that it is truly a deception, and a dangerous one.

The real question we should be asking is this: What am I really hungry for? What am I craving? An authentic connection? To feel love? To be worthy? To be seen? To feel valued? To be desired?

It is when we reflect on our true cravings that we will begin to satiate our deepest hungers. And if our ultimate goals include authentic connections and a feeling of worthiness, we must also question how cutting ourselves off at the neck will help us achieve them. What is the fear rooted in listening to our bodies? Why are we so terrified of this flesh that we spend every second residing within? Why do we keep reaching for diets that cut us off from our cravings in order to gain more control over them?

To attempt to answer these questions, I reflect on my own body image journey.  Throughout most of my life, my body was a source of anger, confusion, and frustration. Attempting to sit and ask my body what it needed and then listen for a response was beyond my comprehension. My body was the enemy- it wasn’t to be trusted, as it had betrayed me too many times before, based on previously failed diets that ended in me laying on the cold tile of the bathroom floor in a ball of failure, feeling more worthless and shameful than I had when I had begun. 

What I believed, and what the $60 billion dollar-a-year diet industry wanted me to believe, was that if I listened to my body I would end up eating endless amounts of candy, fried chicken and nachos all day, every day. That my body would betray me at the first chance it got, and therefore my life would be nothing but cyclical diets and failure.

Ignoring our body’s signals simply will not work in the long run. We all  know how diets end- they end with us binging on the food we were depriving ourselves of, or we end up sick and depleted. There’s a reason that 95% of diets fail. Because we are not meant to be living a life separated from our body. Our body is crying out for a relationship with us, and when we honor that request, we are on the path to living a life of all-inclusive health.

I’d like to share an example with you. Every year for a few years now, in the fall and winter, I crave citrus fruits: grapefruit, oranges, clementines- I can’t get enough of them. And there’s a reason my body is craving these specific foods during these cold weather seasons … aka cold and flu season. These foods are full of Vitamin C, which is exactly what my body needs to stay healthy all winter long.  My body is communicating with me. When I choose to listen to it and honor my cravings, I will be less susceptible to getting sick that winter, and I will also continue to nurture my relationship with my body. However if I were on a restrictive diet that, for example, limits or completely forbids me from eating fruit, I would be fighting against my body’s natural instinct to protect me, ultimately ending with me getting sick more often throughout the winter. 

Once we give our body the space to do so, it will tell us the nutrients it is in need of to sustain us through each season of life.  When we honor our body by giving it what it is asking for, we continue to nurture this relationship. By second-guessing it, ignoring it, or attempting to cut off this communication via a diet, we continue to harm our body and harm this sacred relationship.

We will be in these bodies for the rest of our lives. We can continue to degrade them, punish them, dishonor them, completely ignore them- or we can choose to sit with them, honor them, talk to them (yes, literally… but that is for another post), and nurture this relationship we will have for the rest of our living days.

So perhaps the next time you crave a salty snack, allow yourself to open up to a conversation with your body. If you confirm this is what you are in need of, honor your body by feeding it what it’s asking for… then wait. Perhaps you misheard the request- your body will tell you. Or perhaps you honored your craving perfectly and your body will thank you accordingly.

Like any new relationship, there will be some bumps along the way, some communication issues, some expectations that will need to be re-evaluated. Be patient with yourself. No, this will not melt your belly fat in 48 hours, however given time to cultivate a nurturing relationship with yourself, this will sustain your body, at the healthy size it is meant to be, for the rest of your life.

 

The light in me honors the light in you.

 

 

My Recovery Journey Continues

My concept of recovery is fluid. What I considered a successful day 9 years ago looks completely different than it does today.

Multiple times a week, I chose to walk the aisles of the grocery store in the middle of the night, avoiding other shoppers and preferring the company of other creatures of the early morning hours, feeling a comfort knowing that the stock boy with baggy jeans and Queens of the Stone Age blasting from his earbuds wouldn’t judge me as I carefully reviewed the labels of the scarce foods I trusted to put in my body.

In that time of my recovery I preferred to slip under the radar, to be invisible. That’s where my disease wanted me to stay because that’s where it held the most power over me. As long as I continued to isolate myself from the rest of the world, the eating disorder was in control.

Yoga showed me that I have a greater purpose in this world and allowed me to discover an identity beyond the eating disorder. It gave me self-confidence to re-connect with loved ones with whom I had become detached, and gave me permission to reveal to them the various vulnerabilities that arise throughout the recovery process.

By inviting me to connect my true self with my physical body, yoga was there to catch me before I could fall deeper into isolation, acting as a net below the emotional tightrope I had found myself balancing upon. What began as another exercise regimen became a recovery tool that transformed from treating my current circumstance, to healing years of emotional scars.

By allowing me to view my body as a conduit of strength, yoga taught me that I am worthy.

By simply stepping on my mat and honoring my mind and body where I am in that moment, I am serving myself.

Yoga taught me to love my body not for how my hips look in my yoga pants, but for its strength and general amazing-ness.

Most importantly, after years of fighting for control of my life, yoga taught me that I was never in control and I never will be. I found peace within myself once I released control.

My journey with an eating disorder is embedded into my life, like an olfactory memory that can be lifted up into my senses at a moment’s notice, only to float away with the breeze just as quickly.

Today a successful day is one that includes honoring my mind, body, and soul. It includes catching up with an authentic friend, finishing a project I’ve worked on tirelessly, journaling, exercising because I love the rush of endorphins that I feel afterward, and nourishing my body with foods that it craves.

I now see my recovery as an instrument in my arsenal of empathetic tools; it has provided me with the ability to embrace, cry, and laugh with strangers who instantly become yet another recovery warrior from whom I gain strength, hoping that I become the same to them as well.

Living an isolated life prevents one from giving themselves to another, and what a tragedy that is! The more we give, the more love our hearts are able to receive. By giving of myself and my story, I find so much strength within me, and in return, receive abundant love from those around me. My recovery continues, and it is my hope that it never ends.

This post was originally published as part of  YBIC’s monthly column that highlights how the practice of yoga can be an integral component in the effective treatment of and on-going recovery from eating disorders and disordered eating. You can find it on the YBIC website here.

Exploring Self-Care Rituals

As we approach the halfway mark of 2017, it can be a perfect time to reflect on rituals and practices that we partake in that are both productive and some that may be counter-productive.

As summer approaches, I’ve been reflecting on rituals that I would like to implement or improve upon throughout the rest of the year. Because who says there needs to be a resolution involved to begin caring for ourselves?!  Using the term “ritual” may sound formal, but a ritual is simply an action or procedure that is followed consistently.

We all practice rituals, most of the time without realizing it. Some of these may be impacting our lives positively, and some may be doing the opposite. I would surmise that a ritual of having my phone on me at all times is not serving me positively or allowing me to be the best version of myself throughout the day.

The intent of bringing those potentially counter-productive rituals to your attention isn’t to make you feel ashamed of your social media time, or time for yourself – keep in mind, the key to self-care and health is balance. However, change is not possible without being aware of practices we implement in our lives that are both positive and negative.

If you’re interested in exploring this within your own journey, I’ve listed some of my favorite self-care rituals below, in the hopes that we can explore this world of self-care together!

Another item to note before moving forward: Although it can be tempting to begin a multitude of new rituals at one time, I challenge you to focus solely on one ritual at a time. Our culture has taught us to be competitive in all that we do, and self-care is not meant to be another item on your to-do list. By taking time to fully explore each ritual at a time, this will make each ritual more manageable, and will allow you the time you need to fully immerse yourself into each practice, before adding another, if you so choose.

I would also suggest spending at least 40 days exploring each ritual before adding another practice into your routine. It is a long-held spiritual belief (with research to back it up) regarding the number 40, the philosophy behind it stating that it takes 20 days to break old habits and 20 days to form new ones. So be patient and gentle with yourself when beginning a new ritual; if you miss a day (or a few), accept this without judgement and simply return to your practice.

Meditation

The scientifically proven benefits of meditation are endless. Some of these benefits include anti-aging, reducing stress, increasing attention span, increasing the immune system, assisting in better sleep, and improving brain function. So if that doesn’t make you want to plop down on a pillow and start zen-ing out, I’m not sure what will!

Even if you only have 5 minutes of quiet time in a morning. Even if the only space in your home where you can be alone is in your bathroom, make that bathroom your meditation oasis for the few minutes you can sparse together.  

If you are beginning a meditation practice, I would highly recommend starting with guided meditation. Guided meditation is basically what it sounds like: there is someone guiding throughout your practice, including when to close and open your eyes, what to focus on, how to breathe, etc. I personally use the meditation app Head Space, which is free for the first 10 days of use. Other great guided meditations apps include Stop, Breathe & Think, Calm, The Mindfulness App, and Buddhify.

Meditation changed my life, and if you stick with it I guarantee it will change yours too!

Yoga

Where do I even begin with the benefits of yoga and the impact that it’s had on my life?!

Yoga saved my life.

I know that sounds dramatic, but I truly believe that to be true. Yoga allowed me to find myself again in a time of my life in which I was completely lost. Without finding yoga, I know that I would have relapsed into my eating disorder, and who knows how differently my life would look now if that had happened.

If you’re new to yoga, start with some YouTube videos. You can practice in the comfort of your home, and get a feel for what is comfortable for you.

If there’s no possible way of finding a zen-like time to practice in your home space, hit up a beginners yoga class at your local studio.

Although anything can be intimidating when first starting out, it’s important to keep in mind that in yoga, we’re all practicing. There is no way to “win” at yoga, and just because your classmate on the next mat over can do a handstand, that doesn’t mean she is more in-tune with her mind/body/spirit than the person in child’s pose throughout the entire class… in fact many would say the classmate in child’s pose is much more in-tune with what their mind, body, and spirit may need in that particular moment.

Yoga has given me permission to be vulnerable and to re-discover myself.  When I’m celebrating, I go to my mat; when I’m scared, I go to my mat; when I’m mourning, I go to my mat. It’s a sacred place for me to seek my inner voice. I found myself on my mat, and it’s my hope that a regular yoga practice will do the same (or more!) for you.

Journaling

Journaling is a ritual that I will be striving to implement more into my routine this year.

When I journal I feel more connected to myself and become more aware of triggers of stress, anxiety, and loneliness. Rather than reaching for an unhealthy comfort or distraction such as social media, TV,  or food,  when I pause to journal, most of the time without realizing it I am able to process the reasons behind my desire to distract.

I don’t know about you, but all too often my “monkey brain” can get in my way of processing what I may be experiencing internally. My mind is able to rationalize actions, thoughts, and feelings, while journaling allows me to recognize that thought, process it, sit with it, and then deal with it appropriately.

I typically prefer to journal in the evening before going to bed. This gives me a break from the light of the TV and phone before bed, and also gives me space to decompress and process my day. I find by spilling everything onto the page before hitting the pillow, I sleep more soundly than if I don’t journal before bed.

 

It is my hope for you that you are able to allow time and space for you to discover yourself again, and begin a journey of healing and empowerment.

 

The light in me honors the light in you.