As kids, we learn from the behavior of those around us. We learn how to see the world, ourselves, and our place within it.
And what we see is most often not the healthiest view.
How many of us grew up seeing parents who loved themselves, accepted their bodies, took care of their bodies, affirmed their own strengths, gently worked on their weaknesses, and were always patient with themselves?
Probably not many.
How many of us grew up seeing parents who were always on a diet, overworking themselves, running into mental and physical health problems, or talking down to themselves and others?
Probably a lot.
And don’t forget the messages we receive through the media!
You know the drill.
We all need to look like airbrushed, perfectly sculpted models while we easily advance our professional respectable careers as CEOs, doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and bankers (with side hustles now!) while also making time to get married and raise a perfect family in an extra-large, cookie-cutter, HGTV-inspired home.
How many of us are living that reality?
Better question: How many of us actually want that reality?
Self-Love = Health
Okay, Nicole, what does this have to do with gut health?
Well, self-love is part of mental and emotional health. And I know I’ve said it before, but mental health is connected to physical health.
Also, if we can’t love ourselves or our own bodies for all the things they do for us, we become our own enemy. Who is gonna take proper care of their enemy? Are you going to be motivated to take care of the needs of someone you hate and consider evil and disgusting? Or are you more likely to punish them, ignore their needs, or maybe even bully them into submission?
I was dieting by the time I was in middle school.
I was drinking my mom’s SlimFast and skipping meals only to binge later. I’d weigh myself every day. I remember counting calories with my best friend. Dieting was part bonding, part competition. Or maybe that was just my jealousy (insecurity).
I’d suck in my stomach all day long. I hated that you could see “rolls” when I sat down and I’d always tug at my shirt to make sure they weren’t showing. I had to get rid of them.
This never blew up into a full-blown eating disorder and just seemed like the thing I was supposed to do. It was “normal.”
But think about the message behind dieting for a girl in middle school:
You have to fight against your body to make it acceptable for everyone else. You are not okay as you are. You are ugly. No one will like you unless you weigh less than you do now. Your value as a human being is based on how you look.
And I was a healthy weight in middle school.
High school was horrible in many ways and beyond the scope of this post. I don’t understand those who look back on those years wishing they could go back. Those were the worst years of my life.
During those years I blew up to almost 175 pounds at one point.
This was a direct reflection of my mental health at the time. I’m not saying everyone who is overweight is depressed but in my case it was true. I had always felt different than everyone around me and this was magnified in high school. I didn’t “belong” anywhere.
Naturally, this led to depression and self-hatred.
Then again, I did abuse my body with restrictive diets, sugar, and binging prior to getting depressed. And this is also around the time I started using the NSAID ibuprofen heavily every month for debilitating dysmenorrhea. My leaky gut could have started around this time.
Music and art are what saved me. Tori Amos to be specific. Her music spoke to me in a language similar to my own that no one else seemed to understand. And she was so fierce, raw, and free. She was different – a rebel. She was alien-like with a faery spirit. She embraced her weirdness and I worshiped her like a mysterious goddess. I found someone to look up to. I wanted to be like her.
I started writing poetry all the time. Scribbles on tiny pieces of paper and in the margins of notebooks. I’d wake up in the middle of the night to write phrases and poems down on the pad I kept next to my bed. I started playing guitar and threw myself into learning songs of my favorite artists. I held on for dear life in my creative, textured inner world and I loved that secret place I created.
Maybe Tori only helped me to see that I could save myself. I started feeling happier – that life had meaning – and the weight just started to come off. I found something to love and something I felt I was good at: writing, drawing, and music.
I Love and Accept My Body
But it’s an imperfect practice every day.
This wasn’t the end of my journey with health and food. I’m 38 years down this road and I’m still learning. I’ve taken some detours that I thought were good for my health when looking back on them I can see they were probably pretty damaging.
My earlier obsession with my weight totally faded and I was more interested in my health and how I felt rather than how I looked or the number on the scale.
Where I’ve come the farthest in my growth is finding acceptance and love for myself and my body. And nature includes more challenges to this as we age and our bodies change.
That just means we have to keep leveling up on the self-love each year 😉
I prioritize my health now and I’m not focused on the scale. Losing weight hasn’t been the goal for a couple of decades now.
And because of that, I’m the thinnest I’ve ever been.
Still, that’s not the goal.
And it’s about more than just the weight. It’s about seeing your worth independent of how you look or what others think of you. It’s about realizing there’s a big gap between what you’ve been taught you’re worth and your actual worth.
Focus On Your Body
As someone in the “alternative” spiritual community, I hear many people say there’s too much focus on the body. That we should be “transcending” the body, or that the body is an “illusion.” We’re taught to deny the body. The body is “sinful.”
Our bodies are part of our journey in this life. I say embrace your human life because it is finite. Celebrate your humanness!
There is NOT too much focus on the body.
There’s too much focus on image.
We ignore pains in our bodies. We dismiss symptoms and emotions we feel. We don’t accept what is real in our lived, sensate, visceral experience.
Instead, we turn our attention to only our looks as if that is a real reflection of our worth. As if that tells people who we are.
It’s perfectly fine to care about your appearance and wear makeup and feel good about your image. I care about this too!
But your body is different than your image.
True health, wellbeing, and self-love are the foundation. Your body is your vehicle through life. It’s a miraculous work of art that allows you to do absolutely everything you do every day. You literally can’t live without it and you only get one.
Take care of it as you would your own child.
What About You?
Where are you on the journey to self-love and body acceptance?
How do you find that journey intersects with your health and wellbeing?
Have you had similar experiences around weight and self-hate when you were growing up?
What messages did you receive when you were young around image, weight, your body, or your health?
I’d love to hear anything you want to share in the comments.
- “In our image-oriented culture, it is often said we love our bodies too much…The opposite is true–we do not love them nearly enough. We demand or wish them to be a certain way, we sacrifice them for other goals, we adopt unnatural postures or even surgery to force them into the image of our vanity, we use drugs to extract pleasure from them. We ignore our bodies’ true needs and enslave them to the indulgence of ego. The so-called body worship of our society is really just image-worship, institutionalized vanity. True love of oneself (or another) does not require a person to measure up.” – Charles Eisenstein
- “When we hate and abuse the body and its earthly life and joy for Heaven’s sake, what do we expect? That out of this life that we have presumed to despise and this world that we have presumed to destroy, we would somehow salvage a soul capable of eternal bliss? And what do we expect when with equal and opposite ingratitude, we try to make of the finite body an infinite reservoir of dispirited and meaningless pleasures?”- Wendell Berry
Hi Nicole, this is an amazing story you have here. I agree that self-love and body acceptance is super important to both our physical and mental health. I love that you talked about how there’s too much focus on our images. I noticed that as well seeing how everyone around me, for some reason, wants to be somebody else. It’s super annoying when they push their beliefs on me too. Just because everyone else wants to have big muscles, it doesn’t mean that I want them too. It’s good to hear someone else talking about how we should focus on our bodies over our image.
Thanks, Kevin. I’m glad that it resonated with you. It’s not right that we’re all put into boxes that don’t fit us. We are all individuals and a lot of us don’t feel the need to fit into those boxes society has set out for us.
This is a very honest post. You have been very open and honest with your journey.
I can relate to a lot of it as I have always hated my body and as the weight piled on I didn’t even notice, or care. I just hid behind people and things.
While over the last 10 years I have managed to loose 6 stone, it still hasn’t helped and I still hate myself.
I am so glad that you are working through your issues and will hopefully leave them all behind you soon.
Thanks for your thoughts, Geoff. Your experience just goes to show that losing weight doesn’t always make you happy. In fact, I think getting happy first (easier said than done!) is the way to go. Coming out of self-hatred is a complicated matter with many factors. I write more on the gut-health side of things. There are past articles that talk about probiotics and diets that can boost your mood. I hope you will stick around as we talk about more ways to improve mental and physical health.
Hello, Nicole thanks for this interesting and important article. There is so much suffering in this world by eating not the right food. People with weight and health problems. Nowadays science is working with gut health, it may be much more important than we had thought. What we eat, when we eat, if we are under stress – everything has an effect on our gut.
Having the right mindset, healthy eating, setting realistic goals is important for everybody. We should have learned this in school.
You found your way to yourself again. Respect, and bless you to give your knowledge and passing on your experiences. I hope you get a lot of traffic, you could help so many people out there. Respect Nicole. Wish you a great day. Monique
Of course, I will share this article on my social media platforms.
Thank you, Monique! I really appreciate your words and your support. You’re right, we should have learned this in school. I think kids would truly benefit from learning about mental health and the connection with their physical health. As well as tools to help them cope with stress and their emotions. A lot of our problems in society would be solved through kids learning about real health and wellbeing. Thanks again:)