In May of 2020 I started a small group over Zoom with the intention to share my knowledge and expertise on the principles of Intuitive Eating and to give participants an opportunity to learn and share in community with others. We went from meeting weekly for eight weeks to monthly and we are still meeting to this day.
Recently, the topic of the impact of ˜before and after' photos and body transformation stories was raised in our group. These types of photos and transformation stories we are used to seeing in the media and social media are focused on weight loss and outward appearance. Although culturally a lot of importance is put on both of these things, there is so much more to life than our weight and appearance. We can't know people's whole story based on their weight or how they look. We also can't know what they did to get to their after and whether or not it was healthy or sustainable. Although we assume “health” and “healthiness” when people’s bodies get smaller the truth is that isn’t always the case.
These photos/stories are rampant, especially this time of year. The 10-year Challenge social media fad, that has recently once again become popular, where people post two photos, one of themselves now, and one of them ten years ago is basically just another iteration along the same lines and a recipe for comparison, judgement, and often times self-hatred. Although seemingly harmless, these types of photos are designed to make us compare ourselves to others or our younger, possibly thinner selves, and ultimately contribute to feelings of body dissatisfaction and poor body image.
After our discussion on this topic, one of the participants in the group, Heather, decided to write down and share her own different kind of ˜before and after' and has graciously agreed and given me permission to share it. This is what she had to say-
As a 48 year old wife and mom of teens, I was finally realizing that my years of dieting, exercising, and lack of satisfaction with my physical body was just not working. My fitness goals had to do with ˜looking' thin and ˜looking' strong. I was constantly comparing myself to the ladies I knew at the gym, at church, on the street – wherever.
After a year and a half practicing the principals of Intuitive Eating, I have learned so much about myself and feel I have the tools I need to change my thinking and my diet culture perspective. I am learning that my outward appearance has little to do with true health.
With the new year starting, I am seeing and hearing messages everywhere promoting the idea that now we have to ˜pay' for all we enjoyed over the holidays. ˜Before and after' photos are popping up advertising the latest tricks and trends and programs to finally get me where I want to be. In light of this, I thought I'd jot down some of my own ˜before' and ˜after' thoughts to remind myself of the progress I have made. This journey has not been easy or without work. Unlearning 40 years of thin-focused thinking takes time. But here's a little of my progress:
I exercise to burn off the calories I ate/drank. I track my calorie burn and feel unsatisfied if my class or workout didn't burn X number of Calories. I do high impact exercise because I'm driven and must lose weight.
I exercise because I enjoy moving my body. I like to feel strong, flexible, have good balance. I don't track calories. I take yoga- often. I box, I bounce, I walk, I rock climb, kayak, and bicycle for fun. I'm not trying to lose weight- I want to be healthy and strong so I can enjoy physical activities with my family and friends.
I can't have ___ in the house. I'll eat it all. I'm not to be trusted around___.
I always have ice cream and chocolate in the house. I can have some knowing a little tastes and feels good, but a lot makes me feel sick. Plus, I can always have some later if I want – it won't be forbidden when I start the next diet because I'm not planning to start one.
Wow. She looks so great. Beautiful. Thin. Strong. I'll never look like her. Well maybe I could. I'll cut out carbs and sugars and start weighing my food again.
Wow. She is very fit. Good for her. We are different. We have different genetics, age, life choices, responsibilities. I can do so much in my body and with my body. I am so blessed with good health and mobility. I have this one body. Let me appreciate what I've been given.
Oh my gosh. I don't want to go to the beach with them. They are all so skinny and perfect and I'll have to be in a bathing suit. Ugh. Maybe I can get out of going.
I'm going to the beach with some really fit people. That's ok. I love the beach. I love to swim. I'm wearing what I feel comfortable in and it's ok if my swimsuit is different. I'm going to get to know them better. I'll find out about their lives. We'll have fun.
This shift in thinking took practice and time and prayer and help from friends on this journey with me. I look forward to seeing my growth after another year. Here's to 2022 and a different ˜before and after'!
A True Transformation
Heather’s story and her ˜before and after' to me represents a true transformation, not superficially of the body but at a much deeper and more meaningful level. I feel privileged to have been able to be a part of Heather's and the other participants' journeys and to witness their changing perspectives over the last nearly two years. I've seen it in this group and with many others that I have worked with, it is possible to find a more peaceful, easy relationship with food and our bodies. It doesn't happen overnight, but like Heather said with lots of practice, prayer, unlearning and relearning it is possible.