If I knew then what I know now about diets and weight loss

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The parable of two women

Parable 1

There was once a beautiful woman. She was smart and kind, incredibly hard-working, capable, competent, loyal, and a brilliant mother. Even though she was all these things, she never believed them. She only ever saw the negative in herself and would beat herself up for not being perfect. She struggled with her weight, and punished herself with diets and exercise so she could be thin like all the ‘beautiful’ people she compared herself to.

The beautiful woman tormented herself by comparing herself all the time, never stopping to take stock of all the wonderful things about her. She hated herself for falling short, for not being all the things she thought she should be. She called herself fat and ugly and a waste of space. Sometimes she called herself worse. She thought that if only she could master her weight, and be ‘thin’, she would be happy and she would love herself.

Little did she know she already looked great. Little did she know she was already enough, and that no amount of weight loss would make her more than she already was. Instead, she continued this vicious cycle of comparing and hating and punishing herself, in the quest to feel enough.

But instead of feeling better about herself, she only made herself feel worse. Over the next 6 years, the never-ending cycle of diets she had been on eventually backfired on her, causing her to gain more weight than she could have imagined, even though she was constantly dieting and working so hard to lose weight. Her low-self esteem became even lower, and she began hiding away, ashamed of herself, believing that she was worthless and had nothing to offer the world. She believed that she was unlovable and constantly searched for validation from others because she couldn’t see how wonderful she really was. As a result, she became jealous and bitter of others, afraid of everything, and destined to live a small and very unhappy life.

Parable 2

There once was a beautiful woman. She was also smart and kind, incredibly hard-working, capable, competent, loyal, and a brilliant mother. But she was very sad. She felt old before her time, felt trapped in an overweight body, and realised that she didn’t like who she was. She had spent most of her life on some kind of diet or exercise plan, trying to lose weight, because she thought that if she could, she would find happiness and self-worth. Instead, it only led to a world of pain. Six years of constantly dieting but still gaining weight, led her to believe that she was worth nothing. However, this woman was wise enough to realise that this pain could be used for good. And she soon realised that no amount of weight loss was ever going to make her happy. The key to happiness was learning to love herself first.

So this woman swallowed her pride, and admitted she needed help. She found two teachers who agreed to go on this journey with her and guide her where she needed to go. Their only condition was that she commit to this journey, and follow their instructions even if they didn’t make sense. The beautiful woman who was at her lowest ebb, agreed, grateful that someone could finally show her the way to freedom.

The woman began her quest with her two teachers by her side. Instead of focusing on losing weight, she focused on loving herself. She focused on changing her mindset – her thoughts, beliefs and ideas about herself – that had led her to become so unhappy. Bit by bit, this woman began to believe in herself, and bit by bit her body slowly began to change. She began to like herself and be grateful for the body she had, even though it didn’t look like she wanted it to. The beautiful woman had many tasks to complete, most of which were very difficult for her. They required her to be honest and vulnerable with herself and to confront her fears and her darkest demons. Sometimes she slayed the demons. Sometimes they won the battle. But she was determined that they would never win the war. Some things her teacher asked her to do didn’t make sense, but she did them anyway because she trusted that her two teachers would never steer her wrong.

Slowly but surely, this woman began to flourish. She was finally willing to be seen for who she was – weight and all – because she knew that weight was just that – weight. It wasn’t a reflection on her worth, or her gifts and talents. She finally recognised the beautiful, unique person she was, and understood that she could shine, was allowed to shine, even if her body wasn’t what she desired. She finally realised that she didn’t have to be perfect to be loved. And she learned that she didn’t need everyone to like her – just a few people to love her.

The story of this beautiful woman is yet to be completed. But she no longer believes that she needs to lose weight or be a ‘beautiful thin person’ to be enough, because she knows she is already enough. She no longer punishes herself with endless exercise regimes, starves herself or restricts food, or feels guilty when she eats. The woman carries many scars, a few regrets, and has lived in a world of hell, but she knows that this journey was necessary because without it, she’d be just like another beautiful woman — who lived a small and bitter life, because she never saw the true beauty that was within her.

This woman’s body is slowly changing and she knows that one day, she will have the body she wants. The difference between her and the other beautiful woman, is that this one will be able to see how good she looks, know her worth, and will have the skills and mindset to be able to keep it for good.

***

Lesson

On the weekend, I found an old photo of me. It was taken just over 8 years ago. I had dieted and exercised constantly to get to this weight. That year I had walked 100km in Oxfam (plus over 200km of walking training), and run a 10km fun-run in under 60 minutes. Looking at these photos now, I can see how good I looked. But at the time, I felt fat, disgusting and hated myself. I was determined to lose weight and become ‘thin’.

Six years later, I became the photo in the middle. During those 6 years I constantly dieted and exercised, believing that there was something wrong with me because I couldn’t lose weight. I strived harder and harder, becoming more and more strict on myself. In the process I completely destroyed my metabolism and my mental health and continued to gain weight.

I am now the woman in the 3rd photo. I don’t have the body I want, but I am a different person to the other 2 people. I love myself, accept myself and have done a lot of hard work on my mindset. I know that I don’t need to diet to get back to where I was and I know that when I do get there, I’ll never go backwards again, because I will have developed a totally different mindset. Plus, I will have muscle!!

Seeing the old photo of me has been difficult. I’ve found myself thinking that I already had what I am working for now, and what a waste the past 8 years have been. But nothing is ever a waste if you learn something from it. This has been one of the most confronting things of all – seeing where I was physically, and how my terrible mental state led me to such a painful place. A very painful lesson to learn.

If any of you are doubting the need to change your habits, your mindsets, your beliefs and what you think of yourself, look at my photos. Take a really good, hard look. If someone had given me a crystal ball and shown me where I would end up, maybe I would have taken a different route and avoided all the pain that I’ve had to go through.

So consider these photos your crystal ball. Because it won’t matter how much weight you lose doing transformation and how good your body looks, if you don’t change your habits, you’ll never be able to see how good you look, you’ll never be happy, and you’ll end up in a far worse situation than you are now. I promise you that. xx

Nerissa

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