I've come to the important conclusion that no one will care what my body looks like when I die.
Let's face it, if we are lucky enough to die from old age, all of us will have saggy skin, loads of wrinkles, flat bottoms, low boobs, receding hairlines, and scraggly beards--yes, the last three descriptions apply to both men and women, equally.
And, heaven forbid, if I die before old age, I am 100% certain that it will not say on my tombstone, "Here lies Monica. She had an amazing body." Because when it really, really comes down to it, that is not what people care about.
Social media will tell you otherwise. It seems like every other picture on my feed features a girl with her progress shots (even though her "before" picture looks like most people's goal-weights), talking about her vomit-inducing workout, or sharing her "clean eating." Moms constantly share their "post-baby" diets and workouts, slaving towards achieving those six-packs that wash all evidence away that their bodies achieved the miracle of growing another human and pushing that human out.
Even outside my phone/computer, I hear it all day and every day. We women especially are so quick to see our flaws, so eager to point out what we hate about ourselves, and so interested in the latest sugar-free, dairy-free, grain-free, happiness-free diet we need to be doing to get our "body back."
We all give ourselves over to chatter about "cheat days" and beach-body workouts as if they are the minimum of acceptable in the pursuit of health and happiness.
What is that? What are we doing to ourselves?
Listen, I love striving for a healthy body like any one out there. I want to be strong. I want to fit into my clothes. I love the way my body feels when I am regularly working out and eating well. I credit running to making me a better, more sane woman. And I truly love learning about health and nutrition, and eating the weirdest of vegetables.
I also often feel disgusted by the deflated-beach ball tummy I now sport and conflicted about the sugar I regularly eat.
But I hate, hate, hate the message we constantly receive--and encourage--that our bodies, our diet, our workouts must be 100% firm, clean, and challenging in order for us to be officially deemed as "healthy."
Here's a picture of me ten years ago.
Do I look emaciated? Do I look depressed? Do I look obsessed?
The answer to all of those is "No, not really." But I assure you, I was too thin for my natural body-type, I was severely depressed, and I was 100% obsessed. But that obsession was founded in the pursuit of being "healthy."
No one ever questioned my strict food choices. No one ever brought up that they were worried about me. No one ever, ever, ever encouraged more flexibility in both my diet and exercise.
Because I had "it." I was what women and men aspire to be--I was eating clean, working out super hard, and doing it all for the betterment of my "health." Nothing to be alarmed about, right?
I just looked like I had good self-control.
Even I was initially too embarrassed to receive treatment for my eating disorders because I thought I didn't look anorexic enough to deserve help, even though my mental psyche was in absolute shambles and I felt anything but in control of my mind and my life.
I never received more compliments on my physical appearance than at this time.
It's taken me a decade of recovery to get to where I am now, which I can sum up as, "I'm still messed up, but fighting!"
I worry. I worry because SO many men and women around me seem to be playing with that fire which badly burned me. They start out with good intentions. They want to improve their physical health. They want more balance in their lives. They want to feel better in their clothes.
"I'm an all-or-nothing person," they say. "I can't have sugar around me at all," they declare. "I have no self-control." "I am addicted to chocolate." "I feel so much better when I take away x, y, and z from my diet."
Living a life with heavy restrictions--however first well-intentioned--is like the cyclone that keeps swirling, pulling you in with the steady force of its gravity, sucking you down, harder and harder until food is more emotion and trigger-laden than when you started, and in response you axe another food group and increase your workout by another half hour. And again, and again.
I feel like the soothsayer standing on the edges of that cyclone. My own person still being whipped around by the cyclone's pull, my own psyche constantly being tugged at and lured by the big, beautiful storm. But I stand gripping the ground as firmly as I can, struggling to hold up my sign, "Be careful! Danger is ahead." And my second sign, "You are enough!"
I'm going to clench onto the fenceposts Twister-style if I have to, in order to resist that pull.
Because here is the thing I learned from living in the eye of that storm and clawing my way out of it: If you do not love and accept yourself for how you are in this very moment, if you do not decide that you are "enough," chubby tummy and all, you will never, EVER think you are worthy of self-acceptance and love even if you've achieved 30 days of "clean eating," or P90X-ed your stomach into washboard abs. The storm will tell you to do more and more until you will be like me ten years ago, thin and suicidal. And people will give you lots of compliments.
My message here is not, "Abandon all health!" nor is it, "More donuts, less apples!"
It's this: Take care of yourself. Eat that carrot. Go on that run. Resist an all-day diet of cookies and chocolate. But also be brave enough to be balanced about your pursuit of health, and to eat a dessert guilt-free, and not just because it's your "cheat day," but because you love yourself enough to know that a cupcake is not inherently evil, and neither are you.
And remember, when you die what matters more than your beautiful body was that you were a good, kind, dependable person whose eyes were more fixated on the world around you than on the mirror in front of you.