How I Learned that Healthy is Beautiful...The Hard Way

Today, I'm going to be really honest about my health habits and how I've struggled to maintain a healthy relationship with food. If you are struggling with an eating disorder, know that you're not alone. In the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their life. 

While I was struggling with healthy eating, I visited a doctor and brought the issues to my counselor as well - and there is no shame in that. Sometimes what we struggle with is bigger than ourselves and asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but an incredible demonstration of bravery. If you need to talk to a professional about your struggle, you can reach out through the National Eating Disorder Association hotlines and live chats.  

During the last semester of college, I lost between ten and fifteen pounds. Unfortunately, I didn’t lose the weight through healthy eating and exercise. Despite the world telling me I should love a super slim figure, I realized that I would be much more content if I was at a more healthy weight for my height and age. 

Between finishing up the semester, putting final touches on my senior thesis, planning a wedding, packing up my things to move to a new city, and looking for a job, I would forget to eat. I neglected healthy eating habits so much that my body forgot to tell me when I should have been hungry.

I wish I was kidding – but I was underweight, over stressed and I often wouldn’t realize I needed to eat until I was close to passing out.

I would go way longer than I should have between snacks and meals and then, in a frenzied rush, I would end up eating things that weren’t healthy at all (read: vending machine food).

I would skip breakfast, and most of the time I’d substitute a tall cup of coffee for the first meal of the day. I’d skip lunch. Then I’d skip dinner. I would get home around 10:00 pm most nights during that semester and and realize that I hadn’t eaten almost anything since the night before

A dear friend of mine asked me on a car ride how I was really doing with all of the major life changes and my health, and I spilled out everything that had been on my heart that semester. I knew something had to change. 

During that time of rapid, unhealthy weight loss, a quiet, false whisper was in the back of my head:

Well, at least you’ll be skinny for the wedding. At least you don’t have to worry about losing weight. At least you fit the ‘ideal’ beauty standard you keep seeing online, in magazines and advertisements.

When friends or family noticed my weight loss, they would ask me if I was on a diet to lose weight before the wedding, and I’d laughingly brush it off. But, deep down inside, I wish that I could weight 15 pounds more as the day of the wedding got closer and closer.

When I tried my dress on for the last time before the big day, all I could notice was how different it had looked then when I’d first tried it on nine months earlier. Despite the world telling me my new slim frame was what I should want, it wasn’t what I needed. I needed a balanced life. I needed my health back. 

I set alarms on my phone so that I would remember to eat. Joseph would regularly ask me how many meals I had on a day-to-day basis.

I visited our family doctor and explained my concerns. She told me that after the big things in my life settled down (like the wedding, graduation, moving, and settling in), my appetite should come back.

And it did. For a while.

During our honeymoon, I ate three meals and day and had never felt so healthy. I was gaining weight, I didn’t have to put my belt on the tightest hole and I had more energy than I did during my entire college career. 

But then Joseph started work.

I started full-time blogging from home.

And things started going downhill.

I was responsible for setting the pace of my day as a stay-at-home-wife, and it didn’t take too long for me to slip back into old (bad) habits.

I would eat . . . well, kind of. Although I was still eating three times a day, sometimes I didn’t eat lunch until 2:00 pm or later. The meals I had weren’t the healthiest I could have chosen. And since I wasn’t eating on a regular, healthy schedule, my stomach didn’t want to eat the normal amount of food because it had shrunken thanks to my neglect … again.

Even though I’d promised myself that my post-college life would look healthy and wholesome, it was starting to look a lot like that last semester of college.

After prayer and thought, I knew things had to change – and change permanently this time. But I also knew that I couldn’t just automatically incorporate tons of healthy habits, eat and plan healthy meals, and exercise on a regular basis all at once into my schedule. I would have to ease into it and be kind to myself along the way. 

I had to start at square one and simply promise to myself that I would eat three complete meals a day. Which seemed like such a small, ridiculously common-sense goal, but it was where I had to start. So I asked a friend to keep me accountable and started a excel sheet, tracking each meal. 

I was so irritated with myself. How had I let myself get to this point again? Who in the world has to track whether or not they eat three meals a day? I began to realize that, in a culture that thrives on instant gratification, it is easy to become frustrated when things aren't fixed right now. It is counter-cultural to realize that slow progress is better than no progress at all. 

If you’re in the same boat as me and are in the process of building healthy habits from the ground up, please remember to be kind to yourself. Eating and drinking are only part of living a health lifestyle - health is also about what you think and say about yourself. After all, being healthy is a form of self-care and self-respect. 

I stopped being angry with myself for having to take small steps. I realized I needed to establish small habits and then build from there. I'm getting close to the end of three weeks - I'm not done with this struggle but, with God's grace, I'm realizing that it's possible to live a healthy, whole lifestyle and recognize that healthy is beautiful.