Even stretching into my 20s, my health — both of body and mind — was of little concern to me. I had flirted with working out toward the end of high school and most of college, but every time I was heavier than I wanted to be, I’d get frustrated.
Patience, at the time, certainly wasn’t my strongest trait either.
I thought, if I wasn’t skinny after all of the work I was putting in, then what was the point? Wasn’t working out meant to make you more attractive? Why did it only cause a cycle of anxiety and insecurity?
So, I stopped trying.
After I got into my current long-term relationship, I worked out less often and cared less about what I was eating, but it was also more than that. I was starting to feel uncomfortable in my own skin.
The anxiety I had once tried to put to rest started to get worse. Those anxieties fueled my insecurities, rearing their ugly heads, telling me: Would I still be attractive to my boyfriend? Would people wonder why he’s with me?
I tried to make better food choices and worked out more frequently, but at the time, I was also working long hours at a job I hated. By the time the weekend would roll around, I’d be falling asleep mid-sentence.
Scrolling through my phone didn’t help either. I would see people with similar health goals and they would be crushing it. They looked better, they felt better, and their attitudes were enviable. If we were putting our bodies through the same workouts, why wasn’t it working for me?
And the anxiety cycle would start again.
My days would be ruined for hours over seemingly nothing: dropping my keys when I was running late or catching a glimpse in the mirror and hating the way my sweater fit. I’d get frustrated. I’d “fall off” the health wagon. Sleep was elusive and irritation was constant.
By not taking care of myself, I was also unable to care for those around me.
I was frequently arguing with my sister, who I was living with, and got frustrated with my mom whenever we were on the phone. I didn’t want to see my friends, and these interactions, or lack of, got to a point where if I was falling asleep or checking my phone while with my boyfriend, I’d instantly snap at him, if he’d mention it.
Finally, he just shook his head and said, with a resigned look on his face, “I can’t say anything without you snapping at me.”
Social media had a funny way of making me believe I was falling behind everyone else; that my health path wasn’t working because someone else’s success looked different. Your 20s is already a decade of hard-to-navigate change, even without the pressures of society weighing you down.
And my 20s were a tumultuous time, full of peaks like graduating college, and finding the love of my life. Then there were deep valleys, such as a major heartbreak and my dad being sent to prison. Carrying that baggage was tough.
So when my 30th came near, I looked introspectively. What did I want out of the last year in my 20s? What kind of energy did I want in my 30s? And I came to realize that my toxic work environment, one that left me with little time to myself, made me feel terrible. It needed to change.
Leaving my former job took a lot of chaotic guesswork out of my life. At my new job, I began packing my own lunches. I didn’t have to face the question “What would I eat today” anymore because I knew exactly what I was putting into my body.
Another part of my stress has also always revolved around money. This shift in career and food had me look at my own spending. Now that I packed my own lunch, I stopped eating out during the week (unless I was on my period and simply needed french fries). This allowed me to feel more comfortable with money, encouraging me to remember the old adage of “There’s food at home.”
But when it came to working out, I would find myself getting frustrated again. I would blow up in other ways because there was something internal I wasn’t dealing with.
In the past, my anxiety, emotions, and insecurities were always secondary to taking more steps, having a refillable water bottle on hand, or cutting down on alcohol. But for lasting change, I needed my brain to be on board. I had to want to make the changes for myself, for the right reasons.
Of course, you couldn’t have told me that at 21, 22, or even 27. Growing older, wiser, and more tired of the ridiculous “attraction is all” rhetoric was what allowed for this beautiful shift in perspective. Clearly using exercise and food solely as a means to getting skinnier and more attractive wasn’t working for me. Conversations with friends also helped me realize health is so much more than what’s in a photo.
What did work was exercise and food as a means of making everyday tasks easier. It was a lifestyle, not for appearances, but for feeling better, for feeling good about how you’re taking care of yourself, for yourself, than anything or anyone else.
Seeing how the avoidable chaos I was creating wouldn’t change if I was doing the same thing was a huge eye opener for me.
So I began working on managing my stress and anxiety.
Packing my lunches helped. Laying out my clothes the night before and knowing I had everything ready for the next day took stress out of each morning. I worked on going to bed earlier and made manageable to-do lists on sticky notes.
If everything didn’t get done, I wouldn’t beat myself up over it. If I felt myself about to snap at someone, I paused for the feeling, and thought before I said anything, in hopes to avoid an argument.
But I’m finally doing it for me and not for any societal situation. I don’t look at a cupcake and think “I can’t eat that” anymore. If I want something, I’ll eat it, knowing life is about balance. If I’m sick, I’ll skip a workout and not beat myself up about it. I’ll pass on plans when I know it’s smarter to feel rested instead of groggy the next day.
Some days I’ll still feel sadness about my progress. Sometimes I’ll get insecure, but for the first time in a long time, I feel good.
Holding onto unnecessary garbage in your brain does nothing but drag you down. Understanding not every action deserves a reaction is a breath of fresh air. Knowing that you can let go of that and just be happy with where you are? A blessing.
This is me embracing you, 30, and thanking this shift from my 20s to my 30s for steering me down this path of better mental and physical health. I still have a long path ahead of me, but I’m glad to be making the right choices for me to grow into a better version of myself.