I’m not what you may consider a thin person. I’ve got thick thighs, a doughy middle, and a double chin. Even at my thinnest, which was sometime in high school when I took my metabolism for granted, I still had a small pooch in my lower abdomen. It drove me crazy. I wondered why I couldn’t have the same body as everyone else.

Despite my personality, I thought guys were never going to go for me because of the way I looked. And I was right. I was told that I was friend material, not dating material. The fat funny friend, some would say. I had a dance teacher that told me I was too fat to be a ballerina. I had judgmental family members who would point out when my weight would fluctuate.

Those comments stick with you. They carve out little spaces in your brain that make you think that who you are is dependent upon how you look — and what you’ll do to look better. It created an unhealthy relationship with me and food and me and my weight. It most certainly created an unhealthy perception of my value. My worth became dependent predominantly on my waistline.

After high school, I stayed home and went to school while all of my friends went away. I read books and watched movies and wasn’t concerned with my weight. I got into a good workout routine and had maintained a pretty good weight. But when my friends would come home, I would revert back to feeling like that fat, funny friend. I loved my personality, but wanted — just once or twice — for someone to compliment me on how I looked instead of telling me I was funny. That’s how much stock I had put into my fitness — it wasn’t about health, it was really about my looks.

By the end of college, I had started dating my current boyfriend and let my workouts fall to the side in favor of spending time with him. I put on “relationship weight” from the late-night snacks and the tour of Mexican restaurants we always seemed to be on. I realized too late that I had gone up two pant sizes and began feeling self-conscious. I would get frustrated and fed up when pushing myself at the gym wasn’t working. I’d give up soda, stop eating sweets. I’d deprive myself and still my waistline wouldn’t change.

It started to upset me more and more. I was so wrapped up in how I looked that I didn’t even want to be seen. I wouldn’t change in front of my boyfriend. I would freak out before weddings and bridal showers and baby showers and tell my friends that I didn’t want to go because I didn’t want anyone to see me like this.

I was so mad at my workouts for not producing results that I was willing to miss milestones in my friend’s lives because of how I looked in a dress.

The whole process got to be so exhausting. I hated working out and not seeing results. I hated reading that stress was making everything worse, which only stressed me out more. I wasn’t getting enough sleep due to my workaholic tendencies. All of the meal prepping and gym sessions in the world wasn’t enough anymore. So, I started to stop caring. Stopped being diligent about what I ate and what I was doing.

I just gave up.

When August rolled around last year, I started to freak out for another reason. I realized I had only one year left of my 20s and I wanted to do a major overhaul. I would still retain all of the wonderful qualities I possessed, such as my humor and loyalty, my empathy and intellect — but I would take a good hard look at myself and see what needed to be changed.

I didn’t want to drag all of the negative energy of my 20s into my 30s. I wanted to go into the next decade of my life with better intentions, better energy, and most importantly: a better body.

So, I started meal prepping again. I upped my veggie intake, only used lean meats or tuna, made my snacks fruit or nuts. The only beverages I was allowing myself were water and green tea. I’d have a margarita here or a Dr. Pepper there, but I drank enough water to outweigh it.

I started taking the long way at work so I could get more steps in. I repurchased BeachBody hoping I could find a program that would really help me go for it and be thinner and looking better. Over the next few months, I stuck with it. I indulged here and there, but never anything that offset all of my hard work.

Then the holidays came.

December was such a busy month that I barely had time to breathe let alone find the time to stick to my workout plan. Then the holiday parties started and with them the delicious desserts and decadent dinners. I had always looked forward to these once-a-year treats and this year was no different. During my holiday break from work, I stopped eating healthy and stopped working out. And I felt terrible.

A few days before I was due back at work, I started to feel sick. My stomach was always in knots and I wasn’t sleeping through the night. I was irritable and couldn’t figure out why. Until it dawned on me that I hadn’t touched a vegetable in nearly two weeks and the only fruit I’d had was baked into a crumble. And while the laziness was welcome, I soon felt like I needed to get up, move around and be active.

That’s when it clicked. I wasn’t feeling terrible for any reason other than I had stopped taking care of myself. That’s when I realized that if I wanted to make a change in the way I was thinking, I had to stop seeing what I was doing as a weight loss journey, but rather a health journey.

It wasn’t about vanity and how I looked, though that never hurt anyone either. It was about changing habits and making better choices for my health and how I feel on the inside. I realized that half of the battle was knowing that what I was doing was going to keep me feeling better and stronger in the long run.

If I took care of myself and focused on being healthy rather than skinny, I’d feel better mentally and physically. Now I look at my meal prep and think, I’m giving my body what it needs to stay strong.

I choose workouts that are going to be enjoyable and challenging, but won’t push myself to do something I can’t. I remember that everyone’s body is different and that their bodies react differently to workouts than mine do. I think about how great I feel after a workout and how well I’ll sleep after.

Changing my perspective on what I was doing to change my physical health had an impact on my mental health that I hadn’t anticipated. I now see myself in a different way. Sure, I’d still like to look like Blake Lively on the red carpet, but I don’t have her budget or personal trainer. Outward physical changes will happen over time, but it’s knowing that you’re fixing your unhealthy tendencies and living a healthier life that’s so much more important.

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