Hello hello, my lovely friends! I’m finally finished with final exams and the stress relief feels amazing, literally as if I’m bathing in a giant tub of chocolate cake. Anyways, while this post goes live, I will either still be asleep or headed to the college gym in the freezing cold morning. Most likely though, I’ll be asleep. Dead week was a serious challenge.
But on another note, this post is actually relatively vulnerable because I share the changes I saw in my body, but also in my mind when I’d analyze my physicality in every photo. To start, health and fitness transcends physical image. You may see a six pack and think of fitness first thing, but that does not necessarily mean that you need a six pack to be fit. We can all agree on that. If you’re passionate about exercising, getting stronger, improving your health, pushing yourself to accomplishing a goal, then by all means, health and fitness are integral parts of your life.
The vulnerability stems from my recent conflict with my body, but more importantly, my depiction of a healthy and fit body. It’s ironic to say that even after over five years of adopting a wholesome lifestyle, I still deal with problems of body image and oddly warped images of what health and fitness are. But at the same time, I can recall the broader picture and learn to either adapt to new changes or make new changes with a wiser, more understanding perception. The journey that I’ve posted below ultimately encompasses the latter as I had to rekindle my relationship with one of my inner voices that lost its way.
Taken on September 24th, this was me at one of the local beaches by my college. I was with my assigned group for the orientation week, having the time of my life, diving headfirst into my vegan “college diet”. I prioritized clean foods, eating as much as I wanted and not stressing too much about getting in tons of water. Fortunately (at least in my mind), I shed off enough weight to feel comfortable with my body before I could look at myself in depth when I uploaded the shots.
I rediscovered this photo feeling very disappointed with myself. I really couldn’t justify why. I was living in the present moment. I was happy. I had energy. Something in my mind, something pretty vain, shallow and self-oriented, was not pleased with the way my quadriceps bulged from my knees, despite them being strong muscles from hiking all around the town. It didn’t like the tummy pouch around my stomach, even though I just ate, drank and tried to suck in a pound’s worth of pee during the time the photo was taken.
Above is a pre-workout selfie that was taken on September 30th, which was a little more than a week after classes began. I knew that I lost some weight and was curious to see its significance. Upon taking some photos, I was shocked to see that my body actually appeared the way it did: my stomach was not this flat in a very long time, nor was my waist this defined in particular. I also loved how my shoulders and legs were well-proportioned in my composition overall.
Granted, due to adapting a more on-the-go lifestyle with my classes and club meetings, I started increasing my steps drastically and pre-portioned my main meals in tupperware, restricting the probabilities of grazing around and eating extra carbs, sugars, fats and calories and whatnot.
Eventually, my body reached a point where the physical demands I’d exert on it got out of hand. Ignoring my stomach growls in class became harder when my professors prohibited food in class. Hiking on opposite sides of the campus, lifting heavy loads at work and pushing 100% at the gym for at least an hour a day took such a toll on my energy levels that even the most basic actions, whether reorganizing my shelves or cleaning the kitchen, felt like a mini workout. I figured that I needed more calories to suffice the energy. And who would hesitate on eating more food to compensate?
I thought that loosening up a bit would do no harm. I increased my intake of peanut butter, cereal and Lenny and Larry’s cookies, which are not harmful overall, but do contain significant amounts of fat, added sugars and calories depending on the product. I also added more volume of vegetables in my diet, ate an extra sweet potato a day and stopped eating once I reached a somewhat uncomfortable feeling of fullness. I thought that I could easily maintain my perfectly defined stomach and waist on this diet, but in a month’s time, fate had other plans.
Taken on November 13th, this captured not just the body I saw in the mirror, but the utterly terrible body image that clouded my mind and my perception of my appearance. From a practical standpoint, I knew I wasn’t fat. I was far from being overweight, let alone the fat threshold. However, I felt utterly disgusting. I could feel the loss of definition as my abdonimal area accumulated a thicker layer of fat, which also creeped its way to my thighs, face and upper body. My hoodie became a necessity to cover my constantly bloated stomach that got harder and harder to suck in. Unfortunately, it was so hard to escape the habit of binging on peanut butter and cereal, despite the brain fog and stomach cramps that came afterwards. I felt sick–sick with myself and with my routine. So I quit cold turkey.
But no matter how hard I worked, how clean I ate and how discipline I was, the number on the gym scale kept increasing and my self-esteem plummeted with it. Even though it was away with the overload of sweet potatoes, the overload of peanut butter, the overload of Lenny and Larry’s cookies (despite them tasting so darn delicious), the number on the scale wouldn’t budge. Fitting into my jeans, leggings and sports bras was a daily struggle. Every night I’d pinch at the rolls on my stomach and the love handles around my waist, feeling more appalled at myself.
I never felt so discouraged by anything.
The photo above (shot on December 3rd) records the absolute worst mentality I had with myself. I was never more sure that I had thunder thighs, cellulite, a muffin top and cankles galore. I hated everything I saw. Even when I’d perform the test and clench my legs, I didn’t care if my new “bulge” was fat or muscle. I didn’t care if I gained some fat in my lower body that I needed for fertility and necessary survival. I didn’t care if I gained some muscle mass that actually increases my metabolism and enabled me to run faster, lift heavier and persevere through a harder workout. No Jen Selter or Beyonce photo could give me the confidence in my larger glutes that I might have needed. I wanted it all off.
I’ve lost weight before, so I didn’t understand why this case was even more frustrating. A possible reason is because I’ve reached a level of fitness that is not as dramatically phased by the basics. Pertaining to the fat vs. muscle argument emphasized above, my mentality drove me to take action to change what tore me so much from the inside. So I did what I’m ashamed to admit that I did. I asked Google on how to slim my legs.
With the research that I accumulated, I stopped performing heavy-leg isolation exercises that I’d perform on a daily basis, such as lunges, jump squats and deep squats, along with no more night-time peanut butter and granola. I turned more to explosive jumping moves like burpees, tuck jumps, star jumps and plank jacks as alternatives. And surprisingly, it worked.
Taken just yesterday, I stuck to the revised fitness regimen for a little less than two weeks. Even by the first week, I saw a dramatic difference in my physique–I finally found the inner thighs and abdominal definitions I enjoyed at the beginning of the fall quarter. I currently follow a vegan plant based diet and try to prioritize whole foods and drinking water as often as I can, all while allowing myself reasonable portions of nut butter and cereal for dessert. Alternatively, I have pieces of a vegan protein/nutrition bar or vegan protein edible cookie dough (I ADORE The Lion’s Pack) because I feel more satisfied and less sluggish afterwards.
Why I talk about this is because I am not at all proud of how my mind guided me to where I am today. Don’t get me wrong–I am grateful that it pushed me to change what I couldn’t accept, and I learned a great deal from my frustrated inner voice, even if it came from a negative standpoint. Just like certain bosses, professors and toxic friends we deal with in our everyday lives, we have acquaintances who have particularly demeaning and abrasive personalities that don’t click with us. We’re all human and that’s okay. But if there are certain people like that who you just absolutely cannot remove from your everyday life, then allow them to help you grow into a better individual. That’s exactly what I had to do with the voice in my head that wouldn’t stop with “fat, fat, fat“.
In the midst of my mini journey of getting back into my pre-fall quarter body, I knew that I needed to have a serious and honest discussion with myself, specifically with my internal voice that drove me towards the vanity route. It wasn’t an entirely terrible being–it just lost the understanding of what healthy and fit means. No number, whether a quantity of pounds or kilos, a clothing size, a waist measurement and most certainly not any amount of calories expended, can truly define what health and fitness are. For a reason that I have yet to pinpoint–maybe it ties in with the pressure that I placed on myself as being the girl who “has and can do it all”–a part of me shielded this fact away from my head, and I allowed the worst mindset to get the best of me.
I don’t entirely regret taking action to alter my leg composition. My mind needed to detox from its cloud of self-loathing in order to reflect on my journey with a more open understanding. I knew that this inner voice wouldn’t budge unless if it had nothing to pick at. I acknowledged its presence, which is ultimately what it wanted. All I had to do from there was to befriend this voice and teach it to be kinder to myself. In terms of taking action, I reduced my time spent in front of the mirror and stepping on a scale. I’ve also channeled my energy into choosing different workouts where I can push myself to higher limits, specifically by getting back into kickboxing workouts and finding ways to increase my flexibility. While some people choose not to own, let alone use a scale, I can embrace a healthy weight range that isn’t fixated on one single number.
I know that if my body is ever to gain weight again in the future, then it might signal that it needs a break, just like how it did when I tirelessly overworked myself from studying and working. Not that I forget about working out and eating healthily, but I enjoy the mini vacation and get back on track when I’m ready. However, the recovery of my relationship with my mind has proven to be the most significant. When I kept gaining weight, I gained the drive to re-evaluate the way my inner voice treated myself and regained self-love with it. I know that as long as I am open to listening to myself and ready to heal myself when the time is necessary, then I can persevere through anything. ❤