My weight-loss journey crept up on me, and so did the impact it had on my mental health. After I graduated from college, I started a new job. I had a new schedule and more time on my hands. All of a sudden, the hours that had eluded me in college opened up and presented an opportunity to get to the gym. I made small goals for myself, and those goals turned into major changes to my lifestyle, my sleep schedule, and my physique. These are all great lifestyle alterations, but I had no idea I'd end up losing more than just weight in the process. It would take me months to gain back what I truly needed: peace of mind.
It would take me months to gain what I truly needed: peace of mind.
I felt pretty comfortable in my body for most of my life. I knew I could afford to lose a few pounds or get a little stronger, but those things didn't keep me up at night. My fitness journey stemmed out of a desire to try something new. It started with a few high-incline walks on the treadmill and a first attempt at Whole30. What can I say? I love a challenge.
As I changed my dietary habits and added a consistent workout routine, I saw the number on the scale drop. The results were unexpected, and my response to them was even more so. I kept up with the clean eating and increased the intensity of my workouts. Slowly, over the course of six months, I lost 30 pounds and the waistband on my "skinny" jeans loosened. I could lift heavier weights and complete more reps. I played coy as people fed my ego with positive comments about my physical appearance and secretly internalized every word. And, yes, I took way too many selfies in the gym mirror.
I wish I could say I reached the ultimate level of self-love once I met my "goal weight," but instead of feeling joy in my progress, I developed a superficial fear that I'd revert back to the way I looked before. I focused on maintaining my results so much that I cut off foods and activities that would normally bring me pleasure. I'd weigh myself almost daily, praising or cursing the scale if the number changed in either direction.
This behavior is just as unhealthy and disordered as it sounds. I got so caught up in my physical development, I forgot to nurture my mental wellness at the same time. Thanks to the help of my therapist and dear friends, I became aware of the slippery slope my "healthy living" had become. It wasn't about what I was doing — those lifestyle alterations were nothing but positive. It was about how I treated myself as a result. I held a mirror up to my own choices and decided whether I wanted to build experiences around my body or build my body for experiences.
Six months after my fitness journey began, I hid my scale. Gradually, I gave myself permission to enjoy a little junk food again, just for the heck of it! I tried to let go of strict expectations of gym attendance and performance and instead made a goal to be active every day. I started to write in my journal about the progress I could feel rather than see and made a point to emphasize my efforts in strengthening my mental health as well. These steps forward are not perfect, and sometimes I feel like my brain is walking on its own high-incline treadmill. But much like the slow and steady progress of my outward appearance, I can feel my internal sense of self following suit.