One of the things common things I hear from the people I work with, my girlfriends, and just people in general is, “I would be happy with myself if I could just lose these last five pounds or 10 pounds or 15 pounds.” It’s so rare that I hear somebody who says, “I’m actually really comfortable with where I’m at right now.” Because this is something that is so common, I wanted to talk about it. So I’m going to tell my own stories about identity and nutrition, but I’m also going to talk about specific ways you can change your mindset so you can be happy with where you’re at right now. I’ll also give you some tactical tips on ways that you can balance nutrition and moderation into your daily lifestyle.
How Loving Our Bodies Can Be a Positive Example for Our Kids
One of my favorite women on this whole planet who has changed my life, and doesn’t even know I exist, is Brene Brown. She says, “I can encourage my daughter to love her body, but what really matters are the observations she makes about my relationship with my own body.”
I think this is such an important topic for us to talk about, especially as women and mothers, because the work that we put in for ourselves right now is not only going to make us happier and live better lives, but also will set the stage and the tone for the example that our own children get to see. Loving yourself will change your life, but it’ll also shape how your children see their own bodies.
However, the journey to get there takes time. It definitely did for me. My journey with identity and nutrition started with creating shame around food, and ended with me learning how to have a more realistic view about nutrition, my body, and my mindset.
My Background On Identity and Nutrition
Years ago I didn’t know anything about weight lifting or “clean eating.” I stumbled across this free program on bodybuilding.com by Jamie Eason. I love Jamie Eason, we were still good friends to this day, and she was a big influence for me. Because this program was new to me, I got really excited about it. It was really fun for me and it was really exciting! I realized that if I could just change the foods that I was eating a little bit and started lifting weights, my body composition would change and I would get more of a toned, fit look as opposed to just being skinny but soft.
I did her 12-week program and I had really good results. And that’s actually how I got started in the fitness industry. Bodybuilding.com took notice of my results and that’s when I decided to start the blog. It all went from there! But something happened after I finished. The program was amazing, and then I got a little bit more extreme after that. I thought if I could get those results by clean eating, I wonder how much better results I could get if I got a little bit more strict. So I hired a coach who works with competitors. Not that I wanted to compete, I just wanted to look like a competitor. I got really strict on tracking my macros, meaning carbs, fats, and proteins. Every single gram of food that I put into my mouth had to be weighed and measured.
I was also working out a lot at that point, probably about two hours a day six days a week. But it worked. I got in really good shape. That’s when I took a lot of my professional photos. But I had so many rules for myself. I could never have alcohol, I could never have desserts, or if I did I had to do the math and make it fit perfectly into my calories and my macros. I just had so much shame around food and alcohol. I remember at one point if I would binge, I wouldn’t track it in my app that I used to track my food because I was so embarrassed. I thought if I didn’t write it down I could pretend like it didn’t happen. I even remember hiding wine bottles from my ex husband because I just had all this shame around like drinking, especially since we didn’t really drink.
And so I took a break from it for awhile and what I started to realize was that there was a really small difference between how I looked when I was tracking and being super strict and when I was allowing myself to eat based on how I felt. If I was hungry, I’d eat. If I had low energy, I would have some carbs. Was I as lean? No. Did I look softer? Yes. But most people wouldn’t notice. I decided that looking 10% better wasn’t worth the 90% extra effort.
Why Be Realistic Matters, and How Comparisons Don’t Help
In the process, something weird happened with my brain. I thought that I only looked good if I looked like I did in those professional photos. I was embarrassed for people to see me because they might think that I’m not as lean or in good shape like I used to be, which is so crazy and silly, right? Because people don’t really think that. And the truth is, is that I still didn’t look terrible. I just wasn’t as lean, but I was holding myself to this unrealistic expectation. And how many times have we all do that?
Whether or not you’ve trained to get super lean or maybe you compare yourself to how you looked in high school or how you looked in college or how you look before babies. I think one of the important things to do is to look at realistic changes. If you’re comparing yourself to what you look like in high school, you’ll never be happy. I mean, my hips are just bigger. I’ve birthed babies, and I’ll never look like I did in high school. When I was super lean, I was also miserable and I had a failing marriage. I look at my life right now and, though there are areas I’d still like to improve, I really love the life that I’m living and I’m happy. Much happier than I was when I was lean. That state wasn’t realistic for me, so making comparisons about my body now compared to what it was like back then isn’t realistic. Really, I’m happier now, and that comparison should matter so much more.
The Importance of Mindset
I learned some tricks along the way that really helped me to feel good in my skin and in my clothes. I had to learn to switch my brain and learn that there are no good foods and there’s no bad foods. Food can’t like elicit an emotion. I just started to think there are just some foods that I eat more of and there’s some foods that I eat less of. When I started to look at food that way, it stripped all the shame away from eating a certain food because there were no foods that were off limits. Even now, I allow myself to have a little bit of something if I’m craving it, and I stop when I’m full or when I’m satisfied.
Melissa Hartwig says if you order a dessert and it’s not your favorite thing in the whole world, have one bite and be done. You don’t have to finish it just because you ordered it or just because you made it. I also switched my thinking in that way because it was so hard for me to waste food. But the thing is, the food is either going to get wasted if you toss it or it’s going to get wasted if you eat it and your body doesn’t need it. It was all about shifting my mindset about how I was looking at food.
Nutrition and Exercise Tips and Tricks
I also recognized that I do feel better about myself when I eat more nutritious foods. I try to get eight to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. That sounds like a lot, but usually you can get that in one protein shake with some vegetables added to it. I also just added more veggies in my diet each day. One trick I use is to sprinkle ranch dressing powder from Costco over cucumbers or peppers so that I am adding flavor without calories.
If weight loss is your goal, at the end of the day it’s all about being in a calorie deficit. So if I know I’m going to go out and have wine with my girlfriends that night, I’ll be aware of that. During the day I’ll try to get my protein in early in the day and I’ll just focus on eating less calories throughout the day because I know that I’m going to be taking an extra calories and alcohol calories at the end of the night. Usually that works pretty well for me. Another tip is that I try to work out on the days that I know I’m going to drink. It doesn’t have to be something insane, like a two hour workout. Just get a super intense 15 minutes at home workout or go for a run or take, push the kids in the stroller for a walk.
I try to focus on getting about 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day and then stay within my calorie goals. The other thing is like if I’m going out to dinner, I love carbs. I’m not a big fan of Keto, and my body is good with carbs. But I also know that if I have carbs and alcohol in the same sitting, I usually hold onto extra weight. So I tried to decide if I want that delicious bowl of hot rolls or if I want wine at the end of the night. If I choose wine, I ask the waiter not to bring the rolls to the table at all.
The last little trick is that I try to move every single day. I always try to hit 10,000 steps. My big goal is 15,000 but then my mini goal is 10,000. Even if that means I just kind of paced around my house at the end of the night, or I’ll call my sisters and talk and walk around the house, I still got my steps in.
How to Be Comfortable With Your Body
It’s really hard to be comfortable with your body if you’re constantly comparing yourself to everybody else. The truth is, if all you do is compare yourself to everybody else, you will never be happy. I know when I walk into a room, I’m not the funniest, the prettiest, the smartest, the most athletic, or the fastest. I’m okay with that now because I also know the whole package of what I bring to the table is pretty dang awesome. I love the work that I’ve put in to get to this point and I’m comfortable with that. It took a long time for me to get to a place where I could look at my body and be really happy with it.
One of the rules that I have now is that I don’t ever retouch any of my pictures that I share online. I used to have different apps where you could whiten your teeth or smooth out the lines under your eyes. I was self-conscious about my cheeks or my forehead, so I’d use the apps to help make my face look skinnier, or whatever. I used to use them when I would post my pictures, but I started to realize that I began believing that I was only beautiful when I shared the fake version. I would take a real life, real time picture and I’d look at it and think I wasn’t as pretty, so I’d have to touch it up before I shared it. I started to realize that was really messing with my head. People would say, “Natalie, you’re awesome. I love you.” But in my head I would think they actually liked the fake version I was portraying, not the real me.
So now I try to do little things throughout the day where I was being completely authentic like sharing real photos. Another thing I noticed is that oftentimes I was sharing a lot of older photos. I was only showing the professional photos from four years ago when I was super lean or I would re-share old high school photos or college photos. I thought, that’s really silly. I shouldn’t be embarrassed to share photos right now even though my arms might not be as cut or my legs might be a little bit thicker. So I stopped sharing the old photos. I mean occasionally now and then I still do because those were beautiful professional photos, but for the most part I share it with real-time photos.
How many times have you said, “I don’t like pictures of me,” or, “I don’t want to have my picture taken,” or, “I definitely don’t want you to post a picture.” Over time, I started to just be okay with any picture that was taken because I thought, you know what, that’s me. That is really how I look right now. The more I hide from that, the less confident I’m able to feel about myself. I also stopped following people that I thought were only showing perfect photos on Instagram. I started to realize that when I saw perfect all the time around me or what appeared to be perfect, it made me feel inadequate or less than. And so if you look like all the women that I look up to that I admire, they’re the ones who are willing to share the good and the bad.When you surround yourself with people like that, you stop worrying about needing to look and be perfect too.
Another way I work on loving myself is to write words on Post-it notes and I put them all over my house. Words are so powerful and they have the ability to speak life into you. There were so many times where I didn’t believe the words, “I am beautiful.” I didn’t believe that I was worthy of love. Eventually, I just started writing those things down and I thought, “Well, if I don’t believe it, maybe if I see them enough times I’ll start to believe it.” I took a white dry erase board and I wrote on my mirror. Like, “I am a strong, powerful and beautiful woman.” It used to make me feel awkward to even say those words out loud. But there is power in speaking positive affirmations. I believe that with every ounce of my being, because I know that it’s worked for me.
If you’re struggling right now with not liking how you look, I encourage you to just start speaking positive words to yourself. It’s going to feel so weird at first and you’re going to think this is the stupidest thing you’ve ever done. You’re not going to want to tell anybody and you’re probably not going to even want your spouse to see. But I promise you it will work. It made a difference for me when I didn’t believe that I was worthy of love or belonging or that I was beautiful. Once you start speaking to yourself the same way you would speak to a close friend, amazing things will happen. Could you imagine saying to one of your friends, “Oh, you look so gross,definitely don’t post that picture.” No, we would never say those things to our friends ever, ever, ever. So why speak to yourself that way?
How Loving Yourself Can Help You Love Others More
One of the last things I did was that I really stopped judging and speaking unkindly about other people’s weight and flaws. How many times have you caught yourself saying things like, “Oh man, she’s gained weight,” or, “Oh, she let herself go.” How many times do you think things like that? Even subconsciously when we’re just scrolling on Facebook. I started to really be aware of when I was doing that. When I started to love the good parts and the bad parts, and appreciate my flaws, I started being more aware of the power of kindness and the damage those thoughts about others can have on my own thought process, and my view of others.
I really started to wholeheartedly love myself, and after that I was able to more wholeheartedly love other people. I think as mothers and women, it’s easy for us to love other people, but it’s the hardest to love ourselves. How easy is it for you to love your daughter and tell your daughter how beautiful she is or your son, how smart and talented he is? But then for us to look in the mirror and say that to ourselves, it never happens. What happened was that I started to realize that once I was able to give that love to myself, it was really powerful because I stopped looking to other people to provide that fulfillment to me. I was able to give that fulfillment to myself.
I was also able to love other people with this giant capacity that I didn’t even know existed. I thought I was able to give so much before. Once I really started giving to myself and loving myself, I was able to give and give and give in a way that I never even thought was possible. And so now I try to be really mindful when I’m around other people. If other people are making fun and teasing or calling people names, I’ll stop them because that’s not how I like to live my life anymore.
Change Happens When You Feel Uncomfortable
When I started doing all of these things, it felt so awkward and uncomfortable. But usually when things feel uncomfortable that’s when change is happening and that’s when growth is happening. It’s just like when you blow up a balloon the very first time it’s hard and it’s tight and you have to blow really hard to open it up. Then the second time and the third time it gets easier and easier.
I can just tell you from my own experience, these tips actually worked when I was in a place where I would look in the mirror and I would lock the bathroom door when I took a shower because I didn’t want anybody, even my own husband to come in and see me because I thought I was so disgusting. I remember I would not want to look at the mirror and wrap myself up in a towel and avoid looking in the mirror because I hated how I looked. It was not just nutrition and exercise that got me out of that space, it was every single day putting in the work, trying to change my mindset around what beauty really is. I had to ask myself, “what do I believe?” “Why do I believe I’m beautiful?” “What are the reasons that make me lovable outside of just how I look?” A transformation happened and I was able to bring together all of those things into one. But the mindset part was the hardest piece to change.
Giving Yourself Grace
So here’s the thing. If you are a lot heavier than you want to be, or let’s say that your self-talk is negative, or maybe had an eating disorder in the past, or maybe you have totally beat yourself up. That’s okay. Those are mistakes and the best thing you can do right now is to recognize that the best way to see success is to show yourself grace, dust off your knees and try again. My hope is that I can give you the tools, tricks, and stories that are helpful in helping you recognize that we all fail. There are times where all of our faces are in the dirt at the same exact time, and the key to success and the key to moving past that is recognizing that we’re all failing together at times and that’s okay. We’re going to rise up, stand up, and dust our knees off together.
Another quote by Brene Brown says, “grace means that all of your mistakes now serve a purpose instead of serving shame.” So let’s start to eliminate the shame around food. Let’s start to eliminate the shame around our bodies and let’s open up these conversations and start talking about ways that we can love ourselves more. So we can love everybody else more unconditionally.
Love yourselves, you deserve it.
P.S. I also cover this topic on my podcast! Listen HERE!