Slow The F Down
“Let’s pause for a moment… how many of you have dealt or currently deal with a body image issue or challenge with food? Raise your hand,” our Yoga Teacher Training instructor questioned us.
I looked straight down at the floor and my arm raised toward the ceiling without me even telling it to. Out of my peripheral vision I started to see others raise their hand too. I finally relinquished my shame to look up. 18 out of the 20 women had raised their hands.
We looked at each other in unison. We gave each other those nods that said, “I’m so sorry you’ve dealt with this too. I get it. I’m here for you.”
Yet, even knowing that 17 other women around me had dealt or are dealing with similar issues, I still thought to myself, “My issues must be the most ugly. The most embarrassing. No one else must think about food or body image as much as I do.”
THAT is where I was still wrong in my thinking. I am not alone in how deeply these issues have traveled. I am not alone in how embarrassed I feel about what I go through, and I how I try to laugh it off when it comes up in conversation. I am not alone in how much damn time this takes out of my every day. And I am not alone in wanting to use that time for SOMETHING ELSE. Something that matters.
And you are not alone either.
Sadie, Kady, and Courtney of BBY
I had a really idyllic childhood. I grew up on a small lake in Maine, played soccer and lacrosse, rode horses, and had amazing friends. Even into high school, I never even considered eating less to look different. I ate when I wanted to, what I wanted to, and burned most of it off being a kid running around not worrying about body image.
Fast forward into college, and things began to change. At our dining hall, they served unlimited food. Therefore, I would obviously eat as much as I could! I started to become aware of what my new friends were eating. Definitely not as much. And a whole lot more veggies and a whole lot less carbs.
As a college athlete on the Lacrosse team, I was told that in order to perform at the best of my ability, I should eat every three hours. Therefore, even if I wasn’t hungry, I damn well ate every three hours.
My friends all admired me. “WOW. You can eat whatever you want and you stay thin!” The messages coming at me were contradictory and confusing.
“I knew one day my metabolism would slow down. I was terrified. So I started picking up on my friends’ and teammates’ habits. I started limiting what I ate, only choosing the veggie based meal, and binging after a night of drinking since I was starving.“
I knew one day my metabolism would slow down. I was terrified. So I started picking up on my friends’ and teammates’ habits. I started limiting what I ate, only choosing the veggie based meal, and binging after a night of drinking since I was starving.
My sister came to visit, and I made her dinner. Broccoli, zucchini, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, egg whites and half an avocado. She looked at me in horror. “Sadie, you think this is dinner?”
I couldn’t get out of this cycle. I had changed my diet so much and started eating so much fiber that I developed a serious case of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). I started having shooting pains after every time I ate. I couldn’t sleep because I was so constipated. I stopped being able to notice when I was hungry and when I was full.
I graduated college, and even though I was not surrounded by the same people, I had internalized these expectations. I tried every single “diet” to avoid being bloated and in pain after eating. I tried going vegan, gluten free, dairy free, alcohol free, nut free, sugar free. Nothing worked. I felt out of control.
I moved to Denver, started a job, made new friends, and just desperately wanted to feel GOOD. Mentally, physically, spiritually. I had this new life, but was being held back socially because either I had a stomach ache or I was anxious about eating/drinking outside of my normal routine. These two issues started to meld together.
I decided it was time to embark on a journey through Yoga Teacher Training. I honestly don’t know why. I practiced yoga as a complement to lacrosse while in college. My sister was a teacher, and she always dragged me to her classes. I hated it as first. As a fast-paced athlete and human, I could not bring my mind or body to slow down.
My co-worker suggested I try out The River (my now home), and so I gave it a shot. I went to one class and was sold. I signed up for Teacher Training that day without really knowing anyone. I don’t know what it was about that first class, that space, or Teacher Training that was calling my name.
Yoga forced me to slow down. I couldn’t “win” at yoga. I had to sit with myself for the first time in my life. I had to acknowledge my dark side as much as my light side. I had to sit with the shame I had developed around food, exercise, and my stomach.
I loved the asana practice so much. I felt at home while teaching. I was fascinated by the history and philosophy of yoga. I was finally in a community that wanted me to feel full. I felt safe and understood.
I started to slow down both on and off my mat. On the mat, I built a self-awareness. I spent my years as an athlete comparing myself to others around me. I always wanted to win the sprints, have the fastest shot, score the most goals. However, I never considered what that actually meant for me – was that what filled up my cup? Yoga pushed to me work ininstead of “work-out”.
Off the mat, I slowed down enough to find a doctor and a therapist who were dedicated to helping my health improve. I slowed down while eating and tried to reconnect with the feeling of hunger and the feeling of full. I only spent time with people that wanted me to feel whole, without taking parts of me to make themselves more complete.
I am still working through self-acceptance, and I want to get to the point of self-celebration. I see that on the horizon, and I will not stop working until I get there.
I constantly have to remind myself that just like Yoga, this process is not a linear path to success. It is a practice that we work on every day.
After that day in Teacher Training, I was asked by my head instructors to lead a discussion on the book we were reading, “Yoga and Body Image”. My first thought was, “YES. This needs to be talked about. What an honor to guide this discussion.” My second thought was, “Who the hell am I to act like I know what I’m talking about? I still struggle with this issue. I’m a fraud for thinking I can talk about it truthfully and authentically.”
Let’s work together on ignoring those second thoughts. Let’s fight against that ego who comes in to separate us from the moment and from our tribe. Because even though I am still working on these challenges, we all need to talk about it. We need to relate to each other to feel less alone and to chip away at the shame.
So keep doing the work. And do it with gratitude. Your story is yours, but we are all in it.