Four ways to love a messed up body.

Here’s the backstory; the four ways – how is a bit below. My body is constantly killing pieces of itself off. When I was ten, my immune system attacked my pancreas and killed off the beta cells that create insulin, the hormone vital to breaking down the food you eat into fuel for your body.

In my twenties, it decided to start treating the food I ate as foreign invaders, everything I ingested setting off the immune system response squad and leaving me in joint pain and nausea spirals.

At thirty, it’s developed a weird need to constantly break down my muscle fibers like an Olympic weightlifter and, no matter how much I try to coax it that we are not, in fact, aiming for any gold medal, my body seems to think that it needs to act like it’s training for the podium in our sleep. My shoulders are in a cycle of freezing, draining the fluid that allows me to reach and bend to the point that my joints lock up, then – months later – magically deciding we’re done with that and granting me motion again.

The cycle is frustrating but throughout it, I have to give my body credit. For all it messes up, it is trying REALLY hard to protect me. Like the guard dog who has lost all semblance of cool at the mean, scary leaf that just drifted into its yard, my body seems to have no idea that it’s in major overkill mode. Its intentions are good; it’s just supremely bad at its job.

In my early twenties, all of this overzealousness led to almost 60 pounds of weight gain. I didn’t know how to help my body away from this pattern. I found out years ago – through EXTENSIVE testing of every bodily fluid imaginable (yup, gross) – that most of my weight gain was my body’s complete lack of ability to process certain foods and that, combined with stress and just not knowing how to treat myself right, led me to an uncomfortable and quite puffy place. Learning how to work WITH my body rather than railing against it has been my key.

I’m 5’9″ and currently hover around 200 pounds, which is where I spent most of high school and college, pre weight-gain, as well. But my BMI – also known as a completely inaccurate way to account for muscle mass when speaking about weight – means that doctors tend to click their tongue at me and have what they think are groundbreaking talks with me about my health. Thing is, they’ve not been through this journey with us, my body and me.

Over the last three years, I’ve gotten rid of about 45 pounds of that weight gain, and we’re still headed in the right direction. I’ve gained a significant amount of lean muscle and feel stronger than I have since my varsity rowing days. I wear the same size pants that I did at my lowest adult weight. I know we’re on the right path, because we’ve certainly traveled down some truly unproductive ones.

And that’s why I’m so proud of my body for where we are. We’re on this path together and, however much my body tries to run off in a frustrating direction and act like an inept child, I know it deserves the same amount of care we’d give any little kid trying to find their way.

Coddling is a no, but kind guidance is a must. Frustration is real sometimes, but it’s not useful (and stress leads to inflammation, so double useless whammy) so even when I end up in tears some days because I just don’t get why my body isn’t acting how I think it should, I’ve learned to breathe through it, chug some water, and rest.

The how, then?

  1. Remember that the scale is just a bit of information from which to make informed decisions, not a measure of your worth. I eat the same thing on most days, but if I introduce something new to my system, the scale the next morning is a really simple way to see whether or not that new item caused my body to go into inflammation mode. What I eat normally will leave my weight at the same place. Drinking a ton of water, packing in the nutrients, and getting proper sleep will help me lose a bit. Ranch dressing? It’s gonna add 3-4 pounds the next day. Obviously not in fat (that’d be a lot of ranch dressing) but in an autoimmune response from my body that causes me to hold on to fluid (I’m intolerant to dairy and eggs). It’s an interesting way to analyse my body’s responses to food.
  2. Love on yourself. Spend more time naked (that was a HARD eye roll, love, but it’s an annoying cliche that’s true). Don’t be scared of walking by the mirror sans clothes. Don’t be afraid to be in the buff with your partner or by yourself. It’s hard to appreciate a body you never take time to notice or – even worse – forcefully try to ignore. That cool and calm will help lower your stress levels, which will help manage inflammation and useless hormone release, leading to your body naturally leveling out to the place of health it needs to be.
  3. USE your body. It’s really easy to forget what you’re physically capable of when you’re not moving. It can be as simple as before-bed stretching or a walk, but get up. Go. If your legs get tired quickly, good. Notice what that feels like, and how much your body is trying. Rest. Go further next time. It’s a really amazing thing to be reminded of your strength. And if it’s just not a day when you can get out of bed? Watch Wonder Woman. General Antiope is Amazonian bae.
  4. Give your body credit for how much it’s doing, even if it doesn’t look or act the precise way you want. Despite everything, it’s still trying its hardest to do its best job. As are you. Don’t forget to acknowledge that resilience.
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