Trigger Warning: Please note that this article contains talk about weight loss and calorie counting and thus could potentially be triggering to some readers.
A few years ago, I forced myself into a smaller body thinking that would be the solution to
everything. I thought the peak of my happiness would be reached when I was skinny and
when people complimented me on my looks. To my own surprise, and despite hearing that being skinny won’t fix your body image issues, I was happy when I reached my “goal weight”. I felt confident for the first time in my life and my self-esteem was rather high.
What I did not realize is that my self-esteem was rooted in fear. I was constantly tracking calories, not eating remotely enough to fuel myself and my worst nightmare was weight gain. To my own luck, my worst fear came through: I gained weight back. Almost as much as I had
lost. And it has been one of the biggest eye openers in my life.
For this story to make sense, let’s rewind to the beginning.
Despite being active and healthy throughout my teenage years, I had always been in an
ongoing battle with myself. I was not as slim or as fit as the other girls and had always
dreamed about being in a smaller body, so I could fit in and receive compliments instead of
mean remarks – from others and myself. So, in my final year of sixth form, I took action. But instead of following a sustainable approach, I went all in and started vigorous calorie counting, only allowing myself tiny amounts of food per day. Everything had to be weighed, oil was a taboo, and eating out caused me an insane amount of stress.
I did lose weight, obviously. But what I also lost was my period, a lot of hair, and my
strength. I remember standing at the bottom of a staircase, feeling as if I could not walk up
there. I also lost the healthy approach to eating that I previously had. Food was not food anymore, it was carbs, proteins, and fats. The enemy. It could ruin my day or make me feel
Ultimately, I did reach the goal I had set for myself. I felt proud and finally accepted.
A lot of men started being nicer to me, and I heavily based my self-esteem on that.
I thought I was confident in myself, but I can see now that my confidence was dependent on
other people accepting me and seeing a certain number on a scale.
Seeing that number go up and losing control was my worst fear. I genuinely thought I would
continue living this way forever, at expense of my own health and social life. However, last year a series of events left little space in my head to think about calorie counting or tracking my weight – and, to my luck, my body stepped in and reclaimed its health.
Looking back, it is truly amazing what happened to me and I feel insanely blessed to have
had my body heal itself in this way. In that moment though, I did not understand what was going on. I was shovelling mass amounts of peanut butter and Greek yogurt into my mouth every single day without even knowing why. As I had access to food all day, I pretty much had a snack or meal every hour for months on end. Whereas my body thankfully had no problems finding its way back, my mind did. I felt horrible and didn’t know why I had lost control over my eating. I started tracking again, but I could not do it anymore and went off track every single day. I tried other things to stop my weight gain, but in the end my body overpowered my mind and restored the damage I had done (with lots of peanut butter involved!).
Slowly, day by day, my mindset shifted, though. I realized I couldn’t keep hurting my body. I
could not stop my weight gain or go back to my old ways without risking my health and
social life, so all I could do is accept it and trust my body to know what it was doing. And that is when I realized, self-acceptance is the core foundation of a high self-esteem. Yes, I was temporarily confident in myself when I reached a certain weight or received reassurance from the outside world, but that confidence was fragile and could disappear very quickly.
My mindset now though, has nothing to do with the way I look or how the outside world
perceives me. I accept myself fully. I value change and accept my flaws. That does not mean
I think I’m perfect. It is much more about acknowledging that I am very much not, yet being
kind to myself regardless. With this mindset shift, my goals finally changed as well. I no longer want to be skinny. I want to be healthy, fit, and strong. Going into a gym no longer means burning a ton of calories to me, now it means getting stronger and healthier. Eating vegetables is no longer for weight loss, but for the vitamins they provide. Eating out in a restaurant is no longer associated with guilt, but with the pleasure that comes both from the food and the social interaction. This way, my confidence and self-esteem are no longer fragile. I know I can trust myself and I know this is a mindset that will drive me towards growth and not destruction.
The most important thing this journey has thought me is that being kind to yourself and
working towards being a better person will lead to happiness. Not being at constant war
with yourself, but working with yourself is going to give you the satisfaction you were
striving for in the first place.
About the Author
Sophie Fagone is a Journalism student at the FHWien in Vienna. Having spent the past year in England, she was able to discover her love for writing in English – which is what she’d love to do after finishing her studies. Besides writing, you‘ll find her either with her nose in a book, on horseback or in the gym! You can check out some of her other work here.