The Happiness Experiment

My thighs are too wobbly, and my stomach jiggles. My forehead is too big for the rest of my face. My moles are unsightly and my butt is too flat.

My body is disgusting. Disgusting.

What do you feel when you look in the mirror?

Life will be better and we will all be happy when we are thinner and have less wrinkles, right?

Let’s reminisce about the time I entered a bikini competition.

Who wouldn’t want to look like a fitness model? Imagine how happy I would feel if I had a figure like that girl on Instagram, toned and smiling. Or her, her life looks magnificent and she just makes it look so easy. All it will take is some self-discipline in the kitchen and a few extra sessions at the gym and that could be me.

There I was. You would find me in the gym 5.30 every morning busting out my weights programme. I’d get home and methodically prepare my prescribed oats, blueberries and protein powder for breakfast. At morning tea, I’d inhale a couple of rice crackers with a smear of peanut butter and decline the raspberry buns on offer in the staff room yet again. I’d clock watch until it was lunch time to demolish the chicken, kumara and vegetables I had carefully measured out that morning and so the rest of my day would go until it was time to head back to the gym to complete my prescribed treadmill session.

For 12 weeks, the process consumed me, I became obsessive about calories, macros and my physical appearance. My mindset and attitude was dictated by my body fat percentage and I became socially isolated as I turned down invitation after invitation, too anxious about what I’d be able to eat if I went out.

I was increasingly uncomfortable with what I was slowly learning was required to be stage ready too. It wasn’t just a few nips and tucks on the diet and exercise. Thermogenic supplements used to increase the heat in the body and in turn affect the body’s metabolism were recommended to me without any potential side effect risks being explained. As stage day drew closer I would be required to take a form of laxative and other dehydrators to rid my body of fluid to achieve that ripped look under the lights and for the cameras.

If that was just the beginning, it sounded like a slippery slope to a very dark world in pursuit of the elusive perfect body.

I had overhauled my diet and my exercise regime and I was the leanest I had ever been. I took a few progress photos and I remember feeling deflated. My tummy was starting to show some definition but it needed to be better, I still had fat to drop and muscle to build.

Looking at that image 5 years on, 8 months after having a child, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I want to wind back the clock and shake my 23 year old self and tell her it wasn’t worth it.

It wasn’t worth it because of what I don’t think when I look at this photo.

Despite being lean, it doesn’t ignite memories of contentment and happiness. My relationship with my body was worse off as I scrutinised things I had never considered before. My relationships with the people around me suffered as I became isolated and my career, quite frankly, remained unaffected.

Have you worked out why I was no happier yet?

Kindness, love, intelligence, passion, creativity and determination, strength and capability, these important happiness attributes are not influenced by the way we look.

When is it that we learn that our bodies are imperfect and need to be fixed? When do we make that connection between our appearance and our self-worth?

It makes no difference to my 8 month old daughter how big my forehead is or how wobbly my tummy is.

From the time we can comprehend our surroundings, advertising preys on self-doubt, encouraging us to perceive a problem with our body size, skin tone or dress sense and then gratifyingly provides the weight loss and muscle toning or anti-aging solution. Malls, department stores, television and social media – they are all insecurity dens.

The thing is, I am no longer that susceptible girl I was. My body is not disgusting. It is an amazing machine that carried and birthed a child, that can race in triathlons and can keep up with the daily demands of life.

I wish more people understood the cost of achieving the physique of a fitness model and I wish that it wasn’t so glamourised. I wish my teenage sisters could scroll through their social pages and be inspired by the capability of women all shapes and sizes. I hope and pray that I manage to model positive behaviours, and raise Everly to have a healthy relationship with her body.

Let’s start the change within ourselves

Stop thinking that one day, when I’m thin enough, or less wrinkly, I’ll be happy. Don’t wait until you have lost weight to swim with your kids at the beach, to be in photos or to be intimate with your partner.

Choose now to live, choose now to be happy. Choose now to be strong and capable, passionate, creative, loving and determined. Your body deserves love and respect, just the way it is.

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The Simple Things

I’m not generally one for new years resolutions, I am more of a creature of continuous improvement, but this year I promised David, my fiance, that I would slow down. I have coined 2014 as the year of the ‘rush’ for me – a somewhat stressful full-time job, part-time university study, co-ordinating over 50 High Tea Honeys events and somewhere in there squeezing in football and Toastmasters. Naturally, time for those closest to you ends up too far down the priority list, as do the simple things such as sleep, exercise and eating a well-balanced diet. Fortunately for me, David has supported me without complaint but one evening over dinner he politely asked me if I was going to take it a bit easier this year and I agreed that I would.

I finished up my sales job just before Christmas and am incredibly excited about starting in the consulting world next week. The five week break has been a blessing, it has done wonders for both my mental and physical health. I chose not to enrol to summer school, as tempting as it was to knock another uni paper off, and instead I have taken the opportunity to take a break from that feeling of always having something that I should be doing. Instead, I have focused my time and energy on the basics – daily exercise, nutritious meals and time with family and friends. I feel like a new person and I am determined not to slip into old habits. My focus is on adequate rest and executing my planning efforts.

These are the principles I have set for myself to abide by:

  • Practice meditation as daily as possible. I was recently introduced to an app called ‘1 Giant Mind’ (a by-product of actually having the time to contribute to online communities about things I am interested in). I absolutely love it. For someone who has always been curious about meditation and not that comfortable with the idea of sitting in a room full of strangers doing it for the first time, starting out proved to be a challenge. With 1 Giant Mind, I am learning to meditate in my own time and it’s perfect for me. I’m aiming for 30 minutes at the beginning of every day to calm my mind and prepare me for whatever the day throws at me.
  • 8 hours sleep. This is non-negotiable, no matter how much work or study I have on, it can wait. On top of this, phone/tablet/computer – all off at least 30 minutes before bed.
  • Get it done today and do it perfectly enough. Don’t put off until tomorrow what can be done today. Also, note the term ‘perfectly enough’, striving for perfection can be a barrier for me, if I don’t think I can do something perfectly, I will procrastinate about it for weeks. In the last year or two I have become better at this but still something I struggle with, especially when it comes to work and study.
  • Be realistic about what I can fit in around the commitments I have made to myself. If ‘extra curricular’ activities are going to chew into the time I should be sleeping, meditating, exercising, preparing nutritious meals or spending time with my partner in a well planned out week then I have to say no.

I have already started this week with the decision to hang up my football boots for the season and by setting a goal this year to only complete half of the uni papers I completed last year. I am treating the simple things with the same importance as I would a work meeting by scheduling non-negotiable time for myself. I am enjoying my new lifestyle and I am committed to keeping it up, even after I have started my new job. Wish me luck.