Body image, mental health, fitness
Where do I start this?
I guess it makes sense to preface this post by saying that I came here today to discuss my experience with a couple things: body image, fitness, physical health, and mental health. Bear with me but also be gentle, this is going to be long and I'm about to get more vulnerable than I've ever been in my life in a very public way.
Growing up I was generally an active kid. Granted, in high school I often worried to the ends of the earth that I was "too fat" and needed to be "skinny", but I think now that I am 22 I can finally say that my concerns were unwarranted and I might've known that all along deep down. I was in decent, if not good, physical shape and health. I occasionally participated in school sports and athletics, lived at home, and ate balanced meals straight out of my mother's kitchen. In the months leading up to university, my best friend and I joined a gym and worked our asses off because we wanted to be in our best shape once first semester came 'round. I enjoyed it. It was a social activity, I felt productive and healthy, and that post-workout high really is just great.
However, as university began and progressed, I underwent a lot of changes both physical and mental. First was the change of finally living on my own and being more or less in charge of any and all immediate decisions including the food I ate, where I went, what time I slept etc. This was fun... initially. Second, and more seriously, was culture shock and the anxiety of being in a completely different social environment. I had uprooted myself from the only place I knew as home (Dubai) and moved some 6700 miles away (Toronto)***. I didn't acknowledge or understand these changes until about a year ago, but they affected me a lot more than I knew then. In fact, I think I dealt with anxiety for whole years before I was able to recognize it without dismissing it as me "overreacting". Anyway, the point is that my physical health slowly took a turn for the worst. The stress of university coupled with an erratic lifestyle and lack of balance made it easy for me to put off exercising altogether while still focusing heavily on my body image and worrying about the way I was perceived by others in social situations. A few things here created a menacing spiral: 1) I wanted to fit in and assimilate into a group of friends like I had in high school, 2) I thought being "fit" and looking a certain way was paramount to achieving point #1, and 3) I lacked time and motivation, hence tirelessly stressed about not working out. Think of it like a mental block that stopped me from doing something I badly wanted to do. It's hard to explain coherently, but I'm sure you can see how this might negatively impact someones well being.
I ate badly, my acne got worse and worse, my clothes started to get tighter, I started to get more and more anxious, and I somehow avoided exercise even more. These issues festered gradually and steadily for four years. Some of my worst moments included multiple anxiety attacks that made it very difficult to be social, optimistic, and friendly. As a result, I have developed a miserable relationship with food and my body. I am a massive advocate of accepting and loving yourself/others as they are and wish to be, as long as their actions don't physically and/or mentally harm others.
Simply put, I just haven't been able to do that with myself.
From the time I moved to Canada, I have put on 35 lbs. I eat takeout every single day. And everyday, I realize and physically feel how badly this food is affecting my body but continue to eat badly to suppress those feelings. I reflexively reach for food as a response to stress, anxiety, and unpleasant situations. I start a new workout plan every few weeks and stop before the first week is up because "I'm not strong enough", "I'm never going to finish it anyway", and a slew of other similar excuses. I know all the ways I'm behaving destructively but just haven't adopted the right tools to tackle these behaviours yet.
So, this is me putting it all out on the line. This is me unlearning a self-destructive way of thinking and trying to set things right. Change is in order. Not because I want to lose weight or look a certain way because frankly I'm tired of that line of thought. I look like me and I always will. And I'm slowly learning to understand why that's an amazing thing.
This shift in habit is absolutely necessary because my lifestyle directly affects every other aspect of my life. I have struggled with acne and low immunity for the better part of a decade. I have allergies which affect my respiratory health and my stamina is in the toilet - I can't walk 5 minutes without feeling out of breath. This type of spiralling behaviour and anxiety = no bueno.
And let's be honest, my clothes just don't fit me anymore and I don't have the kind of budget to do a complete closet turnover.
Starting May, I'm going to start building positive changes into my lifestyle and I wrote this so I would stay accountable.
Elle Fitness & Social Club do monthly fitness challenges to keep you going to group fitness classes 5x a week for 4 weeks, and I'm going to participate. This is absolutely not sponsored, it's simply a way to keep myself going and keep myself accountable. A set goal, a set number of workouts to tick off, and a positive environment to do that in. I'm not going to vow to go off unhealthy food because that's not something you wake up and decide one day and actually can follow through with when your diet depends on takeout. Instead, I'll make better choices. Baby steps, always.
Never in my life did I think when Alistair and I started What We Wore that I would ever come on here and discuss an issue that is so personal and close to me, but I've realized that being indifferent to my mental and physical health is a dangerous route to take. I hope to write about my experience with body image, fitness, and anxiety more in the future as I go through positive changes simply because writing is one of the most cathartic experiences I can give myself.
If you have gotten this far into the post I want to say thank you for being patient and for following us along on our journeys. My intention was not to write this as advice, but if even one person related to this remotely, I'll have accomplished more than I could imagine. I would absolutely love to read/discuss your thoughts about any of the subjects addressed in this post be it in a comment, email, or DM - I'd love to talk.
On a concluding note, if you are struggling and require support, know that it is always available.
Mental Health Helpline (Canada):
***Yes, Alistair and I came to university together so I wasn't completely on my own per se. However; there are some things you have to fix for yourself and that all the familiarity, love, and care in the world can't help unless you help yourself first. That being said, Alistair has been my rock through any number of personal demons, and I can't be more thankful or grateful for him. He's helped me become the best version of myself that I have ever been and makes me want to be better every single day.