This is an extra special post from guest writer KaRonna Lynn about her journey to body-positivity and self-acceptance. KaRonna, like all of us, has struggled with her self-image, and here she shares her post, written specially for Real Life Mama: “The Burden of Hating My Body”
I was about 3 months pregnant and only 1 pair of pants fit well. So, naturally, I wore them every day.
One day, my kind, sweet husband said in passing, “Why do you keep wearing the same pants? Didn’t you wear those yesterday?”
Mortified, ashamed, and humiliated, I began sobbing.
I’ve struggled with negative body image my entire life.
I always felt like I was too fat or too ugly. I was always dieting and trying to lose weight.
And I was miserable.
The idyllic pre-baby body
Right before I got pregnant, I was at the smallest I had been in my adult life – and I was SO proud of that fact. I’d spent years trying to look a certain way or be a certain size and I was finally pretty dang close.
I seemed to have reached my goal, but I wasn’t enjoying my life. Everything was about how much I weighed and how I looked.
I was micromanaging food, hyper-focused on sticking to whatever diet I was on at the time, weighing myself daily, and frequently missing out on really delicious food or fun opportunities because of all the food rules I felt like I had to follow.
Even though I knew that it’s entirely normal for pregnancy to result in weight gain because, you know, we’re growing humans, it didn’t stop me from being entirely appalled when clothes stopped fitting and my belly started growing.
And even though I knew in my head it was normal, it didn’t stop the shame and embarrassment from overwhelming me when my husband mentioned I’d been wearing the same pants for days in a row.
Why pregnancy weight gain was so hard
I’d spent 26 years believing that being smaller and thinner meant being healthier. I’d almost always believed that for most of the general population, gaining weight or being bigger meant something bad.
That’s what I heard everywhere growing up.
People around me were always talking about dieting, weight loss, and getting smaller. The news talking about all these fad diets, the obesity epidemic, and the perfect workout routines.
The only popular girls in school were the stereotypical pretty thin girls – or the exceptional fat person, but only if they were funny or sassy.
Considering all of that, it’s pretty unrealistic to expect that all of a sudden being pregnant would flip off that part of my brain and I’d suddenly start thinking that this weight gain and this reason for getting bigger was okay.
I was 8 months into pregnancy before I started feeling okay with getting bigger.
And then came postpartum.
Dealing with my postpartum body
If the part of my brain that was consumed with weight & size ever flipped off during pregnancy, it turned back on pretty much as soon as I pushed my kid out.
I remember standing in the restroom a few hours after delivery, looking at myself in the mirror, and trying not to cry because I felt so afraid of looking like that forever.
Unintentionally, I lost almost all of the weight I’d gained during pregnancy over the first 6-8 months after my son was born. I wasn’t trying to lose weight, but it happened. And everyone noticed.
I got so many compliments on how good I looked after having a baby. People directly and indirectly mentioned how amazed they were that I’d dropped the weight so quickly and commended me for doing so.
Then the weight loss stopped – even though I didn’t change a thing.
And the weight gain started.
Weight loss & squishy babies
I hadn’t realized how fixated I’d become on having this ideal pre-baby looking postpartum body.
That’s ultimate goal, right? Looking like you never had a kid after having one. How awful.
So while nursing a baby, still trying to figure out sleep and feeding schedules, not getting enough sleep myself, and starting back to grad school, I tried to also start changing what I was eating so I could lose weight (aka dieting).
What I told myself was that I was making a “lifestyle change” so I could be “healthier” for myself and my kid.
And it was MISERABLE.
I had an 8 month old at home who needed me all the time. I had no mental capacity to deal with any strict food rules. What I needed was to cook whatever was fast & easy.
But did I? No.
Being healthy & all the other things I “should” do
Instead of being realistic, my kid and my husband had to suffer because of my fixation on “being healthy”.
I was stressed out to the max and constantly worrying about what we would eat. I was exhausted at the idea of having to cook a meal I deemed good enough or healthy enough and dreaded it every single day.
The list of things I “should” be doing constantly running through my head was long and loud enough to make any person feel mad as a hatter.
I should clean, should cook, should spend time with my baby & husband, should workout, should see friends, should take a nap, should schedule those appointments, should should should . . .
My stress and exhaustion and hyper-focus on food translated into less quality time with both my baby and my husband.
I wasn’t present. I was trying to plan for all the “shoulds” – especially food. I hoped that planning would make it less stressful and being less stressed would help me be more present.
But planning just made me more stressed.
We didn’t have the budget for some rigorous, restrictive plan that allows only limited foods. I needed practical & easily accessible.
I tried to micro-manage our budget in as many ways as I knew how to find room for food I deemed good enough and healthy enough.
My reality was clashing with my goals.
Motherhood was clashing with my goals
My husband, God bless his soul, had no personal desire to lose weight or change his diet so he was just eating whatever he wanted which made sticking to basically chicken and carrots 10,000X harder.
So I blamed him for tripping me up and tempting me.
(And in secret, when we were away from home, I binged on everything I wouldn’t allow myself to have at home which helped no-one).
Then I tried to guilt him into changing his diet and losing weight “for our kid” and “for his health”.
I’m still so mortified I did that.
I pushed my own body image issues onto my husband. I pressured him into feeling bad about himself so that I wouldn’t have to struggle so much.
I was not “prioritizing our health” like I tried to make us believe.
I was body shaming both of us, struggling with years of learned body image issues, and ruining the precious months I had with a still squishy baby.
My healing journey
Thankfully, I had been going to therapy pretty regularly for 3 years at this point so I was a firm believer in the power of getting support from experts.
I was struggling so much to stick to any cooking, workout, or diet plan – and had struggled with this most of my life – that I truly thought I was broken.
I thought there must have been some major issue I didn’t know about way down deep that was keeping me from being successful or consistent.
Since I’d had such great results from therapy, I wondered if there was food specific therapy to help people like me who clearly had food issues.
“Food therapy” was literally my Google search. Nutrition therapy popped up and I dove in, desperate for help and solutions.
That was the day that my life started to change and I finally started to heal.
With that one curious google search, I learned so much.
I discovered intuitive eating and learned about disordered eating (which I had been doing my entire life and is different than an eating disorder).
I learned what diet culture is, that health can be achieved at any size, and how our body image is connected to our relationship with food.
Best of all, I learned how to finally improve the way I felt about myself and my body.
Intuitive Eating & Body Acceptance
At first this all sounded like mumbo jumbo to me and maybe it does to you, too. It’s surprisingly simple, actually.
Intuitive Eating is essentially a process of relearning how to trust our bodies. We’re all born as intuitive eaters. We see it in our babies and our kiddos. They eat only when they want to, only what they want to.
Then somewhere along the way, we start to learn food rules. This food is good, that food is bad. And we learn to self-associate with food. If I eat this food, I’ll get fat and fat is bad, so I shouldn’t eat this food. If I eat that food, I’ll be healthy and skinny and people will say nice things to me.
And as we learn external food rules, we slowly stop trusting ourselves. We start ignoring our cravings and our hunger cues because that food is bad or it’s not time to eat yet.
This can slowly develop into an unhealthy relationship with food and disordered eating, which is exactly what had happened to me.
Because eating based on food rules rather than intuitive cues is so common for most adults, learning about the concept of Intuitive Eating can feel entirely confusing – even scary.
I want to protect my kids
Prior to learning about Intuitive Eating, I’d never once considered how my relationship with food or my body would affect my kids. I thought I was just focused on being healthy and that would be important for them, too.
Slowly, I started realizing that I had a very warped idea of what “healthy” meant – and it was directly correlated to being thin. I learned that from years of watching and listening to people around me always talking about dieting and weight loss, praising people’s appearance, and the negative comments whispered when someone gained weight.
After 26 years of struggling with negative body image, I know first hand that idea of health is dangerous and harmful. And I never want my kids to struggle with how they feel about their bodies or their worth the way I did.
As a mom, my job is to lead by example. I’m healing my relationship with food and healing my relationship with my body so that I can pass on a healthy body image to my kiddos, instead of a narrow and non-inclusive idea of health.
The benefits of Intuitive Eating
Healing my relationship with food has affected every area of my life. I have so much more brain space and am much more present everyday.
Dieting for years ultimately taught me I couldn’t trust myself. Healing my relationship with food has taught me how to trust myself again and now I make decisions so much easier.
As I improved the way I thought and felt about food, it changed the way I thought and felt about myself.
I didn’t lose weight yet don’t feel ugly, gross, lazy, or not good enough anymore. I don’t constantly feel pressured to be a certain size or certain weight anymore. I’m not ashamed of my body – in fact I’ve learned to make peace with my body and accept it.
And girl, my sex life has improved. (yes, I just said that)
Today, I’m more confident than I’ve ever been. I have a great relationship with food. I’m not afraid of it and I don’t have to micromanage it.
Body acceptance has been the greatest gift I’ve ever given myself – and my family.
I’m still learning, still practicing, and still have hard days. But as I plow ahead, I’m telling every mom I can about what I’ve learned, because this kind of deep freedom, this kind of self-confidence that comes from within and isn’t based on external appearance or situations, changes everything.
Your confidence is worth fighting for.
Your sanity is worth fighting for.
Your freedom from negative body image is worth fighting for.
YOU are worth fighting for.
KaRonna is a tell-it-like-it-is body acceptance educator, course creator, and coach. She helps women enjoy trying on clothes in the dressing room and not balk at the sight of themselves naked.
KaRonna lives Texas with her husband and little boy. She equally loves exploring both the outdoors and the deepest parts of life. Early mornings, black craft coffee, and heart-to-heart talks bring her fantastic amounts of joy.
You can find KaRonna’s work at karonnalynn.com and hangout with her on Instagram and Facebook, where she vulnerably shares her own journey of practicing self and body-acceptance. If you’re curious about body acceptance, Body Acceptance Bootcamp is a FB community of women re-learning how to accept their bodies.
Whoa. What a post! I feel like each and every one of us can relate to KaRonna’s story, especially our experience of our postpartum bodies.
Thank you so much, KaRonna, for sharing what made a difference for you in your journey to love yourself as you are, and for being a support to all of us as we try to do the same!
Other posts you may enjoy:
What do postpartum depression and anxiety actually look like?
Support for newly postpartum mamas — What your partner CAN do!
What I want my children to grow up believing about themselves
10 Universal truths of the parent-child relationship – a mental health therapist’s perspective