Body Image, Body and Soul

private insight
private insight (Photo credit: contagiousmemes)

There seems to be an inevitable progression women follow in the childbearing years. Your body expands, its imperfections get pushed around by little ones, and when it’s all over you never quite look or feel the same as you did before. You gnash your teeth, you adjust your eating habits, you lose some or none or most of the baby weight, and then you do it all again. Eventually one day you look in the closet and realize you hate all your clothes because when you wear them, you see all the imperfections. You look in the mirror and curl your lip, and then you have to decide what to do about it.

You adjust your eating and exercise habits some more, but the constraints of family life prevent you from doing everything you’d like to do. At this point, you have several choices. You can resort to an unhealthy pattern of unsustainable diet and weight gain. You can do the best you can without dieting and make peace with a body whose shape you don’t really like. You can say “forget it, I am who I am, and who I am is someone who doesn’t like exercise and does like brownies and ice cream and pasta and…”

Or you can knuckle down and undertake the long-term discipline to make a permanent change.

As a teacher of natural family planning, everything I believe is tied up in the fact that body and soul are inseparably connected, two facets of the same jewel. The way I treat and use my body matters. So for me, throwing in the towel isn’t on the table–this is an issue of holy living. If my body has this innate dignity, I have to treat it as such, keep it at a healthy weight and strength, treat the problems incurred by multiple pregnancies and C sections.

That also means I can’t succumb to the rollercoaster of diet and weight gain. I’ve seen that play out, and the long-term effects are not pretty, for either body or soul.

When I started counting calories two weeks ago, I was pretty suspicious. The last thing I wanted was to hop on that roller coaster, and to me, that’s what calorie counting has always represented. But it turns out that all the protein and carbohydrate counting I’ve lived with for the last six years, for PCO and “silent” gestational diabetes, has taught me how to balance. The calorie count is the bottom line, but all paths to the same calorie count are not equal. And although I have to learn to approach cheese and eggs with a new restraint, in general my outlook on “good” food versus “food-to-be-careful about” holds up under this new system.

I’m finding new motivation and learning new levels of self-discipline. If I keep to half a stuffed chicken breast, I can have a 2×2 square of brownie and still hold the line. I can’t have a 4×4 square like I would have before, and I certainly can’t have ice cream with it (at least, not without shifting the whole day), but I’m not required to give up all enjoyable things. I like how my body feels in my clothes. I like what I see in the mirror.

What’s more, the way I feel is changing. I’m not dragging so much. I’m sleeping better, I’m finding motivation to be active every day (because it impacts how much I’m allowed to eat!), and my head is clearing. I’m seeing pathways out of the quicksand of imbalance in areas of my life besides food.

I’m only two weeks in. It’s entirely possible that down the line I’ll fall off the wagon or decide there’s something better. But at the moment this works. It works without requiring me to eat something other than what my family eats. It works without being draconian, now that I’ve added some calories back in to account for the remnants of breastfeeding. It works because the accountability of online recordkeeping keeps me honest.

It’s working for body and soul, and in the end, that’s the most important part.