And you have been found wanting…
At the beginning of January, Mr H and I decided to start exercising together and cut back on sweets and takeaways because we wanted to see a change and because perhaps we were feeling a little festively stuffed. I also wanted to have a bit more muscle to deal with an increasingly energetic baby.
It’s been great.
We’ve really enjoyed working out to YouTube videos and attempting to eat healthier but old habits and insecurities are wanting to surface and as I’m fighting them off with body positive talk, I realize how much damage a negative body image can have and how costly it is on your life
My battle with body image is a long, tumultuous journey that is ongoing – as is with most events in history, it only takes the smallest of whispers & actions for everything to change and when it comes to weight, a flippant comment about whether you should take the last biscuit, a pair of jeans that used to fit just right and are now a little too tight, heartbreak, depression and anxiety can all lead to deep insecurities, the need for control, and drastic changes. Weight loss is an addiction. Low self esteem owing to thinking that you are over weight is destructive. Whilst weight loss can begin with good intentions, it is the easiest path to despair.
So whilst I’m gearing up for better food choices and more activity, I can’t ever forget where I’ve come from, where my path began and the price I have paid…
Before my brother died when I was 9, I was very active. Together (the age gap being only two years) we did a multitude of activities but upon his death, the idea of being a single entity and showing up alone to anything, being that poor only child, turned my insides out and made me shake in fear. I dropped out of everything and started eating a lot more, finding a friend in chocolate and junk food – I’ve always loved eating (people are always amazed by how much I can put away), but without the exercise, the weight lovingly embraced me as one of its own. Puberty was also not kind and she didn’t so much as steam roll me as inflate me like I was a Zeppelin.
But it wasn’t until High School that things really began to darken. I never thought about the way that I looked…and then suddenly, I couldn’t help it. It became the very air that I breathed; comments from guys in class and the magazine 17 with its skinny models made me want to look different so that people would see me differently. I wanted to wear all the latest fashions but they didn’t suit me and every day I fantasized about being thinner and thus, being seen.
I moved high schools when I was 14 and led a slightly more active lifestyle but I was never happy with the way I looked. All my friends were thinner than me and wore cooler clothes than me so I buried my self doubt in sarcasm, humor and flirtatious behavior.
In college I experimented with different fad diets and whilst I was growing into my body, I wasn’t breaking down that wall of self loathing. I loved watching programs such as What Not To Wear (probably only the Brits will know what that show was) and got books on what clothing and color schemes would suit my body type in an effort to feel better.
I started university in 2007 and living on my own meant that I had complete power over what I ate which meant that losing weight was slightly easier. I tried to exercise and when I joined the performing arts team in my first year and had seriously lengthy rehearsals twice a week, I managed to stay at a good weight.
Then I met Mr H.
We had a long-distance relationship with me flying over to Cape Town or Johannesburg to visit every July and every Christmas.
The problem with relationships is that they can smother you in complacency and as you’re surrounded by love hearts and turtle doves, it was just too easy for us to eat more as we tried to cram in a year of date nights into a couple of weeks.
After my first trip in 2008, I returned home in September for my second year at University and felt so miserable that I ate more to counteract it and moved less. I was putting away an entire tub of Ben n’ Jerrys ice cream in one sitting. By December 2009, I was 70+kg and despised my body. I was controlling everything I could because I couldn’t control how I ate and I wanted to rip my very skin off.
In January 2010 on my visit to South Africa, Mr H proposed.
Women are under so much pressure to look magical on their wedding day and to have the most beautiful wedding possible. The world seems to have forgotten that it’s about two people uniting together and instead, it is seen as a day to spend a ridiculous amount of money on and to try and look as Pinterest-worthy as possible.
I wanted to be the perfect bride.
I wanted people to see me at my best.
I wanted to look back at my photos and marvel at my tiny waist and toned arms.
I went full-steam ahead with my new “eating” plan – the plan being to eat as little as possible and reduce my calorie intake to 600 per day – the recommended intake for a woman is 2000 a day. I was anal about every single calorie I put into my body and each week I wrote out a list of what I could eat for each day. This is an example of one day:
Breakfast: One apple + cup of hot water with a slice of lime.
Snack: Small handful of nuts.
Lunch: 3 rivitas with smear of low-fat cream cheese and thin slices of cucumber.
Dinner: An apple and a mug of hot chocolate.
And as you can imagine, the weight flew off within months but boy was I a grumpy, lethargic mess. I was impossible to be around and I my relationship with my family became strained and tainted by my mood swings.
In September 2010, weighing 57kg, I officially moved over to South Africa and I got what I always wanted, the exclamations of friends and family, “oh wow Shante, you’ve lost so much weight”/”you’re so thin!”. I was in my element but I had to keep it going….at least until the wedding which was only in February 2011. The problem now was that I was once again living with my parents and could not control fully what I was eating. But hurray for vomiting right?! In what seemed like a stroke of pure genius, I decided that in order to stay thin and “happy”, I should just throw up everything I ate. It seemed like the perfect solution…and I can’t believe how delusional I was.
19th February 2011 – Wedding Day. I weighed 54kg and was a bitch to everyone. But damn I looked good.
The first two years of marriage saw me yo-yo, trying fad diets and half-ass attempts at exercise but nothing helped. I got angry with Mr H when he wanted to talk about my bulimia and I got even angrier with myself because I was losing my grip on my weight.
It’s so tragic to look back over the years and realize that I can pinpoint certain memories only because I remember how much I weighed at that time.
It took a lot of energy, prayer and conscious effort to break through the crippling hold that my low self esteem was having and I never could fully untangle the thread of distorted body image – like headphone wires, I could put it away neatly and positively but just one bad moment (eating an extra big slice of cake, trying on clothes that looked terrible, seeing myself in an unflattering mirror) would tangle it up so bad that it could take weeks to unwind.
I’m not going to lie and tell you that I wasn’t super nervous about weight gain during pregnancy.
I was paranoid.
I’d read all sorts of horror stories of cankles, bloating and women who used to be thin and could never shift the baby weight. I read up, extensively, on how much weight a women should healthy put on and what belonged to the baby. I was determined to not let this be my time to “eat for two”. Strangely though, it was actually a time in my life whereby I had my best relationship with food because I was doing it for someone else. I knew that I couldn’t throw anything up because my baby needed nutrients. I ate carefully and exercised as much, but as carefully as I could.
I just knew that this couldn’t continue into her life and I did not want to be the cause of any health issues for her.
Holding down multiple businesses and keeping up with Rosie really helped get my body back to an even better state than it ever has been.
It’s a struggle though. I have never been one of those types who have enjoyed exercising and it was only through my pregnancy that I started finding workouts that didn’t make me wanna give up.
Why am I sharing all of this with you?
Because I’m 100% sure that I’m not the only one who daily battles with their body, who wishes they were a little tighter here and a little smaller there. I bet my path is not a lonely one, that there are others who have been walking it for years.
I’m sharing because, at any weight, you can still feel rubbish about yourself and it’s so easy to look at someone and think that they have it all together when actually they could be going through the same battles that you are, they just mask it differently.
I’m sharing because I don’t have all the answers and I never will but I can tell you that it takes courage, small steps to keep moving and the knowledge that “healthy” is not surviving off of kale chips, denying yourself treats, and critiquing yourself in the mirror every hour.
And I’m really sharing because I want us all to imagine a world where body image doesn’t take up so much space in our minds. I get so angry with myself thinking about how many wasted moments there have been in my life where I have dedicated my energy to thinking about my weight and what I should and should not eat. Being consumed by your body image is EXHAUSTING. It wrecks you. It is a cruel and demanding presence that is not befitting your inner beauty.
I’m going to carry on with exercising – having Mr H doing it with me is a great motivator. I want to eat more thoughtfully with a focus on beneficial eating and not restrictive eating (I still love my chocolate). I know that every morning is a test to my perseverance in regards to not slipping back into old habits but looking into Rosie’s face, I know that I do not want this for her future and thus I must work harder. It won’t be easy but by God I’m going to keep going.
*I’ve been asked by a few people on the exercises that I do so I’m putting together a post on some Youtube Videos that I’ve come across for ALL types of athletic ability and I’ll be sharing that soon.