A few weeks ago, I found a photo of myself taken just weeks after having my twin boys, and I was amazed.
“Look at how big I was,” I couldn’t help but say. My husband was quick to defend me, but I didn’t mean it in a negative way. As I looked at my former self, I didn’t feel disgust or embarrassment. Actually, I felt the opposite. Although baby weight hugged my frame relentlessly – and I was the biggest I’ve ever been in my life except during pregnancy – I couldn’t help but feel appreciative of my former body.
We are often taught to be ashamed of our imperfections. We should want to conceal our blemishes and hide in embarrassment at perceived failure. But this doesn’t usually lead to health and happiness. If we want to truly be healthy in mind, body and spirit, we have to stop being our body’s enemy and start being its advocate.
Here I am just weeks after welcoming my sons, George and Elias:
When I look at this picture, I first see a smiling new mom who is exceedingly grateful to be out of the house! (Even if it means sporting maternity clothes and figuring out how to care for month-old twins at a Toledo Mud Hens game.)
But I also see a fiercely loyal body. A body that stretched when my babies grew, nourished my children, awoke at the faintest cry several times throughout the night, and somehow functioned throughout the day on limited sleep.
I also see a body that ran on any food my hands could grab, whenever I managed to remember to grab it. And, through it all, my body asked only for what it needed in the subtlest ways – a rumble of the tummy or heaviness in the eyelids. Throughout the hardest time in my life, my body was my quiet companion, feeling every ounce of stress and exhaustion, yet bearing it all.
Nine months after my boys were born, I was ready to work towards losing that baby weight. But this time, as I mounted the elliptical, I felt different. This wasn’t college, where I was mercilessly counting calories from frozen dinners and silently bargaining with the workout machine to make my “calories burned” number grow faster. This time, I was exercising for my body, not for what I wanted from my body. I told my body: Move. Stretch. Sweat. Breathe. This is for you.
Over the last year, I’ve challenged, nurtured and listened to my body – at least as much as my life with twins would allow! I worked on the elliptical. I ran. I lifted weights. I dabbled in Jillian Michaels and Shaun T workout tapes, and now I’m training for my first-ever half-marathon (gulp!). And, after more than a year of no exercise during most of my pregnancy and postpartum months, it feels good.
I’ve seen a lot of positive physical changes from my work in the last year. I’m below my pre-pregnancy weight, and I’m fitter and faster than I’ve been in a long time. Even though I’ve gone through diet and exercise programs quite a few times in my life, I believe one thing has helped me be successful this time around: gratitude. Rather than focusing on calories, pounds or size, I focused on loving my body. Loving it enough to help it get strong, feed it the right foods, and rest when it needed it.
Yes, I’ve had bad days: Days where I felt so gross and fat, and I really, really wished I would have noticed the dried baby food in my hair before making a public appearance. But that’s normal, isn’t it? I just stop it before it consumes me. If I catch myself squeezing my baby pooch in the mirror (I mean, what the heck is that even made of anymore?), I remind myself of what it did to bring my beautiful boys into this world. I try not to focus on what I want out of my body, but what my body needs from me.
Some days, it’s a fine line. Because sometimes I think what my body really needs is a kick in the butt. Another mile. Another push-up. Another glass of water before a snack. But everything I do, I try to do out of love.
When you love and appreciate your body, you aren’t just changing your exercise and eating habits, you’re changing your life. You’re changing how you see yourself and what you’re capable of doing. You’re changing what you believe you deserve. You celebrate success. (OMG, I did a burpee!) You also celebrate what you’ve learned from weaknesses. (Note to self: Stretch first before attempting a burpee!) When you appreciate your body, you know that any shame and embarrassment about its imperfection is a huge disservice to the many ways in which it provides for you every single day.
When I shared my story with Chaplain Julie Beitelschees, ProMedica Spiritual Care, she reminded me of this Scripture: “For it was [God] who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.” Julie reminded me that if God made us so wonderfully, we need to treat our bodies with respect and gratitude every day.
Gratitude if a powerful thing. And gratitude grows with practice. Start today. Grab a piece of paper – or an index card or a napkin – and make a list of reasons why you are grateful for your body. Whether it’s for breathing, bearing children, fighting an illness, or even digesting a ridiculously large burrito without the slightest complaint, realize how much your body gives you on a daily basis.
Your body does so much for you. How will you thank it?