In a time when I have the most excuses to have a negative body image, I’ve found a secret weapon to keep the self-deprecating thoughts at bay: gratitude.
For most of my life, I took my good health for granted. I did not take care of my body for most of my young adult life. I ate junk and got minimal sleep. I only started to really pay attention to those habits when I got pregnant for the first time. My midwife encouraged me to keep a food journal and while I knew very little about how to eat well, I was at least more aware of what I was eating.
Then, when my husband got sick a few months later, we made a drastic change in eating habits. Since that time, I’ve learned so much about the importance of eating real food and nourishing my body well. I really do live what I believe, sometimes even to a fault where I feel guilty about compromising even in the slightest. I started to get frustrated because as we made all of these changes, my husband’s body transformed and mine did not. At least not in such an obvious, drastic way.
After my second pregnancy, I went to our holistic doctor for a full blood panel and health analysis. She found that my thyroid was struggling and that I had a gut infection and candida overgrowth. She believed that if I got my gut back on track, my thyroid may follow suit. So I did all I could. I spent months doing restrictive cleanses, took supplements, exercised, read more and tried harder, with minimal results.
Finally one day, my husband said, “I think you have to let this go. The stress of keeping up with all of these ‘rules’ is undoing any progress the restrictions may bring.” And he was so right. I had to just let it go. So I did, and then I got pregnant for a third time.
It hit me a few weeks ago that I have spent hours and countless tears weighing my mind down with thoughts about how my body is not doing what I want it to do. And all the while, my body has grown three little people. My body has cared for all three. I lift them, stand on my feet cooking meals for my family, squat to get laundry out of the dryer and lift bags of groceries out of the car.
My body has allowed me to nurse each baby for years, two of them while another baby grew in my belly. It has worked through hours of labor and pushing during birth and months of recovering from each one. For seven solid years I have been either nursing, pregnant or both. I’ve hiked mountains with babies on my back and in my sling and in my belly.
I’ve been up in the late hours of the night and wee hours of the morning tending to all their needs. I’m nursing my new baby as I type this. All of these are common, ordinary works but they are all priceless to me and my family. When I really think about it, my body has performed so well for me.
And it is not because I have earned it or deserve it. That would mean others whose bodies cannot carry out these same tasks in some way deserve that. No, my health is a gift. I thought once I started paying attention to what was “good” for my body, that meant I would no longer take it for granted. But I was still unappreciative when it did not respond in exactly the way I expected. It is time I let go of that resentment and the only productive thoughts to replace it with are those of thankfulness.
So, I have a new habit: Every time I pass a mirror and start to cast my eyes down in disappointment because of the glimpse I caught of myself, or when compare my body to someone else’s and wish mine was more like theirs, or during those moments I stand too long in front of my mirror picking the image apart, I will close my eyes, smile and think: Thank you, Lord, for this good body.
Yes, there are things I would like to change. But in this moment, I will be grateful. There is no place for frustration, only love and care for this body because it has shown up for me in the hardest and most beautiful moments. It does so many things that bring me joy.
As Brene Brown says, “I don’t have to chase the extraordinary to find happiness- it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.”