Guest blog post written by Amanda Charles

My weight has cycled up and down my entire life and my self-confidence has followed suit. Like many, many other women, I’ve struggled with body image since elementary school. I’m what you would call a “serial dieter.” The diet always started on Monday and until Monday came, I would binge. Often times, the large quantities of chocolate and french fries that were entering my body left me physically ill, lying on the floor, and feeling like I would burst. This toxic cycle of binge eating damaged my ability to see the good in myself. It wasn’t until I started my internship with The Younique Foundation (TYF) that I learned how my experiences as a survivor of child sexual abuse contributed to my disordered eating and overwhelming hatred toward my body.

My abuse happened when I was very young and at the beginning of my body image struggle, because of this the shame I felt towards my body seemed to directly correlate with the shame surrounding my abuse. I had convinced myself that because my body didn’t look like society’s female “ideal” that I was somehow worth less as a human being and that because I was “worth less,” my abuse was somehow permissible. Since then I have seen countless women justify abuse under this same mistaken belief.

As I grew older, my disordered eating increased, and I routinely berated my body and myself. As I fought to bury my trauma, the continuous shame increased my feelings of body hate and in turn worsened my relationship with food.

Then one day, after weeks of job hunting, I was offered an internship at The Younique Foundation. As I learned more about their mission, I sought out materials about healing and particularly body kindness from the library of books in the TYF office. That was when I came across the book Intuitive Eating by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole. As I coupled my studying of the Reclaim Hope workbook with Intuitive Eating, I came to terms with my trauma and gained the tools I needed to stop punishing my body.

I learned about how mindfulness can help me connect and listen to my body and hunger signals. I learned to eat nutritious food, not because I wanted to lose weight, but because I wanted to feel good. I stopped making myself feel guilty for eating a cookie. There is no shame in eating a cookie, or two, or three!

Most importantly, I learned that my body has absolutely nothing to do with my value as a human being and that I am in no way responsible for my abuse. I had spent years blaming myself for something that was not my fault and then penalizing my body for it. As I’ve slowly begun my journey toward healing and body kindness, I’ve learned to allow myself to sit with my feelings rather than numbing them with food. I’ve also learned to view my body as a tool or an instrument, rather than an ornament. I had somehow fallen victim to the belief that my body existed to please other people. That is simply not true. My body exists to help me create the life that I want to live. As I’ve learned to view my body as a gift, my feelings toward it have changed drastically.

About six months ago, I became determined to be proud of my body for what it could do rather than what it looked like, so I decided to do something extreme. I signed up for my very first marathon. As I had hoped, training for and running a marathon drastically altered how I view my body. I started eating more vegetables to fuel my training, but I also started eating more carbs. I had spent so long avoiding carbs because I had been taught that they would make me gain weight, but your body actually needs carbohydrates to have enough energy to run long distances. So pasta was no longer off limits! I stopped shaming myself for enjoying dessert and instead allowed myself to be proud of how many miles I ran that day. I felt strong and powerful—the complete opposite of how my abuse and sequential diets made me feel.

I finished my marathon at the heaviest weight I have ever been, but guess what? My weight absolutely did not matter. Each hill I climbed, there were racers who weighed more or less than I did running alongside me. We were each working toward this incredible goal together, and even though some steps were full of discouragement, other steps were full of hope. Occasionally I would compare myself to runners who were physically or mentally stronger than I was. In those moments, I had to remind myself that the only race I needed to worry about was my own. It didn’t matter how long I took to get there. I was going to make it.

When I crossed the finish line, I wasn’t thinking about my pants size or how I look in a bathing suit. I was thinking “Wow! My body is incredible! It just did this crazy hard thing. I am so proud of myself.” Fifteen years of body hate and low self-esteem seemed to fade into the background as the marathon volunteers put that medal around my neck and I looked at the word “finisher” engraved on the front. I was exhausted, sweaty, and so, so happy.

Then a really interesting thing happened. After finishing a marathon, while you’re still high on endorphins, you enter the runners’ circle and guess what they hand you? Ice cream. That’s right. I had just run 26.2 miles and the first thing I put in my mouth was a chocolate creamsicle. Nutritionally speaking, one of the best things you can put in your body after a long run is chocolate milk. It replenishes a lot of the energy reserves your body used during the race. Creamsicles are essentially a frozen version of that. When you finish the race, they give you fresh bread and butter, ice cream, chocolate milk, a bag of chips, and all of the water a person could ever drink. So, I ate. Initially, I had to fight the urge to mentally count calories. After I had overcome that urge, I ate whatever my body wanted and I didn’t feel the least bit guilty. I think it might be one of the only times in my life when I’ve truly given myself unconditional permission to eat.

This was a profound moment for me because here I was, surrounded by very healthy, active people—some of these women had bodies I always dreamed of having—and we were all eating ice cream. It was then that I realized what I wanted for my body and for myself wasn’t perfection, but fulfillment. In that moment of triumph and accomplishment, I felt truly fulfilled.

I may be a marathon “finisher” but my journey toward body kindness is in no way over. Each day I have to decide to treat my body well and remind myself that my body’s appearance and my self-worth are independent of one another. As I’ve made a conscious effort to praise my body for its strengths, I have felt the weight of self-criticism lift and my self-love increase. Although I still struggle with my body image on occasion, I know that healing my relationship with my body will take time, as will healing from my abuse. Repairing my relationship with my body is a long and ongoing process, but each day that I choose to love myself I experience that moment of victory all over again.

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