The first time I remember thinking “I’m fat” was around age 11. A part of me longed to be rail-thin, perhaps like some of the other girls in 6th grade whose bodies were not yet transforming.
Mind you, I was not actually “fat” at all. I was athletic. Strong. Fit. Even through high school I never surpassed a size 4. But I wasn’t super skinny, either (at least not how I imagined I’d be if all were perfect). I viewed my body as this thing that had to look good, perform at sports, and function without any serious issues so that I could get onto the more important things in life.
My point is this: I’d often resented, judged, or been at odds with my body. Even through successful athletic endeavors, through living in active mountain towns, through training and working as a yoga teacher.
Ultimately, it was a deep dive into the lesser explored aspects yoga and meditation that facilitated a shift in perspective.
(NB: It’s probably not the kind of “yoga” you’re thinking of…)
For years I regularly attended power vinyasa classes, hot yoga, and any class that felt like fitness. But it wasn’t until I slowed things down and started recognizing the power of developing awareness that things started to shift.
It wasn’t powering through a warrior series that shaped my body the way it is now. It was cultivating the right understanding of the body as sacred, brilliant, and powerful beyond measure: as a vehicle to know the truth.
If you saw your body as a path to awaken to bliss, to truth -- how would you treat it?
Understanding the Body as Powerful, Sacred, and Strong
My deepening studies in tantric yoga over the past years led me to new understanding of what this body is, and what it’s for.
An ascetic yogi is one who renounces worldly pleasures as a path to realization. A tantric approach to yoga is life-affirming: it recognizes the body as a crucial part of the path towards realization. In other words,
The body is sacred: it is a temple, a gift. It is through this body that we get to experience being human and the divinity within that human-ness.
Radical acceptance of what is – this body, this life – is a path towards freedom.
Treating the body with respect through eating nourishing foods, clearing out toxins, indulging in movement, and taking care of the mind assists in spiritual awakening.
It is through geeking out about (aka studying) this view of the body, as well as self-discovery through yogic practices (an experiential approach to feeling what the view is teaching) that have helped me make small changes in health and lifestyle through respect, love, and wisdom.
My point here is this: when motivation to change – even “lost weight” – comes from a space of love for oneself, sustained change is more successful.
Certainly more so than self-hatred.
What I Actually Did to Lose the Weight
Full disclosure: I lost this weight through consistent exercise, mindful eating, and compassionate discipline.
I did the work – I did it not out of self-loathing and punishment, but through right understanding and self-care.
(At least most of the time – more on that below).
I turned 30 the day after a 10-day silent meditation course at Dhamma Dhara. During the course, I experienced an embodied understanding of the resilience and sensitivity of the body. I also understood that, at age 30, whatever patterns or habits I have will most likely be the ones I have for the rest of my life – and if I want to change those habits, bring awareness to them and shift – this was a prime time to do that.
Here are some of the habits I wanted to shift – habits that were acts of violence towards my body:
Eating a lot late at night (a habit that coincided with years of working in the restaurant industry)
Turning to sugar and coffee when I felt tired or depressed (a pattern that worsens more whenever I feel isolated or anxious)
Binge-working in lieu of exercising (something that started happening when I launched my own business…which makes very little sense theoretically, because my business is rooted in wellness. This was the biggest wake-up call: I need to take care of myself in order to hold space for others)
So on my 30th birthday, I went for a joyful run in the woods. I measured the success not in my speed or distance or heartrate but in my awareness of the sunlight, the trees, the fresh air, the gift of being in my body.
The next day I went to a boot camp class at the local YMCA. It felt good to work hard, and to playfully challenge myself.
From there I kept up 45 minutes of exercising about 5 days per week, always checking in to see if I felt like a solo outdoor run, or a group class, something challenging or something a bit lighter. But always the commitment that I’d do something for about 45 minutes each day, at least 5 days per week. I knew that it would take time to break old habits, to establish new habits that would become the new “normal.”
Because I’ve always had slower digestion (but LOVE food), I settled on intermittent fasting to stoke my digestive fire and let go of the late-night-eating habit. I chose 16 hours of fasting between 6pm and 10am, which meant mid-morning breakfast between 10-11 and late afternoon dinner between 5-6pm. (This also happens to be a pretty standard yogic timing of meals).
What does intermittent fasting do? It fuels digestive fire, supports elimination of toxins from the body, stimulates metabolism, and supports digestive health. This was especially important to me because I noticed how poor my sleep was when I went to bed undigested; late-night eating put uncomfortable pressure on my digestive organs, abused my kidneys, and basically made me feel awful.
That said, letting go of the late-night food habit was the most challenging to kick: more challenging than staying motivated to exercise. The thing about habits is that by the time they become habits, they feel normal for the body-mind. Even when we know they aren’t helping us thrive.
That’s where compassionate discipline came in.
Balancing Discipline with Spontaneity
I love the yogic life for all of its paradoxes: laws that to the intellectual mind seem irrational, but through inquiry and experiential exploration prove to be true.
This is what I’ve discovered in my lives as a writer, skier, dancer, and yogini: a foundation of discipline and awareness in any practice opens the door to spontaneity in that practice.
Two decades of training in critical writing set the stage for success in crafting creative work.
Growing up as a Vermont ski racer prepared me impeccably for success as a big-mountain skier in Jackson Hole.
Strict study in vipassana meditation, tai chi, and anatomy have trained my body in such a way that new pathways of movement – pathways I could have never previously imagined – show up spontaneously in my dance.
And when it comes to food?
A compassionate and disciplined training of what feels nourishing opened doors to a more intuitive approach to eating.
But it did take discipline.
My body was used to refined sugar, wolfing down too-big meals, the late-night tortilla chips (my favorite) in bed. So I set a strict structure for myself to reset these patterns. This is what it looked like:
No wheat or refined sugar for 6 days per week
No late-night eating
16 hours between dinner and breakfast
After the first week, I started to feel lighter and more energized. So I continued with this for about three months.
And after three months, I started to realize that the strictness of that structure was taking over other aspects of my life in less healthy ways.
Rigidity was stifling a sense of spontaneity and joy, not only through food, but through my work, relationships, and day-to-day life.
I was, after these three months, the girl at the party who was stoked to look super fit and thin; but I was also kind of sad, and reserved. It’s not that I wanted to be double-fisting a cheeseburger and a beer; I just wanted to feel like that joyful, vibrant, wildish woman who was.
It was time to soften: to step away from rigidity, to trust that the discipline I had practiced for the purpose of training my body of what it felt like to feel good again was there, and that I could trust that feeling to guide me in how I ate and lived.
How I Gained Back 5 Pounds…and Why It’s Totally Fine
I spent last month outside of New York City and my routine. There were family dinners, get-togethers with old friends. I started indulging in delicious bread on occasion, and also sweets (I have a sweet-tooth and a passion for making sweet treats). I continued exercising daily, and naturally built up some muscle.
I noticed more the beauty of how shared meals brings us together, and I didn’t want to deprive myself of that sort of nourishment anymore.
Most importantly, it was after recognizing how rigid and isolated I felt in the old routine that softening into a more organic, intuitive one felt important.
A little levity goes a long way in healing.
And at the same time, there was this: my body is now used to just eating when hungry. Used to digesting before bed. Used to eating what is needed, but not way too much. For the most part, it craves healthy foods. And even now, when I swing to the over-indulgent side of that spectrum, I naturally make my way back to balance.
It’s a continual process in being guided by love, appreciation, and respect.
And, of course, right understanding of what this body is: the most advanced technology on the planet for experiencing love, bliss, and truth.