Sabrina: My Journey To Self-Love

Story 6 of 10. This Body Positivity series is a project I hold dear to my heart. For years, I’ve struggled with my body image, and since reviving this blog, LoveYourzStory, I’ve shared so many of my personal stories, internal battles, and insecurities. This time, I wanted to hear your stories. I took to social media and found 9 individuals who were willing to share their body positive journey with not only me, but my readers as well. I collaborated with two Bay Area photographers, Missdirected (Instagram: @missdirected.art) to photograph these amazing people. Missdirected did not photoshop / alter any of the models’ faces or bodies. These stories are entirely written by them and in their own words, because after all, who can tell their story better than them?” -Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

This is Sabrina’s story, written in her own words:

“Today, I’m taking y’all on a journey. The journey of how little Sabrina went from an innocent girl who didn’t have a care in the world, to feeling the pressures of society and succumbing to her inner negative thoughts, and all the struggles and learnings she has gone through in the last 24 years of being in this body. So buckle up and hopefully, this story helps someone out there going through it feel less alone. 

Growing up, I always had a turbulent relationship with my body and eating habits. As a baby, I was pretty chubby, but was also a colic baby, meaning I was just a complete nightmare to be around. I would cry all the time and fuss about eating so much to the point that my mom would spend hours trying to get me to eat and had to feed me water with a spoon. I was really out here trying to dehydrate myself. Over the years, I continued to have problems with eating and would need to be force-fed by my parents. At that time, I had really poor eating habits and would waste all the lunches my parents would pack for me. 

This all changed though around the age of 8 when my body finally recognized how amazing food tasted and I started to inhale everything in my line of sight. My diet was super unhealthy at this point. I would prefer fast food instead of the home-cooked meals my parents made for me. After school, I would beg my parents to take me to McDonald’s, KFC, or Taco Bell. At McDonald’s, I would order 2 fish filet sandwiches, chicken nuggets, and maybe a diet soda to wash it down, which would all be demolished by me before we even got home. 

Around the age of 10, my family had moved to India where we ended up staying for two years during my middle school years. My school at the time offered meals on campus and it was buffet style. We would have so many options for breakfast, lunch, and snacks and no one to supervise us or tell us how much we can or can’t eat. This was literally my dream come true and I happily ate as much as I wanted and didn’t give a care in the world. 

However, soon enough, this safe bubble I was in popped. I distinctly remember a specific time when my family and I were in Goa, a beautiful beach city in India, for vacation. I was about 11 years old at the time and was starting to develop into my womanhood – aka grow boobs – and I had no idea what was going on with my body. I was playing in the ocean with my sister with our clothes on and my mom called me to come out of the water. She told me to cover myself or wear another shirt on top since my boobs were very visible under the wet shirt. I remember feeling so ashamed about this and immediately ran back to our hotel room and started crying. At this point, I didn’t even feel comfortable wearing a swimsuit because I knew my body was going through changes, and I felt so so self-conscious. I didn’t know this at the time but this was a significant turning point in how I viewed my body. I would continue to feel bad about my body for many years to come. 

As puberty hit me like a freight train, I continued to gain a lot more weight. By this time, we had moved back to California and I was starting high school. I was close to ~150 pounds being a 5’ 6” girl and my relationship with my body grew more turbulent. My doctor told me I was overweight and suggested that I exercise even though I was playing competitive sports at the time. I started comparing my body to other girls in my class and would feel so bad about myself. During track and tennis practice, I would always feel like I didn’t look as “athletic” or as “slim” as other girls in our sports uniforms. I remember hating my tennis uniform because it was a sleeveless top that made me conscious of my arm fat. I would feel bad about eating the bagels that my teammate’s parents would bring for tennis meets. I was envious of the other girls who ate whatever they wanted and their bodies still looked “skinny.” It seemed like they didn’t even have to try to look that way and here I was beating myself up about eating a bagel. 

I started to dread going to the pool or the beach because it meant that I had to wear a swimsuit. While other girls were wearing bikinis and feeling super comfortable in their bodies, I still couldn’t even bring myself to wear a one-piece without feeling fat & undesirable. Mainstream media made me feel like the ideal body type was to be skinny and have a flat stomach. I was not skinny nor did I have a flat stomach which made me feel like something was wrong with me, my body, and that I should be doing something to change my body. 

This feeling worsened every time I went to a family party and some uncle or aunty would comment on my body. “Oh Sabrina, you look like you gained weight,” or “Sabrina, you are looking better than last time. Looks like you have lost some weight.” These comments made me feel even more insecure, self-conscious, and made me feel like I had to look a certain way to be considered pretty and worthy. Word of advice to anyone who gets unwarranted comments like this from family or friends: fat shaming and skinny shaming is never okay, don’t let them get to your head. It says more about their own insecurities and way of thinking than anything else if the first thing they feel the need to comment on is someone’s physical appearance. It’s such a shallow way of looking at the world. 

Of course, I let their comments get to my head. Self-confidence was at an all-time low and my body dysmorphia led me down a very restrictive path. When I was a senior in high school, I decided enough was enough and I was done feeling bad about myself and my body. I decided to go on a very strict low-carb, high protein diet and exercised intensely every day for 45 minutes. I would have some cereal for breakfast, a salad for lunch (probably ~300 calories), maybe an orange (like a small ass cutie) as a snack, and would head to my part-time job after school.

During this time, I was strictly logging everything I ate on My Fitness Pal and was so anal about hitting my daily calorie, and macro count. My body was not getting the nutrition it needed and I started to slowly develop a binge eating disorder. I would have a very light calorie day at school, would go to work in the evening at the accounting firm I was interning at, and try to avoid looking at the table full of food that my coworkers brought. 

Eventually, I would succumb to my cravings – cause ya girl was basically starving herself during the day and was so hungry. I would take any food I could get my hands on, go down to the basement at work where I would usually file documents, and gorge myself. I would feel so ashamed for doing this that I would literally make sure no one was near me while I stuffed my face – like I haven’t had food in days. After I finished binge eating, I would usually feel so bad about myself and so physically uncomfortable. I remember one day when it was a particularly bad binge eating episode, I literally sat on the floor with food all around me and sobbed uncontrollably at work. There were days where I would go back home after these episodes and exercise to burn off some calories to make myself feel better. But this never made me feel better since I was 1) so bloated and uncomfortable 2) felt like I ruined all my progress for the day. This would usually end in me breaking down sobbing, feeling more guilt, and ashamed. I would look at my body in the mirror, hate what I saw, and to make myself feel better, I would binge eat again. 

This was a very silent struggle that I went through. My parents didn’t know that I was going through this because honestly, I was doing a pretty good job of hiding it. I would always binge either at work or late at night at home once my parents went to sleep. I would be so ashamed of how much I was eating that I would make sure to do it in secret. 

It took me a while to realize what was happening and what I was doing to myself. I knew that I was binge eating because of my restrictive diet, but I never made myself throw up after these episodes, so I never labeled it as an “eating disorder.” Boy was I wrong. One day, after a particularly bad binge eating episode, I googled “How do you know you have an eating disorder?” and “How do you recover from binge eating?” This sent me down a rabbit hole until I finally opened my eyes to my reality. If I continued down this path I knew this wouldn’t end well. I dealt with my eating disorder for almost 8 months and that was probably the lowest point in my body journey thus far. 

After months of this, I knew I couldn’t live like this any longer. I didn’t feel healthy or comfortable within my own body and I hated feeling so superficial about myself. I started to be honest with myself about what I was doing to my body and how destructive my mindset was. The summer before my freshman year of college was when I found the plant-based community and started watching documentaries like “Coswspiracy” and “Forks over knives” and read books like “The China Study” and “The Starch Solution” (highly recommend). I instantly gave up meat after bawling throughout those documentaries. I learned about the environmental impacts of the animal and dairy industry and realized I had to make a change. I also loved how in the plant-based community, there was a focus on eating nutritious whole foods and not restricting the number of calories you ate. I was vegan for the first 2 years of college, transitioned into vegetarianism after, and am currently trying to go vegan again. 

During this time, I also came across the concept of intuitive eating which is essentially eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full. Sounds easy enough right? But if you have ever struggled with an eating disorder or even followed any diet rules you know this isn’t so easy in practice. Since I had restricted certain foods and had binge-eating tendencies, my body was so out of touch with its natural hunger cues. Psychologically, I needed time to get over the diet culture mindset. It took me about 4 months to get to a point where I could stop counting calories and feel comfortable with eating whatever I wanted and however much I wanted. 

During this period, my focus changed from losing weight to listening to my body. I worked on shedding all of this conditioning I had about food, diet, and my ideal body. I was finally eating intuitively. What helped me during this time was to ditch the calorie-tracking apps and unfollowing any accounts that were promoting a certain body type.

In college, my body continued to go through many changes. I gained the infamous Freshman 15 (more like Freshman 25 in my case), and didn’t exercise consistently the first two years. That was the first time since my childhood where I felt liberated and unrestricted. I didn’t care as much about being a certain weight or looking a certain way, and I let myself eat freely without limits (with the only limit being that I was vegan but that didn’t stop me from finding the wonderful world of vegan junk food). 

Of course, this liberating feeling didn’t last long. I started to feel bad about all my weight gain and started beating myself up for letting it get this far. I would try to go to the gym to do cardio or a group class but never stayed consistent and felt demotivated by all the strength and stamina I had lost. The summer before my junior year, I discovered the weightlifting community and loved the focus on gaining strength & building muscle vs. losing weight and having a skinny figure. This was a huge mindset shift for me in how I viewed exercise. Prior to this, I always saw exercise as something I had to do to burn calories and lose weight. Weightlifting completely reframed that for me, and now I wanted to lift so that I could gain strength and see my progress. 

As I continued to weightlift throughout my junior year, I started eating more since I was hungry and wanted to gain muscle. I started to see how food is actually fuel that would help me get stronger and build muscles vs. something that I had to limit and keep track of. The last two years of college were probably the most comfortable and proud I felt of my body. I worked really hard to gain strength and shed past conditionings of restrictive eating. I felt like I finally arrived at a place where I could feel confident in my body and love what I saw when I looked in the mirror. 

Now, don’t get it twisted. I’m not saying I’m suddenly happy in my skin or that I never have destructive thoughts about my body. I still look at the mirror and focus on the “flabby” or “unflattering” parts. I still pinch the fat on my stomach, arms and back and wish it wasn’t there. I still have moments of low self-esteem. I still look at the mirror sometimes and am not happy with what I see. 

The media makes us believe that diet culture is so mainstream and that everyone needs to adhere to these strict ways of eating to look a certain way. It’s truly scary how ingrained this is in our culture, how often it is practiced and seen as normal. The staggering truth is that the diet industry is a $60 billion/ year industry. We are constantly being pitched something that makes us believe we need to lose weight – a fitness program, celebrities promoting weight loss pills, brands selling clothes that only fit a certain body type, etc. It’s hard to not fall into the trap of thinking that we need to change our bodies when all we see online is eurocentric beauty standards and a lack of representation. 

Since the pandemic started, my whole workout routine has completely gone out the window. Without a gym, I’ve been struggling to stay motivated to do at-home workouts. I have lost all the muscle mass I worked so hard to build in the last few years and have beaten myself up for not working out consistently. I have slipped back into feelings of low self-worth and have had moments where I’ve been critical of my body in the past year. Whenever I have these moments, I remind myself that this is MY body and the only body I will ever have. It’s a privilege to have this body and I have to honor and love it at all stages. I spend extra time on self-care and self-love practices that help me get out of that negative headspace and allow me to focus inward instead of outward. Taking time for gratitude has been essential and I thank my body for being my vessel on this earth and allowing me to have all these dope experiences. This has allowed me to be comfortable with accepting myself the way I am in this present moment. 

If I could go back and talk to my younger self, I would hug her and tell her that she is beautiful and loved just the way she is. I would tell her that your weight doesn’t define your worth. Diet culture is a load of bullshit and you should never try to conform to something you see on the internet. Food is meant to be enjoyed and life is meant to be unrestrictive. I would tell her that criticizing your body for years hasn’t helped you at all so why don’t you try accepting yourself and see what happens. 

As a society, we are conditioned to think that we need to look a certain way to feel happy and confident in ourselves. The media feeds into this thinking and makes us feel like we’re less than and/or not beautiful just the way we are. If you’re reading this and have been through or currently going through something similar, just know you are amazing just the way you are, and fuck society’s nonsense. Don’t value your body over your being. No one can take that away from you and you have so much more power and agency than you realize. Everyone has body issues, even those you idolize. When you come to realize that everybody deals with body image issues in their own way – even the people you might consider as flawless – then you can start to accept yourself just the way you are. We are all different shapes, and sizes, and that’s what makes each one of us unique and this should be celebrated. There is no one else like you. We only have one life to live and one body so we must take care of our home & nourish it with love, kindness, and empathy. I want to share my story with others because I know I am not alone in how I feel about my body. We need to speak to one another and shed ourselves of the programming society has instilled in us. The more we do this the more we can feel liberated and closer to our truth.” -Sabrina

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