“Story 7 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,Iwanted to hearyour 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 afterall, who can tell their story better than them?”-Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory
This is Allysa’s story, edited by Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory:
I know you hate your body now, and you think you need to have a “perfect body” like you see all over social media. You also feel lost and stuck in your body because you just won’t accept it. You think about your body negatively, but that’s okay. You are going to realize that the “perfect body” comes in different shapes and sizes no matter how much you doubt yourself and the body you’re in. You are too focused on social media’s definition of a “perfect body,” and you keep asking yourself, “why can’t my body be like that.” You grew up thinking like that and it made you think that’s the only body type out there. You’re struggling with looking for clothes that fit you or what you’re comfortable in. You can’t get the clothes you want because you are afraid of what people think of you. You have to get oversized clothes to be comfortable because you don’t want people to make fun of your body.
The question is, “what is the definition of true beauty?” You’ll finally realize that “true beauty” comes in ALL shapes and sizes. Always keep that in mind because your body is beautiful just the way it is.
Your current relationship with food is not the best. You binge eat every 1-2 hours because you are going through anxiety and depression, making you feel stressed out and confused. You think binge eating will help you get through all of the problems you are facing, but it won’t. You’re seeing your body and face changing because you binge eat. It’s to the point where you’re not comfortable taking pictures of yourself because you don’t like how you look. You’re too focused on what your body should be, even though you know it’s not good for you. You’re skipping some meals because you think it will help you lose weight, but it won’t help you mentally or emotionally. Even though food is good, you think you can’t control your eating habits. But the truth is you can control your eating habits if you believe in yourself.
I know you’re going through countless mental breakdowns where you start to doubt yourself – from your body to your future. Your mental breakdowns have made a huge impact on your eating habits. 2018 will be the most traumatic year of your life because you are going to go through depression and anxiety. You will lose yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally. The real reason why you are going through mental breakdowns is because you are still grieving the death of your cousin, who you loved so much. You have a special bond with her & she inspires you to follow your dreams. She is still your light whenever you see her smile or her face. Right now, you can’t accept that she is gone and you feel empty inside because her presence is not with you anymore. But try to remember that she will always be watching over you and you’re doing everything you can to keep her spirit alive.
You just sit and cry when you want to be alone, and think that no one is going to help you. You say, “what am I going to do?” and think no one is going to understand what you’re going through. You keep blaming God for taking your cousin away so soon. But that’s not the case, you know your cousin fought for her life. She was strong & brave after all she had to go through. You’re not comfortable opening up about your mental breakdowns to anyone yet, that’s okay. But keeping your mental breakdowns to yourself is very unhealthy. You will realize that you can’t help yourself unless you have people helping and guiding you through it.
You’re thinking about who you can talk to about your emotional breakdowns. You start to think of who you can trust that will help you, people that have always been there for you, even at your lowest. You’ll turn to your Godsister, Ezra, & your best friend, Janine, because they’re the only ones who have been there for you since the beginning. But how do you tell them? You need someone to be by your side through all of this. Once you reach out to them, they’ll completely uplift you. They tell you that they believe in you, which motivates you to be the best version of yourself. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know where you’d be. After some time, you’ll finally have motivation and words of wisdom to finally realize that you are worth it and enough to be in this world.
2019 is the year that your life changes. That is the year you focus on yourself. You’ll finally accept who you truly are because you will learn that only you know the real you. So don’t put yourself down just because you don’t like how you look right now. You’ll finally find yourself by changing your eating and exercising habits. You start to journal, where you write about your day and all the things you like about yourself. You’ll start to portion out your food and drink more water. You’ll make working out a daily routine. Losing weight will make you proud of your hard work, it will boost up how you see your body, and you’ll gain confidence. The amazing thing is you did everything for yourself. You’ll start to believe that you are enough.
You’ll get back into dancing, and it’ll make you feel more confident. You’ve been dancing since 15 years old and your dream has always been to be a professional dancer. You stopped dancing at 19 years old because you didn’t like how you performed at a birthday event. Giving up dancing was hard for you because you loved it so much. Dance is how you expressed all of your feelings, but you felt like it was not going to take you anywhere in life. But how would you know? It’s okay to doubt yourself sometimes, but what’s not okay is quitting on yourself and what you love doing. If only you knew that right now, in the present day, you are pursing your dreams in becoming a professional dancer, and you’ll soon move to Los Angeles.
I want to apologize for how I treated you. I’m sorry for not believing in you. I’m sorry for the way I thought about our body- being too focused on what our body “should be,” not what it truly is. You are going to be so proud of the Allysa now, because you have come so far.” -Allysa
“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,Iwanted to hearyour 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 afterall, 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
“Story 5 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,Iwanted to hearyour 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 afterall, who can tell their story better than them?”-Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory
This is Rohit’s story, written in his own words:
“My Weight Gain & Loss Story
I always loved Shōnen stories when I was a kid. For the uninitiated, Shōnen is one of the most popular genres of anime, typically featuring a male protagonist who embarks on an adventure filled with challenges. My first exposure to the genre came through Pokémon, which I’d obsessively wake up to watch on Saturday mornings throughout my childhood. Looking back, my fascination with Pokémon and similar shows stemmed from the main character’s relentless pursuit of a goal or self-perfection, the clear distinction between good and evil, and the excitement that follows exploring the world around us. Unfortunately, Pokémon is where my issues with body positivity likely started. And it’s exactly what you’re thinking – the exposure to extremely skinny, fit male figures in Pokémon and other shows unconsciously shaped my mental model of what constitutes beautiful and attractive, and has been something I’ve worked my entire life to overcome.
I hope that in sharing my story, others struggling with similar issues can understand that they’re not alone and appreciate that self-love is one of the most beautiful aspects of the human condition. While progress in most things in life is usually not linear, the setbacks, insecurities, and painful feelings I experienced through my weight gain, weight loss, muscle gain, and muscle loss make me who I am today and I’m thankful for them.
Having a body-positive self-image has never been a strength of mine. At 26 years old I am still struggling with low self-esteem due to ingrained beliefs around what my body should look like. I became painfully aware of my body and how others perceive it in middle school when my peers began making jokes about how fat I was, saying things like “When you walk around, it can cause earthquakes!” At that point in time I likely weighed 140 pounds and was 5’7”. Despite being relatively tall for my age, there was no hiding it. You might be wondering, “How did he get to that point?” My relationship with food was extremely unhealthy. Even as early as elementary school, I remember chowing down on McDonald’s and Burger King chicken sandwiches that my loving mother would drop off for me on weekdays. It didn’t matter if I got a bad grade on my math test, was bullied in school, or felt alone, because I knew I always had food to comfort me. And like most kids at that age with immigrant parents, I needed a lot of comforting. Over time I developed an addiction to fried, fast food and probably played a big role in keeping my local Olive Garden and Burger King alive.
Whenever I’d see family or family friends they’d be quick to point out how chubby I was. “You’ve got such big cheeks!” and “Did you gain weight?” were usually the first thing they’d say to me whenever they visited. Over time the embarrassment grew to such an extreme level that I’d instinctively run upstairs to my room whenever someone rang the doorbell. My parents chalked that up to my shyness and introverted-ness, but looking back it was largely because I hated how people would comment on my weight, and I’d rather just avoid social interaction altogether. Video games and TV shows didn’t make me feel bad about myself. My mother would typically reassure me saying that having big bones runs in the family, it’s just temporary, and not to worry about it. I definitely worried about it.
When middle school came around and the harmful jokes and comments abounded, I realized that I could use humor as a deflection – by being silly and ridiculous in and outside of class, I hoped that the attention would be taken off my weight, even just for a moment. Sadly, even my most fire jokes couldn’t spare me from the almost daily humiliation that was PE class. I distinctly remember being the slowest person in the entire class to run a mile – I never made it under 10 minutes! And scoring low on other fitness-related exams, reinforcing my belief that I’m worse than others and something is wrong with my body.
After years of enduring hurtful jokes and comments in addition to seeing idealized images of men’s bodies in movies and TV, I became disgusted with my body. I would actively avoid going swimming – which was hard when the pool party was at your house – because it would expose my rotundness. I would look at myself whenever I would change in the mirror with shame, and dress in baggy clothing to distract people from the shape of my body. Compounding this internalized shame and resentment is my lifelong struggle with perfectionism, thinking that the way I looked should be a certain way and, in my mind, I always fell short.
When I made it to high school, already disgusted with my body, I became committed to changing the body that brought me so much pain. Thankfully, I channeled my frustration and angst into my weight loss regiment. It took many months and a lot of discipline, healthy eating, and exercise, but I was able to lose twenty pounds during my Sophomore year and started to take pride in how I looked for the first time. This is where my story maybe takes a turn from others in the body positive community – part of me is glad that growing up I had a negative body image. If I didn’t, and simply accepted myself for how I looked, I probably would never have adopted healthier eating and lifestyle habits and would’ve continued spiraling down a path of fried chicken nuggets and scrumptious curly fries. For me personally, being overweight wasn’t difficult just because in society’s eyes something was wrong with me, but more so because I felt unhealthy – moderate exercise really exhausted me and I’d often have jolts of pain that felt like the beginning of clogged arteries even though I didn’t know it at the time.
It might seem fun to eat unhealthy food frequently, and maybe it is in the short-term, but there’s a lot of pain and difficulties that can easily outweigh (yes, pun intended) the ephemeral joy. Over time, as I slowly adjusted my diet to stop feeling so unhealthy my relationship with food improved and I no longer relied on it for comfort. That process was really difficult and I had to unlearn the bad habits and dependencies I developed over the span of many years. For those of you contemplating a similar transition my advice is to start small, slowly replacing processed fats and sugar with natural fats and sugar from food that you enjoy eating such that over time your body finds unhealthy food undesirable, which is exactly what happened with me. I eventually reached a point where eating fried and processed food felt nasty and I avoided it at all costs. To this day I actively resist eating fried or fast food and stick to a diet high in vegetables & fruit, high protein, and low carb. After improving my diet and losing even more weight, I vowed to never be fat again and to treat my body like a temple. Unfortunately, even as the weight gradually began to disappear the insecurity I developed around my body image did not. No matter how much weight I lost or how my body began to look, I kept feeling that I didn’t look good enough and didn’t live up to the expectations society had of me.
These insecurities later manifested in college. I can barely recall my junior year and it wasn’t because I was sleep deprived. Enabled by the fraternity I joined and the almost manipulative drinking culture, I would binge drink and blackout several times a week. Sure, it was lots of fun in the moment and to this day I don’t really regret those decisions, but the proverbial beer belly reared its ugly head. My breaking point occurred when a close female friend casually remarked one day that I was looking chubby and need to lose weight. I felt that all the progress I had made with accepting my reformed body image and vowing to never be fat again vanished all within a single instant. Just like in high school, I decided to channel my anger and frustration at myself into self-improvement and started working out religiously. In parallel, I also gave up eating meat cold turkey as I strongly believed that all of life is interconnected and must be respected. By the time senior year ended, I had lost the beer belly I was so ashamed of and started to build lean muscle thanks to transitioning to a low carb / high protein vegetarian diet and hitting the gym at least 4 times a week. My relationship with food had completely transformed and I actively sought out healthier options that made me feel better and supported my more active lifestyle. Things were finally looking up and I never wanted to look back.
Fast forward a few years and I was back home in San Jose working at a startup with ample free time. Of course I’d continued working out frequently, finding deep satisfaction in pushing myself physically and lifting even heavier weights. I’d often get sore or experience weird muscle pains that led to short breaks and ice baths, but I’d just get back up and keep pushing harder – partly motivated by my body-related insecurities, never feeling satisfied with how I looked despite putting on more muscle, and realizing that women found me attractive. That all came to a halt on a beautiful summer day in Yosemite. A few weeks prior my college roommates and I planned a trip to Yosemite to take on the notorious Half Dome hike which claimed several lives and caused hundreds of accidents in the past fifteen years. The hike itself wasn’t too crazy – 17 miles roundtrip with 4,800 feet of elevation gain, fairly do-able for folks like me who hike regularly and like to push themselves. Our initial plan was to wake up in the wee hours of the morning to start the trek to beat the rising heat and crowds of people that flock to the trail each year, but we encountered a ton of traffic on the route there and ended up reaching camp near midnight. Faced with a difficult decision of sleeping for three hours before embarking or hitting the trail immediately with no rest, we chose to test our luck and hike in pitch darkness with no rest. Hindsight is always 20/20 and this case is no different. Two of my friends injured their feet landing on rocks at weird angles due to the low visibility, but despite the injuries and exhaustion we all pushed forward.
I’m thankful that we successfully traversed the treacherous cables and reached the summit, taking in the magnificent views. But the trouble started after we went back to camp, ate our weight in pizza, and passed out for the night. I woke up to a strange sensation and hoped it was a dream. I couldn’t move my neck. In that moment I was filled with sheer terror; would I ever be able to move my neck again? Did I have a permanent disability? What did I do to myself? Why did I push myself to the extreme? After pounding Motrin and surviving the car ride back home, I shared my experience with my physician who immediately recommended I get scanned by an MRI machine to figure out what the heck was going on. While that experience itself was torture having suffered from claustrophobia my entire life – imagine being stuck in a metal coffin with no space around you bombarded with shitty EDM sounds – receiving the results was more painful. I had somehow managed to herniate a disc in my cervical spine (my neck), and the damage would never be undone. There was no treatment beyond medicating the pain away and some physical therapy.
To this day it remains a mystery why I herniated the disc. I knew a bunch of other people my age who were on a fitness and weightlifting grind who didn’t experience any of these issues. It likely was the result of pushing myself to my limits with improper weightlifting techniques combined with shitty luck. Looking back, I’d like to say I wish I didn’t pursue physical fitness with such an extreme devotion, but I really do enjoy pushing myself and tackling greater challenges. Even if I hadn’t herniated a disc at that point in time, it likely would have happened to me doing some other intense activity eventually. Initially, living with a herniated disc wasn’t so bad. While working out, hiking, and sitting down for extended periods of time caused some discomfort, it never prevented me from living the life I wanted and pursuing my physical fitness goals. Fueled by my body-related insecurities and desire to push myself, I kept exercising intensely and took on even more extreme hikes like Mt. Whitney (23 mile roundtrip with 6,000 feet in elevation gain over a single day). Sadly, things got worse from there. After completing another arduous hike with friends in Hawaii, I felt another weird sensation – a shooting, numbing pain going down my left arm which I never experienced before. The strange pain also didn’t go away when I took painkillers, which alarmed me even further. I decided to cut my trip short and head back home to figure out what happened and took yet another MRI.
What had happened? I herniated yet another disc, right below the previous one and the weird sensation I was feeling was actually nerve pain caused by the discs impinging nerves near my neck that travel down the shoulder and all the way to the hand. Unlike last time, the pain I felt in general was very high and even sitting down for just 15 minutes was excruciatingly painful. I could no longer run, lift weights, or live the active lifestyle I had become accustomed to. In lieu of those activities, I’ve started swimming more regularly – although it’s difficult to find open and heated pools these days – walking daily, and hiking less intense trails to stay fit. Meditating daily, getting lost in fascinating books, and playing the trumpet are my new ways to destress. Despite all that, it’s still painful watching the muscle mass I had worked so hard to build and maintain over the years slowly fade away as my muscles stopped being nurtured and used. Even when I thought I had reached a place of body positivity, in those ensuing weeks and months, I realized that I never really did. My extreme workouts were partly motivated by never feeling satisfied with how I looked and still feeling like I didn’t live up to the idealized image of the male figure. Losing my muscle mass reignited insecurities and shame that I worked so hard to forget.
While my disability isn’t noticeable to others externally and I’m spared from others’ judgment, I couldn’t help but feel like I was broken inside permanently and my body failed me. I yet again hated myself and my body for failing to meet society’s expectations. Truthfully, it wasn’t until a few months ago that I was exposed to a different way of thinking about myself and body positivity more broadly. I became exposed to the idea on a Facebook social media post about body positivity, that one’s weight is not a reflection of one’s health and being overweight in particular isn’t such a bad thing from an attractiveness, societal, or health perspective. This broke every belief I had – strongly feeling that being fat is unhealthy, unappealing, and should not be celebrated. After reflecting and discussing with others, I realized that health is a scientific concept and one’s weight does not accurately reflect health – people who may look overweight might be in good overall health, as paradoxical as it seems. A great example of this is NFL linebackers who typically weigh over 200 pounds and seem very unhealthy in terms of their body shape and size but are way more physically fit than the average person. I also realized that being overweight itself is not an issue to be worried about in isolation; it is the issues associated with being overweight that are the real causes of worry like having clogged arteries, difficulty sleeping, diabetes, etc. In that same vein of thought, I realized that having a body shape, or in my case a body structure, that does not conform with societal norms does not make one any less beautiful, whole, or healthy either. My eyes had been opened to the importance of self-love and body positivity, and how the way we view ourselves has a direct correlation with how we think and behave.
Last year I decided to make a big change. I adopted an entirely plant-based diet and no longer eat anything related to animals such as honey, ice cream, and pizza. The beautiful thing about being plant-based is it’s actually difficult to eat unhealthy – unless your diet mostly consists of carbs like bread or pasta or vegan junk food like plant-based ice cream and burgers. I’ve been feeling higher energy, don’t have food coma, or crash when I eat, and noticed I was losing weight as well. But being plant-based doesn’t guarantee one won’t gain weight, as I painfully found out after a few months of quarantine when I went home and the first thing my mom said to me was “Beta you’re looking heavier, you put on some weight”.
Since experiencing that initial epiphany, I have tried to continue practices in self-love and body positivity. I will admit that it is not always easy, and progress is not always linear. I still struggle with moments, days, and weeks of low self-esteem and body negativity. I still check myself out in the mirror every chance I get and obsessively focus on how my hair looks. I still pinch my belly and love handles, wishing they would shrink and disappear. I still find moments where I feel physically damaged and hate my body for not being able to do simple things that most of us take for granted like sitting in a car for an hour, bending down to pick things up off the floor, or playing with young children and dogs. While changing my behavior and mindset is certainly a work in progress, what has been encouraging is that in those situations I remind myself that I am beautiful, do not need to look or participate in certain activities to feel so, and that beauty comes in all shapes, colors, and sizes.
Whenever I find myself feeling insecure and down on myself because of my body, which inevitably happens and I’ve accepted won’t ever stop, I first accept how I’m feeling and don’t try to fight it. I try to introspect and figure out where these feelings are coming from, and remind myself that the only person’s opinion that really matters here is my own. What also helps is having a generally positive attitude, which I was able to forge through the difficult times I’ve endured and the realization that dwelling on the negative is a fruitless endeavor. Something else that helps when I feel down is the genuine acceptance that some things in life including negative feelings are out of my control and I should instead focus on controlling the controllables – my actions, behavior and mindset. The power of a positive mindset lies not in being happy all the time, but in preventing one from falling into spirals of negativity.
If I could travel back in time and talk to my younger self, I’d try to convey that it’s great to want to adopt a healthier lifestyle but to be cognizant of what is motivating me to do so. I’d also share that while pushing oneself is a great trait, it’s also wonderful to accept how you look at any point in time and find yourself beautiful even if how you appear doesn’t match society’s notions of beauty. I’d tell myself that while Ash Ketchum and other Shōnen protagonists are amazing, I should simply aspire to be the best version of myself, flaws and all.” -Rohit