I’ve been overweight all my life. I tried my first serious diet when I was 12. It started off well and I shed weight easily in the first few weeks but then it stagnated a bit and weigh-ins became something I didn’t look forward to. I left it after that. A year later I was diagnosed with PCOS. The gynaecologist was very frank (read: mean) and told me that only losing weight would work. For anyone who has PCOS, you would know how almost impossible it can be to lose weight, especially if you have insulin resistance at the same time. It’s a catch 22 situation since you need to lose weight to stop the insulin resistance, but you also can’t lose weight because of the insulin resistance. I tried several diets after that and got into exercising, but it always reached a stage where my progress would plateau. I dreaded stepping onto the scale and felt ashamed of the fact that I couldn’t see my weight loss efforts through till I reached my goal weight, especially when I saw other people around me do it successfully. The years on diets did help me to better understand nutrition and eating healthy but the diet mentality had steeped deep into my psyche.
Then came the inevitable time to seek out a spouse. I didn’t think it would be all that difficult. I’d meet a few guys, then find the one and it would be done. What I didn’t know was that rejection can be a hard pill to swallow, especially for someone who hadn’t had to face huge rejection before. My immediate reaction was to blame it on my size. I believed that if I lost weight then I would find someone easily even though I always believed that the right person would appreciate me for more than that. This had a huge impact on my body image. I felt less confident and became more conscious of how I looked and all the flaws in my body. I forgot that I had so much more to offer than just what I looked like.
It was around this time that I was lucky enough to come across The Body Image Movement page on Facebook where I was first exposed to ideas about positive body image, intuitive eating and health at every size. The page showcased various individuals who were advocates for these causes and so I started following them on Instagram. I begin to see how these concepts were so intertwined and ultimately give you a full emancipation from the grips of diet culture.
The concepts of Intuitive Eating stood out most for me. While reading about it, I discovered, for the first time, an approach to eating (backed by PhDs and multiple studies) championing that I didn’t need to lose weight to be healthy and that was so mind blowing for me. What was even more astounding was that it taught that you can eat freely without having to weigh out portions and count food group servings. You were allowed to enjoy the food you were eating, and no food was completely off limits. It taught that you don’t need to do militant exercise but incorporate joyful movement into your life. The best thing it taught was that all bodies are good bodies and that just because you are overweight, it doesn’t mean that you are automatically unhealthy. For me, that stuck out the most because it spoke to my biggest fear that I was not trying hard enough to lose the weight and be healthy. I loved the idea that it appreciated the efforts I made to be healthy like adding vegetables to meals, having less oily food and eating high fibre, unprocessed carbohydrates while not condemning me when I ate a chocolate cake. There was no more cheating. Eating became a neutral action and what I ate didn’t determine if I was being good or bad. I enjoyed my food and really relished the experience. I began to get in touch with my internal cues of hunger and fullness. I learnt to describe what I wanted to eat, was it something rich like a steak or fresh like a salad? I’m not perfect at it and I’m still learning how to better listen to my fullness cues and incorporate joyful movement. But that’s the beauty of it, you don’t need to be perfect at it!
Improving my relationship with food was a big part of improving my body image. Intuitive eating is helping me accept myself, incorporate as much healthful practices into my life as I can and just be more loving and forgiving towards myself. I know now that I’m so much more than my body. Alhamdulillah, I have so much to be thankful for in all areas of my life. This is the way my Lord thought best for me to be and so I accept it and I’ll take care of my health in a way that is good for my body and mind. I’ve realised that my happiness won’t necessarily increase if my weight decreased and I’m not putting off anything until I look a certain way or weigh a certain amount. I’ll wear the clothes I want to wear now. I’ll take pictures and do things I want to do. I’m not ashamed of my body. My desire is that everyone can feel that way. I believe that healing your relationship with food and building trust with your body through intuitive eating is the best way you can do that.
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Aaliya Mia is a chemical engineer with a passion for fashion, travel and spreading positivity. She is also the founder of fawaaqi.com a fashion blog that focuses on celebrating all body sizes through fashion.