I am no longer willing to trade away my life for my diet.
This past weekend I went dancing. Well, sort of. This past weekend I went on a trip to dance in a performance– a belly dance performance. I dance with a larger group of women in a troupe and smaller group in a dance company and sometimes I dance as a soloist. I’ve been belly dancing for 12 years. The groups rehearse every week and we go on these trips a couple of times a year.
This was the first trip I have been on where I wasn’t dieting or over-exercising or secretly trying to not eat while continuously calculating the number of calories I consumed. This was the first trip where I made a conscious decision to not focus on what I looked like, to let that go, and to just be on the trip. To just be with these fabulous friends and be myself and focus on the experience instead of getting lost in my own insecurities.
So, while we went to dance, we also talked and swam (well, hung out by the pool) and went out to eat and laughed and talked some more and laughed some more. And I had a really good time. I struggled some. I was self-conscious in my swimsuit and tried to ignore it. I was bummed when my costume was tighter than the last time we had performed this dance. I felt embarrassed when I saw some dancer friends I hadn’t seen in a while because I was thinner the last time we crossed paths. But I did a decent job talking myself through. And I had fun. I really did!
The having-fun part, however, got me to thinking about how many trips I had been on that I hadn’t really been on. Do you know what I mean? I thought about how many times these trips had been mentally planned around what I could or could not eat. How many times they had been planned around how I would get my exercise in. Or if I couldn’t get my exercise in, planning how much I would need to exercise before and after the trip to make up for it. What snacks could I eat that would be super low in calories? Did I need to bring my own snacks in case the only thing available was super high in calories?
On one of these trips, a trip to Texas, I literally skipped multiple meals out with my friends so I could exercise. As for my other trips, I can’t tell you how many times I feigned not being hungry so I could get away with not eating. I spent countless days in rooms willing myself not to eat any of the yummy snacks. And when I did eat, as I mentioned earlier, I calculated and re-calculated my calorie intake.
Of course, I tried to hide all of this behavior because I was ashamed of it. Ashamed of the behavior and of my body, the reason I believed I needed the behavior. It turns out, however, that I was not the super, amazingly-sneaky dieter I imagined myself to be. It turns out they all knew. Go figure.
Anyway, back to my post-trip introspection. After really, truly enjoying and appreciating what fabulous women I was with, I started reflecting on what it was I had really been missing out on. What I had traded away while on all of these trips and over all of these years. While I may have missed out on meals, that really was the absolute least of it. The biggest thing I missed out on was connecting. I missed out on laughter and sharing and friendship. I traded away the best part of the trips for, well, it turns out not much.
For years I have created a shell around myself. Feeling ashamed of your body does that– creates a barrier between you and, well, everything. As does obsessing about food and weight and exercise and all the trappings of a dieting-lifestyle. When you are that focused on yourself, there is not really room for anything or anyone else. And then you are left feeling lonely and isolated. But it is all self-imposed, which is pretty sad.
As I have been breaking out of this shell, I have found that I have been very lucky. Lucky to have been surrounded all this time with amazing people. Fortunate to have been seen and understood, even while I thought I was doing a good job of hiding. Fortunate to be appreciated for who I am in all my flawed glory.
Now, as I write this, I will admit I am feeling the need to make myself not sound so bad. To make sure I don’t just sound like a totally selfish individual. To make sure you know that it’s not like I actually never cared about anyone or anything. Because, I did care. Deeply. And I do care. And I have loved– and do love– the lovely people I am fortunate to know. I have cried with them and laughed with them. And it’s not like I never had any fun with them. I did. I’ve had lots of fun.
But, in an effort to be real about all of this body-image stuff– in support of full-disclosure, if you will– I have to be honest. I did keep people at arms length. I didn’t mean to. It wasn’t on purpose. I actually didn’t even realize I was doing it. It has been over the past year, as I have been coming out of that shell I created, that I have realized the trade I made.
I share this so that you will know. So that you will know what the real cost of hating your body is. I traded away countless opportunities to connect with others, to experience life, to have fun, to share, to really be present. And that’s the truth of it.
But I will tell you one thing. It’s a trade I am no longer willing to make.
A little more information about my trip? I was there. I was there on the trip. I really was. I laughed– a lot. I learned– a lot– as I witnessed amazing mothers and great friends. I shared in people’s joys and in some sorrows. I didn’t hide. I reached out. I cared deeply. And I had fun. I really did :o)