The other day I was chatting with a friend of mine and referenced my high school years when I struggled with an eating disorder. The conversation quickly paused, and she pointed out that in our two years of friendship, she had no idea that a previous diagnosis of anorexia was part of my story. I hadn’t intentionally kept that part quiet, it just never came up…right? When I started really being honest with myself, I realized there are certain things about my past (or even my present situation) that I skim over. It doesn’t seem like something that would encourage and inspire, so I just tuck it in my back pocket unless someone asks me about it or has a similar situation and can relate.
It is so much easier to keep the areas of shame, struggle, and disappointment tucked out of sight, yet these very parts of our story could become a powerful point of connection and encouragement if we would choose to be vulnerable and share.
A few weeks ago, I had a beautiful and brave young woman referred to me, by her counselor, for my health coaching services. The counselor hoped we could use our strengths and collaborate together to provide an empowering plan of care for the client. Since she was working through overcoming a disordered body image and establishing a healthy relationship with food, I was filled with self-doubt. How could I help guide someone through an area that I still fight against in my own life? I could offer her healthy food choices, steps toward balancing primary and secondary foods, effective ways to set goals, but somehow this was all going to fall short. Our stories were too similar. Clearly I was NOT the girl for the job. I almost let FEAR talk me out of doing what I love.
Thankfully, I started to see the TRUTH…that my story and my past are exactly what makes me good at what I do. I started meeting with the client and am so proud of each step she is taking taking toward self-love. For some of us, it is hard work to begin to love the person you see in the mirror and to begin to understand that food is necessary, life-giving, and nourishing. I am praying for her and cheering her on from a place of understanding and empathy that only comes from walking a similar path. But what if I had let fear keep me silent? I would have missed the opportunity to meet an amazing person and help her in her own journey. In the silence, no one wins.
Loving myself has not always been easy. I don’t remember one specific moment in my childhood that started the years of struggle with food and self-image. Honestly, I think it was a gradual preoccupation with comparing myself with others. Was she thinner, taller, faster, stronger, smarter, funnier, prettier, happier than me? One thing about comparison that always holds true: it will leave you feeling inadequate and exhausted. I was chasing after things that were never meant for me, and I was convinced that losing weight was the solution for every other area that didn’t measure up. If I was thinner, I would be faster. If I controlled what I ate, people would notice. If I could look just like her, I would be so happy. Since there is absolutely no lasting correlation between being thin and being happy, I was heading down a slippery slope of emptiness.
Thankfully, my parents sat me down my junior year of high school and said, “Stacy, you are not well. You need help, and if you won’t get it here then we are sending you to a rehab facility in Arizona to get the help you need.” That hard conversation was necessary for me to realize I had completely lost sight of who I was and what really mattered in life. It was the first step for me to begin to love myself again – to look in the mirror and see a strong, beautiful, capable, joy-filled child of God who was never created to be anything other than me. I am convinced that the journey of self-love and acceptance can be one of the most difficult yet rewarding struggles. It continuously challenges me to anchor my identity and worth in who I am, not in what I appear to be.
Sharing the imperfect parts of our life with others can often create fertile soil for hope and healing to grow. I would love for my own struggle with self-love to be your reminder that you are beautiful and worthy of love, exactly as you are. Speak kindly to yourself and practice self-care and acceptance. Invest in yourself in the areas that need to grow and celebrate all the areas that you are showing up and winning. Don’t get caught up in the emptiness of comparing your life with someone else. Choose to see the good – in the mirror, in your day, in your children, in your spouse – in your life. And never let fear keep you silent. Let’s allow our own struggles to become the very thing that binds us together. Let’s replace comparison with connection and embrace the truth that we were never meant to journey alone. This is hard work, but the best things in life always are.
“Know, oh beautiful soul, that you are the image of God. Know that you are the glory of God.” – St. Ambrose of Milan