“The world will tell you how to live. Don’t let it.” – Shauna Neiquist, Present Over Perfect
The Dieter’s Meal
One time, years ago, during some of my worst days, I went on a trip with my family to visit my grandmother in Florida. With a family of six, going out to eat was a treat for us kids, because, well, it’s expensive. I remember growing up my mom saying quite frequently, “We’re poor.” (We weren’t. We’re a comfortable middle class family. But say what you gotta to your four children who want every new toy and gadget. And in her defense, eating out is expensive.)
Anyways, one night during that Florida trip, we did all go out to eat. I was nervous.
“There’s a lot of hidden calories in these meals. I cannot afford that. I’ll gain weight. I won’t hit my goal of losing ten more pounds. And I already know I’ve gained about 3 since being on this trip.”
So, I ordered what they called the “Dieter’s Meal,” which consisted of grilled chicken, grilled vegetables, and some mashed potatoes. And all under 500 calories! What a deal!
I left feeling hungry, unsatisfied, and miserable.
“I can’t keep living like this,” I’d say to myself time after time, meal after meal. But the addiction to calorie counting and control and reaching that never reachable goal of “losing ten more pounds,” kept me locked in for years. And not just locked into my eating disorder – locked into my home and my head.
I would not travel. I would not explore this world, because I was too scared of losing control and if I lost control that meant I’d gain weight, and WHAT WOULD THE WORLD THINK OF ME THEN?!
What If… We Didn’t Listen to “What if’s?”
So, even after recovering from my eating disorder, I still had fears about traveling. What if I have a panic attack? What if I can’t do my normal morning routine? What if I can’t work out?
But I would face those fears and travel anyways, except I wasn’t happy while on each trip. I wasn’t present. And I did not really care about what was around me, because I was so worried and focused inward.
The True Test
When the opportunity to travel to Portugal and Spain for twelve days arose, I could simultaneously feel my heartbeat rising. I’d never traveled that long, alone, or across seas. This would be the true test.
Can I handle this trip without worrying about gaining weight or what I look like or my routine or what I’ll be eating or if I’ll be able to work out?
It’s funny how you can be recovered from some mental illness or have gone through some mental turmoil, but old habits and thought patterns still linger. No, I no longer struggle with an eating disorder or depression, but I do have to work every day to make sure I am not succumbing to the negativity that can so easily creep in. And that’s why this trip was the true test. Can I travel and not succumb to the negative thoughts?
It’s a Mental Game
So, before heading out on my pilgrimage, I mentally prepared myself. “I am going to be eating and drinking more than I’m used to and foods I am not used to. Relish in it. Enjoy every bite, sip, drop, and slurp.”
And the Good Lord knows that’s exactly what I did.
I know there’s a lot of alcohol in there, but I promise I ate way more food than drank alcohol. Also, I quickly figured out wine was easier to come by than water.
So, as you can see I consumed a lot of goodness while on this trip and enjoyed every single second of it.
A New Day Has Come
Yes, I ate and drank a lot of great things. But this trip taught me something else about beauty.
For so long, I’d equated beauty to how I looked. How skinny or in shape I was. What color my hair was. Or how tan I was. I’d wear make-up every single day, no matter where I was headed. And I had to be sure I looked my best – you never know who you’re going to run into at Target at 9 am on Saturday morning…
Then, I spent twelve days traveling through Europe with one suitcase, no make-up, no curling iron, no heeled boots, but the biggest smile you’d ever see.
I learned that beauty is within.
You may be saying, “Maria, you’ve been telling us beauty is within for years.” Yes, yes I have. And I meant it at the time. But I still wrestled with truly, truly finding it within myself.
Here’s the thing. I have gained weight since my trip. The scale told me.
But here’s the other thing. I can sleep at night now. My anxiety is almost non-existent. And I have so much peace in my heart.
I’ve let go of listening to what and who the world was telling me to be. And I embraced the beauty that God has put in my heart and in my soul.
To really drive this point home, I died my hair back to its original color. I’ve been highlighting and coloring my hair blonde since I was 16. That’s 10 years, my friends. 10 years of believing I needed to change myself, because I would be more beautiful to the world.
So, let’s start this journey of self-acceptance together. A journey of recovery and healing after having listened to the world for far, far too long.