Self-Esteem and Staying Healthy

I’ve been told the older that I get, the more confident I would become.  My entire life, I have struggled with anxiety and fear of what people think of me.  When I would hear that one day, I would no longer care what other people thought, I never imagined that type of life was possible.  Self-esteem and loving your body is a challenge for so many young women, including myself.  I know God created me the way I am and I am made in His image, but hearing those words doesn’t always make me feel good about myself or gain a super dose of confidence.  

Though I still struggle on occasion (I definitely don’t want to give you the idea that I’ve mastered this area of life, but my desire is to be an encouragement), I find myself becoming more and more comfortable in my own skin.  And I’m loving it!  
I’ve started to realize that for the first time in my life, I am honestly not concerned with what people will think of my outfit or if I need to lose a couple more pounds.  Obviously, I want to be professional and look presentable, but I’m no longer obsessive over what other people think about my appearance, as I once was.  
In LifeGroup last week we discussed how some days we feel like we haven’t made any progress toward our goals and God hasn’t done anything to help.  On a day to day basis, baby steps are few and far between.  But, there are glorious moments in life, when you look back over the past few months, or years, or decades and see how those small baby steps turned into a huge leap forward.  That’s how this whole self-esteem/loving my body/being healthy journey has been for me.  I wanted to share it with you to be an encouragement.  Because, sometimes we need the reminders to keep moving forward, even if it’s two steps forward and one step back.  
I was a cheerleader in high school.  This surprises most people.  I’m not the cheerleader ‘type.’  But, my school didn’t have art or dance and I wanted to do something.  Once I started cheering I never stopped.  Though I wasn’t the loudest or cheeriest or prettiest, I took pride in the fact that I was small in size and took my place at the top as a flier (the girl they throw in the air).  
I was truly afraid that if I gained weight, it would be the end of the world.  By God’s grace alone, I never developed a chronic eating disorder, but I never ate as much as I wanted (or probably all that I needed), because I wanted to keep my size 0.  And it was a success.  I wore the same size cheerleading suit from eighth grade, until I graduated high school!  I enjoyed being small.  I looked like women in the magazines, lots of people envied my small size and praised me for it, everyone wanted to be little.  I liked the attention and other people made me feel confident.    
My freshman year of college, I was so anxious being away from home that I never ate very much.  Everything made me nervous – my classes made me sick, I constantly worried about what other people thought about me, I never knew if I was doing a good enough job, I didn’t know what to do with my free time, I desperately wanted to be like everyone else and wanted people to like me.  It was miserable.  Some people eat when they are stressed.  I’m the opposite.  I didn’t eat.  If I did, I would get sick.  
After an unhealthy first year of school, I transfered to OU.  My second year of undergrad, I went in with a new mindset and lots of prayer (lots and lots).  Spiritually, I learned so much about the redemption of Jesus.  I learned that He accepted me just as I was – anxious or peaceful, size 0 or size 16, with a gazillion friends who loved me or with one best friend from high school, as a sinner and a failure.  I didn’t have to perform for Jesus, I didn’t have to look a certain way, I didn’t have to do things like everyone else.  He didn’t care about those things.  He wanted my heart.  
Over the next few years, those truths from Scripture slowly began to sink in.  I started to value myself for more than my size and outward appearance.  I gained a few pounds and didn’t bat an eye.  For my extra “fun” hours, I took dance classes as exercise.  (Dancing was something I’d always wanted to do! God gave me the chance).  I was exercising not to lose weight or to maintain a shape, but to be healthy and have fun.  It was great.
This seemed to work for me until graduate school.  I started Southwestern Seminary the fall after I graduated.  The freshman fifteen never touched me, but seminary was bad for my body.  At OU I felt like I’d become confident in who I was, but at a conservative school…my self-esteem seemed to fade away.  OU turned me into a bold and independent woman, who voiced my opinions with conviction.  Seminary taught me that when you voice your opinions that don’t fit their cultural box, you need to keep your voice down.  
Talk about moving backward!  This stunted my confidence, my emotional growth, my spiritual life and my physical body.  I became really stressed again.  I fell back into being concerned with what others thought.  I kind of let myself go.  And I gained a lot more weight.  Most of my clothes didn’t fit.  I was unhealthy.  
I left seminary to take a job teaching in Asia.  I was ‘heavier’ than I’d ever been and not too happy about it.  Ironically, I ended up in a country where bigger size was valued, seen as a sign of wealth.  I became the tiniest person in the room again, and everyone pointed it out to me.  Except this time, it was not for praise.  I made myself sick a few times eating too much trying to be respectful, and eating bad food (because I had no idea what I was doing trying to cook in a foreign country).  
When I came back to America, I was determined to ilve a healthy lifestyle again.  I didn’t want to be the size I was in high school, but I did want to eat right, workout regularly and become physically fit.  For the past year, it’s been a nightmare.  Changing your entire lifestyle is never easy.  Results come extremly slowly.  And running is NOT fun.  
But, I’ve recently looked back at this past year and smiled, because I’ve been somewhat successful in this journey!  I definitely feel better than I ever have.  I’m eating better than I ever have.  I enjoy pushing my body physically.  Those baby steps have paid off!  The times I wanted to give up have all been worth it!
The goal of this post was to share a few things that have helped me get into shape the past year.  Obviously, I haven’t made it there yet, so stay tuned for post #2!  

2 thoughts on “Self-Esteem and Staying Healthy

  1. Sara: Thank you for writing this. I was always very thin growing up (courtesy of Crohn's disease). When I was at OU I reached my absolute healthiest and fittest… only to relapse. I'm finally feeling better, but getting to be toned again is a long haul upwards. Thank you for sharing your journey.

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