I’ll never forget hearing these words:
“Rhiannon, I’m going to stop you there. I want you to hang up the phone right now and call 000 immediately.”
Moments ago, I’d called the after-hours doctor because my symptoms had reached a critical point.
The signs had been there for a few weeks. I did my level best to ignore them.
The breathlessness trying to walk up the stairs of my home.
My hands going purple when I got down my hands and knees to get something from under the table.
How sore and painful my feet felt after a short walk.
The pain in my shoulder and neck, a dull throbbing, that got neither worse, nor better, no matter how I moved.
The cramping in my left bicep.
The fact that lying on my left side at night gave me heart palpitations.
But worst of all was the numbness and tingling in my hands and feet. It was getting worse.
My racing heart at night, with a flutter in my chest and dizziness.
By Sunday morning, I didn’t feel like eating or drinking anything.
Even if I was thirsty, I couldn’t lift a water bottle because my hands felt so numb.
I was so breathless from making the bed I needed Ventolin.
My limbs felt so heavy. The numbness was spreading into my face.
I sat on the couch and I realized – I can’t get up again.
I knew I needed a doctor – who would laugh, and tell me I was just a bit unfit, and give me a referral to get checked for carpal tunnel.
But in my heart of hearts, I knew.
My body was trying to tell me something very, very important.
And I hadn’t been listening.
Within the hour I was in the ER.
And as I lay there getting blood taken (bleurgh needles are the pits), hooked up to an ECG, I had a lot of time to think and face some hard truths.
I am 36 years old.
I have a family history of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and stroke.
And I have not been looking after my body.
I’ve not been exercising regularly – just “moving my body” inconsistently, mostly when I felt like it.
(Because I told myself, if I felt too tired to work out, that my body just needed to rest.)
I’ve not been eating healthily, because hey, it’s 2020 and after all, I ditched diets, so I haven’t really been tracking nutrition.
(Except that not paying attention to what I was eating largely meant I ate whatever was just most convenient.)
I’m medically overweight.
And as I lay in that bed, not knowing what was wrong with me, I took a really deep breath and sat with the most uncomfortable truth of all.
This isn’t self-love, either.
The pain, the discomfort, the extra weight on my joints, the low energy, the back pain, and now … this.
Even though it took four hours for my test results to come back, I didn’t sit on my phone in the ER (I had that many tubes going in and out of me, my awkward self couldn’t handle it).
I sat very, very still.
And for once, I didn’t listen to the books I read, or the content I absorbed on social media, or the hashtags on either side of the fence.
Listen, if you take one piece of advice from this article let it be this: YOU are the expert on your body.
Not the gurus. Not the influencers.
So, I lay there, I shut up, and I listened to my body – really listened.
There was no space for fear.
There was no space for bullshit.
In this place where the ONLY question, the ONLY focus in my brain was, Am I going to die?, there was room for only truth.
And I don’t know whether it came from the Universe, or the Goddess, or my angels, or Jesus, or Superman, but the answer to my question came through loud and clear.
It banged inside me like a drum.
Today is a warning. If you keep living this way, you will die young.
It’s amazing how when the Ego faces its own mortality it’s willing to finally shut up and listen.
The doctor returned and said my blood work checked out – from my liver function, to my cholesterol, to my blood sugar.
He was also happy with the ECG and told me I could go home.
I felt like Jules in Pulp Fiction where the whole round of bullets missed him.
This is my second chance.
A few days later, my GP booked me in with the cardiologist for a stress test.
The technician set my treadmill at a decent incline and the pace to 5 km an hour.
“Oh,” I thought confidently, “this should be easy”.
In my gym-going days, not so very long ago, 5 km/hr incline walks were an easy warm-up.
I was shocked to see just how rapidly my heart rate jumped to the aerobic range.
Within a few minutes, I reached my maximum heart rate.
After recovering and getting dressed, the cardiologist took me into my office for my results.
My heart was just fine. But, he said … but …
“Your cardiovascular fitness is well below what we’d expect in the average woman your age,” he said. “The average woman of your age achieves two levels higher and a run before she reaches her maximum heart rate.”
I sat with that for a moment. “Oh.”
“That used to be my warm-up.”
We talked about the fact I used to be a personal trainer, and he impressed upon me the importance of cardiovascular health, similar sentiments to the same fact that I faced in the ER that Sunday.
If you keep going down this path, you will die young.
The cardiologist’s recommendation was to get back in the healthy weight range gradually and to improve my cardiovascular fitness by exercising for 30 minutes daily.
“But you’re a personal trainer,” he said with a kindly smile. “You know what to do.”
‘Yes,’ I thought. ‘I do know what to do.’
I was about to get back into personal training again. And I would train the most important client of my entire life.
My life depended on it.
As soon as I left the cardiologist’s office, I called into ALDI and filled my cart with mostly veggies, fruits, yogurt, oatmeal, chicken breast, and dark chocolate. The second I got home, I meal prepped healthy lunches for the week.
And every day since, I’ve gotten my ass out of bed at 6 am and exercised for an hour, sometimes an hour and a half (with rest on Sundays, of course).
I haven’t tracked calories, cut out foods, or restricted my hunger cues, but I’m crowding out my meals with nutrients as much as possible.
I still don’t know what’s causing the numbness and tingling, but with the help of a great medical team, I’m not putting things off. We’re getting to the bottom of it and I’m confident it’s easily treatable.
And yes, I will put my hand on my heart and say it, loud and proud: I love and accept my body. And I am losing weight.
Not to look swole, or ripped, or shredded.
To be able to get up and down stairs without needing a puffer.
To be able to sit down for five minutes without circulation problems.
To be able to keep up with my athletic husband when we enjoy an active pastime together.
To be able to walk without my feet burning.
To not get joint pain just from moving.
To not feel stiff and achy in my spine.
To not suffer so tremendously with carpal tunnel (weight gain exacerbates symptoms).
To go to sleep and not feel the pressure on my chest from my own weight.
To not get irritating and sometimes painful chafing from my thighs rubbing together when I walk.
To have the energy, the flexibility, the strength, the agility to live my life to its absolute fullest.
To live long enough to see my nieces’ and nephews’ babies, and even their babies (maybe even my own great-grandbabies).
To give my body – and my life – the best chance of longevity.
To be healthy.
To be the healthiest, fittest version of me – for real, this time.
Not because I hate myself.
But because, as a trainer and nutritional therapist, I know how I’m supposed to take care of my body, to love my body.
I’m not doing that, and I’m suffering as a result.
Neglecting my body by not moving it and abusing it with food because I’m not interested in losing weight is not self love. Punishing my body with exercise and restricting food to shoehorn it into this year’s on-trend body type is also not self love.
My body spoke to me loud and clear on that Sunday afternoon, and I had a choice.
I could be indignant about the fact I was told to lose weight. I could be “right”.
Or I could stay alive.
I could reduce my risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and cancers while I had the chance.
This whole exploration of body image and self love was about one thing in the first place, and one thing only: feeling good.
And the truth is, I really don’t feel good in my body anymore.
I know what being in a healthy body feels like. It’s wonderful.
And this isn’t it.
It doesn’t feel good to move it. It doesn’t feel good to live with it. And it doesn’t feel good to be in it.
Now, none of this to say that you can’t be this size and feel good or healthy, or even to exaggerate my size.
But at my size, in my body right now, I don’t feel healthy, fit, or good.
In fact, I got sick.
Living with this extra weight doesn’t feel good. It’s exacerbating my chronic illness and putting me at risk of several more.
My weight and my diet and my lack of movement became a health issue.
My beautiful body was suffering.
If I work out daily and eat well consistently, and I don’t lose a single kilo?
That’s okay. I love and accept my body even if it never changes.
But this way, I know I did everything I could to be healthy.
The last time I strove to lose weight I did so because I thought it would increase my worth – my self worth, and the worth I thought others would see in me.
This time? There’s no connection between the two.
My current weight and my current lifestyle is a health issue and a personal preference issue, not a worth issue.
I am in my body, and my body is important to me because I need it to stay alive and experience life. On the other hand, I am more than my body and the way it looks has nothing to do with the way I value myself.
Just like the way other people’s bodies look has nothing to do with how I value them.
And whether you need to lose weight for health reasons, or gain weight for health reasons, or want to change your body purely for personal preference reasons, you absolutely CAN accept your body now, and value yourself AND want to change.
In fact, I would argue that accepting your current body and valuing yourself and your worth outside your body is the first most important step to change.
I think that’s really what body positivity is. As Mallorie Dunn writes in Psychology Today, body positivity is …
“…the understanding that your worth and what’s going on with you physically are two separate entities — that no matter what’s happening inside, outside, or to your body, you’re still just as worthwhile as the person next to you.”
So you probably clicked on this post because you, too, are feeling conflicted. This entire “body acceptance” movement is wonderful and has swept you off your feet, like it did me, and now … now you’re not feeling like yourself anymore.
It’s not like you think being in your current body is wrong, or bad, or shameful.
It’s not like the way your body looks dictates how you value yourself.
It’s not like you judge yourself or others based on body habitus.
But maybe you’re just not feeling great anymore.
Maybe you don’t feel like yourself anymore.
Maybe like me, you had a health scare.
And you’ve come to the realization that this isn’t the answer, just as much as dieting isn’t the answer.
And you’re asking the question …
Can I have a healthy body image AND want to lose weight?
Yes, babe! Yes, you can.
It’s not about the fact you want to feel healthy and fit in your body.
It’s not about the fact that you want to lose weight.
It’s about your mentality behind it.
Dig deep and think about your motivations for losing weight.
Does it come from insecurity, fear, or guilt?
Or does it come from a place of self love and wanting to do what’s best for your life and your health?
Does it come from feeling pressured, unworthy or insecure?
Or is it because you know that this is the right move for YOU?
Deep down in your heart of hearts, when you shut out the noise and listen, you know already know the answer.
the edit: shop the story