It’s been about seven years since I was super lean. Shredded. Twelve percent body fat and completely obsessed with counting calories and tracking macros.
During my “lean phase” I ate 1,500 calories every single day, trained for two or more hours, and waited for the weekend so that I could go “off plan” and binge to my heart’s desire. Every Monday morning I would step on the scale, cry, and then punish myself all week with intense exercise and strict dieting.
Friday morning I would weigh myself again, just to see if all of my obsessive behavior had resulted in the loss of Monday’s bloat. It almost always did, and in that case, I would consider myself worthy. I would reward myself with pizza, cookies, orange chicken, and wine.
This behavior sounds neurotic to me now, but I think back on those days and remember not even questioning it. I was hustling to be lean… because I was hustling to be lean.
I wasn’t competing. I wasn’t even modeling at that point. I just needed—desperately—to be lean. There was no other reason, or no real reason, anyway.
Today, as I sit here 15 pounds heavier and a million times happier, I ask myself why.
Why did I need to be so lean? Why was my body fat the main focus of my entire life? Why did I struggle, and hustle, and cry when the scale showed a one-pound gain?
Today, I can ask those questions, and I can do it without judgment. After all, in the seven years since I’ve been shredded, I’ve grown, expanded, and become relentlessly comfortable in my own skin. But at that point in my life, the point during which leanness was the ultimate pursuit, I never asked myself why.
Had I asked, I think I would have been shocked at the answer. I wasn’t hustling for a low body fat percentage because I needed to be lean for any reason whatsoever. And, in the end, I wasn’t actually hustling for leanness at all—I was hustling for worthiness.
I didn’t own my worthiness.
Somewhere along the way, my inherent, implacable worthiness was challenged. It had become debatable, conditional, and controlled by external forces.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but after years of reflection and coaching other women on empowerment and body image, I’ve found that so many of us have experienced this loss of worthiness. So many of us have hustled for love, belonging, and success—often in the form of body transformation. All the while, we’ve had no real idea why we were doing so.
This is, in my experience, the first step. We have to ask why.
If we find ourselves on this relentless, brutal, unforgiving quest for some arbitrary number or physical appearance, the first step towards breaking free is simply asking why.
I never asked why. I was on “lean or bust” autopilot, but deep down inside, there was a quiet, lurking feeling that if I could just be leaner…
I could finally be worthy of love and success.
My boyfriend wouldn’t cheat on me.
I would be more respected as a trainer.
I could be worthy of affection and praise.
Today I know I’m not alone; I know so many of us have lived with that constant, judgmental whisper. We might not even be fully aware that it’s there. We just know that we need to eat cleaner, exercise harder, get smaller, all so that we can be worthy.
We have to stop and ask why.
Why do I think I need to lose 10 pounds?
Why do I think I need to be x% body fat?
Why do I have this unyielding belief that when I reach that arbitrary physique goal, then I’ll be happy?
It’s all in the asking. When we stop to ask why— with honest and compassionate discernment—we come to realize that there does not exist a solid, honest-to-goodness reason for all this hustling.
When we find the courage to ask why, we realize:
- Our inner critics tell us we simply aren’t good enough unless we can become leaner, smaller, tighter, and more aesthetically pleasing (whatever that is at any given moment).
- The media tells us what a woman’s body should like, and urges us to chase a “bikini-worthy body” at all costs.
- Someone in our past or present has given us the idea that we need to change our body in pursuit of love, affection, or relationship stability.
- Comparison convinces us that we aren’t good enough because look at all the other perfect bodies, and why can’t we be perfect too!?
These are those mean little whispers that we bring to the foreground when we choose to ask why. Once they become transparent, they no longer have a solid reason for existing. They can’t control our worthiness when we ask why.
Today, with my worthiness firmly in my own grasp, I no longer feel the incessant desire to be lean at all costs. I no longer act without feeling aligned with the “why” behind my actions. I know that my “why” for all of my actions is to be authentically me—to be comfortable in my body, and intentional in my life.
I know that I want to stand in my power, to live in the fullness of my being, to help other women reclaim their worthiness, love their bodies, and find the courage to ask why.