I was about to allow myself to live. To be present. To not let PCOS govern me. To not let the mold govern me.
It was a concept I had no idea how to navigate, but I wasn’t scared to figure it out.
In the locker room that day I felt a pivotal shift that launched me into a decision. On the drive home I sobbed to my boyfriend on the phone that I was sick of PCOS. I was sick of the physical and emotional weight. But I also finally admitted out loud to myself that I was mentally sick. My body and mind were drained. I couldn’t see how my life had meaning or purpose anymore. I was not present with myself or my surroundings. I was all body-focus.
Nothing was more important than making sure I fit the mold that my body wasn’t built for.
What a small and limited world to live in. Not being built for that mold was something I needed to learn to accept and be at peace with. I needed to learn to ignore the mold, and instead celebrate my body the way it was. But I was a long way from body celebration when I crashed.
Freeing Myself from My Prison
I realized that the gym and mirrors were toxic to me because they only triggered thoughts of self-hatred. I didn’t want to even look at another dumbbell again, let alone touch it. I wanted nothing to do with reps and sets. I never wanted to step onto another cardio machine. I wanted freedom and the gym was my prison.
The next day I went back to the gym, but this time I was closing down my membership. For the first time in 5 years I wouldn’t have access to the gym. I reflected on how there was a time when this would have scared me. But not today. There was a slight spring in my step as I walked across the parking lot. I was about to release myself from my bondage.
To me, this moment was more than closing a gym membership. It was closing a chapter of my life. It was the beginning of a new era, the era of permission to be happy.
It was a concept I had no idea how to navigate, but I wasn’t scared to figure it out. I had some idea of the consequences this decision could have, but I was hopeful that I could figure out a joyful way to avoid them. I was about to allow myself to live. To be present. To not let PCOS govern me. To not let the mold govern me.
The Road to Healing
I don’t recommend my method of self-healing as it may not have been the wisest choice with my health condition, but I was at my wit’s end. I ditched portion control and restricting the types of foods I ate. I reintroduced dairy, refined carbs, and definitely ate too much steak (it was so good!). I did what I could with exercise. I knew I had to keep moving just to stay healthy. (On a side note, little did I know that I was preparing myself for a time when all the gyms would be closed indefinitely.)
Going off the track of an aspiring fitness model with PCOS was the easy and fun part. I loved waking up and just doing and eating what I wanted instead of putting off the gym until it was late in the day or denying myself that ice cream in the freezer because I didn’t want to get fat. The hardest parts were dealing with the disappearance of hard-earned muscle, clothes not fitting the same and having to go up in size, and not being able to easily do simple tasks like walk up stairs, stand from sitting, or get up from the floor. These changes didn’t take me by surprise, but facing the reality of them and how I was going to change my perspective on them was where the growth I needed happened. To this day, I firmly believe that this process was necessary to where and who I am today.
Changing My Exercise Perspective
When my body began to change my learned false narrative that I was not valid unless thin was so strong that there were times I’d pour over google to find weight loss methods that didn’t involve endless hours at the gym or restrictive eating. I tried yoga for an hour a day. Hated it. I tried 30 minutes a day of exercise. I tried every other day. I used apps and videos. I was so sick of exercise, but I knew I had to do it. The only thing I found great joy in was going for long hikes by myself. So I clung to that piece of joy in the warmer New England months. This is around the time I started to realize that it was the “why” of my exercise habits that needed to be changed, not the exercise itself, because I began to hate hiking as well. It was beginning to become about losing weight and “exercising,” not simply doing it to enjoy my life. It wasn’t until a year or so later after I’d moved to California, when I worked with a nutritionist who told me to just do some walking 3x a week for an hour, that I started to develop the Mindset Check-In. It was those times when I walked and created space for thoughts that the wheels started to turn and the conception of my personal training philosophy began. In order for anything to be sustainable, you have to find the joy in it.
Changing My Nutrition Perspective
Food was another area that I just couldn’t seem to get a handle on after I left my restrictive lifestyle. I was trying to find PCOS friendly recipes that weren’t boring. I found a few, but mostly I went off into nutrition that was more harmful than helpful. Baked goods, wine, and carb heavy pasta alternatives became the norm. However, over time I found that I wanted moderation, because moving too far to the other side of the spectrum was leaving me feeling heavy, sleepy, and unhappy. I wanted a nourishing nutrition habits that allowed me the freedom to eat fun things every now and then. There were stressful voices that ate away at me when I consumed food that I knew was bad for me. They still happen now, but I’ve learned that believing them and dwelling on the food I just ate has done more damage than just eating the thing and getting on with life. Because the negative narrative seems to be engrained in me from formative years, I feel that this is a struggle I will always face. But I make sure to exercise positive reinforcement daily so that I don’t get carried away again.
Building a Stronger Defense Against a False Narrative
It was the mental work surrounding food, exercise, and my body image that changed my life, not the changes my body went through. It was mental work that was arduous, painful, lengthy, and sometimes felt ineffective. I know now that it wasn’t. I was incrementally building a stronger and stronger defense with each moment I met harsh self-criticism with unconditional self-love. The mirror became the scariest place for me to be.
I had to teach myself that the thoughts which bombarded me when I looked at myself did not have to be believed, and changing who I followed on social media to people who loved themselves in their natural shape reinforced the truth that I was beautiful the way I was.
If the thought came, “Gosh you look so fat,” I would take a moment and tell myself, “By whose standards are you fat? Is that source something you want in your life? Are those standards you need to adhere to anymore? Why would you want to adhere to standards from a world that does nothing but take from you? Be part of the world that gives. Gosh, you look so beautiful. And look at all the things you have in your life. Your family and boyfriend love you for being a wonderful person. You love you for being a wonderful person. Why are you a wonderful person?” And then I’d pick 1-3 qualities that I truly loved about myself.
In those moments, did this 100% heal the inner monologue I struggled so immensely with? Did it feel like some giant epiphany that would carry me through the rest of my life? No. It didn’t feel like a giant revelation. It felt mundane, minute. But it felt like I could leave the mirror with the reminder to nourish not punish. And nourishment at that point in time meant allowing myself to be free.
As I got back into exercise and more nourishing eating habits, I proceeded with caution because it was and is easy to slip back into old thought patterns. I avoided working out in front of mirrors. Not because I was afraid of what I’d see, but because I knew that mirrors encouraged thinking I was done with. I wasn’t ready to see myself yet. I’d spent half my life judging myself in front of dance studio and gym mirrors. I wasn’t ready to go back. When I exercised, if I got tired or bored in the middle of a work out, I stopped. I knew that pushing through that would make the next workout harder to even start. If I didn’t feel like I’d accomplished what I’d set out to, I’d turn away from that and say, “you accomplished doing it. That’s all that matters.” And that’s all that should matter. I still use that today, now that I am back to exercising regularly. If I feel like the workout was too short, or I didn’t do enough reps or sets, I tell myself one simple sentence: “You did enough.” And I repeat it until my mind moves on with the day.
One of the biggest lessons I learned was do not dwell on your workout or your food. Just do it and let it be. That’s where freedom is.
Where I Am Now
I decided to believe all the wonderful things people said about me. I decided to see me for who I was. But you can’t just do that all of a sudden. Through my early 20s I had made the decision to believe the negative narrative so much so that it was the only place my thoughts lived when it came to myself and my life’s trajectory. That takes patient reprogramming. Today, at the beginning of my 30s, I practice self-awareness and self-love. I am alert to restriction mindset which can come back at a moment’s notice and I do my best to not let it carry me away. I practice mindset check-ins and I allow myself treats. I allow myself to live. I give myself permission to live with balance.
You have to live. We are only here for a moment and then gone forever. In the big picture it’s ridiculous to fuss over the things which we cannot change. Keep an open mind to the pleasurable things you can fit in your life and still take care of your body, and have fun. After all, enjoying your life is all part of taking care of your health.