I met my husband Les in the summer of 2012. I had a terrible haircut, interesting fashion choices and happened to be my heaviest weight – considered by GP standards, obese.
When we met, I felt invisible. I would compare my body constantly to others. The double chins, tummy rolls, chafing thighs, back fat. Why couldn’t I be thin? Why couldn’t I stick to a diet?
As much as I tried to conceal it, Les soon learnt I’d spent a decade hating my body, which was seriously hard work. I’d obsessed over food and become an emotional eater – a binge eater.
It made dinner dates agony. I was cagey around food. I felt guilty enjoying it, when I’d told myself to be worthy I needed to show self-control and willpower. Any enjoyment I got from a shared dessert, later came with feelings of shame and guilt.
It was tough on Les. Some of our biggest fights happened when he didn’t know how to respond when I said I felt fat and had nothing to wear. Sitting among a pile of clothes, hot tears rolling down my face, he couldn’t win. He’d tell me I was beautiful and I’d venomously spit the compliment away.
I don’t know how many times I made us late to events, but I was struggling. I was hurting. I felt unworthy. And Les, he never got angry. He’d just tell me, “Losing weight is not your life’s purpose. You are so much more than your weight. You are enough just as you are.” I heard the words, yes, but it took time to actually listen to them.
HE HAD SUPERHUMAN PATIENCE
I’d been dieting and hating my body since I was 11. This wasn’t going to get ‘fixed’ overnight because Les said I was beautiful once or twice. The process of loving – or even just accepting – my body took time and constant work. It took patience and kindness, both from myself and from my partner.
I made small changes that grew. Les noticed that when I met up with a particular friend I felt insecure. He noticed that I spent too many hours on social media comparing my body to six-packs and thigh-gaps, then feeling shame and repulsion.
Gingerly, he’d ask: “I’ve noticed that when you see a photo of yourself that you don’t like, you often feel worse about yourself? Have you noticed this too?” It opened my eyes to the self-abuse. He was and still is my ultimate cheerleader.
When I’d feel gross for bingeing and not exercising, I’d chastise myself.
But Les helped me see I didn’t need to feel guilty. He’d ask how he could help, even if all I needed was to be held. Looking back, my body battle was exhausting for both of us but his decision not to judge more or encourage me to go on yet another diet was one of the reasons I finally learnt to accept – and even love – my body.
Some body positive advocates will disagree with me here, but while hearing ‘you’re not fat, you’re beautiful’ wasn’t some miracle salve, it didn’t hurt either. Those gentle reminders did help, as did compliments on things other than my appearance. They did the groundwork for building a previously shattered confidence.
My husband and I have been together for eight years and married for five. Since then, a lot has changed. I’ve helped thousands of people end emotional and binge eating for good with my program Keep It Real. I’ve also lost 20kg. And that happened when I stopped counting almonds and calories and started counting happy memories instead.
Les has played a big role in helping me love my body, even on the days when it’s not easy. And I’ll always be so grateful to him.
Before you think the feminist inside me has died and left my body, I’m not saying that women need a man to feel beautiful. But knowing that the person you’re most intimate with accepts and loves you just as you are can help shift the way you feel about yourself.
MY PROGRESS CAME LIKE WAVES
Over time, those waves got larger and more frequent. The downs didn’t dip as low. My relationship with myself changed, and when I felt down about my body, I didn’t stay down quite as long. Those waves eventually became calm water.
These days I love my strong, capable body, which feels like a radical act of self-love when we’re fed dieting propaganda that deifies thin bodies and sidelines anything with a soft tummy or thighs that touch. On that, as a woman and a dietitian, I call BS.
I’m healthy. I don’t have abs but I do have energy. I can be strong and soft at the same time. And in December it was this body that grew and birthed our baby boy, Leo.
I look forward to showing him a woman who talks about herself with respect and appreciation that doesn’t depend on her jeans size – and for that I have myself and my husband to thank.
Lyndi Cohen is a dietitian, best-selling author, founder of the Back to Basics App and Keep It Real, an online program for ending binge and emotional eating | @nude_nutritionist