Since I can remember I have always loved to dance. I have so many memories of dancing with my sister to Hi-5, performing on stage, competing in competitions and testing out my new dance moves in front of my family at Nonna’s house. It was always something that made me so happy. I loved nothing more than smiling and being on stage.
When I was about eight my family moved in with my Nonna whilst we were building our new house. During that time my love for food and Nonna’s amazing cooking grew. I was still super active. I did swimming and continued to dance three nights a week. My body at that point began to change. I didn’t think anything of it. I was a kid, I just wanted to eat and dance with my friends. I knew I looked different to the other girls at ballet but it never really phased me too much. My family always reminded me that I was beautiful and that everybody has a different body.
I have always been exposed to diets in some capacity. I understood from a young age that some food was “good” and some was “bad.” I now know that these labels are not true. Food is food. Many members of my family were always “watching their weight” or “trying a new meal plan.” Everything was “low fat” or “skinny.” I didn’t think much of it. I just understood that it was better to have the “skinny” option. Looking back with the knowledge I now have I understand that isn’t always the case.
My perception of myself began to change when I was about 12. I was a strong dancer and was about to compete in a competition. My team and I were being fitted for our costumes one night. We were told to line up in height order so that they could determine our costume sizes. I was short so naturally I went and stood with the girls my height. I can still hear the words ringing in my ears and the red burning of my cheeks when I was told that I had to stand with the tall girls because of my weight. I was so embarrassed and ashamed of what my body looked like. From that point my body became an issue at dance because I didn’t fit in with the other girls in the group.
When I went to high school I stopped competing and decided to join the dance program at school. I LOVED it. I was just average and fit in so well with the other girls. My love for food (and cake) continued to grow. I was still a fit dancer and ate good whole foods but I always had room for dessert. I remember at one stage I was having cake every morning for breakfast. Nonna would make me an apple or an almond cake to enjoy for breakfast during the week (bless that woman). I LOVED my treats especially at dance rehearsals. My obsession with crispy M&Ms, Shapes and Bakers Delight twists was very real.
I maintained a relatively healthy relationship with my body right up until the end of year 12. I was a healthy girl most of the time. I ate good food at home and to be honest rarely did I ever eat out. I won’t lie I did let the pressure to be skinny get to me a little bit and went through a phase where I cut out chocolate for a solid year and I did try the diet shakes for breakfast (goodbye cake). But all in all high school was a really positive experience for me. I had amazing friends, exercised regularly and was very dedicated academically. I finished school with an ATAR I was extremely proud of and an offer from Deakin University to study Law and Arts.
In the summer before I started uni I stopped exercising and dancing had finished. I kept eating the way I was eating when I was doing year 12 exams (a lot of food) but didn’t really burn any of it off. When I first started uni I was overwhelmed with the work load. It was challenging and I just wanted to be at home and study all the time.
In March that year my cousin asked me to be part of her wedding party. I thought that if I was going to be in the wedding party that I needed to look a particular way. I thought that in order to look beautiful in my dress I would need to be thinner than I was. I joined a gym with my mum and we started going a few times a week. I hated it. I did the same thing every time I went because I didn’t know what else to do. I would dread going and would not hide that from mum who would tolerate me complaining the whole way there. When we started attending some group fitness classes I began to enjoy it a little bit more. I toned up quite a bit by the wedding in December but I was never really 100% happy with the way my body looked.
In the year after the wedding I continued to exercise at the gym. A close friend of mine joined up at the gym too. It became fun. We would do classes together and I would genuinely enjoy it. I was conscious of what I was eating but didn’t really have any nutritional information to back why I wouldn’t eat particular foods. I was largely going off what the media said… “don’t have carbs”, “fat is bad.”
In June 2015 I was offered a position at Widener University in Delaware to study for a month. I had the best time. It was the first time I had gone away, independent from my family. I loved the freedom. There was a fit little group of us that would go for walks and the gym together. I loved it. When I got back I realized I had lost a couple of kilos and I felt really good. I thought that if I lost just a few more kilos I would finally attain that “perfect” body.
I heard about the weight loss benefits of cutting out sugar. I cut out all the refined sugar from my diet and kept my consumption of fruit to an absolute minimum. I was lucky if I consumed one piece of fruit a day and it had to be in the morning for fear that I won’t be able to burn off the sugar if I ate it any later. By November I had lost about five kilos. I kept getting compliments about how great I looked. That’s when the weight obsession started.
By the end of December, I had lost another five kilos. I was googling low calorie foods I could eat and the amount of calories I could consume in a day. I never stopped eating all together but I did stop eating a lot of foods that were rich in nutrients and high in healthy fats in an effort to lose more weight.
Inside I was miserable. I always felt nervous. I always felt guilty. I was always mentally and physically tracking what I ate. I rarely ate out. I would not eat much if I knew I was going somewhere for dinner. I would kill myself at the gym if I even had so much as a spoonful of gelati. I felt lethargic. I was weak. I had no self-confidence. I looked awful. But to me I was still fat. I wasn’t good enough.
Early in 2016 my mum and sister started to show their concern but I convinced myself that they were just jealous of the progress that I had made. By April 2016 I had lost over 10kgs and I had not had my period for eight months. I had a really unhealthy relationship with food and was so terrified of everything I ate because I thought it would make me ‘fat.’ It wasn’t until I had a bit of a health scare and a rude awakening from dad that I knew I had to do something.
One night my dad told me I looked awful and that I needed to go to the doctor. I got some blood tests done and it revealed the start of some serious damage to my insides. The doctor told me that if I ever want to have children I needed to do something about my health. The thought of never being able to have children scared me more than anything.
The doctor gave me the option to heal myself through diet and exercise or be prescribed medication to fix the problem. I chose to heal myself and within just a few weeks I had gained back some weight and my period came back. This was only going to be the start. I was starting to get physical body back on track but the battle with my own mind was definitely the biggest challenge. While I was definitely on a path to recovery there was a lot of work to be done. I had to retrain my brain to love what I looked like and appreciate my body the way it is.
It took over a year of intense personal development to regain my confidence and love of food. I developed a love for nutrition and genuinely understanding what foods my body needs for energy.
The end of 2017 was a massive turning point for me. It was the first time since I was a kid that I could eat and enjoy food for the beautiful thing that it is. It is a blessing. I love my culture and my family so much. I enjoy nothing more than being surrounded by loved ones laughing and eating. I love that I can go somewhere to eat and not be nervous. I love that I can go away on holiday and not worry about gaining weight. I love that the guilt is finally gone.
The sad thing is that my story is not unique. I speak to people all the time who are dissatisfied with their bodies. Hearing the horrible things they say about themselves truly breaks my heart. I want to share the importance of self-love and acceptance and the way that it can change every aspect of your life.
I can honestly say that I am the happiest and healthiest I have ever been! I train so much better now. I actually look forward to my gym sessions (most of the time). I think clearer. My mood is more stable. My relationships with others are stronger. I am always working on myself mentally to ensure I maintain as much balance in my life as I can. I believe that the mind, body and spirit are all interconnected and that finding harmony between them is the key to a life of joy.
I have had the pleasure of meeting such incredible people and having such a supportive family network who have always been there to love and encourage me. Every day I am inspired by the people I CHOOSE to associate with. I am developing mechanisms to help me deal with toxic energy and am definitely making it my mission to surround myself with people that bring out the best in me.
It is not an easy thing to do to start loving yourself but I believe that it can transform your life! I hope that me sharing my experience, my little tips, crazy family antics, recipes and my embarrassing and clumsy moments is helpful to anyone that is currently battling with their minds. We are all worthy of a wonderful life, let’s start living our best lives together today!