As a child, I don’t remember a time when I felt comfortable in my skin. 

I don’t write this to elicit sympathy, it’s just a fact. One I know is not unique. Growing up, I felt self-conscious about my fair skin during a time when being tan was “in” — and this eventually turned into an obsession with my weight. Sometime in high school, I started counting calories and exercising compulsively. I had always been thin but, when I hit puberty, my body started filling out in places I hadn’t expected and I was incredibly self-conscious. Dieting and exercising gave me some semblance of control over my life when it seemed like my anxiety was constantly throwing everything off balance. It didn’t help that my mom was obsessed with her weight and always had been. She was constantly telling me the amount of weight she had lost or needed to lose and it was clear that she closely aligned her value with being close to her ideal weight. 

I continued to struggle with accepting my body into my twenties, with the worst period being during the year before my wedding. 

As so many brides do, I fell into the diet trap. I believed that this was the most important day of my life and I would look at the photos forever so I wanted to be my absolute thinnest without looking truly skeletal. With the help of a low-carb diet that Kate Middleton famously used before her wedding, I got down to around 110 pounds (about fifteen pounds below my usual weight). The photos from my wedding are beautiful, but I remember feeling completely self-conscious because I hadn’t lost more weight. 

I continued to struggle with accepting my body into my twenties, with the worst period being during the year before my wedding. 

At some point in my twenties, I started drinking to ease the anxiety I had always dealt with. This was the beginning of a serious drinking problem that lasted until I was 30 when, one evening after having too much wine and feeling ashamed of my drinking yet again, I vowed to quit — and I did. 

One of the bright spots in early sobriety was the thought that I would lose a bunch of weight without trying. I’d given birth to my sweet daughter in August and had gotten sober in December, and I still had about 20 pounds of pregnancy weight that hadn’t just fallen off like the rest of it had. 

It would turn out that my weight would barely move for the first four months of sobriety. But soon after quitting drinking, I no longer cared. Living sober was truly the hardest thing I had ever done (and I had recently delivered a baby). My sole function in life became staying sober, at any cost, and for me, this meant ingesting a lot of caffeine and sugar. I reached for any food that was comforting: Dark chocolate, peanut butter cups, ice cream — you name it and it was probably in my Whole Foods cart every day after work.

My work in sobriety focused on self-care and I learned that eating what I felt like eating could be part of that. I never started believing that sugar was good for me but I realized it might be less destructive for me than alcohol. In addition to eating what I wanted, I learned to tune into my body in other ways, primarily through meditation and using mantras.

At around four months sober, I started dealing with awful heartburn and indigestion. I realized that maybe my diet of pure sugar and fat wasn’t helping things so I researched foods that could cause heartburn and made a plan to avoid them. Sadly, they were many of my favorite things: Spicy, sugary and high-fat foods were all on the list. 

I worked with a friend who is a bit of a health guru to make sure I was eating enough protein, fat, and carbohydrates without overdoing it. I learned that this approach to nutrition was called, “macronutrient diet” or just “macro” for short. I focused on hitting my goals in terms of getting enough protein, fat, and carbohydrates, not worrying about calories or restricting anything except foods that made me feel bad. I realized that the longer I took this approach to eating, the better I felt. 

I started avoiding foods like this that were often high in sugar or were highly processed, not because I considered them to be “bad” but because I knew I wouldn’t feel good if I ate them. 

Eventually, at about six weeks of watching my macros, I stopped tracking everything because I had learned what foods worked for my body and which didn’t, as well as what to eat to get enough of the macronutrients I needed. While I have a huge sweet tooth and would happily eat cake every day, I would feel like garbage if I did. I started avoiding foods like this that were often high in sugar or were highly processed, not because I considered them to be “bad” but because I knew I wouldn’t feel good if I ate them. However, I’d still indulge from time to time, but with the knowledge that I wouldn’t feel great after.

As I continued to take this more intuitive approach to eating, I continued to feel better as well as lose weight. But weight loss was no longer the goal. 

Somewhere in the months of sobriety that had been stacking up, I had changed my mindset entirely. I had learned and truly took to heart for the first time that there was nothing wrong with me simply as I was, including whatever weight I was. My feelings about the issue had become, “Sure, it would be nice to fit into my old clothes, but hey, I can always buy new clothes.” And honestly, I started feeling amazing about myself and my body, even when I weighed more than I did pre-pregnancy.  

There was a point at which I was close to my pre-pregnancy weight that a thought popped into my head for a split second. “If I went low-carb, I could lose the rest of this really quickly.” But I stopped and thought about it and realized that I just couldn’t impose that kind of restriction on myself because it wasn’t worth it and I deserved more. I no longer saw my body as something I needed to beat into submission and instead was respecting its innate beauty for the first time. The amount of physical space it took up was no longer a concern of mine. 

I no longer saw my body as something I needed to beat into submission and instead was respecting its innate beauty for the first time. 

Today I ask myself two questions when I’m hungry: “What sounds good?” And “how will this make me feel?” This leads to me usually choosing healthier options, but I still indulge whenever I want to. 

My weight has plateaued and I’m happy with it because I am happy with how I feel, finally, as a sober person.