I put myself on my first diet when I was eight years old. No, that’s not a typo. I was eight. Three years prior, at the tender age of five, the teasing had begun when I moved to a new school.

I didn’t fit in (literally).

So using my logical eight-year-old brain, I simply viewed my body as a problem, and determined if I just “fixed it,” then the kids wouldn’t tease me, I’d have more friends, and all would be right in my world. I would belong.

Or so I thought.

It took me years to realize that fitting in would never help me feel comfortable in my own skin. Fitting in would never help me feel enough. Fitting in wasn’t the key — belonging was.

The trouble is that “fitting in” isn’t belonging. Belonging isn’t about conforming or aligning to others; it’s about genuinely and authentically belonging to yourself first (thanks Brené Brown for that nugget).

Sadly, it took me many years to realize this.

That diet was the beginning of a long and tumultuous journey with my body, one that involved more diets than I can count.

I even studied Kinesiology at University and became a Personal Trainer, thinking (even if only subconsciously) that if I could just understand, I could fix this problem. I could fix me.

As with most people, my relationship with my body has had its ups and downs. There have been periods where there was greater ease and comfort, and times when I just wanted to call it quits.

The cost was considerable. I missed out on opportunities. I spend much of my mental real estate pre-occupied by whether my body looked OK, or worrying about how people might view me, whether people would take me seriously or value me professionally based on how I looked. It stole my focus and my capacity to be present. It didn’t just drain me financially, it drained me physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Then, I decided enough was enough, and began to see that I was in the drivers seat, and I could change direction at any time.

There was no “aha” moment or point of awakening, but rather microsteps of growth along the way that brought me this profound shift in mindset. Participating in an Ironman taught me I was stronger and more capable than I thought. My studies helped me see what a tremendous wonder the human body is. Becoming a mom gifted me a profound level of gratitude and awe for my own body.

Over the years, all these combined experiences began to shift my belief about my body. I started to see that my body wasn’t a problem, and my purpose on this planet wasn’t to fix it.

I didn’t need to feed into the social stream of consciousness informed by marketing machines that tell women everywhere to tone, tighten, and be ageless — or be irrelevant. I am relevant, important, and enough, just by merit of who I am right now. I came to realize I am powerful beyond measure, and this tireless pursuit of perfection was stealing my joy. I came to realize that my voice matters more than the span of my hips — that my compassion is more valuable than my complexion, and that my actions speak louder than the definition of my abs.

I wish I could say there was a magical light switch. But that’s not how change transpires. Lasting change comes with practice and patience. It’s the sum of many experiences that compound upon one another in the direction you wish to go.

Here are five of the practices I embraced along the way that dramatically shifted my views on beauty, body, and the pursuit of perfection.

  1. I stopped dieting. Period. I embraced a practice of mindful eating and didn’t “buy into” diet culture (literally and figuratively) . The savings to my resources, both mental and financial, were astounding.
  2. I discovered self-compassion as a life changing strategy. I noticed when I was being unkind to myself and began to speak to myself as I would a dear friend. I offered myself grace and kindness.
  3. I viewed movement as a gift. Instead of regarding exercise as another chore, or something I had to do, I shifted my language to reflect my new mindset. Exercise became something I got to do. And with that shift, the gratitude for my body began to flow.
  4. I edited my environment. I began to notice when the messages I saw in media reflected or distracted me from this new mindset – and I made changes. I unliked and unfollowed on social media and I stopped investing in businesses that didn’t align with my values. I also noticed when people, places, and things in my environment either supported or distracted me, and acted accordingly to reduce or eliminate their impact.
  5. I engaged in conversation. At first, I did this with my friends and family, and then with strangers. I embraced the opportunity to be a leader in the body positivity movement. I began to use my voice to change the conversation by becoming involved or initiating activities that could be catalysts for social change. All the while I would believe with my whole heart that every conversation matters.

I continue to view this mindset as a practice. My relationship with my body is no different than any relationship. It takes intention, attention, and work to maintain. But the rewards are plentiful. I no longer spend my days preoccupied by worry and anxiety; instead I get out and truly enjoy my life. I have reinvested my financial, mental, and emotional resources into living a life that inspires me, where I’m surrounded by extraordinary people that truly lift me up. And I could not be more grateful.

Gillian Goerzen photographed by Brooke Hewitt-Morgan of Captured Essence Photography

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