I've Gained Weight on Yoga

Now before you go twisting your (yoga) panties in a bunch, let me give you a backdrop:

I was the little girl who ate every single morsel of shrimp as my mother peeled them with alarming speed. I remember thinking, "She's peeling too many! But if I don't finish it all, she'll scold me." It turns out she was trying to peel some for herself, but couldn't keep up with my chewing. And those steamed Chinese pork buns? One afternoon in her office, I ate three in a row, followed by a serious bunch of bananas. I was eight. My mother's eyes widened in wonder (and horror) at how much I could really consume.

I grew up in a household enlivened by food. My father, in import/export trade, relished bringing home new sample products, expired perishables (edible, just not sellable), and whipped up amazing creations with all of our leftover knickknacks. I still remember that open-faced tuna melt he made, topped with thin slivers of tomatoes and perfectly melted slices of American cheese. It was the first tuna melt I ever tasted in my life, and it was glorious. He also showed me how to put potato chips and apple slices in your sandwich -- because, by golly, it's your sandwich, and you can do with it what you want.

Like many women, however, somewhere along the path of adolescence I became consumed with my body image. External perception ruled everything. I struggled to fit into what I envisioned as my own physical perfection. As a teenager, even though I took pride in keeping a slim figure while eating and partying right alongside the boys, I hated myself when I wasn't at my "ideal weight." So...I hated myself. A lot.

Obsessive calorie tracking began. Meal replacement bars. Protein shakes. L-glutamine powder (that stuff is magic, by the way) on leg days so that I could still go to the gym without being sore on Saturdays. Two intense kickboxing classes a day, plus shoulders and back in the weight room because I felt I slacked off the day before. My hip, which was never really an issue before, suddenly gave me debilitating pain no specialist could explain to me. The leading orthopedic doctor took one look at my x-ray and exclaimed, "You're quite healthy!"

I certainly didn't feel healthy, and I see now that I was definitely not healthy. But this was my depressive norm.

Health is so much more than a number on a scale. It’s about the light you carry in your eyes. I know that sounds a bit new-agey, but have you ever looked deeply into the eyes of an unhappy person? I call it dead-eyes. It reflects the dark void of dissatisfaction, seeking, and energy that’s just way too heavy to carry around. Mental health is a part of the holistic picture. It truly has the power to influence everything.

This chapter of mine, riddled with bouts of depression, drugs, alcohol, and men, was really just a manifested symptom stemming from deep self-esteem issues. Constantly seeking external validation watered this rotten cycle, which only served to drive me, quite literally, crazy.

Fast forward to the present: new jobs, new friends, new hobbies, and New York. When I first started practicing yoga, I felt inundated with images of what I “saw” a yoga enthusiast should look like. In the expanse of NYC, one of the commercial yoga capitols of the world, we see images of every representation. The yoga market is included in that. By then, however, I already had a solid ground from which my self-esteem was being rebuilt. I had also been through a real-life crash course on nutritional support from living with a stage four cancer patient. So I just kept doing my thing, knowing full well that yoga itself was a good practice for my formerly destructive tendencies, and remembering to stay wary of anything I felt would exploit my weaknesses.

Now in my second year of a regular yoga practice, I'm happy to say that I'm eating -- heartily -- once more. Every woman's path is different, but for me, the journey back to health has to include putting an end to the self-hatred. Let’s keep it real, though: I prefer non-dairy over dairy. I prefer whole foods over packaged anything. I love leafy green vegetables and all forms of unconventional superfood concoctions, but I will love you just as much for bringing me a bag of Tostito lime chips or a Blackout donut from Doughnut Plant. What’s most important is that I'm no longer looking at myself in the mirror with disgust, or berating myself for the simple act of eating. I outrightly refuse to allow guilt to ruin the experience of enjoying my food.

I'm still learning how to make mindful choices without feeling restricted, deprived, or unworthy. That’s the next phase of recovery. So yes, my jeans are tighter in certain spots than they were a year ago. But the upside is they still fit. Really! Another upside? I'm a lot stronger and more balanced than ever before. Screw you, exploiters of low self-esteem. I remember you.

I may not look the same as I did when I was 17, but I probably shouldn’t. That would be a little weird, don’t you think?