Six months ago today, I started making clean meals for myself and exercising regularly. Six months ago today, I went grocery shopping and came back with a carload of healthy foods. I prepped meals for the week and I filled water bottles and put them in my fridge. I stopped matching my husband (then-fiance) bite for bite and I drastically reduced the amount of alcohol I was drinking. I started getting more sleep. I started my days with a workout. I squeezed in as many little bursts of physical activity throughout the day as I could. I maintained a diet that consisted of mostly clean foods. I began a healthy lifestyle and I've stuck with it for half a year.

Of course, my journey toward a healthy lifestyle didn't begin there. It began years before, when I went to my first therapy session to address the issue of emotional eating. This is an issue that had been plaguing me for years and it had reached an all-consuming point where it felt like my life was being controlled by it. I googled "emotional eating Portland" and found the therapist who would become my life coach. She helped pull me out of the darkness and taught me how to eat intuitively. 

Learning to eat intuitively after years of eating emotionally was one of the most difficult things I've ever done and it honestly took about two entire years of intense therapy (once a week in the beginning and later once a month), plus reading, learning, practicing, and working hard to feel like I had a grasp on it. If you or someone you love has an issue with emotional eating, I can't encourage therapy highly enough. Even though I'm an avid reader and student, I never would have had the tools on my own to navigate the strange world of changing my eating habits. I absolutely needed someone to help me along the way. 

So here's what I want to say to anyone who wants to lose weight or get healthier: First, do the emotional work. You simply cannot start changing your eating and exercise habits without first examining the things that are going on in your mind and life that are blocking you from achieving your goals. That has to be the first step. If you're someone who hears the words "self-care" or "self-love" and thinks these terms are either unnecessary or selfish, you're not ready to start a healthy lifestyle. You have to learn to love yourself first. You just have to. If you don't think you're worth a damn -- and trust me, I've been there -- you're not going to treat yourself like you're worth a damn. And that's what a healthy lifestyle is all about: treating yourself well because you're a human who deserves to be treated well. If you have any doubt about whether or not you deserve to be treated well, you're not ready. Find someone who will help you get ready. Do the work. It won't be easy, but I promise it will be worth it.

If you've done the emotional work and you're ready to start a healthy lifestyle, here's my second piece of advice: Find something other than weight loss to focus on. There is nothing more maddening than chasing after some arbitrary number on the scale or measuring tape. There is nothing more miserable than counting calories and feeling unaccomplished if your weight loss goals don't align with reality. Do yourself a favor and take all the numbers out of the equation. If you're the type of person who absolutely must weigh yourself, do it minimally. Try for once a month. Find other ways to chart your progress. Pay attention to how your clothes feel and pay attention to how YOU feel. When you're taking care of yourself, your body notices. When you're eating mostly healthy foods, you feel lighter and more energized. Let that be its own reward.

For me, I focused on training for a new race every month and improving my running time. I focused on trying new recipes. I focused on pushing myself in workouts when I became addicted to the feeling of accomplishment. I focused on getting stronger than I was in the beginning when I couldn't even do one full push-up. I focused on noticing all the little things I was doing for myself and rewarding myself for positive choices. I concentrated on having fun and being silly and never letting a milestone go by without doing something for myself, whether it was taking a bubble bath, getting a manicure, or buying a new pair of shoes.

Losing weight is rewarding but only when it's a side effect of taking care of yourself and not a product of obsession. Also, losing weight is not required: you'll never hear me say that you need to lose weight in order to live a healthy lifestyle. You don't. You just need to learn to take care of yourself. That starts with learning to love yourself and progresses from there.

I used to be the type of person who would compare the two pictures above and think: How EXACTLY did this happen? What were the exact ingredients and proportions of her food? Exactly how much and how often did she work out? Exactly how much weight did she lose?

Now that I'm the subject of the photos, let me tell you the exact recipe. 1.) I started from a place of happiness. 2.) I didn't chase numbers. 3.) I didn't shame myself. 4.) I made it a priority to learn healthy habits. 5.) I made it an even bigger priority to have fun along the way. 

This is your life. Don't make it miserable. Make it fun. Make it funny. Make it worthwhile. The rest -- whether it's weight loss or something else that needs to happen -- will fall into place. Love yourself first. Do the work first. Go from there.

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