When I was fifteen, I decided to go on a diet. I was convinced that the body I had wasn’t good enough, and I was disappointed in the idea that I didn’t fit in with the standard ideas of “perfection” advertised to me by the movies I watched, the magazines I perused, even the books I devoured. The young woman featured was almost always very thin—most the time seemingly without trying.
I began restricting how much food I ate and counting every single calorie of what I consumed. It was a constant struggle to look in the mirror and be dissatisfied. I would have a cup of coffee in the morning and make it until dinner time without eating. I was tired, irritable, and convinced that if I lost just another five pounds I would be happy.
I would like to say that my relationship with food was magically solved when I lived abroad the first time (even the second), but it wasn’t. In fact, my eating habits grew worse living in Italy where I would oscillate between stuffing myself on pizza and gelato and then eating only salad for months. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to enjoy myself by enjoying the food in front of me, or if I wanted to try and keep the figure I had starved so hard for.
In the end, it never mattered, anyway. I came home from Italy twice gaining weight and feeling terrible about myself. I didn’t feel attractive and I was plagued by thoughts of dieting and hating how much I hated how I looked when I stepped out of the shower. The thing was, no one commented. My weight was the least of what people cared about after my adventures abroad. They wanted to talk about their own lives or they inquired about my travels.
It wasn’t until I made the choice to live in Italy a third time did I decide that I wasn’t going to care anymore. I would eat what I wanted and I would also make sure to exercise consistently—the more I thought about traveling and what I wanted to accomplish, the more I recognized that it would require personal and physical strength. I began a running routine which I still keep up today (albeit a much more intense one since I’m in shape).
Travel wasn’t what changed my mindset about eating. I was. But it was a catalyst to enjoying my life more. I got in shape for hiking the Inca Trail, climbing a volcano in Guatemala, conquering a sand dune in the desert in Morocco, and this summer, taking on the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. I could have never had these experiences if I hadn’t fallen in love with my body and what it can do more than how it looks.
The more I started focusing on how much I liked it, the more it started to look how I wanted it to. I was able to positively change how I saw myself—as beautiful and capable and strong.
I would have never have had this outlook if I can’t become a traveler and I hadn’t wanted to feel good about myself in order to experience the world. If I had decided simply to diet, I would have been too tired to accomplish anything. More than anything, running and exercising serves as a way to get rid of negative thoughts and to focus on completing my next goal—whatever it may be.
I now never think twice about what I am eating and I listen to my body. If it wants pizza, I’ll give it pizza. If it wants vegetables, that’s what it gets. It only seems fair to treat my body well because, in turn, I know it will treat me well too.
How has your body image changed since traveling?