Weight has always been an issue for me. Meaning, whether or not I was overweight or thin, I’ve always had a negative perception of my body and felt that I should be looking better.

I’ve gone on Weight Watchers and done low-carb diets, run half-marathons and done triathlons. I’ve tried the 48 hour leek cleanse and intuitive eating.

I’ve read diet books and joined gyms and made smoothies and worn Spanx, but friends? I still have a mom bod. 

This can mean different things to different people. For me, it means I have a C-section scar with folds of my stomach pooching over it, breasts that are not as perky as they used to be after breastfeeding three children, and twenty pounds accumulating from each pregnancy. It means I can’t jump if there’s anything in my bladder unless I have clean underwear in my bottomless diaper bag. 

It means I’m different than I was before I had kids. 

I’ve been asked if I want to “get my body back,” now that I’m not pregnant or planning to be anytime in the near future. It may not be body-positive to say this, but yes. Yes, I would love to look like I did when I was 21 and thought I needed to lose five pounds (I didn’t). If I could look like that and still have my children, I would 100% take that deal. I don’t need these stretch marks to remind me I’m a mother. The piles of laundry, crumbs on the floor, and sticky kisses before bedtime ensure that I’ll never forget.

But, that’s probably not going to happen. Even if I lost all the accumulated baby weight and had a tummy tuck and a boob job and found some magical stretch mark disappearing ointment, I don’t think I would look like my premom self. 

I think if I spent all my time exercising and cut sugar and carbs out of my life, I could at least lose the baby weight. But honestly? I don’t want to do that either. 

I want to be healthy and strong.

I want to do my part in ensuring that this body of mine lasts. But I don’t want to be a slave to the scale. I don’t want my mood to be made or broken based on how my jeans fit. So I’ve come up with my own rules of how to honor my body without fixating on its imperfections

  1. Nourish my body. 

I have a sweet tooth, and I love processed food. As a child of the nineties, I grew up eating packs of Gushers after school and cans of Pringles on road trips. We always had a package of Chips Ahoy in our cupboard. It’s easy for me to go wild with the unhealthy stuff, and I know that isn’t doing me any favors, whether my bad habits are reflected in my weight or not. My goal is to fill my meals with fruits, vegetables, proteins, and whole grains. If I have healthy food prepped and on hand as much as possible, I’ll be less tempted to heat up a tray of Bagel Bites or raid the snack drawer, and I’ll feel more energetic as a result. 

  1. Eat sweets mindfully.

Anyone else an emotional eater? When I feel anxious or stressed, my first impulse is to pull out the chocolate and get a quick dopamine zap to make me feel better. On a really tough day this leads to quite a few surreptitious handfuls of chocolate chips in the pantry. I love desserts, and I love baking and experimenting with new flavors–I don’t think I’ll ever give up sugar permanently.

But when I do eat sugar, I want to savor the experience rather than merely numbing my stress. 

  1. Exercise as a challenge, not a punishment. 

The summer before my freshman year, my mom, concerned about my couch potato tendencies, had me run two miles with her a few times a week. While at first I hated running hills in the hot sun, I grew to love the rush of endorphins and the feeling of accomplishment after pushing my body to do more than I thought it could. 

Now, you’ll find me in the gym most days, working toward my next race. I love pushing myself to a higher max power in spin class or finding that I can run faster or lift higher than I could before. The challenge and accomplishment is a high for me.

But the minute it turns into trying to burn off the chips and queso I ate the night before, I lose the joy I had in movement. Exercise is important, but I refuse to turn it into a stick in which to beat myself. 

  1. Dress my body in colors and styles I love.

As a plus size woman, I’ve had periods of my life where I believed I wasn’t worthy of cute clothes.

My wardrobe was a row of black maxi dresses and caftans, even though I love color, glitter, and bold styles. I’ve finally given myself permission to dress in ways that make me feel like myself, sequins and all. 

  1. Appreciate my body for what it does

My relationship with my body remains complicated.

I’ve received messages my entire life that a larger body is undesirable, a sign of weakness. Sometimes I’m jealous of my thin friends; sometimes I’m frustrated with the way my clothes fit (or don’t, as the case may be).

To fight against this tendency, I remind myself to be grateful for the things my body has done.

My body has run a half-marathon and completed a sprint triathlon.

My body grew and gave birth to three beautiful children.

My heart and lungs are functional.

My body is capable of fighting disease.

As a former nurse in a pediatric bone marrow transplant unit, I’ve seen so many little bodies that haven’t been able to perform the basic tasks of life or have turned against themselves, and I can’t possibly forget the gift it is to have a body that works most of the time. 

I’ve yet to reach a point where I’m completely at ease in my own skin, but I can say I’m grateful for this vessel that allows me to live my life.

There are moments when I don’t like what I see, but as I slowly adopt these principles into my life, I’m learning that health is so different from a number on the scale or the ability to squeeze into my pre-baby jeans. While I hope my personal health manifesto leads to some physical changes, I think the greatest benefit I’m deriving thus far is greater love and appreciation for the mom bod I have now.