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I love working out.

Since 2015, I have exercised about four to five times a week to see the results of the hard work I put in. But I don’t only just work out for the gains. I enjoy the peace of mind obtained from getting to vent my frustrations without ever uttering a word, while pushing through the exhaustion on a Stairmaster. Lifting a 60-pound barbell to my thighs for deadlifts. Jumping rope in front of the mirror in my own little quaint corner of the gym.

Fitness, for me, initially a pain I took on to drop some pounds (I lost 45), became a form of self-care.

So you can understand how devastated I was when an unforeseen health crisis recently forced me to stay away from most physical activity for more than two months. A body I’d worked so hard to get in tip-top shape, was failing me. To deal with the depression that came with that, because I couldn’t find comfort in my six-mile jogs or strength training regimens, I turned to food. I wasn’t cooking during most of this dark time. Instead, all of the stuff I trained myself to stay away from became like a shoulder to lean on. I had plates of rice almost daily. I started going to the bodega to buy the 8 oz Simply Ruffles sea salt bag of chips to eat within a day and a half. I started eating candy again. And bread? Yes, please.

Without the ability to be active while bingeing on all of this, I can only assume I’ve gained back every pound I lost, a weight loss I was able to maintain for about three years. My face is wide again, and my pants are tight. One pair I wore to work was so tight around my thighs and crotch, I was in actual pain as I sat at my desk.

By the way, I “assume” about my actual weight number because I don’t have the heart to look. My last doctor’s appointment the week before last, I just stared at the ceiling while they took down the number on the scale.

The shame of it all hit an all-time high this past weekend when I went to New Orleans for a wedding. While no one said anything about my weight, there is no better place to feel overweight and more uncomfortable about it than in the 90-degree heat of NOLA. During long walks on Magazine Street, when it felt like 104 (my weather app’s words, not mine), I was reminded that I was back to being big. My thighs started to rub together and burn. Loose-fitting jumpers I’d bought and worn last summer were all of a sudden much more complicated to put on. And photos taken of my husband and I on Bourbon Street, that he insisted on and smiled at, made me want to throw his iPhone.

I would try really hard to remind my mind that this was just a temporary setback. If I could lose the weight before, I would just need to be patient and diligent enough to do it again. But every now and then, I would go back to feeling like a failure.

By the time the wedding rolled around, I was a mixture of emotions: Excited to see my former classmates, including the groom, but also worried that I would disappoint them by being much bigger than when they’d last seen me during my lanky years. Still, I put on the pinstripe DKNY suit I’d purchased for the occasion, unbraided my locs, thrown on a dark Kat Von D lip with some beaded mules and hoped I could convey the confidence I was hoping for in it. As a shock to no one, nary a person said anything to me about weight. They just said “UWU!” and ran to hug me. It was like a mini-high school reunion. And the love I felt from people I’d bonded with during my formative years, who embraced me and told me, “You look so good!” helped me feel more like myself. Not to mention, the handful of strangers who tapped me and told me they loved my suit (“You’re giving me Maxine Shaw vibes!”) did have me feeling myself a bit.

A smaller me at a wedding in 2016; Me at a wedding in 2018. Yes, I’m bigger (mostly in face, tummy and thighs), but one thing remains the same — I love stripes!

All of it was a wake-up call. I had been ferociously hard on myself. Sure, I gained some weight, but I had also persevered through multiple trips to the hospital, scans, depression and pain. I should have been proud of that. Instead, I got scarily close to ruining the first chance I’d had in a long time to have some fun and feel like myself again.

I was reminded of the reality that when it comes to body-shaming, we do a lot of that to ourselves. We put so much stake in losing weight and our appearance that if we gain any of the weight back, we start losing our confidence, and a little bit of our minds. We might tell ourselves we completely blew it, so we opt to buy bigger clothes and settle into our fate. We believe everybody looks at our photos and our filled-out faces with the same disappointment that we do. And while some might (like family members), we give them all of the the power to break us and feel like we failed the world.

But the truth is, or at least the way I see it, weight loss and being healthy is an ongoing process. Not everyone is strong enough to always order the hearty salad and veggies at dinner instead of splurging on the carbs and fun greasy options. It takes a daily commitment to make the right choices and give yourself a break when you don’t always do so.

Feeling confident in the changing skin you’re in is the same way.

You have to make an effort every day to be kind to your body, to encourage yourself and to feel confident. And when you have that moment where you aren’t feeling so good and you want to hide, you should also consciously let yourself go through it, acknowledge it, and work to show yourself some love. We can’t stop our feelings, but we can work through them until we get back to where we want to be (not where others want us to be).

Yes, gaining weight when that is not your aim, can be a jolt to the spirit. But your worth is in more than a number on a scale, a pair of pants that might be snug now or the way you look in a picture. Actively speak positively about yourself, even when it’s hard to. Think good about the vessel you were given (even if it doesn’t look as planned at the moment). And overall, be kind to yourself. You deserve it. I know I do.

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