01 August 2013


I've heard from many people that say they have to be careful when it comes to trying to eat healthy food or recording food as they can be overcome with guilt (if they make an unhealthy choice) or they can get completely obsessed with trying to be healthy or they can even feel panic attacks because of the emotional roller coaster it can cause.

I've been there.

In my early twenties, I gained some weight from being on the birth control pill.  I compensated by trying to be healthy in every way and it felt like an obsession.  I felt horribly any time I ate something unhealthy.  And I'd monitor my thighs, stomach and butt daily for any changes.  But back then, I was in it to boost my self image or my worth by getting back to the weight I was used to.  Really, the motivation was more about just being thin and beautiful and desirable instead of nourishing and caring for my body.  It was miserable.

I think that we as women so easily connect FOOD with our SELF-WORTH.

It's true that the amount and types of foods we eat are SOOO connected with how we look.  And how we look is often SOOO connected to our ability to feel valued, confident, desirable, and capable of attracting and impressing others.  Sad that caring for your body is connected to such a mess.

Thinking food is connected to our worth is one of the saddest, sickest cycles in a woman's brain. When our worth/ego/identity is on the line because we just ate a donut (or 2 or 3) or just noticed some flab or saw how big our legs looked in the mirror, then we can feel grumpy, irritable, unhappy, and feel less worth. And yes, we can blame media.  Or we can blame the way we were raised.  Or we can blame the way some men treat women. OR, we can decide we're better than to be victims to that and we can decide to stop the cycle of having our food choices or body size connected to our worth.

True worth is NEVER ever based on outside circumstances to begin with. Period. True worth is realizing that you already have worth - just as you are.  There is nothing you can change or do or eat or not eat that can bring you more worth.  Nothing.  All you have to do it realize that worth is already within you, and just OWN IT....and act like it.  

Flabs.  Scars.  Big thighs.  Bony butt.  Flabby arms.  Whatever you've got....you have worth RIGHT NOW.  Every single one of you. Yes, YOU, TOO!!!! ALL OF YOU!!!  And changing your body will not give you any ounce of more worth than you have right now.  So please, please, please do not seek worth in how healthy you are eating or how much you weigh or what size of pants you wear. Do all you can to surrender that idea and put it to rest.

Do not try to be healthy because you WANT more worth.  Be healthy out of respect because you ALREADY HAVE worth, just as you are. 

Be healthy not to become whole or to gain more worth, be healthy and nourish your physical body out of RESPECT and GRATITUDE for the body that you already have.  HONOR yourself. NOURISH yourself.  Take care of your body as an expression of LOVE for the world, love for your family, and for the amazing body and life that you have.  You cannot be your best self if you are not caring for your body and making time to do that first.  (And yes, that may require that you make some HUGE lifestyle or career changes to make that time available.  But that's sometimes what it takes.)

When you can approach your journey to health with a feeling of worthiness, you don't hate yourself through the process.  The experience of being healthy doesn't have to feel depriving, but something you seriously prefer.  The idea is that you can go from thinking, "I can't have that.  I will likely gain some weight or feel guilty if I eat that."  to...  "I don't WANT that unless it's good for me.  I am honoring my body."

What do you guys think?  Does this hit home at all?  Have you seen your worth tied to the foods you eat (or don't eat)?  Also, if you've worked through this, what helped you to realize that what you eat is not connected to your worth?

Also, just a sampling of posts I've written about how to own your own worth...

-Vulnerability Step 1
-Vulnerability Step 2
-Vulnerability Step 3
-How To Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
-The Skinny on Being Skinny
-Not Cute Days
-Best Beauty Secret in the World

P.S.  Does anyone recognize these neon signs?  Old school Park Slope.



  1. It's funny. Just this morning, I was thinking how my pants were feeling a little snug and how it's from all of the loving and fellowshipping over food that I've done this summer. And while I know that I need to get back to healthy eating for my overall well being, I realized that I also have so ridiculously happy with how this summer has gone. And food and friends has been part of that. At the end of the day, I am loved for my spirit not my fluctuating waistline.

  2. I actually think it's been interesting to read the comments like that. While I understand, and can even relate, I've found that by honoring and nourishing my body, I am better able to feel that worth and connect with it. Being a spiritual person, I believe our bodies and souls are tightly connected. By taking care of one, we also take care of the other. It's incredibly powerful.

  3. This definitely hits home for me and is something I've been struggling with for a long time. It is so hard to change your mindset. I'm guilty of abusing my body to become thin, regardless of the damage it does.

  4. This post has come at such a perfect time, Mara! Thank you again! Seriously, I am inspiried by your daily :)

    After radically changing my diet about 6-8 months ago (cutting out gluten, dairy and then pretty much all refined sugars and foods) I lost a ton of weight. My body changed dramatically. I love my new body. But, I am not going to lie, it has almost been a little scarey having my body change so much. It has been shocking to see what putting good food into your body does. It is also shocking to realize that feeding your body whole foods literally makes weight FALL off. Without trying. And still eating. After I lost all of the weight I started to get a little nervous. I would think, "what if I put it back on?" For a while I think I became a little obsissive with monitoring my size and weight. But as some time has passed, I realized that I shouldn't really worry about all that. The important thing is that I have learned to eat and love good food, that is good for you. And, even better, I have also seen lots of other positive changes in my body, besides the size and shape of it, like clear skin (for the 1st time in my whole life!), nice hair, lower BP, more energy, less fatigue, no highs and lows during the day from food comas. These other positive outcomes from changing my diet are to be celebrated. I just need to remember not to be fearful of these changes and that they might someday go away, or change back. I need to remember to embrace my body and love myself and be proud of all the positive changes I have made.

    Mara, I have a question. Since I have lost quite a bit of weight, I almost constantly have people from all areas of my life approach me stating that they have noticed that I have lost weight and asking if I am OK (ie: my next door neighnoor last night). I tell them, Yes! I am great. I have just radically changed my diet, but thanks for the concern. I just wonder if you have any good tips for approaching these conversations. Also, at lunch hour, when I am happily eating a big salad and fruit, my co-workers or friends will make comments about my food choices, saying things like "you eat like a bird..you really need to put some weight on." These kinds of comments can be uncomfortable in social situations. Have you ever encountered this? How did you respond?

    Thanks again Mara!!


  5. I have this theory that modesty is related to how we esteem ourselves in a "U" shaped graph. Having very little or very high self-esteem encourages modesty. On the low end, a girl or woman who hates herself will cover up every inch of her body and try to hide. A woman who loves and respects herself will dress in a way that honors her body, and will not feel the need to expose extra skin to gain the attention of others. Unfortunately, encouragements towards modesty are rarely coincident with self-esteem teachings (at least in my experience). The mantra is: cover up! Don't show off that body! It's really damaging for young women.

    Your post made me think that there might be a similar relationship between food (or taking care of one's self) and self-esteem. You can hate your body and starve it and abuse it, and perhaps lose some pounds. Or you can adore your body (and yourself!) and nourish your body; feed it good food, and perhaps lose some pounds. The results look the same, but it's so much better when it comes from a place of love.

  6. Mara, I am so glad you touched upon this topic. Women: we are so hard on ourselves when it comes our appearance. I think it is so so so important to know that we ALL have worth no matter the size or shape of our figures. And I believe as a woman supporting other woman in figuring out that they are beautiful no matter what is a huge step towards the right & the healthy!!!

  7. Mara, this is the story of my life. As i've told you before I carry a lot of extra weight and generally always have. I always though (and still think) that I would be worth more, happier, more attractive to others if I was just skinny enough. I went down some slippery slopes and messed up my metabolism with yo yo diets and junk food binges from my early teens well into my twenties. I get on track with my eating and then I fall right off because of that feeling of deprivation you speak of. Living a healthy life becomes a chore, another thing to worry about and sometimes I just don't have the energy for it. I'm learning and realising how interconnected everything is (with some help and great 'ah-ha' moments from this blog)and what hit home for me in thios series of posts is how I need to prioritise my health, I need to HONOUR MY BODY and approaching my health issues from this different perspective is definitely a game changer. A thousand thank you's, I never thought that a woman with extra weigh on her could connect with the wonderfully slim woman you are on this subject. I'm going to nourish my body and as you say take care of my body as an expression of love!

  8. What do u do if I just plain feel ugly? I even eat healthy. But I still feel and see ugly when I look at myself. It's not that I'm just not having a cute day... I feel like im not having a cute year. And it's not even about comparing myself to an ideal. I just feel plain ugly. I know this is super honest.

    1. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say you're most likely in your early 20s. I think a lot of us feel that way in our early 20s regardless of how we actually look.

      And whether you're in your 20s or not, here's the deal: We all weren't born to look like Duchess Catherine or Kate Moss, etc. And it's not worth beating yourself up over. You have other qualities besides your physical appearance and I've found that as I approach my 30s, while I don't particularly care for how I look, it doesn't make a difference in how hard I work at work, at how much I love my husband and baby and try in those relationships, at how nicely it feels to treat people well and put smiles on their faces and have a great group of girlfriends to drink a glass of wine with and eat cheesecake.

      This doesn't mean that I don't try to eat well and nourish my body. And that I don't do my hair in the morning or I forgo makeup. I try and I'm still prone to feeling glum if I think I look terrible. But I just don't have the energy for so much negativity in my life like "feeling plain ugly". Focus on areas of yourself and your life that you appreciate and feel good about.

    2. Try some Cognitive Behavior Therapy. It's a type of therapy that focuses on the internal conversation going on in your head. So when you catch yourself saying things to yourself about "having an ugly year", or 'being just plain ugly', STOP yourself, force yourself to list 5 things that you DO like about your appearance. "I have pretty eyes", "my ankles are small", "My hair has great body because of my crazy curls", etc.
      Just like Ceebee said: "Focus on areas of yourself and your life that you appreciate and feel good about." Eventually your cognitive conversation will evolve into positive statements and the negative ones will slowly depreciate.

  9. So true! If I ever have a "fat" day (where I feel fat, ugly, etc) I am so annoyed by everything and so grumpy! It's hard to be a woman.

    Have you ever heard of/read the book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole? I love the ideas in it. Basically it's all about being in tune with your body- eat when your body is hungry (regardless of a clock), eat what sounds good. Your body wants healthy things!

  10. My little sister is recovered from an eating disorder and has helped me, our other 2 sisters, and friends SOOO much with this concept! We've all learned a lot from her experience, and it really has turned out to be a blessing. She writes a great blog (downwitheatingdisorders.blogspot.com) that I find really inspiring. For me, it took letting go of an ideal, allowing myself to make peace with food and gain some weight to realize that I really was/am the same person at any size and every bit as valuble regardless. Now I'm at a place where I am healthy and fit becuase I love my body and love being active. It's been a journey and I'm so incredibly thankful to be where I'm at. The key is to have patience and love for yourself and recognize that change takes time. And to allow yourself to be human (i.e. not perfect) and enjoy life along the way!

  11. Having recently made a drastic lifestyle change for the better (a big part of which was keeping a constant food journal for a few months) - I have come to realize what a difference this shift in thinking can make. Instead of thinking "If I don't eat this, maybe I'll be worth loving" to "Because I am loved, I don't want to eat this."
    This experience has made me realize how much food was about control for me. Either withholding food because everything else in my life felt out of control. Or overindulging because well often everything else in my life felt out of control. :) I thought I was in charge, but the food was controlling me. Now that I have found some self-control I doubted I had, I feel more in control of the rest of my life. I never realized how empowering it can be to say "no" to yourself.

  12. It's easy to preach when you're skinny and beautiful...

    1. It's even easier to preach when that person who is skinny and beautiful didn't feel that way even though her appearance was the same then as it is now.

      And even if it is as simple as you suggest...does the fact that it is easy for her to preach make it any less true?

      That's like saying that the things we say about relationships and marriages are easy because we're happy with our partner. But that would ignore the fact that we discovered that happiness in the midst of our most difficult moments in our previous marriages.

      Easy and true aren't necessarily at odds.

    2. I'm so glad you can sympathize with these struggles Mara and have overcome them. I've always been skinny but still struggle with feeling beautiful and worthy. Everyone thinks skinnier people have it easier but our struggles are still there no matter the weight. But Mara, how did you change to see yourself and beautiful? It's such a struggle for me. I've read your other posts but I'm wondering when you were in that dark place how did you change feeling pretty and attractive.

    3. This is a very simplistic view, Jessica, and it's a view that is part of the problem, which connects physical appearance (and any external circumstance, like job-title, for example) to happiness, self-worth, etc.

      Further, it's just not supportive of women--we all struggle with feelings of inferiority based on looks at some point in our lives; just because a woman might look a certain way, doesn't mean her life is perfect and flawless...It's incredibly presumptuous to assume otherwise.

  13. It's funny. I've never been a dieter and my weight was always constant - until my divorce and I got older. Now, I still don't diet, but we talk a lot in our home about healthy vs. non-healthy and it's interesting to hear what my son interprets from those discussions. Even "non-dieters" need to open up and talk more to stop unhealthy obsessions about food and worth!

  14. I do find thay myself worth is tied to food more and more lately. I realized this week that my weight is the highest it has ever been and that has started to scare me. My mom is one of six girls who all have weight issues and the health issues that go with being overweight. Up until the last year I could eat what I wanted and not really gain weight and now with turning 30 my body is changing. Gaining twenty pounds in six months has been a reality check that now I have to figure out how to us.

  15. I've always felt self worth/esteem is a two category thing. One side is who you are, your intelligence, your abilities, your successes. The other category is physical appearance/attractiveness. Personally, I've always known & liked who I am, I know I'm intelligent, successful, well-liked. Where I struggle as I'm assured most women do, is I feel like I'm lacking in the physically attractive department.
    I've been overweight since I was 5 years old and started sitting at a school desk all day. I lived in a home where my mother was always trying to eat healthy and exercise and still was overweight. I had a father that subtly encouraged the weight loss efforts.
    So my journey to a self worth about my body's attractiveness has included having Gastric Bypass surgery, 3 plastic surgeries to remove excess skin, therapy, becoming a triathlete. It's been an ongoing journey, and some days I'll catch a reflection of myself and I'm 'there', I accept everything about myself and I'm proud of all the hard work I've done to get there. I'm still not perfect, but I accept and welcome those imperfections.
    Other days I still struggle with what feel is still 'wrong' with this body.
    The point of this long comment is I wanted to share that self worth is a journey, and just keep going. My self worth now isn't determined on a picture in a magazine or a false sense of what is beautiful. It's focused on how I feel, what I know my level of fitness to be, how strong I am. I tell people, I may not be a skinny mini, or a crossfit babe, but I promise, I can out swim and bike any one of those magazine models and THAT is living.

  16. Hi Mara, this speaks to my heart as one of my goals as a Girl Scout Leader was to have them BELIEVE this. When my troop was about 13/14 I developed a self-esteem workshop for them using Jean Kilbourn's (30 min utube) "Killing Us Softly", some of Dove's Videos, expecially the one of the "before and after" (with tons of editing) among other things on Dove's Self Esteem website and elsewhere. Then we undertook a journey (GS lingo) on healthy eating and living, we stayed at a cabin with a kitchen and cooked healthy foods and snacks, did meditation and some stress busters, etc. It really is a HUGE issue with young teens/young adult and even older adults. I hope some of that "stuck" and I shared it with other troops that were interested. I did notice with my daughter that she is in a good place now with this, but she wasn't as a young teen. I don't dare take any credit for this and I know that could change a heartbeat because as Amanda states, it is a lifetime journey. But a really important thing for a mother/caregiver of a daughter (and son of course) is to be a role model as best as you can. (know it's easier said than done). At the end of life, I think the one thing and only thing for me will be was I well LOVED and did I LOVE well. If we keep our focus on that end goal, maybe the self esteem journey will be a bit less bumpy.

  17. Hi!
    This is not directly related to this post but may be an interesting read given the context of your blog, the following line is what compelled me to share this with you!

    'happiness is associated with selfish “taking” behavior and that having a sense of meaning in life is associated with selfless “giving” behavior. '


    Hope this is an interesting read for you all!

  18. this is the premise of the book women, food and god by geneen roth. good stuff!

  19. Love it. I remember watching Oprah talk about the day she realized she had worth/that her message was valid no matter what she looked like (can you imagine Oprah not feeling worthy???). She was talking about how she had to tell someone NO to a project they wanted her to do and she went into her kitchen and ate a head of lettuce. And then a light came on and she figured she was eating as a way to deal with stress/disappointment/pain- whatever she was feeling instead of actually feeling those things. I guess we all escape in different ways: eating, not eating, drugs, shopping, sleeping but I love how you emphasize that it's important to feel. I was in a yoga class the other day and I felt like it was a real way to worship our Creator, and that I wanted use my body (and the way I treated it) as a way to worship and bring glory to Him.

    Love your blog! I tell everybody I know about it!!

  20. Hi, I am going to go on the other way around. When becoming too skinny gets to you too. I had a regular weight. Then, I moved abroad and gaigned 7kgs, no matter what I did (I thought), I couldn't loose the weight. Well, I didn't eat correctly, but I didn't seem to realize it.

    And then, at age 31 and a half, I was diagnosed with brain tumours, benigne ones. I started a treatment and lost 9kgs in 4 months. I would joke about it a the beggining and say that was the good side of the disease, I was getting back to my "good " weight and even less. The treatment went on summer and by september, people were saying I looked tired, but great, what had been my diet? Well, I was throwing up every day sometimes, I had barely slept in 4 months, but to the eyes of society I was doing great, it was a hit. This really rang a bell to me.In what kind of world we live in?

    The treatment stopped and I gaigned 3-4 kgs back. But I felt ok. I felt healthy, I could sleep again! I went on and off treatment for shorter periods and my weight would slightly change.

    I had to go through treatment again for 7 months and I lost 7 kgs. But then, commentaries changed from the "super model body" (not that I ever had one)to the mean anorexia comments behind my back or even directly to le. And that was sort of rough. I don't tell people about the disease because once you do, you have to handle everyone else's anxiety, only my closest friends and family knows. But it shocked me to see how much people judge you no matter what. If you are a little over weight,people can be merciless, if you are under weight too.

    And as Mara puts it, your worth is so not linked to how you look.

    I reached 48kgs measuring 1,65m. It was tougher. I would have a hard time looking at myself in the mirror because I could see too many bones (and that hit my fear of death). I started feeling weird in bed with my hubbie, for I was way too skinny. But he is an amazing guy and he says that he loves ME, not how much I weight, if we can see my bones or not, if I am overweight or not,if I have breasts or not (the medication sort of dried them!). That's just the enveloppe and it doesn't matter how it looks. He is worried if I am in as much good health as I can...

    We just eat organic food to avoid pesticides that are linked to tumours and other diseases. We don't drink alcohol. I have been a vegetarian for 4 years now (it's best for my kind of tumour and my body feels way, way much better ever since), my hubbie has been one for 13 years now and he is one of the healthiest guys I know, full of energy, never gets sick, great athlete. I am gradually cutting dairy, gluten and eggs.And he is doing it with me, for support. As Mara says all these changes have done wonders to my body.

    When we are invited to eat at friends, they know about our diet, but to take them off the hook of stressing about what they are cooking, we always bring a delicious dish for us to eat and share. People always ask us the recipees and when they come for the week-end, they always feel like they are doing a delicious detox at our home. It's fun!

    Before my first tough treatment, I would never wear skirts or even dresses, I was always complaining about how my legs looked, I was counting the stretch marks and cellulite. Then I realized that I had been obsessing over nothing...life is short, I am still young. So what if I don't have a perfect body? I am not supposed to be a top model anyway. If I was to loose so much weight with treatment, I should as well dare to use skirts and dresses I wanted, and try to feel feminine anyway. Now I use dresses and skirts all the time, I decided to own my body, no matter what it is going through. Even if I did get too skinny and have even more stretch marks, if I have flat breasts. I am alive, I am still young and I love my body no matter what it is experiencing.

    1. You poor thing. My heart goes out to you. Thanks for sharing:)
      After reading your response I naturally casted my mind back to how I felt in similar circumstances. My circumstances which differ from yours, but the feelings you had while going through this, I completely relate to. It has been awhile since I was in my 'dark health issue days'you described exactly how my skinnier / sick self felt. Thanks for reminding me how far I have come, what I have learnt, how strong I am now because of the life experiences I have gone through.

      Thanks Mara for your words too, and excellent wisdom as always :)

    2. Thank you Farley for sharing too! Love,

  21. "You cannot be your best self if you are not caring for your body and making time to do that first. (And yes, that may require that you make some HUGE lifestyle or career changes to make that time available. But that's sometimes what it takes.)"

    Your words above made me tear up. I recently left an academic career I self-sacraficed and worked for years and years to have because it has NEVER allowed enough time for eating well, exercising, or getting adequate sleep. I kept thinking, "maybe next year...maybe next year...maybe next year my workload will lessen and I'll have time to cook healthy meals, take walks, and stop feeling like a zombie."

    But "next year" never came, and I had a horrible relationship with food, and I felt awful about myself. Even when I decided to make a commitment to put my health first, and even with the support from my wonderful husband, my career suffered, and I realized I couldn't have both my career and health as priorities.

    I believe you have to create the life you want to live (which for me includes being at peace in my body, mind, and spirit), but even so, it has been scary to leave the lifestyle I spent most of my 20s building. So I just wanted to say thank you for this post -- it has helped to solidify that I made the right choice -- and that means so much.

  22. I know this post is over a week old, but I am so glad I saw it today. I needed it. I hope you don't mind if I put a link to it on my blog.

    I read another blog that impacted me hugely on this same issue. The author is the most lovely young woman who has battled an eating disorder, and won. One of the things she has to tell herself and the people around her is "no fat talk". Which to her means no negative comments about your body. Period. That doesn't mean we don't strive to improve it in healthy ways when we see a problem, but it does mean that we don't demean ourselves during the process. (The blog is Wild and Wily Ways of a Brunette Bombshell)

    Thank you!

  23. This is great thanks for sharing. I actually did not mind looking after my weight but realized that I wanted to live longer and spend time with my family.



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