A guest post by Allison Montgomery…
My journey to finding balance with body image, fitness and an overall healthy relationship with my body and food has been as simple and as complicated as the concept of balance itself. It is such a beautifully simple concept, yet there are so many layers and complications to achieving it and keeping it for that matter.
For me, finding balance has been fighting the mental battle of my relationship with food, my body image and most recently the pull of being a mom and how that not only changes your body but your concept of self. My focus on exercise, and how the space between my ears has influenced that, has been shaped by my experiences and in order to understand my approach to fitness, I have to peel back the layers of my experiences and seek to understand them and grow from them, to pursue my balance and sweet spot if you will.
It started as a young girl through high school as a competitive figure skater and later competitive dancer, mostly focusing on not how my thighs looked in my jeans, but how they could propel me to do double loops and camel spins. I was highly driven, with a laser focus on being a competitor, which I now understand is a motivator for me, but can also be exhausting when you can’t accept or find contentment with anything less than the best.
A shift happened in college when I chose to pursue dance instead of hours of training at the rink. Instead of the focus being on the power behind my body and artistic ability as a skater, I was in a world where my looks became as important as my ability, having to provide a headshot for dance auditions, wear tight and minimal clothing, and even being threatened with weigh- ins. Although we were still competitive dancers, there was an underline message of being fit and thin. It also became about how my abs looked in a midriff at football games, and of course the freshmen fifteen conversation among girls in the dorm, and overall college atmosphere added volume to the message. So the pressure mounted to live up to an image and physicality.
Over summers at home from college I would work out several hours a day on strict, almost scary restrictive diets, take diet pills, and my perfectionistic nature drove me to accept nothing less than my idea of what I should look like, coupled with my magazine airbrushed cut outs of celebrities and professional dancers body’s I coveted.
I was never skinny enough, tan enough, or “cut” enough in my mind, and later my passion for dance led me into the limelight of being a professional dancer for the NBA and AFL. The constant external motivators of photo shoots, calendars, magazine spreads in our swimsuits, and overall image at the games and sidelines in our uniforms deeply rooted the seeds of self-guilt, perfectionism, comparison and unrealistic image that had been planted in college, that were my driving forces for the unattainable need to be perfect. I would run several miles before a grueling 2-3 hour practice or game, took diet pills if I could handle the jittery feeling they gave me, and followed a strict diet, sometimes allowing a “treat” after a photo shoot or game.
This was not balance. This was obsession, and eventually the toxicity of the environment began to not only change my body, but shook my core of who I wanted to be. My authentic inner voice was screaming out because I was not on an authentic path, and the scale reflected less weight, but I was completely off kilter. Of course the experience wasn’t all negative, and I loved performing, but I had become too wrapped up in the identity of being a Denver Nuggets Dancer.
The positive and negative to my personality drove me to be passionate about the other extreme, and after leaving the Nuggets I chose to start fresh in every area of my life, leaving to live in Arizona not knowing a soul and completing my Masters degree in Special Education. It was during this time, I focused on my worth and identity not on how I looked, but on substance. I became a vegetarian and wanted to not only approach my eating in a clean fresh way, but give my soul a fresh start, and fill both my body and mind with what felt pure. I grew spiritually, completed a marathon and had a chance to dance professionally again, this time taking a different approach, and always remembering there was more to life than who I was as a dancer. But at times I felt like I had lost the ability to just breathe, and allow myself to make mistakes. Life lost the joy of spontaneity and simple indulgence. I was too regimented in being a hard worker and taking life almost too seriously.
Love changed that, and those of you who know my husband, know he is a man who knows how to take life as it comes. I did just that, and I allowed myself to just live for a while, eat meat if it sounded good, run and exercise for fun, and enjoy my newlywed life. That mentality trickled into my first pregnancy for the first time allowing myself to embrace a changing body, softer curves, and eat if it sounded good. But again, my tendency to take things to the extreme out of passion, swung too far the other way leading to me indulging in one too many french fries. I felt relieved to just be allowed to let the scale go up and eat what I craved and wanted, and the floodgates opened. That’s what pregnant women do right, eat ice cream and pickles and eat to their hearts content? I still remember sitting at my OBGYN’s s table at one of my prenatal appointments and him telling me I was gaining too much weight. Never mind this was coming from a man who will never have to be pregnant or give birth, but I was devastated and embarrassed.
My mind and the harsh inner demanding voice that drove my unhealthy extreme dieting and exercise before, now reared its ugly head again and said “see you let yourself go! Shame on you.”
That same inner voice that likes to remind me of all the things I’m not, has continued to want to overpower the other true and authentic voice that fights to tell me, I have to give myself grace to adapt to the changes in life and our bodies as women. And what I have noticed is that we are not doing each other any favors either. We worry about weight gain in pregnancy together, we contribute to a culture of posting baby bump pictures on Facebook and of course comment on how “tiny” someone is, or we look to see if someone we know or that celebrity lost the baby weight, or how they look during pregnancy.
We compare, and we hold ourselves to unrealistic expectations, and secretly sigh a breathe of relief if by some miracle we do see a woman gaining baby weight not only in their bellies. How did we get to a place where worrying about our vanity and weight in pregnancy became the norm? Now I am all for maintaining a healthy lifestyle for a healthy, growing baby, but I also refuse to accept it’s okay to make a woman feel terrible if she did not fit the perfect 25-35 weight gain. I ended up gaining 45 pounds but those pounds were worth it, because I have a healthy, thriving, loving, well adjusted, intelligent, beautiful little girl that from day one has had a content and caring heart. We glorify the perfect pregnancy body for the wrong reasons sometimes, and there is nothing authentic, true or affirming about that. Pregnancy is hard, and amazing, but how we look in our pregnancy skinny jeans shouldn’t top the list of importance.
I went on to lose the weight, but never fully lost the message of that day. I will admit I’m still struggling to find acceptance and peace with the changes in my body as I get older. I think we all can relate.
Now that I have a daughter and I am seeing the scale go up during my second pregnancy, I am fighting to be in a place of giving myself grace, focusing on what my body is capable of, and being as healthy and fit as possible to support the new addition to our family growing in my belly. With the prospect of having two girls, I now think about how my relationship with my body and health is not only important for my own well being, but also for what I want my daughters to grow up knowing and believing about their own bodies, and the reflection they see. What example am I setting? What message am I sending with my actions and choices? What will be their first message about their body, food and exercise? I want them to know they are fearfully and wonderfully made.
Looking back on my journey and remembering the seasons and chapters of life; the scale goes up and goes down, wrinkles form, miles and workouts go by, hair color and styles change, dinners and celebrations are had as a family, mistakes are made and successes achieved, and over time things change. I am changing both literally and figuratively with each passing week as baby grows; I’m a constant work in progress.
It’s okay if one day I splurged with my family and ate the pizza, and simply went to the park with my daughter for exercise, because I know months later I will have taught my Zumba classes, finished my first post babies marathon, and eaten many veggies as well. It’s the bigger picture and lifestyle as whole. The guilt over one meal has got to go! That’s the beauty of balance and life: you constantly have to reevaluate, adapt, shift, and take things from either side of the scale to make it work for you.
I don’t know if I will ever find the perfect way to line up the “weights” of life on either side of my balance, but the trying in itself is where you find the beauty and adventure. I do believe in the idea that a happy and healthy mommy makes for happy children and a happy family, but I refuse to fully buy into the idea that spending countless hours at the gym to be “happy” with my body is more important than the special time spent with my family and investing in who they are going to be. Again, it’s a balance. In the times of struggle and sweet spots of this journey is where you find your authentic place, and I want to be an authentic wife, mom and friend.
My new chapter and authentic path and future now include a new Christian Fiction book, new family, and what will ultimately be a new body.
I’m going to choose to focus on not just what my body looks like and tells the world, but what it’s capable of, the lives it has sustained and created, and the heart it holds.
I refuse to live a life stifled by perfectionism and unrealistic expectations.
Instead of killing myself to be all the things that I’m not, it’s time to start living for all the things that I am.
My pursuit for authenticity and balance now, is to do what feels right for my body and my family. As simple and as complicated as that.
Allison currently lives in Parker Colorado with her husband and two year old daughter, and they are expecting their second child this fall. Allison recently left her job as an early childhood special education teacher to spend precious time with her daughter, and pursue her dream of writing. Allison is a certified Zumba instructor, and can’t wait to release her first Christian Fiction Contemporary Romance Fiction Novel this fall!