Four years ago, I broke up with my then-boyfriend after a life of low self-esteem and nearly 6 years of a relationship that made me gain more than 30 pounds. Don’t get me wrong – I wasn’t unhappy in this relationship; I was, in fact, genuinely happy for the most part. Indeed, unlike people who eat their feelings out, I have a tendency to put on weight when I am happy, and to stop eating when I am not. No wonder I began to lose weight at the end of said relationship; I had totally lost interest in this loving person that wanted to build a future with me. This will certainly sound awful to some people, but I just couldn’t stay with a person who looked at life with such a boring outlook. I was very young when we started dating, and it took me years to realize that I wouldn’t be happy on the long haul with this man. I am not the kind of woman who settles at the age of 23 to get married and have babies. There is nothing wrong with that though – it’s just not for me.

Photo credit: Christopher Campbell

Fast-forward to the beginning of year 2013, and there I am – freshly single, still at uni, looking for a place to stay in spite of the fact I did not have a job. This year was the best and the worst of my life at the same time. The best because it has allowed me to finally find myself and to meet the love of my life; the worst because I nearly hit rock bottom.

“I understood myself only after I destroyed myself. And only in the process of fixing myself, did I know who I really was.” – Sade Andria Zabala

As I was putting on weight during my last relationship, my ex-boyfriend wouldn’t tell me anything about it. He loved me unconditionally, and wasn’t bothered by my changing figure, but I was. I was, but I didn’t do anything at first because I thought that if he loved me anyway, it was okay. It took me years to understand that the only approval I should have sought was mine – and that is why I fell out of love with my ex. I realize now that I probably never loved this guy for who he was; I loved him simply because he loved me, and that is what I needed at the time: someone who could love me when I couldn’t. When I hit 25, I realized that I had to take care of myself; I began to lose weight, adopted a healthier lifestyle, and broke up with the guy.

Photo credit: Jennifer Burk

Three weeks later, I met my current boyfriend. It really was love at first sight, but I didn’t want a relationship – not before I learned to love myself. I just moved in with roommates to the city at the time, and so a year of self-destruction began. My routine was simple: lots of sports during the week, lots of partying on weekends. I was also barely eating, and only very healthy, unprocessed food. I became obsessed by the quality of the food I was putting in my body. It didn’t take me long to lose A LOT of weight. I was going out and meeting new people all the time but I was paradoxically feeling more alone than ever; this loneliness allowed me to do a lot of introspection, and I began to learn so many things about me. I realized that this alone time was beneficial, and that I should learn to appreciate my own company – and after a lot of very sad days, I eventually did. I also became more and more aware of what I was putting my body through, but this I couldn’t seem to stop. I eventually cut down on my heavy drinking and smoking, but I was so obsessed with food and sports that it wasn’t healthy. My first step towards self love was extreme, and even if I felt super healthy at the time I now realize that it was nothing but the opposite; I wasn’t mentally healthy.

A year after our first encounter, my boyfriend and I finally started dating. I know he loved my body the way it was – thin and firm. One day though, as we were leaving my flat and I was bending down to lace my shoe, he ran his finger on my spine, and said “ You look super hot, don’t get me wrong, but are you sure you’re not too thin for your body type?  Is it really healthy? ” Those words really resonated with me. No, it is not, I thought. I knew that in spite of all my efforts, this body wasn’t my body. It was not the body that was given to me; not the one I could maintain with a healthy, balanced lifestyle. From this moment on, my relationship with myself began to change. Even if my boyfriend – and a lot of other males who I was getting attention from – loved my body this way, it was not the point. It was supposed to please only one person – me.

Photo credit: Crew

I had to accept my body for what it is. From this moment on, I decided to stop going to extremes in everything that I did, except for one thing: I stopped weighing myself, and threw the scale away. Slowly, the weight came back – I could tell from my clothes becoming tighter and tighter. But with every new purchase of a bigger-sized jean grew my self-esteem. I am not saying that I am not struggling anymore – I still have good days and bad days – but for more than 2 solid years now, I live by one and only concept: balance.

My body is now what seem to be a healthy one for my build and height, but I don’t really know how much I weigh and I don’t care. Even my definition of what healthy means has changed: I want a cheeseburger, I eat one; I feel depressed, I head to the gym. I try to listen to my body as much as I can, and treat it the way it deserves – the way I deserve: with love, and gratitude.