I’ve suffered from body dysmorphia since I was a young girl. Though I used to compete in fitness competitions, train twice a day, look “great” in a swimsuit, and eat only my non-GMO, organic, clean, free-range meals, I still wasn’t happy with my body.


I was going through the motions of life, hating the way I looked because I only wanted to be perfect. And to be clear, perfection is subjective. It’s also pretty much nonexistent.


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Happiness Is Not a Body Shape

Wanting to look perfect is one of the biggest thieves of joy. It trains your brain to think you’re not what you should be. Day after day, I fell into the trap, thinking I should look a certain way because then and only then would I [fill in the blank with “get a man,” “be loved,” “get a better job,” etc.]. Only when I looked that way would I win my fitness competitions and finally be happy.


Me, figuratively and literally examining my body.


I thought this way for years. I trained myself to think there were flaws in my body because I spent so much time surfing the web, looking at Photoshopped images and thinking they were real.


After years of this torment, I had enough. I knew I was doing this whole “health” thing very wrong. I had taken it so far that I no longer looked at the big picture of health, but instead, I sought out ways to obsess in an unhealthy manner. Being able to obsess gave me a distraction from all the other tiny details in life I didn’t want to think about. Before I knew it, my obsession became a deeply rooted belief in my head.


"I had taken it so far that I no longer looked at the big picture of health, but instead, I sought out ways to obsess in an unhealthy manner."

After my second fitness show, I took a step back to examine my attitude. After four months of dieting and training, I still wasn’t happy with my body.


“Wait,” you say. “She wasn’t finally satisfied?” No, I had the body I wanted so badly and yet it didn’t lead me to ultimate happiness and satiation. It led me to severe bloating, an upset stomach, an anxiety-filled mind, and a slow metabolism. That’s where it really led me.


This was a huge wake-up call for me. I knew I couldn’t keep waiting for this happiness thing to magically happen because of the shape of my body. I had to look elsewhere.


6 Practices to Create Unconditional Happiness

With diligence and perseverance, I began six practices that helped me to create my own unconditional happiness. These practices unveiled a mental peace I had never before experienced. I no longer stressed about being perfect or meeting made-up standards. Instead, I loved my body for simply existing.


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1. Say Goodbye to Social Media (for a Bit)

One of the biggest things I did for myself was reduce time spent on social media. I was basically telling myself to watch the highlight reels of other women, and that’s it. I never saw their tough times or struggles, just their perfect morning abs and perfectly portioned Tupperware dinners. This made me think negatively about my own life and body. I reduced my social media time and began to un-follow accounts that made me think any less of myself.


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2. Get a Pet or a Date

Either one of these helps, and I suggest doing both. Having more interactions with people in a romantic setting is good for many reasons, including your self-awareness. You get to talk about your goals and dreams while listening to the stories of others. You’ll also realize you don’t criticize others for their extra body fat or eating habits, and hopefully this will transfer over to how kind you are to your own body.


Pets help because you can no longer focus completely on yourself. You learn to give and take, and to love unconditionally.


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3. Trade Morning Cardio for a Morning Walk

While this may seem simple, putting away the rushed cardio-filled mornings makes quite a difference in your mindset for the day. Starting your day with an alarm followed by sprints puts your body into a state of fear and anxiety. This can transfer over to how you feel about work, food, relationships, and everything else that follows in your day. Instead, start your morning off with a peaceful walk around the block that will contribute to self-awareness and wholeness.


RELATED: Walking: The Most Underrated Movement of the 21st Century


4. Give Intuitive Eating a Chance

This means eating what sounds good to your body and eating until you’re satisfied. It may not sound too complex, but when you view food as fuel, and only fuel, your intuition gets lost in the midst of all that health knowledge.


"I had stopped trusting myself to know what to eat and when to eat because I was never without a meal plan or diet coach."

Realigning yourself with your taste buds and hunger signals is a crucial component of building self-trust. I had stopped trusting myself to know what to eat and when to eat because I was never without a meal plan or diet coach. Learning to trust my instincts was scary, but it made an incredible impact on how I view the food on my plate and, as a result, my body.


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5. Dress the Body You Have Now

Do you still have that swimsuit you wore when you were a size four, hoping to fit into it again? Do you have those slim pants you wore back in college hanging on a rack in your closet, thinking maybe, just maybe they’ll be on your body again someday?


If these clothes are hanging around as constant reminders, then it’s time to ditch them. Dress the body you have now, not the body you had then. Keeping clothing around that doesn’t fit you is a subconscious reminder that something “needs to change.” That kind of thinking isn’t healthy and is putting you into a state of stress and self-disrespect.


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6. Respect and Honor Other Bodies, Too

How can we imagine we’ll be able to respect our bodies unless we also respect others? It’s time we collectively decide to respect every shape and size and honor every physique.


Fat-shaming, skinny-shaming, tall-shaming, short-shaming - all of it needs to end. If you’re pointing out flaw in others, then you’re simply projecting your own inner fears. When you begin to see other women and men as the beautiful people they are, you will have a much easier time loving who you are.


RELATED: Strong Is Still Strong, Skinny Is Still Skinny


Remember How a Healthy and Natural Body Feels

Though all these practices are helpful and will promote body respect, I must also implore you to start thanking your body for its ability to do all it does. We’re only human. We’re made of flesh and bones. We live and we die.


"It’s time we collectively decide to respect every shape and size and honor every physique."

The media doesn’t present to us natural, healthy bodies as often as we like, so it’s up to us individuals to block out the nonsense and stand by what we know is true. Remember what a healthy and natural body looks and feels like, and aim for that. Don’t aim for the unrealistic or unattainable because doing so will only decrease your respect for your already amazing body, and that’s simply no way to live.


Photos 2 & 3 courtesy of Shutterstock.