I recently had a friend reach out to me and ask me what I've done to learn to love my body and heal from the negative feelings that I used to have about myself (and sometimes still do). After talking to her, I thought it would be a good idea to share what I shared with her here on the blog in the hope that it could help anyone else out there who might also be struggling with the same issues. Although I still have bad days where it seems impossible to love myself, these practices have helped me get to where I am today and have also helped me recover from a lot of my disordered thoughts too. 

Consistently and constantly challenge any negative thoughts that you may have about yourself.

One way that I've been able to do this is by immediately countering any negative thoughts that I have about myself with positive thoughts in their place—even if I don’t believe what I’m telling myself in that moment. I’ve noticed that the more often I've treated and spoken to myself kindly (even if it feels feigned and unnatural during hard moments), the more second-nature that kindness becomes. There have even been times where I've had to sit myself in front of a mirror and tell myself, “I am beautiful” over and over again just so I could see myself saying it and have the message sink in. Growing up, my mom always told me that if you, “Do the action, the feeling will follow”, and I think that’s definitely true in this case. The more I have sincerely told myself that I am beautiful as I am, the more I believe it. Practice makes perfect!

When you have a negative thought about yourself, picture yourself saying that same comment to someone you love, like a friend, a sibling, a parent, or a spouse.

The idea behind this is that if you wouldn’t say it to someone you care about, you should never say it to yourself. I think sometimes it’s easy to forget that the person we should care about and love the most is ourselves. Always be your own best friend. 

I'm so sad that summer is almost over! Luckily, Justin and I have
gotten to go on a couple of adventures though :)

Give yourself pep-talks and reality checks whenever you think negatively about your appearance.

Make sure that you don’t hold yourself to unrealistic expectations. Flaws are normal and natural—they’re human! What isn’t normal and natural though, are the perfect images of people that we see on social media accounts, on fashion blogs, on magazine covers, and on the red carpet. Everyone has fat, everyone has wrinkles, and everyone has imperfections. Don't forget that imperfections and beauty are not mutually exclusive. You are not less of a person or of less worth because you aren’t a certain size, weight, race, height, or any other superficial measure of your appearance. You are yourself, you are enough, and regardless of how you look, you are beautiful. 

Focus on all that your body is and can do, not what it is not and cannot.

Whenever I feel like my body is inadequate, I try focus on all the positive things that my body is and can do. It is strong, it is healthy, it is special, it is mine. Yes, my thighs are big, but they are strong. Yes, my skin has a few zits, but I love the dimples around my lips when I smile. Yes, I have a round tummy, but it’s cute and keeps me warm. If there are certain areas of your body that you dislike, find things that you do like and appreciate about them and repeat those things to yourself whenever you need a self-esteem pick-me-up. You could even make those statements in to a daily mantra that you tell yourself too! Be proud of your body and give yourself compliments wherever and whenever you can--especially to the areas of your body that you struggle the most with. They need love too! 

Avoid making comparisons to those around you.

Tell yourself: "My body is my body and I cannot expect myself to look like someone else. I may look different than those around me, but that does not mean that I am ugly or less beautiful. Someone else’s beauty does not detract from my own." Beauty is more than just your appearance, it is who you are as person, how you treat those around you, your uniqueness, and the impact that you leave on the world. Existing as a woman is not a competition, but when we treat life as such, no one wins. When you spend time developing a love and appreciation for yourself, you begin to develop a relationship with your body that is priceless and impossible to achieve otherwise.

Go outside of your comfort zone. 

If you don't like the way you look in a swimsuit, go swimming. If you hate the way that you look in pictures, put yourself in as many pictures as possible AND let yourself be tagged in them on social media (which is sometimes even harder than having a picture taken of yourself in the first place). If you don't feel comfortable without makeup on, go a couple of days without it. Pushing the boundaries of your self-esteem can help you become more comfortable with and accepting of yourself. I think sometimes we project how we feel about ourselves onto others and assume that they judge our appearances more than they actually do. Most of the time, we're our own worst judges and are more critical of ourselves than anyone around us ever will be. When we let our hate, our fears, and our insecurities related to our bodies rule our actions, we miss out on life and unintentionally persuade ourselves that our lives are not worth living (or enjoying) if we aren't perfect. Ultimately, we tend to base our self-esteem on superficial factors and situations, rather than on an unconditional love of ourselves.

Surround yourself with body-positive people. 

One of the best ways you can do this is to follow body-positive accounts on social media and actively look for the stories and experiences of other individuals who are fighting (or have fought) to love themselves. Create a support group for yourself and make sure that you choose to be around those who build you up, rather than those who tear you down or belittle you (that also includes following Instagram accounts that make you feel bad about yourself too). I would even say that you could extend that same rule to yourself too. Make sure to be patient and kind to yourself so that you don't undermine your hard work! Also make sure to ignore the haters and listen to those who truly love you and accept you without strings or expectations attached. You are deserving of love at any weight and in any condition. Don't settle for those who treat you any less than you deserve! Lean on those who are further along than you are and believe that one day you can get to where they are. And, if you aren't in a place where you can believe in yourself, lean on my belief in you.

Learning to love myself has been one of the hardest things that I’ve ever done, but it has definitely been worth it. (And, it does get easier the longer you keep at it) 😊 

You can do it! 

Ask Aly: Calorie Counting

Is counting calories, in your opinion, always bad? Or can it be appropriate when the calories goals are in a healthy range? Just curious. 

Hi there!

This is actually something that I've been grappling with over the past couple of weeks, so your question couldn't have been timed better :)  I haven't completely found the answer to it yet, but let me share with you what I've come up with so far:

Counting calories is a complex topic that can't be sorted into being entirely good or bad. With that in mind, I don't think counting calories is always bad or endangering, but I also do think that it should be avoided altogether--since, in many ways, it can be a double-edged sword that can harm not only ourselves, but those around us. Even with the best intentions, calorie counting can quickly become dangerous (I would even go as far as to say that calorie counting is a type of disordered eating on its own as well). I guess the best example of what I'm talking about can be found in my own experiences with the anorexia that resulted from a calorie-deficit diet I decided start when I was a sophomore in high school. Initially, my calorie counting was "healthy"--I watched portion sizes, set what seemed to be a safe limit, and made sure I was eating healthy foods that were also lower-calorie than what I had included in my diet before. However, calorie counting eventually became an obsession and my low-calorie diet turned into a low-calorie, low-fat, low-sugar, low-carb, low-food diet as I tried to push myself to lose more and more weight. I saw calories as my enemy because I related them to being unhealthy and saw them as unwanted. Eventually, my relationships with those around me also suffered and (as crazy as this seems) my calorie counting hurt those around me too. I shamed friends and family for what they were eating and I tried to promote my calorie counting disorder as the best way to maintain a healthy lifestyle (there were also people who probably saw what I was doing and were influenced by me indirectly as well). I hate to think about it, but I'm sure the way that I talked about calories and food may have been the cause of or the justification for someone else's disorder. While calorie counting may temporarily help some people who need or want to adopt a healthier lifestyle, calorie counting placed in the wrong hands, prolonged over a significant period of time, or initiated for the wrong reasons will develop into an eating disorder.

Another problem that I've found within the context of counting calories is that it also teaches us to view food as a set of numbers rather than as a source of nutrition and it also antagonizes calories in the process. Calories are essential for our bodies to function and when we view them narrowly as numbers on a box or within the confines of a calorie limit, we detract from and forget the positive force that they are in our everyday lives. We need calories to live and to function properly. Also, calorie counting sometimes leads to the consumption of low-calorie foods that actually detract from our health instead of increasing our health. For instance, when I was counting calories, I would buy low-calorie foods from the store so that I could stay within my daily calorie limit I established. However, I didn't realize that some of those foods were low-calorie because they consisted of chemicals and artificial ingredients that did my body more harm than good. While I was staying within my calorie limit and losing weight by eating those foods, I was not necessarily becoming healthier. When I was a mentor in an eating disorder recovery group at my university, one of our meetings focused on teaching us to be aware of the nutritional values of foods and how those nutrients help our bodies, rather than focusing on calorie amounts. For example, a double cheeseburger can be around 800 calories, but it also provides around 40 grams of protein (which is essential for the growth and development of tissues in your body), along with being a good source of iron, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12. We also talked about the necessity of carbs, sugars, calories, and fats in our bodies as well. Personally, I believe this is a much healthier approach to diets and food in general. With that being said, I don't think anyone should totally ignore calories, but I do think that calories and calorie limits definitely should not be the focal point of one's relationship with food and their personal health endeavors (especially when it comes to meals that include fruits, dairy products, vegetables, meat, and/or grains). Obviously, moderation, recommended daily amounts of various nutrients, and balance are also important to take into consideration with our diets, but it is also crucial to remember that there is always something positive to be gained for our bodies from just about everything we eat--regardless of calorie amounts.

I probably feel as strongly as I do about this topic because when I recovered from my disorders, I also had to recover from calorie counting too. It fueled my disordered behaviors, my disorders themselves, and caused me to view food as something to be avoided, rather than embraced. Calorie counting is not always bad, but from my own experiences, I believe that there are better, safer ways to go about watching what one eats and controlling one's health.

All-in-all, calorie counting is a high-stakes risk that I personally would not recommend taking.


Throughout high school, I was pretty lucky when it came to acne. This was probably due to the fact that when I was anorexic, I only ate "clean" or "safe" foods that were low in carbs, calories, and fats--if I ate anything (Disclaimer: I do not recommend this and no one should use eating like this an excuse for clear skin. It is disordered eating.). The same was true during my binge eating disorder, but rather than my skin remaining clear as a result of what I was (and was not) eating,  I'm pretty sure the only reason why my skin remained clear was because my body knew that having bad acne would have broken my already fragile self-esteem into oblivion. It would have given me one more reason to hate my body and to hate myself. It might have even pushed me to suicide.

As shallow as it sounds, having clear skin helped me feel a little bit better about myself--even on my worst days.

Fast-forward to about a year ago. I was dating Justin and things were going great. Well, mostly great except for one thing. I had started to get acne for the first time in my life. I was embarrassed that what most people had experienced in their teens was happening to me as an adult. I became even more self-conscious than I normally was and my perceptions of myself were largely determined by how many zits I had on my face that day. I was worried that Justin would think less of me or think I was less attractive because of it. I ended up buying as many over-the-counter cleansers, oil-removers, and acne medications as I could find; I even resorted to scouring the internet for hours and buying products from Korea and Japan in the hopes that they would make me somewhat attractive again. I eventually went to see a dermatologist, but getting rid of my acne wasn't easy. The topical medication was expensive and the oral medication made me throw up. But I was willing to do anything to make it go away. I eventually was tired of feeling sick from the medication and I stopped taking it. My skin did pretty well for a while, but things picked back up again around Christmas of that year. It was bad. It wasn't that I had a zit here and there on my face, but my entire forehead was covered in large, cystic pimples. To make things worse, I tired to pick at the zits, which made some scab over and made others become inflamed. I was so embarrassed that I wore a bandanna headband everyday for two weeks so no one could see just how 'ugly' I had become. I was insecure around Justin and whenever he told me I was beautiful, I thought he was saying it out of pity. I mean, he saw what I saw in the mirror and so did everyone else around me--I thought they thought of me like I thought of me. That they thought I was ugly and disgusting. There were even nights where I would quietly cry myself to sleep out of frustration and self-loathing or instances where I would avoid experiences altogether out of shame.

When it was at its worst this past December
(the lighting in the picture doesn't really show
how intense it was)

The bandana headband
(Also, don't mind Jesus in the background haha)

In a lot of ways, I guess I relived the same emotions I experienced during my disorders.

Luckily, Justin caught on to what was happening pretty fast (one of the best things about being married is that you never have to go through things alone). Noticing that I was depressed and struggling, he looked at me one night and said, "Alyson, acne and beauty aren't mutually exclusive". And he was right.

I still struggle with feeling my best when I have zits or scabs from zits on my face, but I'm starting to realize that my beauty--and more importantly, who I am, is not negatively influenced by some red dots on my face. I am more than a few imperfections in my complexion.

Acne and beauty are not mutually exclusive.
Neither are acne and self-worth;
Acne and self-esteem;
Acne and love;
Acne and good experiences;
Or acne and anything positive in life.

For a while I gave myself a hard time for feeling insecure about my appearance because I thought that since I had overcome my disorders I was better than this and that I had control over most of my insecurities. That I had already overcome my body image issues and that I shouldn't still be struggling. However, I'm starting to realize that body-dysmorphia, low self-esteem, and body image issues tend to manifest themselves in more than one way and in more than one area of our lives. How we feel about ourselves is a complex, multi-faceted experience. While we may overcome one facet that we struggle with (like being okay with stretch marks or wearing a swimsuit in public), we may also still struggle with another area of our appearance (like having acne in my case). Learning to love yourself isn't easy,  however, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't be proud of progress we have made in the past or be intimidated by how large of a challenge learning to like ourselves may seem. The best thing we can do is take things one day or one facet at a time and be kind to ourselves.

Another thing that I've realized as I've gone through this experience is that while it's pretty easy to love yourself, it can be ridiculously hard to like yourself. For example, I love who I am, but I don't necessarily like my appearance when I have acne strewn across my face. Why is it that when we see someone else with an 'flaw' that we have (like acne in my case), we are less harsh toward them than we are towards ourselves? When someone else has a zit on their face I don't instanteously like them any less or think any less of them. Sometimes, I don't even notice if there are any zits on their face in the first place. However, when it is on my own face, I tend to use it as an excuse to bully myself for something that is out of my control and I project how I feel about myself onto others.

For a while, I thought that in order to be beautiful, I had to have perfect skin--just like I used to think that I had to have the 'perfect' body in order to love myself, like myself, or be myself. Perfection does not constitute beauty, it is a toxic and obsessive illusion. I may never have clear or perfect skin again for the rest of my life, but does that make me any less beautiful or any less beautiful of a person? No. Should I use my acne as an excuse to miss out on my own life? No. Am I less deserving of love and self-worth because of my acne? Definitely not. Should I be ashamed of my acne? No, because being getting acne is a completely normal human experience.

Acne isn't inherently negative, ugly, or bad by nature, it is only when we attribute those traits to acne that it becomes such. Acne happens, and that's okay.

Although I'm not completely comfortable walking around without makeup or going without covering my forehead when I have a bad breakout, I'm slowly starting to be okay with having obvious acne on my face. I'll admit that I carry around a bag of makeup with me now so that I can cover my face throughout the day, that I'm on a new acne medication plan that has reduced how intense my breakouts are, that I try to use filters to minimize my acne in photos, and that I get embarrassed to go out in public when nothing I do to cover my zits seems to work; but the crying and the disgust I used to feel when I looked in the mirror have stopped. I don't let little (or big) red marks on my face determine how I feel about myself or my life.

Because acne and beauty are not mutually exclusive. 


Today, it took 30 minutes to convince myself that eating an oatmeal cream pie after eating a candy bar earlier in the day was okay.

10 minutes ago, I spit out half of a different cookie because I couldn't make myself eat the whole thing after already eating two "bad" foods today.

I'm beginning to realize that I've been lying to myself lately.

When I first started dating Justin, I was finally coming out of my eating disorder and feeling confident about my body at whatever size it was. I started to realize though that my post-disorder weight-loss was finally manifesting itself about two months into our relationship. I loved it. I loved being back to feeling healthy again. I think I loved looking "healthy" even more. It didn't start intentionally at first--cutting back at meals and eating smaller portions. It just happened gradually. I liked what I was seeing in the mirror, but with every glance at myself, my eating disorder started to fester inside of me again.

When Justin was concerned about me not eating enough, I would tell him that I just had a small stomach--which was true, but only because I was making it that way. Before our wedding, I lost weight and my wedding dress was actually too big for me. On our honeymoon, I only ate the crusts off of my french toast at breakfast one morning. Sure, I ate, but I wasn't eating like I should have been. I wasn't eating like someone who had overcome three eating disorders should be. I would eat large meals now and again without being phased, lying to myself and saying; "See! You're okay! You just ate something you would have never eaten during your disorders!", but I was wrong. Sure, I wasn't anorexic or a binge eater, but I wasn't "okay". Some days it feels like I'll never be. This wasn't anywhere close to how I was when I was anorexic, but I easily could have continued down that path. I liked that the pants I had bought nine months ago were too big on me. I liked that shirts felt loose on my shoulders. I liked that I could put my hands on my waist and not strain to have my fingers touch my bellybutton.

From day one, Justin told me that he loved me at any weight, but part of me was afraid to believe him. Part of me was afraid to wait and see what would happen if I gained weight. I guess I was mostly afraid of myself. Before we got married, my sister came up to me and asked if I was doing okay. I said I was because compared to my past, I was doing better. I mean, I was eating regularly and not restricting myself to celery and crushed ice like I had before...but the calorie counter in my head was dusted off and ready to go. Food started to become a number, not a source of nutrition.

To be honest, I've never forgotten the calorie amounts that I forced myself to memorize back in high school.

Initially, I was baffled that I kept losing weight, but I'm starting to realize just how complicit I actually was. When I was trying on wedding dresses, I happily credited most of the samples fitting me to my recent weight loss--I was relieved.I remember being proud of myself for not obsessing over how dresses looked on me, but I think I was actually just proud to be thin. I don't think I necessarily wanted to lose weight though, I think it was a matter of me liking the fact that I was finally making visible progress down from my binge eating weight and being okay with going a little further--losing a little bit more.

But that's how disorders get you.

I just re-discovered this picture while I was looking through our wedding photos :)
I love being married to my best friend!

Since we've gotten married, my fear of gaining weight has come back in full swing. Sometimes, I'll look at my profile in the mirror and push my fat towards my ribs to see what I would look like with a flatter, anorexic, stomach again. I mention in passing to Justin once or twice a week that I've gained weight and pretend like it isn't a big deal. But it is. I've done it so much that last night, I started to say something while I was standing in front of the mirror and Justin instantly thought that I was going to ask him if I was had gained weight. A couple of times, I've fantasized about kneeling next to the toilet and throwing up. I've fantasized about the hunger that comes from intentionally starving yourself. I've fantasized about a nightmare.

 I still consider myself recovered, but am I as okay as I thought I was a year ago? No.

I love my body and since I've noticed these behaviors coming back, I've tried to be mindful of them. I watch them, I counter them, but sometimes, like today, I fall short. Back when I was an eating disorder mentor on campus, my catchphrase was: "Recovery is real" and I still believe that it is. However, I'm starting to realize more and more lately that recovery isn't necessarily instant or long-lasting freedom from a disorder. Relapse is an incredibly common reality for anyone who has recovered from an eating disorder (check out this awesome video by Blythe Baird on relapse--it actually was one of the biggest motivators for me writing this post finally), it isn't anything to be ashamed of and it's okay to struggle. What isn't okay is deciding not to struggle against things that are hard or allowing shame to diminish the magnitude of our past accomplishments. Just because I'm stumbling now, doesn't mean I shouldn't stand tall for overcoming three disorders in the past or that I'm a failure. While we're talking about relapse, I think it's also important to note that relapse comes in all shapes and sizes. Spitting out a few cookies or counting how many calories are in a bowl of pasta do not mean that I've fallen back into an eating disorder--disordered eating, yes, but a disorder, no. I don't want anyone to mistake that last sentence as me brushing off the severity of my actions because I'm not. Things aren't as great as I'd like them to be, but I think it's important to recognize that things also aren't as bad as they could be. Yes, I acknowledge calories more than I'd like to, I'm more afraid of the implications of eating than I should be, and I'm afraid of what'll happen to my self-esteem if I gain a significant amount of weight in the near future, but have I become anorexic, bulimic, or a binge eater again? No.

And I don't plan on letting that happen ever again.

One of my main reasons for writing this post is to let others who have recovered from their disorders, but still struggle, still fight, still get exhausted by their own thoughts, that they aren't alone. That they aren't a failure. That they shouldn't be too hard on themselves because recovery isn't easy.

We're in this together.
And I think we'll be okay.

New Years Resolution 2017

Wow! I can't believe that it's already New Years Eve!

Marrying Justin was definitely the highlight of 2016 for me :)

This time last year, I couldn't even fathom the changes that would be coming my way in 2016 (especially marriage), but I think I've done a pretty good job with adjusting my sails to the upcoming year. While the New Year brings with it new hopes, new goals, and new expectations, I think that sometimes we use the New Year as an excuse to criticize ourselves and bully our appearances (it also doesn't help that dieting companies and gyms often amp up advertising around this time to remind us of our "inadequacies" so that we'll buy their products and become our "best" selves). For the past few years, I've tried to write a post on or around New Years Eve to talk about my goals for myself in the upcoming year; this year though, I want to try something different. This year, I want to challenge myself and all of you to be kinder to ourselves in making New Years resolutions than we were in years prior. Also, while it's okay to want to become healthier, making resolutions that involve weight loss are often a double-edged sword.

If you're at a weight that you're not comfortable with, that's okay! Your weight doesn't determine whether you're a success or a failure; your weight doesn't validate or invalidate your existence; and your weight definitely does not serve as a determinate for happiness or unhappiness. No matter what you weigh, you're still you--and who you are is beautiful and worth loving. We need to learn to love ourselves and be happy with ourselves without strings attached and before we consider losing weight. If you're only happy and comfortable once you fit into those jeans your wore in high school or if you weigh the same weight as you did at a previous point in your life, your happiness becomes narrowed and your expectations of yourself become toxic. Additionally, losing weight doesn't necessarily solve all your problems; sometimes, it creates problems instead (like the development of anorexia and bulimia in my case). Often, we're our harshest judges and as a result, make false or unsupported assumptions about ourselves based off of how we think others see us.

 If you are considering making a goal to lose weight this year (which is totally fine--I'm not condemning losing weight, but instead the negative and harmful reasons that often pressure us to feel the need to lose weight in the first place), I would suggest that instead of dieting, consider making goals that involve self-acceptance and also take the time to question why you feel the need to lose weight in the first place. Why? Because this worked for me (also, most diets often result in eating disorders, fail after few weeks, cause unhealthy relationships with food, and result weight gain as well). Since overcoming my binge eating disorder four years ago (I still can't believe it's been that long--time really does heal you and complete recovery is always a reality), I've lost a significant amount of weight though countering my own negative thoughts about myself, assessing my sources of self-worth, developing a healthy relationship with food, and realizing that what I eat and what I weigh don't define me. Sure, it's not a quick way to lose weight (it's taken me about three years to get all of the disorder weight off), but it's healthier for you than any diet plan out there both mentally and physically. 

The best diet is not to diet and the best way to make a New Years resolution is to build yourself up first, rather tearing yourself down. 

I hope that 2017 is a great year for all of you and I'm excited to see where this new year takes us (one of my resolutions is to get back in the swing of posting regularly)! 

Oh, and Happy New Year!