How Physical Fitness & Self-Worth Affected My Relationships

I AM NOT DEFINED BY MY WEIGHT - Part V Relationships/ROTC

This piece is Part 5 of a 9 Part Series called I Am Not Defined By My Weight, inspired by Rachel Hollis' book "Girl, wash your face". 

Recently, I decided to take the 5 Love Languages quiz to figure out my love language. The quiz determined my love language is “Words of Affirmation," meaning for me, actions do not speak louder than words. Unsolicited compliments, kind/encouraging words are genuinely life-giving, and the opposite can be earth-shattering.

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Understanding this love language brought a lot of things into perspective.

From growing up obsessed with physical appearance, to listening to immature boys call me fat, I started to believe the lies that I am what I weigh. Strangers repeated these words often enough, it consumed me and crushed my spirit.   All throughout college, I unknowingly battled these misperceptions, trying to discover who I was and what my purpose was in life. When I joined ROTC, it exacerbated the belief that I wasn't enough.

Firstly, please realize I am not faulting the Air Force, Ohio State or ROTC for any of my self-esteem problems.  I had fantastic cadre members (the officers/enlisted members in charge) and peers that encouraged and motivated me. My story is more than the four years in ROTC.My struggle is a culmination of my culture, my perceptions, and my individual experiences.

ROTC Experience

From day one in ROTC, I was aware I did not meet standards and would have to lose weight to wear the uniform. I also could not pass a PT test (physical training test) to save my life—another requirement to serve in the Air Force.

Knowing this, I continued on.

I went to mandatory PT twice a week, and watched, as every single person was faster, skinnier, and stronger than me. I was also one of a few cadets who did not meet standards, thus was required to march around campus in civilian clothes.

You can say I stuck out like a sore thumb. Because of this, I regularly had people asking me why I wasn't in uniform and what did I mean by "not meeting standards."

Talk about awkward.

I had to explain to people I was too fat to wear the uniform. I would feel sick to my stomach.

ROTC PT.jpg
ROTC PT .jpg

To make matters worse, we would have PT tests once a quarter where we would get weighed in, tape measured, and then tested on pushups, sit-ups and a mile and a half run.

If I didn't make weight, it was an automatic failure and no more uniform for me.  So instead of fueling my body appropriately to do well on those PT tests, I would starve myself the weak prior and spend hours in the sauna wearing a sweat suit to make sure I could make weight.

You can probably guess my performance during those tests were subpar.

It was a lose-lose situation.

In hindsight, I wish I had reached out for help on how to lose weight the right way. I knew there were standards I needed to uphold, yet every Friday after weigh-ins I would binge on Taco Bell as a reward for surviving another week. When I would go out with friends, I would enjoy massive amounts of food and then force myself to puke it up. Not only would the calories not count, but it also prevented hangovers. Pretty distorted, am I right?

Thankfully, that season is behind me, but there is still more to the story.

Self-worth and Relationships

“Your relationship with yourself sets the tone for every other relationship you have.” – Robert Holden

Even after I had finally achieved the Air Force's goal weight, I still struggled with self-worth. I was finally wearing the uniform, but I was the slowest person on the track. It wasn't enough to make weight, nor pass the PT test. The next expectation was to get 100 points on the PT test, and I was rarely hitting 90.

I felt like a failure, a big fat failure.

It was during this time I started developing feelings for one of the guys in ROTC, except I tried my hardest to fight those feelings.

See, this guy was white, skinny, and came from the suburbs of Ohio.

I, on the other hand, was Puerto Rican, chubby, and from inner-city Cleveland.

What the heck would people think if they saw a big Hispanic girl with a skinny white boy? 

What would my family say? 

I was not going to allow myself to be embarrassed like that. Plus, why would a thin person want to be with a fat person? I genuinely believed I was too big to be loved. That I needed to find someone bigger than me or else it would never work.

I fixated on these beliefs so much, I pushed this guy away from me, into the arms of another girl.

It wasn’t until I realized the other girl was not interested in him that I decided I could not suppress my feelings any longer.

I had to tell him how I felt, despite feeling unworthy of him or his love.

Lessons Learned

♥ Determine your long-term goals and ensure your short-term goals help you achieve your objective. I  solely focused on making sure the scale moved down, I practiced unhealthy habits that hindered long-term weight loss.

♥ Progress is progress. Celebrate all of your small achievements. Every little achievement adds up to big success.

♥ Ask for help. Don’t allow your pride to get in the way of achieving your goal. I relied heavily on my own strength that it took me longer than it should have to reach my target.

♥ Don’t compare yourself to other people. No one has walked in your shoes. You were uniquely created, and no one in the world matches you. Comparing yourself to other people steals your joy.

♥ Love is not dependent on weight. I was so afraid to date someone because I thought I weighed too much, I almost missed out on the best relationship of my life.

Happily Ever After . . . 

Thankfully, I learned how to stifle the negative opinions I had for myself long enough to enter into the best relationship of my life—my marriage. I wish I could tell you that I learned how to love myself before we said our vows, but that would not be true.

I entered my marriage thinking; finally, I would be happy since I had someone who loved me for me.

But that was just not the case.

Your relationship with yourself sets the tone for every other relationship you have, and my relationship with myself was not the best.

It was in marriage and motherhood where I learned how to “love” myself.

If you would like to read more, feel free to follow me on Instagram, Facebook, or email. Next week I will explore the beginning of my relationship and marriage, and how I learned that I needed to love myself before I could truly accept my husbands love.

5 Lessons Learned.jpg

Not Good Enough - Self-Worth in College

This is Part 4 of a 9 Part Series "I Am Not Defined By My Weight" inspired by Rachel Hollis' book "Girl, wash your face".

I AM NOT DEFINED BY MY WEIGHT – Part IV College

If you have kept up the series, you are amazing! If you haven’t, but would like to start at the beginning, feel free to check it out here.

Recap

What inspired the series “I Am Not Defined By My Weight” was Rachel Hollis’ book “Girl, wash your face”. The premise of the book was to uncover a bunch of hurtful lies Rachel believed and one truth that set her free. The part that inspired me was not about fad diets or loving every single flaw, but instead, about putting work into finding out why self-love was an issue in the first place (p. 183).  

This meant I had to go way back, 20-something years, to hopefully find out the truth behind the struggle. In the first post, I discussed the Puerto Rican culture I grew up in and how that created an obsession with physical weight and appearance. Then, I covered those dreaded high school years and highlighted 6 things I wish I would have known. I had such little respect for myself that I was willing to be the other woman in a relationship. This lasted through my senior year of high school and well into my sophomore year in college.

The College Years

“Some things cannot be taught; they must be experienced. You never learn the most valuable lessons in life until you go through your own journey.”
― Roy T. Bennett

College is when things really got interesting.  Remember, Paul was the guy who had another girlfriend and initially lied about it. When I finally knew the truth, I continued the relationship because I figured it was better to be the girl he cheated with than the girl he cheated on.  At the time, I saw nothing wrong with our actions.  My immature brain and heart believed that he really wanted to be with me but didn’t want to hurt the other girl. I thought that if I waited long enough, he would realize I was the better choice.

I needed to win.

I needed to be the girl he chose, especially since I had compromised who I was, to be who he wanted.

Hindsight is 20:20

In hindsight, I regret being that girl. I can't imagine the pain I helped create. I was so naïve and lost, nothing could help me see the truth. I had some friends who would try to talk to me, but it was always in a judging manner. It felt as if they stood on the moral high ground judging my actions and thinking I was stupid for believing Paul could be a good person. 

It took way too long for me to realize I was worth more than being the "side piece". The straw that broke the camels back was when Paul broke up with his high-school sweetheart and started dating someone else. His excuse – long distance wouldn't work and my favorite—he didn't want to follow me in the military.

The light bulb finally clicked and I was over it. Done. Finito.

After Paul, I really started to define my self-worth by how many guys were interested in me.  If someone hit on me, my self-esteem skyrocketed.

If a guy bought me a drink or took me out on a date, I felt like hot sh*t. 

I "talked" to a couple of different guys throughout my college years. All very different yet always the same outcome. These guys did not want commitment. They wanted to reap all of the benefits of a relationship without any of the work and commitment.

I tried to trick myself into believing that I didn't want a commitment either. I didn't want to be tied down. I wanted to enjoy college. These were the mantras I held on to in order to keep myself together. I struggled with my identity so much, that it ruined friendships and left lasting scars that I am still dealing with to this day.

Encouragement

  • Do not tie your self-worth to things of this world - When your worth is tied to the things of this world, then it is easily defeated. That leaves you unstable and dependent on things outside of your control. You cannot control how others see or feel for you but you can control how you see yourself and feel about yourself. When your worth is tied to your good morals and beliefs, you will be resilient despite the trials you will experience.
  • Do not settle - Do not compromise your beliefs for the sake of a relationship. I was so hungry for a relationship, I settled for “talking” to guys even though my heart yearned for traditional boyfriend/girlfriend dating. There is nothing wrong with getting to know someone before committing to them, but there is a fine line between getting to know someone and getting all the benefits without any of the commitment. You are worth the commitment.
  • Be a good friend- If you have a friend who has fallen into the same trap I described above, love on her. You might not be able to talk her into seeing her true value, but you can be the example she needs. Sometimes, a girl just needs a friend who is honest, loving, but turns her in the right direction.
fitness fridays - college beauty .jpg

Believer Not A Follower

Eventually, I decided to swear off all guys. College was just a hot mess of trying to figure out who would become my husband.  It took multiple heartbreaks and hitting rock bottom for me to realize that maybe God just wanted me to be alone and figure out how to love myself first. 

During this time, I believed that if my heart was in the right place and if I was a good person, then I was a good Christian as well. I believed in God but was not a follower. I didn’t even know there was a difference!* 

I remember thinking that the next person I would date would be my husband. I also decided that I would start being honest with myself. I wanted a real relationship. I wanted the official title of “girlfriend” and the next guy would have to be okay with that.

What I didn’t realize was that I still struggled with how to love myself. I thought that making this commitment of honesty was enough, but it wasn’t. In order to have a healthy relationship, I would have to learn how to love myself. During these years, I did not love myself. I grew up learning I was chubby and that idea was reinforced throughout middle school and highschool. Then, when I started dating, guys also reinforced the notion that I was not enough. I attributed the lack of commitment and insensitive comments to my weight. I was too big to deserve better.

In some ways, ROTC also exacerbated the self-loath and made it really difficult to understand what a healthy relationship looked like.  Not only did I believe I was unattractive and fat, I was reminded of it day in and day out for ROTC.

In the next post, I focus on my time in ROTC and how physical fitness/weight-loss affected my relationships and self-worth. It was during my senior year of college when I realized that I had tied my worth to my weight and it almost cost me my marriage.

* If you don’t know there is a difference between being a believer and a follower of Christ, don’t feel bad. I promise that I will dive more into that topic in the near future.*

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Self-Esteem & Weight Issues In The Teen Years: 6 Things I Wish I Would Have Known

This is Part 3 of a 9 Part Series inspired by Rachel Hollis' book "Girl, wash your face". 

I AM NOT DEFINED BY MY WEIGHT - Part III High School

If you read my Intro to the series, then you already know that my hope for these posts are to encourage women, young and wise, to know they are not alone in their past struggles and hurts. 

These stories might not seem like a big deal when you read them, but to me, they had a huge impact on the mother, wife, and woman I have become and I know that through writing, I can find healing.


RECAP

My childhood was shaped by the Puerto Rican culture I was raised in. From an early age, an obsession with weight and appearance developed, making it harder for me to see that my weight did not define me. Rachel Hollis captured that feeling perfectly in her book “Girl, wash your face book”.

My weight was no longer just a part of me like hair or teeth; now it was something that defined me. It was a testament to all the ways I was wrong” (pg. 178).

When you struggle with self-esteem at such a young age, you can only imagine how much more difficult it becomes in the pre-teen and teenage years.

I Am Who You Say I Am

In middle school and high school, I had a best friend who was the epitome of “beautiful”. Small waist, big chest/butt, clothes and makeup always on point. So, of course, the guys always went after her and I became the nerdy sidekick trying not to obsess about how unattracive I was. I have a vivid memory of walking through the metro parks with her and I remember hearing some guys shout out of a vehicle passing by:

Hey beautiful!

I turned to look at them, not really thinking they were talking to me, just caught off guard by the catcalls and the same boy shouted at me:

Not you, the other one. You need to lose some weight

My best friend turned to me and asked me what they said. Too embarrassed to admit to her what I heard, I lied and I told her I couldn't understand them. 

After that, we continued walking as if nothing happened. To her, nothing did happen and I truly believed she didn't hear them, yet my world shattered once again. Here were these strangers confirming my beliefs that I was overweight and not beautiful.

In high school, I focused on school. I didn't date, not because I didn't want to but because I believed no one would want to really be interested in a fat girl. Eventually, people in school thought I was a lesbian because I wouldn't date any of the guys in school.

It's weird how high school students come up with some of their theories. I wasn't interested in girls and I wasn't not interested in guys. I was just "too fat" to think anyone would really want to be with me.

At such a tender age, I associated thin with beautiful. Thin women would find boyfriends and husbands. Thin women would be successful. Thin women would be the best mothers. This idea warped my thinking and eventually shattered any self-worth I had left. By senior year of high school, my worth was tied to how many guys were interested in me. This, in turn, led to stupid actions that I hate to even admit.

 
skinny.jpg
 

My First “Real” Relationship

I officially dated one guy during my senior year of high school. This relationship will demonstrate how low my self-worth was in this season.

For privacy reasons, we will call this boy Paul. Paul and I officially dated for a month-ish during our senior year. We went to different high schools but had met through a mutual friend and really enjoyed spending time together.

Towards the end of the school year, that one big event was quickly approaching…You know what event I am talking about....  Prom.  Most people probably love looking at their prom photos and reminiscing about the “good ‘ole days”?

Well, not me. I deleted every photo I have of that time frame – a bit dramatic, I know.

See, Paul had recently broken up with his ex-girlfriend when we started dating. When the subject of prom came up he confided in me that he had already promised to take his ex to prom. She had bought a dress, so he would feel horrible backing out on his commitment. To 17 year old me, that made a lot of sense. I admired him for his commitment and naïvely believed him. At one point, our mutual friend who introduced us, told me that Paul wasn’t telling the truth; he never actually broke up with his ex.

I thought he was just jealous. I went to prom with my chemistry lab partner and Paul went to prom with his ex-girlfriend. Come to find out Paul had never broken up with her and had lied to me the entire time.  GASP! At this point, you would cut ties and go about your merry way, right?

Well, fool me twice.

Yes, I was pissed with him, but somehow he managed to weasel his way back into my life. Worthless Cynthia thought it was better to maintain that emotional attachment even though he had another girl friend. He just felt really bad for her and didn’t think she was stable enough to handle a break up. At least now he was finally honest with me. I was the one who won in this situation (insert sarcasm).

Things I Wish I Would Have Known

> Just because he was honest with you, doesn’t make it right. Cheating is always wrong.

> No matter how hard you try, you will NEVER find fulfillment in another human. They will always let you down. Instead, look to the heavenly father. When you give your heart tos God, He will fulfill your every need.

> Weight is a descriptor, it does not define you.

> The goal should be strong, not skinny.

> Going to prom with a significant other is not a necessity. I allowed the fact that I “had” to go with a friend ruin any chance of fun I could have had.

> Comparison is a trap. Just because someone else is pretty doesn’t mean you can’t be pretty. Just because someone is skinnier than you, doesn’t mean they are healthier.


Next up – College, yay!

OSU Newcomers.jpg

Next, we enter the college years. Despite the difficulties I experienced, I learned so much. I am not talking about the lessons I learned during the school day, but the life lessons I learned trying to navigate what being a woman meant. This was the time I was free to explore the world around me.

I’m talking sex, drugs…the whole nine-yards.

HA! Just kidding – my story isn’t that juicy.  But I will cover identity, relationships, ROTC, and spirituality. Four years might not seem like a long time, but there was a lot of growing to be done.

6 things I wish I would have known about weight issues in my teen years

3 Things I Learned From My Childhood Weight Issues

I AM NOT DEFINED BY MY WEIGHT - Part II Childhood 

This piece is Part 2 of a 9 Part Series called I Am Not Defined By My Weight, inspired by Rachel Hollis' book "Girl, wash your face". 

If you have read my intro to the series, then you already know I have struggled with weight my entire life.  I can trace it back to my childhood when I remember not wanting to get undressed for the doctors. I didn’t want them to see me unclothed. I also hated wearing bathing suits that showed off my stomach or thighs and absolutely HATED taking any kind of pictures.

I don't remember expressing these feelings vocally, but I do remember the dreaded belief that I was the fattest kid in the birthday photo.

Now, I look back at most of my childhood photos and I realize how delusional I was.

 
Yes... I was a chubby baby! But look how cute I was!

Yes... I was a chubby baby! But look how cute I was!

 

Cultural Significance

I don't remember the exact origins of these feelings, but growing up in a Puerto Rican family surely didn't help. Puerto Ricans, actually most Hispanics, focus a lot on physical descriptions.  That's why you will hear nicknames like "La Gorda”, “La Flaquita”, “Blanquita”, “Negra", "Gringa” etc… Can you imagine your family calling you “the fat one”, “the skinny one”, “the white girl”, “the dark girl”, etc...?

That sticks with you.

To top it off, it wasn’t unusual to go to a family function and have relatives comment on your weight/appearance.

This story isn't uniquely mine. If you talk to enough people, you will probably learn that it's pretty normal. By no means am I blaming my culture nor am I saying I had a horrible family. I love my family and know that no family is perfect. It's just that this constant discussion of weight and appearance created this obsession with being a perfect size, the perfect color, and just perfect in general.

So as I grew up, I always focused on it. If I had gained weight, I had to prepare myself in advance for any family functions knowing that someone would make a comment about me gaining weight. Or if I lost weight, someone would make a comment that I wasn’t eating enough and getting too skinny (blasphemy for a Puerto Rican).

You could not escape someone pinpointing that you gained a few pounds since the last time they saw you. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't that they meant any harm by it, it was just how my family operated.

Culture vs. Media

It’s important to note that at no point in my life have I ever been too skinny, at least according to US standards for BMI, in which I have always been considered “overweight” or “obese”. Yet, there were minor occasions when some family members thought I was getting too skinny. I was living in a world where the media glorified a size 0 with an hour-glass figure, but my community glorified a well endowed and curvy woman.

Talk about confusion!

I look back at my pictures and wish I saw then what I see now. Sure, I had some extra fluff, but not to the point that doctors needed to be concerned. I look back at those pictures and I pray that my baby girl wont go through the same issues I went through. I know that she will go through her stages, but I hope that I can help her see the beauty in her that I couldn't see in myself.

What the devil used for destruction, God used for a purpose.

Every stage of my life has had a unique impact on my self-worth. There isn't an exact moment that helped me love or hate my body, instead it was a journey through years of believing lies rather than truth. I hope that through my story, you can identify your own lies and start believing the truth that you are not defined by your weight.


3 Things I Learned

  1. Character qualities far exceed physical qualities, yet the compliments that come out of my mouth almost always center around physicality. Instead,  intentionally praise your children for their confidence, intelligence, curiousty, courage, and kindness.

  2. Strong is beautiful. Instead of focusing on the number on the scale, encourage children to be active (and lead by example). Strength is more important than what number is shown on the scale. Weight loss is the unintended outcome when a healthy lifestyle is the goal.

  3. Despite the pain caused from my sufferings, God used all those opportunities to mold me.  Teach your children to embrace the trials and know that God has a purpose for their life. Easier said than done, I know. But the effort will not be in vain. As we pour into our children, God will cultivate it in their heart.

"...but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope." Romans 5:3-4

 

I AM NOT DEFINED BY MY WEIGHT - Intro

This is Part 1 of a 9 Part Series "I Am Not Defined By My Weight" inspired by Rachel Hollis' book "Girl, wash your face".

Part I - Intro

Just recently, I finished reading Rachel Hollis’s new book “Girl, Wash Your Face” and I loved every freaking word in it. I loved it so much, it prompted me to write about my experiences with some of the chapters.

Girl, Wash Your Face book

The premise of the book is for women to stop believing the lies about who they are, so they can become who they were meant to be. Rachel goes through 20 lies that women believe and one big important truth—"You, and only you, are ultimately responsible for who you become and how happy you are"(pg. xi).

I loved the book so much, I dedicated an entire post for why you MUST read it, but for now, I want to tell you how deeply moved I was with lie #17 - "I am Defined by My Weight".

In this fitness series titled "I am Not Defined by My Weight",  I will tell you my journey with weight-loss, weight-gain, and self-worth.

The first post will focus on my childhood years. These were the years where growing up in a hispanic household truly molded the way I saw physical appearance, breeding an obsession with the perfect weight and body.

Then, I'll take you through the dreaded high school years and eventually, college years where I promise it gets a little more juicy.  I actually cringe writing about most of these stories, feeling the embarrassment come right back. In spite of that, I have to tell you my story. Because all of those individual moments slowly molded and shaped the woman I am today.

I will continue on and take you through the struggles in ROTC where I had to constantly tell people I was too fat to wear my uniform (and yes, it was tramatic).

Thankfully, I persevered through those challenging years, but the struggle did not end there. I eventually got married and had to learn how to grocery shop for two people with competing food/fitness goals (and an ice cream addict...ahem David).

Do you make your spouse suffer so you aren't tempted to eat an entire bag of Salt N Vinegar chips?

Do you buy them donuts for breakfast even though you know you will OBSESS over them until the entire box is gone?

I had to learn and am still learning what that looks like.

As if my self-worth wasn't already in shambles, I became pregnant at the heaviest weight I had ever been. Any momma reading this will understand the struggle of postpartum body image and self-worth. I will open my heart to you so you can hopefully understand the woman behind these words.

Spoiler alert—I will not end it by telling you I have figured out the success to loving your body. I will not end it by telling you I have it all figured out. I don’t even know how I will end the series to be completely honest. But I will be open, honest and vulnerable with anyone who wants to listen/read. These stories might not seem like a big deal when you read them, but to me, they had a huge impact on the mother, wife and woman I have become.

My only hope is that I can encourage women to know they are not alone in the struggle and maybe in writing, I can find healing.