Editor's note: This story may be triggering for people with a history of disordered eating.
When I was in college, I was the coxswain on our varsity crew team. This means I had three jobs: steer the boat, motivate the rowers and weigh as little as possible. After all, I was "dead weight." The team had to row me down the river as I yelled at them, so it was really in everyone's "best" interest for me to contribute as little mass to the boat as possible. Light boats win races.
Every morning at 5 a.m. I would bundle up, pile into someone's car and make my way to the boathouse—where I would take off all my layers and get on a scale in front of the entire team.
I was publicly weighed every day of my freshman year of college—and when I lost weight, people would clap. So I ate peas for dinner many nights. I brought seltzer to parties so I wouldn't be tempted to have a beer.
We won a lot of races. I even started the application process to try out for the Olympic rowing team. And I was miserable.
After months of agonizing over the decision, I finally mustered the courage to quit the crew team. "Are you sure?" people said. "The Olympics… I mean… isn't it worth it?"
To this day I am not sure how I mustered the courage to say, "Actually, no. It isn't—not to me at least." But I did.
I started eating grilled cheese for dinner and drinking beer at parties—only after I turned 21, of course.
And I started what would become the lifelong journey of learning how to love my body again.
A deep part of that journey for me is professional. I have the honor of being a midwife and as such I get to help people feel proud and protective of their bodies.
I have learned through this process, both personal and professional, that wellness is a deeply subjective experience, one that encompasses every aspect of who we are as unique beings.
For me, wellness is learning how to listen to my body without judgment.
It's going for walks in the woods (especially when it's muddy).
It's getting more sleep than I think I "should."
It's indulging in cheesecake without feeling bad about it.
It's eating root vegetables in the winter and tomatoes in the summer.
It's taking baths with candles (and my kids' bath toys).
And it's not stepping on a scale very often.
I know how much I weigh (generally), and I am aware of when I lose weight or gain weight. But I have learned that frequently weighing myself or recording little weight fluctuation is unhealthy for me. Now, this is not easy for me. I am nowhere near as "at peace" with myself and my body as I'd like to be, and I know that it will be part of my work forever. But I am committed to remembering how to love my body, even on the days when it feels really hard.
Please understand that I am not advocating this for everyone. For some, frequently weighing themselves is part of their wellness journey.
And that's really the main lesson. Everyone gets to decide what works best for them and their bodies. In a culture that is obsessed with telling people what their bodies should look like, it's okay to push back. It's okay to unfollow the social media accounts that make you feel bad about yourself. It's okay to revel in the energy of the people that make you feel like a queen (especially if that person is you).
It's okay to decide what wellness means for you.
I haven't won a race in a really long time. I haven't felt the wind in my hair and the droplets of river water land on my face as they ricochet off an oar in forever. The sensation of steering a boat through a narrow bridge with mere inches of leeway on either side, while 8 oars move through the waves in perfect unison still makes my heart race.
I loved that life. But I choose me.