I vividly remember the day I took these “before” photos. It was February, and I had just joined the F45 challenge in my Beijing studio, which required such photos to chart your weight-loss progress.
In the months leading up to those pictures, I had come to China begrudgingly, feeling lost in my life and career. I was drowning at my new job. I actively disliked Beijing, unable to get past the air pollution, high rent prices, lack of free internet, and toxic expat dating culture.
To compensate, I was going out for every meal and having drinks with colleagues nearly every night.
I was also lying to myself about what toll this was taking on my body. I kept telling myself I was happy, looked great, and was “fine.” But these were flimsy lies; it just took a few photos to confront reality.
I know we are living in an era of loving our bodies in all shapes and sizes. I fully support that. But I did not love my body in these photos. And when I look at them now, I see a lot more than the weight. I see all the other ways I wasn’t taking care of myself or respecting myself. I see my unhealthy coping mechanisms, my lack of boundaries, depression. I see the moment right before I broke out in a full-body autoimmune rash that lasted for MONTHS.
When you aren’t taking care of yourself mentally and physically, your body won’t let you forget. And in early 2019, my body was the amalgamation of a lot of poor habits.
“Experience” Versus “Goal” Mindset
It would be easy to write a post about CrossFit movements, running, or my diet. But the changes I made in the last four years are so much more than those things. I’ve written a lot about how I feel I’ve become a very different person, and it’s really been this mindset that has been the most significant catalyst of change.
In 2019, I had an “experience” mindset. Everything I did was about chasing experiences. I wanted to try everything, living each moment like it was my last. In a lot of ways, this was great. I tried so many things I was afraid of. I lived all over the world. I met all kinds of people. I learned a lot.
My mindset now is much more “goal-oriented.” Four years ago, I believed “goal-oriented” was ubiquitous with boring. Goal-oriented people didn’t know how to have fun. They didn’t enjoy their lives. They weren’t seizing every moment and would regret it on their deathbeds.
But now I get it. The fun is just a different type of fun. The moments that are being seized are just different moments.
In 2019, I treasured late-night drinks and bonding with my friends. Now, I treasure the moments I run on empty sidewalks in dark mornings to the sound of the mosque. I honestly really enjoy planning all my healthy meals in advance and tracking my macros.
I know that sounds terrible to most people. It used to sound terrible to me. But the diet fuels a lot more than a body I am excited about. It fuels more unbroken pull-ups, a 2-hour half marathon, and a nearly 2x bodyweight deadlift.
The experiences that bring me joy aren’t experiences I can purchase or grab from fleeting moments. They are experiences I can only obtain through long periods of persistence.
This shift in mentality goes hand-in-hand with boundaries. When I was collecting experiences, boundaries seemed like a bad thing. Doing things I was uncomfortable with was how I tried so many new things. Taking risks was exciting. Letting everyone in was how I met some amazing people.
People with boundaries were missing out.
For better and worse, not having boundaries is also how I got burned badly, got stuck in toxic relationships (work, romantic, and friendship), and ended up with a body I wasn’t happy with.
I joke a lot that my 2022 resolution was to be more difficult. More difficult with men, more difficult at work, more difficult with food. I realized that I was prioritizing other people’s comfort because I wanted to be “easy” to be around (so that they would like me), and that often meant sacrificing my own needs and priorities.
Eating unhealthy food because I want to be flexible for everyone else now seems silly. Missing my run or workout to stay out late for other people doesn’t interest me. And being overworked and underpaid to the point I cannot achieve my personal or career goals seems actively harmful.
Not speaking up about my needs in my relationships (romantically or friendship-wise) isn’t just disrespectful to myself, but to the other person as well.
These boundaries have created a space where I am able to achieve my goals (body and other). They’ve also helped me reprioritize and reflect on my relationships, work, hobbies, and habits, making it easier to create a life I am happier with.
So, again, the before and after pictures are, to me, a lot more than just losing 9 kilos (~20 lbs for my Americans). They are about gaining a level of self-respect and confidence I never knew was possible.