FGG Guests: Life in the Middle
Posted by Toni in FGG Guests,Getting Real,Loving Our Bodies
Dara Chadwick's book, "You'd Be So Pretty If..."

This week's guest post comes from Dara Chadwick, a journalist who writes about health, wellness and psychology. We asked her to write about her journey to self acceptance after landing a sweet gig with a national women's fitness magazine.

When it comes to family television viewing, there aren’t always a whole lot of great choices, but one show my family’s been enjoying together is ABC’s “The Middle,” a half-hour sitcom that features a “middle-aged, middle-class” mom in middle America. My kids think it’s a riot and I’ve found myself giggling at the over-the-top adventures of the show’s characters — especially the mom, who’s just trying to hold her head above water on most days.

I’ve had lots of days like that. And they really used to bother me. But happiness, I’ve discovered, is in those “middle” places.

See, I’m a former member of the “I have to be perfect” club: brilliant career, model children, blissfully happy marriage and spotless house. Oh, and a fabulous body, too.

Are you done laughing yet?

I can tell you that I have achieved all that “perfection” exactly zero times in my life. But that didn’t stop me from trying — or from beating myself up about it. The focus of most of my efforts was usually my body; after all, eating and exercise were totally under my control, right?

There was a time in my life when my quest to improve myself was serious business. I’d restrict calories, I’d exercise for hours and otherwise find ways to punish myself for not being “perfect.” My body may have been smaller, but I was never quite satisfied with where I was. In my mind, there was always room for improvement.

Secretly, though, I longed for a day when I wouldn’t have to care anymore.

While meeting the demands of two young kids, a husband, a job and a house, that day arrived. I didn’t care anymore. With no time to exercise, no energy to make a healthy meal for myself amid diapers and baby food and bottles, and no shortage of guilt at the idea of putting myself first, I let go of my chase of perfection.

And I do mean I let go. But that didn’t make me happy, either.

It wasn’t the extra flesh I was carrying or the bigger jeans I was wearing. It was knowing that I just wasn’t taking care of myself. Not exercising and not caring at all about what I ate didn’t deliver the freedom I once thought it would.

My life was out of balance. I’d gone from one extreme to the other.

In 2007, I signed on to write the Weight-Loss Diary column for Shape magazine. I worked with a life coach, a trainer and a dietitian to meet my goal of getting myself back to the weight I was on my wedding day. Each month, I was photographed and had to write about my “successes and failures.”

By the end of the year, I made my goal weight. But a funny thing happened along the way.

I’d started out with near obsession: I never, ever thought I wouldn’t be able to lose the weight. But as my kids — who were then 11 and nine — watched me hit the gym for a couple of hours each day, drink protein shakes and carefully monitor every calorie I consumed, I realized that I’d see-sawed back to the other extreme. And that wasn’t good.

That wasn’t the mom I wanted to be.

But here’s what was good: By the project’s end, I’d reconnected with my body. I remembered how good regular exercise made me feel. I realized how much better I felt when I ate healthy foods. I had a great dietitian who taught me all about moderation and helped me learn to bring balance to my food choices — knowledge I still use every day, two years later.

When my year with Shape was over, I made a conscious decision: No more extremes. These days, I eat what I feel like eating, when I feel like eating it. I don’t belong to a gym anymore; instead, I mix up my routine with walking, running, dance classes, yoga, biking — whatever I feel like doing. But I do something. It’s not about getting smaller, or changing a single thing: It’s about me, living my life in the healthiest body I can have — and showing my kids that you don’t have to be “perfect” to be happy.

After all this time, I feel like I’ve finally found my “middle” place — that balance between healthy self-care and accepting the body I have. I’m not striving for elusive perfection, but I’m not neglecting my body’s health either. Landing squarely in the middle, I’ve reached that body image milestone I’ve longed for my whole life: Contentment.

Dara writes about raising body-confident kids and making peace with our own body image demons at You'd Be So Pretty If (one of our "We Read" picks), and you can purchase her book here.