“It feels like I’m hugging my mom!” I was in sixth grade when I was told that I have a mom-bod. (What’s wrong with being a mom and having a body anyway?) That’s when I looked down at my body and realized that my breasts have grown – but so did my stomach, my thighs, and my arms. My face was filled with acne, and my hair had grown curly and frizzy like never before.

There’s nothing worse than puberty and middle school – especially when you’re the only big girl with the full-blown hormone outrage amongst your friends. I hadn’t given too much consideration for my looks until then. I started picking at my skin, straightening my hair, and gave up the Frida Kahlo look in favor of trimming my eyebrows. But above all of my obsessions with beauty, my weight became my chief concern. In sixth grade, I developed a habit of disordered eating.

Disordered eating takes many forms. For me, it was extreme portion control and calorie restriction (you can read more about disordered eating here). I also paralleled my extreme diet with exercise, usually very heavy cardio. I was so obsessed that I would walk three miles on the stair-climber and look in the mirror immediately after to see if I got slimmer.

When food becomes your enemy, life cannot be more miserable because we’re supposed to eat! We have to nourish our bodies with energy and nutrients by responding to hunger. But I tried to avoid eating when I could. At school, where my mom couldn’t police my meals, I had a Yoplait yogurt for lunch. I remember sitting at the cafeteria table, waiting for my friends to finish their pizzas and burgers, because I had already devoured the cookies and soy milk that I sneaked from home.

My drastic weight loss kept me going. Even though I had horrible acne from malnutrition and constant fatigue, my friends were asking me how I lost so much weight. The attention felt great, but my knees were always aching from malnutrition. My lips were so pale that I looked ill without a chapstick. I was always irritable, but I preferred being irritable on an empty stomach than feeling full and having a bigger belly after eating a meal.

Working out was my mask. I claimed that I learned to love my body after taking up running, but I just loved the thin body that it gave me. It’s easy to love yourself when you look better. My advice is to feel comfortable in your own skin before trying to lose weight.

I confronted my weight obsession and disordered eating a few months ago – only because I hurt my foot. My being barred from running forced me to admit that I did not love myself; I just liked being skinny. Day and night, I would monitor whether my legs grew thinner or thicker. Having a full belly after dinner was enough to depress me.

“Fat, fat, fat, fat, fat.” I would tell myself. I couldn’t even tolerate the small little pooch that grew in my lower belly from decreased physical activity. It’s ludicrous how I’ve degraded myself so much that I felt worthless with a slightly larger, less tight physique. The few months that should’ve been a time for healing my mind and body from strenuous exercise and diet regimes became time of self-torture and critique that refused to stop even for a minute.

Even now, I still fight with the fear of gaining weight. I know that I am more than how I look and that my family and friends love me for the way I am. But ultimately, it all comes down to self-satisfaction. To be honest, I’m still not comfortable in my own skin. I wish my thighs were thinner, my waist a little smaller, and my face a lot slimmer. I get scared when my belly and legs swell up from water retention during PMS. I can’t help but envy girls who remain thin though all they eat is junk food.

But I was born in this body; it’s all I have. Now, it seems silly to me that my life should be wasted measuring my worth to the amount of fat I have on my body. I no longer count my calories or heavily control my portions. Through intuitive eating and a plant-based diet, I am recovering from years of terrible relationship with my food.

Nevertheless, all it takes is a careless comment for me to fall into a pit of self-loathing. It’s a life-long journey, and I am still in recovery. I realized that self-love is a necessary, lifelong journey that does not happen overnight. Losing weight will not help you love yourself more either. If you don’t love yourself right now as you are, you never will no matter how fit, educated, beautiful, rich you become.