Confidence. That word and I have an elusive relationship.

I’ve struggled with my weight since high school. It was in high school that I valued the wafer thin look, I worked out two sometimes three times a day. I lettered in three sports and attended my father’s weight lifting classes at the community college. I would black out on the leg press and out bench the guys. I cataloged and weighed every bite, but I was never thin enough.

My senior year and on into the summer before college, I attracted the attention of a few aggressive young men and found myself in unwanted situations. More than once I became the victim. Food and I took a sudden turn.

I had this crazy idea that adding weight to my hourglass figure would make me unappealing to men. So I began to pack on the pounds. My freshmen 15 was doubled and while I enjoyed exercising I retreated into my dorm room with snacks and long naps. Emotion fed me.

Moderation is another word I’ve struggled to grasp.

It has taken me years to realize that the attention did not stop because the pounds came on, but rather because I retreated into my own bubble and shut out the world.

Fast forward ten years and I had a beautiful baby girl who was diagnosed with cancer. Ice cream by the pint and sour cream potato chips became my new best friends. The small portion of confidence and moderation I held onto disappeared in the comfort of emotional binging.

Today, I’ve dealt with my demons. I’m still dealing. I’ve struggled through the damage of rape and abuse. I’ve found joy in the midst of our daughter’s cancer journey and we are quickly approaching 10 years of being cancer free. But the remnants of emotional eating still surface.

The kind words of friends have helped me find moderation and seek confidence. Typically well-meaning friends who hand out unsolicited dieting and exercise advice bring out the emotional eating in full vengeance. After a phone call of I love yous but I’m worried about your health, I sit down to a plate of nachos or a large slice of cake and heal the well-intentioned but painful words. It is the friends who remind me that I’m worthy of joy, that encourage me to engage with the world and come out from hiding, it is the friends who remind me that beauty is not a number on a scale but the joy that radiates from us — those are the friends that encourage me to do better and to be better.

I’ve let go of the number on the scale. I’ve given up on the size of my jeans. I eat less and choose healthier options. When I’m stressed I don’t reach for a gallon of ice cream (most of the time). Instead, I drink a Kale and Strawberry Smoothie. I’ve chosen yoga in the privacy of my own home to elevate the self-consciousness competitiveness of getting it wrong. And I’ve taken to gardening to relieve stress.

I held on far too long to the idea that if I did not fit a certain look outwardly that I could not succeed anywhere in life. I’ve discovered a career I love and am good at. I’ve discovered purpose outside of me and I’ve shifted my focus onto loving those around me more fully, in so doing I’ve discovered how to love myself. Most importantly I have found value in just being me. Whether I’m a size 7 or a size 20 I am beautiful inside and out. I am not defined by a number, I am defined by joy.

My relationship with food is changing. I’m shifting from emotional eating to the joy of being a foodie. My standards are higher, my hips and heart are full.