I have far from a perfect diet, but I am very happy with my self-image and my relationship with food. Even though I don't eat "perfectly" and order takeout more than I care to admit, I am not concerned about my health and I feel very comfortable in my body. I have figured out what works for me, and have found this wonderful place of balance. I exercise because I love it and I have goals in the gym; I eat fruits and vegetables because they are delicious; I don't obsess over my training or my diet; I eat foods I used to fear; I eat what I want when I want with absolutely no guilt and no restriction.

It has definitely taken some time to get here, but I have been very intentional about working towards this place in my life for the last decade.

Here are ten things I did to get here, and things that you can implement into your daily life if you want to finally stop feeling guilty about food, feel happy in your own skin, and live your freaking life to the fullest.

I viewed myself more objectively.

If you currently have a negative body image, one of the biggest things I can recommend to you is to start looking at yourself more objectively rather than subjectively. It is very likely that you spend the majority of your time thinking about how YOU feel about the way YOU look, and doing this for too long and too often can actually lead to distorted body image. It is so easy to only focus on your perceived "imperfections" when you stare at yourself in the mirror constantly. Your eyes are drawn to the things you want to change-- extra skin or fat tissue on your stomach, the shape of your nose, the size of your ears, your freckles, your lips. Whatever that "thing" is, it's all you notice or pay attention to. The more you pay attention to these things, the more your brain starts to think that that's all that other people pay attention to as well. But try to take a step back. How do you look at other people? Do you stare at other people's bodies as long as you look at your own? Do you notice someone's oddly shaped nose and think it makes them so ugly that you hate them for it? OF COURSE NOT! So if you don't feel that way about other people, I can guarantee that no one thinks that way about you. No one hates you for the way you look, and if they say they do, I promise that they are dealing with their own issues. Viewing your body through the eyes of an onlooker is very challenging if you've never tried it before, but it is something that helped me to feel better about my body image.

Also, learn to take a freaking compliment. If someone tells you they like your makeup or your clothes or your body, SAY THANK YOU. And stop there. Enough with the "Thanks but I still feel like I need to lose 10 pounds," or "Thanks but it took an hour of doing my makeup to look this way," or whatever thing you say to offset their compliment. Constantly putting yourself down is not going to put you on the fast track to improved body image whatsoever.

I looked at images of people who have a similar body type as me.

This is something that I did frequently to help me view myself more objectively. I would intentionally go on the internet and find celebrities and models with a similar body type as me to remind myself that there is nothing ugly or gross about my body. Just like they exuded confidence, I could do the same. One of my favorites to go back to when I was in high school was a collection of photos of Whitney Thompson Forrester from a 2008 shoot for Seventeen Magazine. From my perspective, Whitney's body was very similar to mine, and I thought she was BEAUTIFUL!

Why in the world would I think that even though we had similar bodies, she was beautiful and I was not? It didn't even make sense in my own head.

In addition to looking at images, I also came across a site called "My Body Gallery." On this site, thousands of women have uploaded their photos and have included info like height, weight, and other measurements. You then can enter your own information and look at how different body types can range, even for women of the same height and weight as you. This was especially meaningful to me because I weighed more than all of my friends as a teenager and therefore thought I weighed too much. Because I thought I weighed too much, I thought I was fat and that made me self-conscious. Looking at other women on this site allowed me to see that first, women who weighed the same as me all looked very different, and second, women who I thought I looked like all were different weights. Doing things like this was excellent for helping me to view myself as though through someone else's eyes, rather than my own.

I stopped focusing on the scale and started focusing on my training.

I gained 15 pounds my freshman year of college. I knew this because I weighed myself frequently. I lost 15 pounds my junior year of college. I didn't realize this until I noticed my clothes were getting too big.

The biggest shift that happened during that year had to do with my training. I was a student athlete my freshman and sophomore year of college, and when I quit, I alone was responsible for staying active for the first time in my life. With the guidance of several friends, I found a love for strength training. I got really, really strong, didn't change my diet all that much, and losing weight became a happy accident. I also found that the more I trained, the less I cared about how much I weighed because I was so impressed with what my body was capable of doing. In addition, I realized that the more I weighed, the more muscle I had, and the stronger I was capable of becoming. I honestly reached a point where I was scared to lose weight because I was so worried that any weight loss was muscle loss rather than fat loss.

I ate more "bad" food.

I'm not a fan of using the words "good" and "bad" to describe food because food has no moral value. All food contains nutrients, and no matter the amount of calories, fats, or carbohydrates are in the food you are consuming, your body wants to use that food for good.

With that being said, one thing that helped me to improve my relationship with food was to intentionally eat things that I had previously considered "bad." There was a period in time where I went through a phase believing that if I wanted to be as healthy as possible, I had to eat plain ground beef, plain chicken breast, rice, and frozen vegetables. Eating things like McDonalds or donuts or desserts made me feel incredibly guilty. However, depriving myself of certain foods and putting things "off limits" had the opposite effect I desired. If I ever had the opportunity to eat "bad" food, I would almost always end up binging and eating WAY too much (Believe it or not, the human brain is pretty terrible at processing the words "no" or "don't." Telling yourself you can't have something actually makes you desire it more). I was always hungry and so whenever I ate, I ate rapidly and would often eat until I was overfull. This was one of the biggest reasons for my weight gain early in college. I was an athlete burning thousands of calories every day, would try to control my portions and and only eat "healthy" foods for most of my meals, and then binge on PopTarts and other vending machine food when I was studying late at night because I was starving and it was the only thing I could get my hands on that would actually satiate me. This cycle continued well into my senior year. I remember one defining moment that provided a radical shift in my view of food. After graduating from college, there was one night when my husband (then boyfriend) and some of his friends all wanted to go out for CeCe's pizza. We sat down, I ate until I was full, and we left. On the drive home, I felt absolutely INCREDIBLE! I had been depriving my body of much needed carbohydrates and adequate calories for so long, that eating that pizza was exactly what my body needed.

Now, there are no foods that are off-limits. I eat what I want when I want. The game changer has been that I am so much better able to read my hunger cues. I know when I'm hungry, I'll eat until I'm full, and then I'll stop. My portion control is so much better. I remember a time when I could eat 20 chicken nuggets and a large fry and still be hungry. Now, I get full after like 8 nuggets and half a medium fry. Because I allow myself to eat whatever, I never have strong cravings (not even when I was pregnant), and never binge. When I do eat fast food, my portions are so much smaller than they used to be and I am easily able to maintain my body weight because of this.

I started controlling my appetite by listening to my body.

As I learned to control my portions, I also learned to listen to my body and respect its cues. I have put a lot of effort into learning what being hungry really feels like and what being full really feels like and which foods make me feel good and which foods make me feel bad and what that feels like. More than anything, I have always really struggled to understand when my body is full. I have also always struggled with eating very quickly, and have found that when I eat fast, I will often eat too much. Because it takes 15-20 minutes for your body to realize it's full, I would often eat so much so fast that by the time I was 15-20 minutes into my meal, I was overstuffed to the point of extreme discomfort. This is something I still struggle with today, but am much more mindful of why this occurs.

I learned about digestion and absorption.

Teaching an undergraduate nutrition course was the first time that I really started to learn about the intricacies of digestion, absorption, and metabolism. The human body is so miraculous, and believe it or not, it's not out to get you. Your body doesn't want to punish your for eating anything, rather, it wants to use all the nutrients you consume for your own good. Understanding this was key for combating the "moral" argument (no good or bad foods). When you eat a piece of pizza, your body doesn't see that pizza and make you gain five pounds because it hates you or is trying to punish you. Rather, it sees carbohydrates, proteins, fats, fiber, other nutrients, and most of all, energy. If you gain weight from eating too much pizza, it's because your body expects that you will soon encounter a time where you won't have access to food, and stores that excess energy for later. Weight gain is not your body punishing you. It's doing what it's supposed to do.

I became skeptical of everything I saw on social media.

Educating yourself is so important if you want to improve your self-esteem and body image. The more you learn, the more you will be able to think rationally and use logical reasoning. However, as you educate yourself, it is also important to be able to discern quality information from poor information. I have a whole post on how to do that here. My approach is to be skeptical about everything I read until I can verify the credentials of the author and the sources used (guilty until proven innocent?). Doing this, in my opinion, is much easier than believing everything you read and then later having to alter your beliefs because you found out you believed something that was wrong. Having to verify everything I came across on the internet also helped me to continue to do my own research, expand my knowledge, and solidify my confidence as an expert in the field.

I weighed myself daily.

This is something that I don't recommend to everyone, but if you are able to look at your weight as data rather than a measure of your worth, it can be a very effective tool.

Several years ago, I started weighing myself every day, multiple times a day. I didn't do this because I was concerned with gaining weight, but because I wanted to convince myself that it's impossible to gain five pounds in a day or even in a week. I found that I would usually weigh the least in the mornings, lose a pound or two every time I used the restroom, and gain 3-5 pounds by the end of the day due to food and fluid intake. Seeing that it was normal for my weight to fluctuate 5+ pounds every day helped me to understand my baseline weight, and really recognize if I was truly trending in one direction or another.

I tested my body composition.

The summer after my freshman year of college (after gaining 15 pounds, when I was at my heaviest), my dad signed me up to have my body composition measured using a method called the BodPod. This system is able to assess body density (leaner bodies are more dense than fattier bodies) by measuring the amount of air your body displaces in a closed chamber. From body density, body composition can be calculated. I had never had my body composition tested before, other than using a Bioelectrical Impedance scale (that one that you hold extended out in front of you and gives you a body fat reading after about 10 seconds).

Having my body composition tested using a much more accurate measure gave me incredible insight into how much body fat and lean mass I actually had, and assess if I was truly overweight or not. Up until this point, I believed I was overweight and therefore unhealthy because I had an overweight BMI. Now, I had already started to question the credibility of a method like BMI for classifying weight status, but still didn't really know how to determine my health status and disease risk. After having the BodPod test done, I found out that I was around 30% body fat-- this is the upper end of the healthy body fat range for females, but still healthy nonetheless. In addition, I realized that my lean tissue weight (all of my body weight minus fat weight) was 140 pounds. This meant that theoretically, if I was 0% body fat, I would still weigh 140 pounds. This was mind-blowing to me because according to the BMI scale, a healthy weight of someone my height is anywhere between 125-165 pounds. This means that in order for me to ever be of a healthy body weight according to BMI, I would actually end up being severely underweight or have to lose some serious lean mass. Having my body composition measured also showed me that because I naturally have a lot of lean mass, my body is built to be strong. I found that through training, it is very easy for me to gain muscle quickly, which is a challenge for many other people, and is something I should be grateful for and take advantage of.

If you have never had your body composition measured professionally, I highly encourage you to do so.

I figured out my priorities.

I used to want to be skinny. Then I wanted to be healthy. Now I just want to be happy. And to me, being happy means understanding what foods I need to eat to feel good and be healthy, but also eating the foods I want to eat. It means honoring my body through movement.

I used to think that being healthy was the best goal I could have. But even now that's really not my top priority. Because what does optimal health even look like? Exercising every single day? Having a perfect diet? That doesn't sound like fun. That sounds boring as heck. I want to take care of my body enough so that I feel good, have energy, and can participate in the activities I enjoy. But in no way do I want to exercise for hours a day or give up Chick-fil-A forever (which I am actually eating as I write this). I want to be mentally healthy, emotionally healthy, and spiritually healthy. And frankly, I want to spend as little time as possible obsessing over my health status so that I have more time to live my life, do what I love, and give my time to others.