It’s Never Too Late for Self-Care: Five Tips for Body Love in the New Year

by Gena on December 30, 2012

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Hope everyone enjoyed a lovely weekend. I was in D.C. for two days for my cousin’s wedding, and am now on my way back to NYC for New Year’s Eve before returning back to D.C. to dive into the post-bacc grind. As I write this, I’m staring out the window of my train and thinking about how quickly New Year’s Eve seems to have arrived; last year’s NYE feels like yesterday. Time flies when you’re taking Orgo.

I’ve been trying to assemble some thoughts on 2012, and it’s not easy. This was a year of nationwide tragedies–Hurricane Sandy, the shooting in Colorado, and now the unspeakable loss in Newtown, CT–and tragedies for people close to me. I suppose that every year is marked by tragedy all over the world, both intimate and communal, so I don’t mean to take a woe is me (or woe is us) tone here. It just so happens that I brushed up against more sadness than usual in 2012. Throughout it all, though, I’ve had good health, the blessing of a good education, great friends, and a basically optimistic outlook. So while I grieve for the sadnesses that my loved ones are putting behind them with this New Year, I’m also very grateful.

In spite of the fact that I’m a big New Year’s grump, I do have a few resolutions brewing, which I’ll write more about from 2013. Today, I wanted to pick up where our conversation about “body love” left off two weeks ago, and talk about regenerating care and respect for one’s body as a possible New Year’s goal. Thousands of men and women make resolutions at this time of year that are related to the body, but they usually take the form of wanting to shed off a few pounds or control the body more strictly: I’ll eat less, I’ll eat cleaner, I’ll get a handle on my cravings, I’ll lose the jiggle. Obviously, I have no such advice for you all. What I do want to offer are some suggestions for how you might start 2013 with the intention of valuing, accepting, and caring for your body. If you’ve always kissed December goodbye with a new diet plan or a set of regrets, this may be the right message for you!

Earlier this year, I ran into an old babysitter of mine–someone who had looked after me when I was eight, nine, and ten. It was fun to catch up, but as we were chatting she said something a little sad. “You’ve grown into such a beautiful woman,” she remarked. “I remember how we were always doing your hair when you were little or playing with makeup because you were always calling yourself ugly. You were always saying that you would never be thin or beautiful.”

The comment totally surprised me. I recall feelings of body loathing from childhood, of course–they stretch back as long as I can remember–but I didn’t realize that my hatred of my appearance was so apparent to the people around me, at least not at that age. Of course, I shouldn’t have been surprised. I remember distinctly being in third grade, sitting in a pottery class at my school. The teacher was cutting a block of clay with a piece of wire, and all I could think about was that I wished I could slice off the parts of my figure that felt too big or too full with a wire, too. It’s an awful sentiment, but I remember more like it. When my eating disorder began in earnest, it was just an extension of feelings that had followed me around for all of my childhood.

Last year, in my biology class, I wrote a research paper about the genetic underpinnings of eating disorders. Still a budding field of research, but genes have been identified as playing a role in the process. That comes as no surprise to me; I’ve always felt that my eating disorder, like many other mental illnesses, was far more the workings of genetics or biochemistry than it was the product of the media or culture. But if we’re to accept a genetic basis for EDs, the question of how to deal with them is in some ways more complex than if we credit them to media or pop culture. If eating disorders, and the body dysmorphia they can provoke, is embedded into one’s very genetic identity–if they are so much a part of who we are that we can’t remember life before them–what are our chances of getting out from under their influence? Is there any hope for a more loving and healthy relationship with the body? And how do we get there?

I, for one, believe that it is never too late to foster a more loving relationship with the body. When I say this, I don’t mean that it’s easy to walk away from all of the tensions. I have a realistic understanding of recovery, and it does not mean that the tendencies that underlie EDs are banished totally and forever. But I think that body appreciation can be regained, even after a long period of struggle, with the right kind of sustained effort, support from loved ones, and (very often) guidance from a mental health professional.

Today, I’d like to share some modest tips on body appreciation that I hope will help all of you in 2013 and beyond. They may not be a solution or cure, but I think they’re a good way to break cycles of negativity, to gain a fresh start, and to at least start the process of looking after yourself with more tenderness.

1) Stop thinking of your body as an antagonist. In a recent post, I mentioned that I like to think about the mind/body interface as a loving relationship. Easier said than done, but not impossible. Pay attention to food cravings, rather than feeling frustration with them. Ask what you’re craving and why, and then find a wholesome way to satisfy the craving, be it for something sweet, salty, or dense. Eat adequately and mindfully, and avoid skipping meals, depriving yourself, or being overly rigid.

2) If you’ve been getting frustrated with your body a lot, do the mental exercise of asking yourself what you’d advise if your body belonged to someone else. What if a friend told you she was tired and thinking about taking a rest day, but was scared she’d feel guilty? Would you tell her to hit the gym anyway? What of she told you she was really hungry and craving some more food, but had cut herself off at a certain portion because she was afraid she’d exceed a caloric goal? Would you applaud that, or gently encourage her to eat to appetite?

So often, we cannot extend to ourselves the kind of logical compassion and care we’d extend to a friend without a second thought. As you start the new year, resolve to treat yourself as compassionately as you treat those around you.

3) Ditch clothes that don’t fit. I don’t mean clothes that literally don’t fit; if you are trying to lose weight for healthy reasons, for instance, then I think it’s fine to keep clothes that motivate you toward a weight loss goal. By “don’t fit,” I mean clothing that is no longer right for your body. They might be garments you bought when you were overly thin, had lost an unreasonable amount of weight, or weren’t eating enough. They may be clothes that you bought when you were suffering from an illness. They may simply be clothes that fit when you were 18, and which you’ve been hoping you’ll be able to wear forever (newsflash: most peoples’ bodies don’t remain the way they were at 18 forever).

It is tremendously liberating to let go of clothes that aren’t right for our bodies anymore. Donate them to a charity, walk them to a local homeless shelter or church, or sell them on eBay and use what you make to invest in clothes that are right for you the way you are today. For more on this, read JL’s post “January Diet? Nope, I bought bigger clothes” or my post on ditching clothes that don’t fit.

4) Find a kind of movement that serves you. If you despise running but force yourself to do it because you feel like you should, explore brisk walks, yoga, or any host of other forms of movement instead. If Bikram makes you crazy but you’ve been pressured into going by a friend, just explain that you’re in the mood for something new. Exercise and movement are big components of wellness, but slaving away at an activity you dread is hardly an expression of healthy intention.

This year, I wrote about how yoga shifted my relationship with exercise and helped me to get over my ED. Yoga may not be for you, but in 2013, I hope you can find a form of movement that is challenging and makes you strong, but also gives you pleasure. And I hope you’ll know when you need a day off, too.

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5) Do something everyday that allows you to acknowledge your body. I usually bristle and get annoyed when I read anything that suggests daily meditation, 10 minutes of zen at the office or the like. All I can think is, “you think I have time for that?!?!” But this year, I will be trying to make time and space for one daily habit, which is to do something that makes me connect with and acknowledge my body. Many women and men with eating disorders report that they’ve felt “disconnected” from their bodies or “numb,” and it makes sense: when you’re trying to destroy your physical self, you shut down the senses. I think that it’s important to turn them back on, and to mindfully inhabit one’s form and shape.

Activities that help me to do this include yoga (of course!), walking in fresh air, massage therapy or other forms of bodywork (a splurge, but great for special occasions), savasana pose at any time of day, and giving myself a belly rub. The later two things can take two minutes or less, and they’re enough to make me stop what I’m doing and fully inhabit my body. I hope they do the same for you.

Nothing groundbreaking in the list above, but it’s amazing how tiny actions can help us to overcome major feelings of anxiety and discomfort. As we begin a new year, my hope is that you’ll all have faith that it is never too late to start taking care of your body, respecting it, and treating it well. There’s no time like the present, and you have only happiness and health to gain.

Happy early New Year’s to everyone!

xo

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{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Amanda December 30, 2012 at 10:05 pm

Gah, the wire! My wish of choice has always been a syringe that would suck the fat out.

Gena, you are super beautiful! Your (former) babysitter is so right – not only how you look, but also the way you serve others and have a passionate commitment to wonderful things.

I often wonder why we permit ourselves to commit such intolerable mental currently to ourselves but forbid it against others. If I said the crap I say to myself to other people…I would be a terrible, terrible person.

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Gena December 31, 2012 at 10:39 am

And so are you, friend. Happy New Year’s xo

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Sarah December 30, 2012 at 10:37 pm

Such excellent advice, Gena. I feel like every year I inch closer and closer to being more caring and respectful of my body, and this year I’d say the biggest leap was finding balance with exercise. In my case that meant shortening my workouts, and making time for yoga (thus letting go of the crazy notion that it doesn’t ‘count’ because it doesn’t burn a lot of calories).

Your second piece of advice reminded me of a film that I thought was one of this year’s best, The sessions. The main character struggles with so much guilt for having contracting polio at a child and ruining his parents’ lives. In one scene, his therapist has him envision himself as a child, before polio and his life in an iron lung. As he revels in the pleasant memory, she asks him, ‘Now tell me, are you angry at that little boy for getting polio? Do you blame him?’ It really hit me hard. I’ve heard the advice that I should think about myself as a friend when I am being harsh, but for some reason, this drove it home for me. I admit to feeling both guilt and anger over how much of my own and others’ time I have wasted. During this scene, I immediately thought of myself as a small girl, and felt less angry and less guilty. I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember (perhaps suggesting a genetic component). Am I mad at that girl for “making me” this way? Of course not.

Happy new year, Gena.

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Gena December 31, 2012 at 10:39 am

And to you, dear Sarah. I’ve been meaning to see that film, and hear great things about it. I love the idea of looking back to childhood as a means of granting ourselves forgiveness.

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Vegyogini December 30, 2012 at 10:59 pm

This is a beautiful list, thank you. I love that you’re researching genetic underpinnings of eating disorders. I have often wondered if that’s a factor because I can’t exactly pinpoint the origins of mine.

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Vegyogini December 30, 2012 at 11:00 pm

(And by “mine,” I don’t mean that I am currently in the trenches. I mean historically.)

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Gena December 31, 2012 at 10:41 am

The research is really interesting. I hope very much to explore it further as time goes by!

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Healthy Athlete December 30, 2012 at 11:53 pm

I totally agree with your ideas regarding taking care of yourself AND your body. It’s a big commit but also a way to really connect with yourself and do what your body and mind is telling you to do.

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Molly December 31, 2012 at 12:20 am

In 2013, as I commence life not as a student but as a full-fledged adult, I will make a concerted effort to treat myself (both mentally and physically) with respect and love. I’m planning to continue my exercise routine, but add a couple yoga classes into the mix. I’m no longer going to deprive my body of the wholesome vegan food it desires, and I won’t vacillate to the other end of the eating spectrum either. Finally–and this is the scariest yet most exciting goal of them all–I will allow myself to be loved by another person. I think this is especially crucial to recovery, and I fully intend to overcome some of these deep-seated fears within myself as I start another chapter in my life, as it were. I love the quote, “Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.” Without sounding overly idealistic, I do think that supplanting these fears–fear of gaining weight, fear of losing weight, fear of sharing my body with another person–will provide me with the peace that I need to move forward.

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Gena December 31, 2012 at 10:47 am

Bravo to you, Molly. These are all fantastic and essential goals. Especially the goal to let others in–such a rich part of personal growth and moving away from the isolation of an ED.

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Janie December 31, 2012 at 12:33 am

Beautifully written as always Gena. I’m suffering from high stress and anxiety and so one of my resolutions is to start daily short meditations. It sounds daunting, but I know it will be rewarding. I would love to hear some of you progress with daily body acknowledgement and awareness sometime down the road.

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sam December 31, 2012 at 12:53 am

Excellent advice. I use the “what advice would you give someone else” instance in every scenario with my friends and family. It works like a charm. A good point that you make in your first bullet is to also stop being overly rigid. Smart timing given so many will be starting resolutions and it’s an easy habit to be “strict” in a diet to the point where it makes you crazy and thus makes you resentful of your resolution.

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Deb December 31, 2012 at 2:06 am

Great post, Gena!

I’m actually thinking of sharing this with some of my psychotherapy clients and groups who are dealing with eating disorders. (Of course, I’ll cite you as the primary wisdom source!) Such wonderful, down-to-earth, and realistic suggestions!

Thanks for sharing!

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Gena December 31, 2012 at 10:41 am

What an honor to hear! Thanks for sharing, Deb. Be well and all best for 2013.

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Houston December 31, 2012 at 7:30 am

Number 2 resonates so much with me. It seems I can always be a voice of reason when giving other people advice, but when it comes to myself I have always been way to strict and trying to attain unreasonable goals.

Really great post, and I want to thank you for making me think about this topic which I normally push to the back of my thoughts.

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Abby December 31, 2012 at 7:40 am

I have to admit that this is a hard time of year for me only because we’re surrounded by people with unrealistic “diet” and exercise resolutions that are usually based only on losing weight and not gaining health or perspective. It’s triggering, to be sure, but I also know that I’m strong enough to deal with it and move on to my own life instead. (Easier said than done, however.)

And to be honest-and no offense-but I often bristle or get annoyed at people who say they don’t have 10 minutes to meditate or shower or do something mindful. It’s all about priorities. I don’t mean this to you personally, but for some people it would be as easy as not blogging, surfing the Web or watching TV. Those who say they don’t have the time for it are the ones who need it most ;)

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Gena December 31, 2012 at 10:44 am

Ha! Mea culpa :) And yes, it’s all about reapportioning one’s time–especially if you need mindfulness as badly as I do.

That said, I don’t get to watch TV anymore and blogging is literally my only income source (albeit a tiny income source) as a full time student with zero savings from her former life. So the time can’t come from there, but it can definitely come from some of the procrastination I’m prone to when trying to study!

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Abby December 31, 2012 at 12:32 pm

Oh, I know you’re anything but lazy. ;) I was just giving examples as I know I fall into that trap myself from time to time. I try and force myself to be still–even if it’s only a few minutes–and then I can get back to whatever I was procrastinating about, which is basically what I’m doing now. Oy!

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Karen December 31, 2012 at 7:47 am

Excellent post filled with practical/do-able takeaways for all of us – I’ve grown to reflexively bristle at the R word that bombards us this time of year, but your kinder and gentler message conveys just the right tone and thus resonates. Thanks for the tiny jolt of inspiration. (I loved hearing the backstory here; I recall many similar incidents/comments/patterns of behavior from my preteen years that foreshadowed my ED diagnosis just a couple of years later.)

Wishing you, too, a spiritually healthy 2013, Gena. Much love and respect to you. xo

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Kaitlyn December 31, 2012 at 8:58 am

Thank you so much for this list, Gena. This is definitely something I am going to save and periodically come back to, as I always need little reminders and words of wise and rational inspiration such as this. I typically don’t make New Years resolutions–being surrounded by people who want to lose weight stresses me out and is something I try to distance myself from–but in 2013 I would like to learn to treat myself with more compassion. It something I’ve been working on, and this post really hit home. I pride myself with living a compassionate lifestyle–to animals, the environment, and to other people–and yet I do not extend those sensitivities and kind regards to myself. Thank you for putting such a complicated matter in perspective. Happy New Year!

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Gena December 31, 2012 at 10:44 am

And to you, Kaitlyn! I’m really happy that this post resonated. I need the compassion tip, too, and will try to heed it in 2013.

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Lisa @ Lisa the Vegetarian December 31, 2012 at 10:01 am

I have to say, I too remember thinking bad things about myself/my appearance when I was very young, for no external reason whatsoever. I remember looking at class pictures in the elementary school years and thinking I was the ugliest kid in class. I wonder why we do this to ourselves? I’m all for appreciating our bodies now and taking the time to remind ourselves why we’re awesome in all aspects of life.

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Gena December 31, 2012 at 10:46 am

Lisa,

There are certain genes implied in disordered eating, which is not in and of itself a full explanation, but it’s certainly a part of the picture. It’s very sad, but I like to celebrate how major it is for someone who struggled in that particular way to find peace of mind later in life. In some ways, I even think my relationship with my body is richer for having been so rocky. Silver linings :)

G

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Jennifer December 31, 2012 at 10:51 am

Excellent site you have here! Keep the content coming! Happy New Year!

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the delicate place December 31, 2012 at 11:02 am

in true scientific form, i consider myself to be an ongoing experiment…i’ve been completely vegan for 3 days…ya know gotta roll in pre-new year so i can’t claim it’s my resolve or anything haha. just trying to see how i feel and it’s easier than i thought it would be.

i already eat a ton of veggies and usually had animal protein with lunch or dinner so swapping out the meat made me think a little. i made nut pates the focus or avocado as the ‘bulk’ and have been snacking subbing fruit or crudites in for hard boiled eggs.

i am relying on my hemp protein to give me a boost for breakfast instead of it simply being a green smoothie but i have more energy than i thought too. i honestly thought i would crash and burn so hard after the first day…guess i need to re-evaluate some things!

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Elaine December 31, 2012 at 11:56 am

As always, excellent thoughtful post! I have made a commitment to not make New Year’s resolutions anymore and it has made me much happier. Instead I do a reflection on what worked and what didn’t work for me in the previous year and I don’t make any judgement or effort to change it. This allows me to be aware of how I can give myself what I need, without any rigid rules or self loathing. The idea is that every day we have a choice to make about how to live and the only thing you can really do is love yourself more. Thanks Gena, your blog means so much to me and nourishes me everyday.

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Elisabeth December 31, 2012 at 11:58 am

Thank you for this genuinely helpful post, Gena. Your tips are a great reminder for not only this time of year but for all year-round, especially for me personally. Like many of the other comments say, the second tip particularly resonates with me. I am taking Latin as my language course in school, and my Latin teacher decided to pick out Latin names for me and the other students based on our personalities and her observations of us in her class. She choose Monica for me, which means advisor, since people are always asking me for my advice. This post has reminded that there’s nothing wrong with taking my own advice more often!
I am very interested in the research about genetics playing an underlying role in eating disorders because my aunt suffered from an eating disorder when she came back from Africa at my age. I have, too, and I remember my mother telling me from time to time about how my aunt was just a skeleton and how her hands would turn orange because all she ate were carrots. I thought to myself that this would never happen to me, but, sadly, it did.

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Martina December 31, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Hi Gena! I want to wish you av happy new year! I live in Sweden and i have enjoyed your blog since i found it earlier this year. I have a question about something you maybe know a little bit about and maybe can answer here or write a post about in the future? I try to heal my teeth and when I search for information all I can find is about vegans that have bad teeth. For example Ramiel Nagel writes about it and he says that vegans always have bad teeth and the way to heal them is eating cod liver oil, raw dairy, egg and other food from animals. Do you know anything about it and how to heal teeth as a vegan? Wish you all the best!

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Ali December 31, 2012 at 12:24 pm

Thanks Gena, for as always a post that arrived right in time. As I said the other day, the New Years stuff always drives me nuts anyway, but I think I’m finding it more triggering this year because of other things going badly in my life and the fact that I actually *did* allow myself a little indulgence this holiday season (the rational part of me sees this as a big victory by the way!)
Happy New Year!

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Hoshigaki December 31, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Thank you for this, Gena!
It’s good timing, of course. I think with all this resolution stuff at the new year it’s important to acknowledge, especially for ladies and gents who suffer or have suffered from an eating disorder, that it’s a practice and a process.
Lately I’ve been struggling with preparing-preparing-preparing a plan-plan-plan for the new year on how to be successful. I did a grocery shopping trip with my boyfriend last night and felt absolutely deflated because I didn’t FEEL different. I didn’t viserally or emotionally feel that I was at the cusp of success.
I wanted the confidance to spontaneously emerge or to see that all the planning I was doing was changing me in some way. Putting me at an advantage over past failures.
I was reminded, by my smart and encouraging loverboy (and really the game changer in my life *plan*), that I should focus on just tomorrow. One day. Then move to the next. To be patient with yourself in whatever you are doing and truly find comfort in the process and practice of life. When you become an adult, you learn that you have to pick up your own messes, body-image messes included.
This year, I hope to clean up the mess one day at a time.

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Alex @ Raw Recovery December 31, 2012 at 1:37 pm

I really love these tips, especially the one about getting rid of clothes that aren’t right for your body. It’s really hard to give up the clothes that I could wear when I was sick, but I’d rather be happy and the size/shape my body is healthiest at rather than miserable and able to fit into jeans that only momentarily boost my ego.

Happy New Year, Gena!

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Rachael January 1, 2013 at 1:40 am

This is what I needed as I enter a new year. How refreshing to read a list of five ways to practice taking care of myself rather than five ways to stress out by setting impossible expectations for my body.

A truly happy new year lies ahead!

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Robin January 1, 2013 at 6:38 am

Thank you for the great tips. As someone who is not too far from menopause, I know natural changes are coming and I really want to be prepared to accept them and to continue to try and love myself. Your suggestions are good for anyone at any age and I appreciate that.

Happy New Year!

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Rachel @ Eat, Learn, Discover! January 1, 2013 at 6:03 pm

Now *this* is a list I really need to follow. My biggest issue, I think, is being selfish. In moments of anxiety (surrounding food, body, etc), I think only of myself and whatever issue I have with my body. In reality, solving my “problems” will not make me a better person. I have spent so much time focused on myself that I miss too much of the world around.

As always, thank you for your words, and have a happy new year!
~Rachel

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cheap glasses uk online January 1, 2013 at 10:05 pm

Thank you for the tips ! :)

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Lia @ Sojourning January 2, 2013 at 7:43 pm

Very appropriately timed of course. This is the time that people get really hard on themselves and also get really stressed about not doing enough or failing. This is a great list to help people remember that they can do things differently, with more love, respect, and care. Thanks for this lovely post.

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Lulu March 14, 2013 at 10:36 am

Thank you soo much for your inspiring post! I love your approach to health and II am usig your motto as inspiration. My doctor warned me that I am close tp developing an ED, so I am trying my best to prevent that from happening. Your post certainly gave me more ideas to love my body! Thank you!

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