Binge eating has been following me around like a clingy frenemy for as long as I can remember. Up until last year, I would regularly eat so much at night that I would wake up the next morning still feeling stuffed. I was plagued by “Last Supper” syndrome thinking. This popcorn, this giant bag of candy, this 1/3 of an entire freakin’ cake was going to be the very last time I filled myself to bursting. Morning would eventually come and I promised myself everything would be different when it did.

Morning came, and then the sun set and I ate the other 2/3 of the cake. I was stuck in an endless loop of self-loathing and I wondered how I could ever operate any differently. Over the past 9 years I’ve lost a combined total of over 200 pounds – working off my freshman 75, and the 70+ pounds I gained with each of the pregnancies of my children. I’m about a third of the way through my life and I am tired of fighting this fight.

Around my 30th birthday I made some changes, attempting to address my binge eating and feeble self-love. I read an anti-diet diet book after hearing it mentioned on one of my favorite podcasts. I started actively seeking out alternative sources of inspiration when it comes to fashion and beauty. For the first time in my life I took complete control of my own body, how I dress it, how I use it. All of these things are working for me, working very well, and I hope that sharing them can inspire positive changes for others who are struggling in similar ways.

The book that made everything click for me was Secrets from the Eating Lab by Traci Mann. The tagline for the book is “The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again“.about halfway through its pages I made a connection that has transformed my relationship with food forever. My thin friends are not thin because each and every one of them has more willpower than me – my thin friends are thin because they have different bodies and priorities than me. Based on everything I can surmise using clues from my personal and genetic history, shrinking my body down to a size that matches society’s expectations would require an effort so immense it would need to be the focus of my life. Dr. Mann’s message helped me see that my weight doesn’t illuminate egregious moral failings on my part, and there is nothing wrong with saying that I want the focus of my life to be other things. I want to make art, and laugh with my friends, and challenge myself intellectually, and dance in the waves of the ocean with my children without worrying whether I have the right body for a bikini. My body is equipped with the necessary signals to communicate my basic needs, if I will just stop shouting at it long enough to listen. I accept that I have the power to fundamentally change the structure of my body, but there is nothing wrong with me saying that I would like to focus my precious time and energy on endeavors that are much more interesting and fulfilling for me personally.

Once I made peace with my diet, I needed to read retrain my brain to appreciate alternative forms of beauty. My favorite source of inspiration has been an Instagram account called effyourbeautystandards focused on highlighting bodies and features in shapes and sizes outside of the cultural norm. Individuals of all sorts proudly say that they like themselves as they are, and don’t feel the need to change. There is even a woman with a beard! Her self-love and courage are stunning features. The more I add variety to my life in terms of media consumption the more I am able embrace the idea that there are an endless number of ways to be a beautiful person.

I said goodbye to dieting and rewired my brain regarding what beauty is, but there was one last cultural norm I needed to dismantle. I grew up in an environment that made me feel ashamed of my body. It was something that needed to be covered lest it cause men to sin. My personal sexual desires were rarely acknowledged, and when they were discussed it was in relation to the ways that I needed to assist men in controlling their own sexuality. As a 30-year-old married mother-of-two I have taken complete ownership of my body for the first time in my life. I decide how much skin to show. I decide what sexuality means for me and how I engage with others. I’m scaling walls that were once blockades used to contain me. Each time I challenge previous assumptions about myself I am rewarded with a new level of confidence and clarity.

This is a journey – not a destination. The neural pathways formed by my past run deep in my psyche, and I have no doubt that life’s curveballs will spur regressions in my attitudes and actions. No matter what I weigh or how far I’ve slid back in old patterns, there is one thing I will tightly hold on to from now on – I will define who I am and what makes me good. It is a task too enormous to leave to others.