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Rachel O'h-Uiginn Estapa Headshot

I Am Happier, Heavier

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RACHEL OH UIGINN ESTAPA
Rachel O'h-Uiginn Estapa

It's not insane to believe that once you lose weight, life gets better.

For years, I heard stories from those who have shed pounds, recharged their lives, never felt better, and speak so confidently that once the weight was gone, they became the person they were meant to be: a thin and happy one.

I do not doubt their happiness when they share their story, but I also don't believe that by losing weight, they have some superior knowledge about happiness that us heavier-folk don't. How do I know this? I've been fat and thinner. And I've been at my happiest, heavier.

End of high school and into college, I was BIG and used to decline attending parties because I didn't remotely have anything cute to wear, so I hid behind sarcasm and baggy shirts. And dating-wise... wait, WHAT dating life?

Midway through my freshman year of college I joined Weight Watchers and the gym, becoming obsessed with both. Within seven months, I lost 55 pounds, fit into a size ten and even felt sexy for about fifteen minutes!

But as the scale dipped lower and the compliments on my weight-loss wore off, something else emerged: I felt exhausted, disappointed and still unhappy.

"Ugh, I just can't keep this up..." I recall saying to myself after a Weight Watchers meeting, of which was my lowest weigh-in ever. I felt defeated and broken that after all my effort, not much beyond the scale changed.

Wasn't I supposed to feel amazing? Different? Instead I felt burnt out, over-worked, stressed about every meal and workout... and I wasn't even at my "goal" -- that was still another 40 pounds away!

Within five years, I gain the weight back and while initially bummed, I actually felt a sense of relief.

My story is 98% of all dieter's stories, but for whatever reason, the myth that overweight people are lazy prevails. If you've never embarked on losing lots of weight, you probably cannot understand how all-encompassing the process becomes and the toll it takes on your mental and physical self.

Losing weight isn't about willpower or determination. People embark upon weight loss "journeys" because they want to fix themselves. And I understand why -- it's very painful to believe something is wrong with you.

I wanted to feel happy, but dieting wasn't making me feel happy. Isn't my quality of life worth more than my pant-size?

My road to thin was paved with anxiety. I was constantly overthinking what I could eat, how much I should workout, and how to balance being a young adult and on a diet. Sure, the physical results where was I was aiming for, but I didn't anticipate my quality of life being so frantic and worrisome.

My lesson wasn't to learn how to lose weight -- it was to learn how to accept myself. Instead of plotting another diet to lose the weight I re-gained, I decided to turn my focus towards learning about authentic happiness, holistic health and well-being. And today at 29, I'm madly in love with who I am and in learning to love myself, I learned how to love other people much better too.

Some might believe that my story means I am anti-weight loss, but I am not. I'm anti-shame, guilt and fear as an avenue to weighing less in the hopes of being a better and healthier person for it.

I believe we each have a unique spectrum of health, and it's up to us individually to have the self-awareness to gauge if what we do each day is healthy or unhealthy, not just for our bodies, but for our overall well-being. Being larger isn't an automatic indicator of poor health, as I'm more fit today that I was when I weighed less. Deep down, you know if your actions lean more towards healthy or unhealthy, and this goes for anyone at any size. A more holistic approach to your own body's needs and happiness may end up serving you better long-term because the best lifestyle is the one you're excited and happy about.

My travel from heavy to thinner and back to heavy again taught me how deceiving the allure of appearances can be; that confidence comes from a strong will of speaking your truth, and that sustainable health and happiness stems not from calories in versus calories out, but of an attitude of gratitude.

And it's with learning gratitude my real body-love story began. Gratitude for my body for all it does and in kind, I now treat with respect and balance.

I got married in a large body. I created my own business in a large body. I did my first professional photo shoot in a large body. I adore this large body and even if I lost or gained weight, the core of who I am does not change.

Rachel Estapa, founder of More To Love, is a writer, coach and speaker on plus size body image, health and happiness. See more at www.moretolovewithrachel.com