• Since childhood, Tara Jackson has struggled with body image issues

  • These difficulties led her to diet continuously throughout her life - but she has found a better way 

  • If you need support through body image issues, find a therapist here

I’ve been on over 50 diets. My first was a calorie controlled one, when I was 11 years old, which was the latest to come out of the USA and claimed you could lose up to 10 pounds in three days! My best friend’s mum was doing it – so my friend and I thought it would work for us and we borrowed her book to do it secretly. We had been weighed recently in school and were slightly heavier than the other kids, and that was it.

The diet included things like grapefruit, dry toast, cottage cheese and lean protein and now when I think about it, I realise it didn’t include more than around 600 calories a day. Not great for an active person, let alone a growing 11-year old who was doing more than an hour of sport every day.

This began my journey of trying to get my body to be smaller. I started to watch what I ate meticulously and weigh myself constantly, upset if I hadn’t lost at least a couple of pounds each day. I would stand in front of the mirror and examine every part of my body wishing that certain parts were tighter, or smaller, or less round. I didn’t like that my hips and bottom were starting to grow.

Diets following this would be based on the first one. I knew if I stuck to a limited amount of food I’d lose weight. So, I’d do this frequently. I would then inevitably starve and, being a food lover, I would binge out on as much food as I could get my hands on. The guilt that followed was too much for me. This led to bulimia, on and off throughout my teens, as I knew if I ate too much I could easily get it out of my system.

I’d read voraciously on dieting and nutrition, and jump on to any fad going with the promise of fast results. Deep down, I knew what to eat to feel healthy and good, but always seemed to self-sabotage or get lured into the newest ‘diet’. I saw my body as something separate to me – something I wanted to control and shape to fit in with what I thought it should be. Something that rarely did what I wanted it to – I’d have to work harder and harder each year to get it to be the size and shape I thought it should be.

Things only started to change when I started to practice yoga. Yoga was different from everything else I had done. I started yoga originally for my mind – I have one of those ‘monkey minds’ with a million thoughts going through, from the moment I wake up to when I fall asleep. I was going through a stressful situation personally and intuitively knew that yoga would help me to feel calmer.

What happened surprised me – yoga was soft and nurturing and calmed my mind, yes, but it also started to connect me to my body in a way I had never felt before. I started to feel the strength of my legs, the muscles in my arms and back as they held me in downward dog, the flexibility of my hips slowly started to increase (as they had been quite tight for years) and I even started to feel the muscles in my backside working! I started to feel appreciation for this vessel that holds me, and wanted to nourish it so it could thrive and do more for me, with me.

It hasn’t been a totally smooth journey though as old habits die hard. But there’s a definite shift in the choices I make for my body. I’ve slowly started to do things in the best interest of my whole self – body, mind and spirit. Not to control or shape it in a way I feel it ‘should’ look, but so I can feel as connected, energised and alive from head to toe as possible. No foods are off limits now, I just pay more attention to how my body feels when I eat certain things.

I'm grateful to yoga as it helped me realise that this is my body right now, today. Starting to appreciate it and treat it with respect has led to wonderful changes physically and allowed me to feel calmer and not so controlling. It's so much better to be working with your body than against it, trust me!

Further reading

Dear body, a love letter

Dealing with body image anxiety

The cost of body shame