My passions run deep and are varied but not by happenstance. I am who I am today and care about the things I care about today because of a very rough journey through life that has resulted in a lot of self-discovery and self-love. I’ll write a book one day detailing my whole story. So, for today, we will just touch on how my current relationship with body-love, movement as therapy and actual mental health talk therapy came to be.
Growing up in Ghana, I never had any hangups with my body. Not a single one. we didn’t own a scale, I didn’t know my weight, even if I did, it was a non-issue. It simply wasn’t/isn’t in our culture to obsess over what we weigh. If anything, being a little bigger was a sign that you were well off.
This began to change when I left home and started traveling. First to England at 18 and then to the USA at 21. My first trip abroad was to England and having not grown up with fast food, coupled with getting free lunch at KFC which is where I worked, I gained a whole lotta weight. I don’t know exactly how much I gained but have my mom tell it, she didn’t recognize me when she came to pick me up from the airport lol.
I was 18 in the above picture and as you can see, it was drastic change from the lanky 16? year old Christabel. Still, I didn’t have any complexes about my body. After being home for a few months and back on my regular diet, the weight came off naturally and life went on as usual. At 21, I moved to the USA and it was during those few years that I got introduced to the idea that there was an “ideal” look of beauty. Whereas I’d never before been exposed to weight loss ads, it was suddenly everywhere I looked and for the first time in my life, at 24, I asked myself if perhaps I was “too big”. Being the nerd I was, I looked up what the ideal weight for someone my height, sex and age should be and turns out it wasn’t the 195lbs I weighed. In fact, very far from it.
My BMI was much higher than the “healthy” range and I needed to do something to fix it ASAP! I was in nursing school at the time and coupled with all that I was being taught about the health implications of obesity, I quickly joined the local weight watchers in my little college town in Bloomington, Indiana. In addition to weight watchers, I started formally exercising for the first time in my life! I began training for a half-maraton, which meant running 5 days a week and building up my mileage with each passing week.
I eventually stopped going to weight-watchers meetings because I have social anxiety and it was just not my jam. That did not stop me from researching further on how to lose weight myself. In that quest, I stumbled across SparkPeople and that led me to tracking calories. That began the next leg of my journey – making sure I wasn’t eating a calorie above the recommended 1200 calories. As you can imagine, I lost some weight, 20lbs to be exact as evidenced below:
I didn’t feel “prettier” but I definitely felt accomplished. I went on to run the half-marathon and then as you can imagine, I started taking things a little bit easy, not running as much and not monitoring my calories as closely and that’s when the weight started to come back on. At this point, I had graduated from nursing school and moved to Berkeley, California with my ex-husband.
That was a very stressful period in my life. I had a very emotionally and physically abusive marriage (that included an ER visit and a jail stint….girl! Smh) and I was looking for an escape and a way to cope with the stressors and that is when I discovered weight-lifting. It was 2013 and weight-lifting and getting stronger became my savior in so many ways. It felt exhilarating to see myself get stronger and stronger each week. I also enjoyed learning all the lifts, posting videos for form check in this amazing women-only FB weight-lifting group called “Fierce, Fit, & Fearless” I was a member of.
As I lifted weights and ditched cardio, I progressively gained weight – a mix of fat and muscle. I felt great about my body and my abilities. During that period, I would steadily go up in weight until I was back in the 195lbs range.
I toyed with Insanity and some other BeachBody programs but I would consistently go back to weight lifting because the others were too cardio-centric for my strength loving heart, was not sustainable and honestly, not as fun for me as lifting.
Through out my 4 year tumultuous marriage, I increasingly grew in my depression and leaned heavily into emotional eating to cope with my emotions. Late 2013 early 2014, we finally separated and filed for divorced. I moved back to Indiana for work and immediately felt the best I had felt in over 6 years. Happiness – or rather, a lack of sadness brought about some more weight gain because I also eat when I’m happy lol. Through it all, I never stopped lifting weights, in fact, I decided to learn everything I could about weight lifting and nutrition. I was heavier sure, but I was also happier and it was in this state that I met my beautiful wife.
We started dating in August of 2014, by February of 2015, I decided to quit my job and join her as a travel nurse. It was such an exciting time in my life, I had finally admitted to myself that I was a full-fledged gay woman, I was making more money than I had ever dreamed of and I was traveling the country with the love of my life. Life was good! and then it wasn’t. My history of terrible relationships began to repeat itself in my brand new relationship. Even though I was growing in my career and getting to do all the things, I had never taken the time to work on the emotional baggage I had been carrying my whole life both from childhood trauma and relationship trauma.
I began repeating the same destructive patterns. I was often angry, depressed and emotionally manipulative. In my prior marriage, I had built up so much angst from the determination not to let him know how much his words hurt me that I kept it up in my current relationship. I was all about one-uping my partner. My constant mood was “if you think you can hurt me, watch me.”
*trigger warning: self harm & suicide*
This attitude eventually led me to the most depressed I had ever been. I was for the first time ever suicidal and had resorted to cutting on a few occasions to manage my pain. I could hardly get out of bed except to go to work and sometimes the gym and I thought my relationship was heading towards an inevitable end. This is what motivated me to finally seek help. It wasn’t a love of self that initially moved me to seek some help, rather it was the love of another. I make this point because the idea that wanting to change for another is bullshit wasn’t the case in my situation. Without Ginele in my life, I strongly believe that I would have continued to spiral.
*Get help for whatever reason that feels right at the time and do not make anyone make you feel that it isn’t a worthwhile reason. As time passes, your reasons for seeking help will evolve *
This was around the later part of 2015, I used psychologytoday.com to find a therapist in my area (he’s still my therapist) and started working through issues I had never explored and working at letting go of anger. Talking with him also enabled me to get back to lifting with more seriousness. I was at my heaviest of 210lbs at this time but it was concurrently, the strongest that I’d ever been. While I’ve never hated my body, I wanted to make a change. My reasons for wanting to embark on a fat loss journey for the first time since my initial stint in 2010-2012 were varied. There were more “body-positive reasons” like learning how to stop using food as an emotional crutch to more aesthetic reasons like a flat tummy to wear all tight fitting outfits and crop tops I wanted. No shame to my game I’m sorry.
To this end, I engaged the services of a nutrition coach in 2016 I believe and in those 2 years, I managed to lose 40lbs, started on a nutrition coaching certification to learn how to teach others in a professional capacity to achieve aesthetic goals rooted in self-love.
2 years or so later, here we are. Working on starting a coaching business to provide folx with honest, science-based nutrition and exercise coaching that takes into account the mental aspect of habit change. It is not out of thin air that I’ve decided to do this but rather out of a very extensive personal history with the subject matters in question. There were days that the only thing that helped me get out of bed was the thought of putting on cute pair of leggings and going to the gym to try my hands at getting that 315lb deadlift.
I also know what it feels like dealing with emotional eating realizing that it was only a coping mechanism that helped me escape my chaotic brain. I also know that while working on conquering emotional eating was a going to be an eventual goal, I had to love myself as I worked with my therapist to unpack all my trauma. Conquering self-harm and my suicidality was more important than what I weighed on the scale and more important than my muffin top.
I’m still such a work in progress. I deal with anxiety, I still contend with emotional eating from time to time, therapy is still every Wednesday at 8:30am because I still have so much to unpack. And this is all OK! I love being a nurse and I will remain a nurse but have such a burning desire to help people to grow in the best ways, to make a meaningful impact in the world because I solidly believe that I went through all that I did to make a difference in someone else’s life. I can’t wait to get started quite frankly. I haven’t scratched the surface of all I want to accomplish and I am so excited to have you all on this journey with me.
Following are pictures of me in recent years. Life isn’t perfect but it is joyful more than not and that’s more than I could have ever asked for.
Nowadays, you’ll find me journaling, burning sage, reading, meditating, doing talk therapy, listening to podcast, hiking, lifting weights, feeding myself good nutritious food, recognizing my privileges and using it for good and basically doing all the things to seek JOY!
If you made it to the end of those 1800 words, kudos to you! I hope that by sharing my story, you can learn that we all have struggles and that IG does not tell the whole story. Who would have thought that I was a jailbird? I bet you didn’t know that huh? You’re alright, we’re alright.