I hit my heaviest weight was when I was 24-years-old and living in Paris. (The actual number doesn’t matter, since weight sits differently on everyone.) What matters is I thought my body was disgusting. Everything I wore made me feel ugly and undesirable. I was also dealing with an extremely unfortunate hair-growing-out situation that would have made my face look heavy no matter my actual weight. Let’s call a spade a spade and say: It was not a good time for me, body-image wise.

Depression had settled over me like a thick shroud even before I arrived in Paris. The more depressed I got, the more I ate. The more I ate, the bigger I grew, the more I hated my body. The more I hated my body, the less I wanted to get dressed and go out, and the more depressed I got. Ah, cyclical behavior. I hid and watched episodes of Sherlock over and over again, leaving only when I became so sick of Benedict Cumberbatch’s lean frame I couldn’t look at him any longer.

I started to hide my larger body under my baggiest shirts and stopped wearing shorts despite the unseasonable heat in France that year. That mentality followed me across the ocean when I moved back to Texas that October. When I got back, I was too emotionally drained to do much more than keep up appearances—I accepted the old job I’d had before France and tried to start putting my life back together.

My first order of business was getting better. The first checkbox on my list was to try on not hating my body for a change. I had long poked and prodded myself and spent years with my stomach sucked in to fit into jeans better.

One morning, mid self-hatred routine, I stopped and stood there with my head hung, fighting tears. I was tired of it—tired of feeling fat, tired of hating feeling fat. “Here’s a revolutionary idea,” I said to my reflection in the mirror. “What if you buy some clothes that actually fit you?”

I wiped away tears, looked myself in the eye and made a suggestion that ended up changing a lot: “What if you just decided to be okay with your body as it is?”

I had been a toned athlete in my teens. But that day, the best way to describe my body was ‘round.’ The difference of several years, of college and depression and irregular exercise, was obvious. I hadn’t been proud of my body when I was an athlete; deciding to love it when it looked “worse” seemed radical in my head.

Into boxes and the trash went the clothes that didn’t fit—the skinny jeans I’d been striving to fit into for years, the too-tight shirts I never wore anymore. I replaced them with clothes that actually complimented my rounder figure because I thought the problem was the clothes. In my head, the equation went: If I just thought the clothes looked good, then I would be happier.

It worked, but not for the reason I thought. I felt good in the clothes, so I started to let go of the other anxieties about my body. I didn’t wake up every morning and hug myself or praise each part of my body for it’s existence, but I stopped actively self-hating and that was a huge step. I stopped eating weight-loss geared foods, and started eating food I enjoyed because it tasted good. Without the cardboard-esque frozen meals I discovered the joy of eating real meals that tasted good because of the real ingredients.

The weight came off so slowly that I hardly noticed it. Then in December I got extremely ill and was stuck on a liquid diet of protein shakes. I dropped weight dramatically and came out of my illness in early 2015 still deeply depressed and suddenly very thin. As I got healthier, I continued the lifestyle choice: I ate better because it tasted better, and the weight stayed off. I lost a lot of weight during that illness, but I’m sure if I’d continued my pattern of eating better, I would have lost the weight either way.

But something more important came out of it – an understanding of the healthy side-effects of self-acceptance. Sure, the weight loss was nice. But it felt ironic to me, losing the weight almost as soon as I decided I didn’t care about it. It took me a long time to realize it was precisely because I had stopped stressing about my weight that I was able to focus on eating what made me feel good. Accepting my body ‘as-is’ was the best decision I ever made.

Valorie Clark

I’m Texas expat currently living in Paris, and I make a living as a storyteller, and freelance writer, and the founder of Running Away from Home. I write most often about food, culture, and travel, and the beautiful (and sometimes bizarre) ways those intersect. I always say yes to adventures. You too? Let’s sit together. http://www.runningawayfromhome.org/