This is a guest post written by Danielle. She is a Reeses and coffee obsessed gal from the Midwest. Danielle serves as the full-time assistant to Manda Carpenter. She has been married to her husband Jonathan for nearly five years. They have two pups, Diesel and Molli, and a cat, Luci. She loves all things Disney, walks in the sunshine, and feels like she is more in line with her calling than ever before. This post is a big part of her story.

My entire life I have struggled with self-worth. I remember, like it was yesterday, being in elementary school and getting picked on because of my weight, appearance, and lack of friends.

You see, I used to weigh 260 lbs. 

At 260-pounds it seemed that everything was a struggle. I’d wake up in the mornings and avoid having to look at myself in the mirror. I dreaded having to go to school in clothes that wouldn’t fit right. Gym class was my worst nightmare because I had to actually attempt physical activity in front of other people. Hello “sick day” on the mile-run test. I felt I had no worth; that no one could ever love a girl in this body. My body. I vividly remember eating lunch in the principal’s office in 6th grade because we had just moved and the bullying was beyond what I could take.

I was an emotional, pleasure and boredom eater. I didn’t just enjoy food — it was my comfort and my life float. It was the one thing that I could always count on to make me feel better, at least for a little while. Overindulging in unhealthy foods became my go-to, temporary feel-good fix whenever I was lonely and overwhelmed. I turned to food to fill my voids all throughout my teenage years.

Simultaneous with my eating struggles, I lacked so much confidence and things were so out of control that I felt the only way to make and keep friends in my life was to be someone I wasn’t. I began to act in a way that didn’t reflect who I truly was. I lived in an inauthentic, people-pleasing mode until it made me sick.

During my freshman year of high school, I ended up losing some weight and gaining some confidence, which led me to join the poms squad. However, what I thought was going to be helpful actually hurt my self-esteem more. As the heaviest member of the squad, I was constantly reminded of my flaws when I couldn’t fit into the outfit or I was compared to the girls standing near me. I quit poms and started eating even more because it was all I knew how to do to suppress the pain I felt. I was not proud of where I was and who I’d become, but I had no idea how to get out of this downward spiral.

I need you to hear me say this loud and clear: this is not a transformation journey of becoming more thin or beautiful. This is my story of becoming healthy. My journey toward physical, spiritual, and emotional health includes me shedding quite a few pounds, but it does not end there. Sister, your journey towards health in all areas might include shedding weight or it might include gaining weight. Your journey might include a breakthrough so that you are not obsessively working out or it might not have anything to do with diet and exercise. My transformation journey is about so much more than the eye can see.

It was at a doctor appointment when I first learned that I was high-risk for diabetes. I was on high blood pressure medication by age 21 and my doctor informed me that I was in serious trouble. He told me I had a decision: make changes now or give up my life.

I left that day feeling so defeated. Naturally, I wanted to crawl into my bed and eat cake. I’d started and stopped so many diets, only to gain more weight. But, right then and there, in November of 2012, I made my decision. I was going to make changes. I wasn’t giving up my life… at least not without a fight.

This is the part where I wish I could tell you that there was a magic pill or potion I took that fixed everything.

There wasn’t. That does not exist. It was a very long, hard two years to get my body back to health. It has taken even longer (and is very much still in process) to gain back my self-confidence. To be honest, I have a feeling that will be an ongoing process for as long as I’m breathing.

Starting a new lifestyle was no easy feat. I first started by making a small change: no beverages except for water. After a few months of that, I started tracking what I ate so that I could see how much I was eating, how many times a day I was snacking, and the difference between how many calories I was consuming versus how many I was burning. The results, on paper, shocked me. I couldn’t deny cold, hard facts.

Then, I hit a plateau. Changing my diet wasn’t enough. I needed to get moving. In the beginning, going for a walk three times each week for 20 minutes was more than what I’d been doing and even that was tough. Not long after, I worked up the courage to start cycling on a stationary bike. Ironically, for a girl who had never exercised, it did not take long for me to fall in love with it. It made me feel something — something so much better than the feeling of eating cake in bed.

I got the itch to try a 5k, which is the point when I noticed my mindset was changing. I was no longer a victim. I was a victor. I was worth fighting for.

Once I completed the 5k, I was hooked on running. It wasn’t long before I was signing up for my first half-marathon. Being Disney-obsessed, it’s no surprise that I chose to make my first half a Disney one. I had no idea how or if finishing 13.2 miles was possible, but I made it my goal and decided that I was going to have fun trying.

All of the changes seem purely physical, especially if you just look at pictures of me over the last decade, but I can assure you that for as different as I appear on the outside, I am even more transformed on the inside.

Years of negative self-talk is a lot more challenging to change than a physical body.

I married my highschool sweetheart, who stuck with me through my heaviest and most unhappy days. No matter how much he encouraged me and reminded me that I am beautiful no matter what the scale says, I have had a hard time believing it for myself.

I’ll never forget one of the biggest breakthrough moments in my journey unexpectedly taking place in a coffee shop with my aunt. She could sense that even though I was thinner, I was unhappy and still struggling. She said, “Now that you are learning how to take care of yourself, it’s time for you to fall in love with yourself.” I didn’t know exactly what she meant, but with her help I began to understand. I got rid of excess in my home. I stopped overworking. I began speaking affirmations over myself in the mirror. I started shedding the layers of who I’d pretended to be for so long. I started praying and reading from the Bible.

Things started to shift internally, matching the transformation that had occured on the outside.

I started to view myself as God’s creation, and if there’s one thing I know about God’s creation is that it is stunning. A masterpiece. Not “decent” or “good enough,” but as an example of God’s work. I was made on purpose, with intention, as a beautiful, intricate, complex, and wonderful woman. I realized that God could use my story and experience to help others. I didn’t want to throw my precious life away when I had so much new found purpose!

I am slowly beginning to believe God’s truth that I am precious, worthy, and loved no matter what I do or how I look. I see the beauty and appreciate everyday things, like the time and space to watch the sun rise, enjoying a cup of coffee, laughing when I make a mistake, and resting. I no longer see food as my Savior or escape.

There’s no denying that I love to walk and run when the Midwest weather permits. I love the feeling of sun on my face and little by little I care less of what others think of my battle-scarred body. I see all of my stretch marks as stories to tell, not burdens I have to deal with.

I would love to tell you that all of this is as easy as steps one, two, three. I wish I could wrap it up in a bow and give it to every woman who is struggling to love herself or grow into the person she’s created to be.

In many ways, I am still smack in the middle of my transformation. I am still learning to love the body I have. I am learning how to listen to God and follow his promptings. I am learning how to live freely and with space. Most recently, I began counseling to get to the root of why I think and do things the way I do. One thing I know for sure: we are not here to accept what we feel as truth. We were made for more and there is too much at stake to simply give up the fight.

You are beautiful and loved as you are right now in this very moment. Don’t buy the lie your feelings tell you; speak truth over yourself until your heart softens and absorbs it. Move forward even if you are scared or feel completely foolish. God will match you step for step.

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Manda's weekly letters on faith, marriage, motherhood, soul care, social justice - and occasionally the collision of it all. 

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