How I found my inner strength outdoors.
My relationship with fitness, food, and my body had never been great. When I was a teenager, I struggled with eating disorders. Fitness was a punishment—hours on the treadmill wearing layers of sweatshirts—instead of fun. I always had this self-hate relationship with my body.
After I graduated from college, I was living this amazing life in San Francisco. I had the perfect job, the perfect boyfriend. But I found myself feeling really anxious and depressed. My past struggle with eating disorders was coming up in a very intense way, and I realized that maybe "perfect" wasn't the life I wanted or needed.
So I quit my job, I quit my boyfriend, I quit everything. And I found myself at an outdoor school, leading kids on hiking trips. It was just supposed to be a two-month job, but it ended up becoming my whole life.
It was like I was discovering my body for the first time in a new way. Like a rebirth. Hiking can be so childlike—going outside to play. It makes me feel alive in a way I had never experienced. It makes me feel at peace with my mind and body. It's easy to be self-critical, but nature helps you connect with what really matters. (That's why Julianne Hough wants you to get outside too.)
One hike was particularly cathartic. In late October 2016, I set off on a 20-mile hike (the Conundrum Hot Springs in Colorado) on my own. (FYI, you should know these essential hiking survival skills before you try this yourself.) On warm weekends, it's not uncommon to see hundreds of people on the route. But to my surprise, I saw no one. It was just my thoughts and me out there, except for a moose and a couple of red foxes.
Nature has the strength to hold us while we feel our deepest emotions. The trail doesn't judge, doesn't try to change how you feel. It allows you to be authentic. So I hiked, I cried, I listened to Beyoncé, and I started to find my true self. I sat in the hot springs pool high up in a mountain valley with a newfound appreciation for what my body could do rather than obsess about what it looked like. That night as I camped, it snowed, and it marked a new season and a fresh chapter in my life.
On this trip, I decided to start the Instagram account @WildandWeightless. At first, it was just to post pictures I took on my adventures, but it's grown in ways I could never have expected. Women from all over the world send me their stories of recovery through the outdoors. Eating disorders happen in isolation and are rooted in shame—so one of the biggest tools for recovery is talking about them. One of my missions is to be vocal about my own problems. The more people speak out about eating disorders and about their struggles (whatever they may be), the more impact we're going to have. (That's why celebs like Kesha and Demi Lovato are sharing their stories too.)
Because our bodies are badass and feeling strong, healthy, and confident is for everyone! Help us spread the body love and be a part of our #LoveMyShape body confidence movement: Post a photo or video on social sharing why you love your shape. And check out Movemeant Foundation, our partner in empowering women and girls to be body positive.