This Woman Realized She Needed to Put Mental Health Before Weight Loss
Health isn't just about the number on the scale.
In the beginning of 2016, Kari Leigh found herself standing in her bathroom with tears streaming down her face after weighing herself. At 240 pounds, she was the heaviest she had ever been. She knew something had to change, but she didn't know where to start.
Given her history with eating disorders, yo-yo dieting, and dependency on comfort food, Kari knew she had a long road ahead of her. "I knew I had to develop a game plan with a professional if I ever wanted to learn to exist peacefully within my mind and body," she told Shape. So she made an appointment with her doctor.
Kari left that appointment with a depression diagnosis and a strong prescription for antidepressants. The doctor also told her that she had to start exercising and taking better care of herself if she truly wanted to feel better long-term. "That was the last thing I wanted to hear," Kari says. "At the time, I didn't realize that I had to put the work in too, that a pill wasn't going to fix my underlying problems."
What Kari had yet to figure out was that her struggles with her body were rooted in her tumultuous childhood and a highly stressful adult life.
Kari says it started freshman year of high school, the first time she was body-shamed. "My teacher had called on me to write something on the board, and a girl sitting in the back of the class started to make stomping sounds as if I was a big elephant," she says. "It didn't hit me until I was up there and heard everyone start laughing. Prior to that, I didn't think there was anything wrong with me. But after that experience, I thought of myself as gigantic." (Related: People Are Taking to Twitter to Share the First Time They Were Body-Shamed)
From then on, up until her early 20s, Kari battled eating disorders, with her weight dropping to the low hundreds at one point. "When I was in high school, I just stopped eating and started running obsessively and lost like 60 pounds over one summer," she says. "Then, after I graduated, I started to introduce food into my life again but found myself eating too much and then purging because I felt so awful for eating in the first place."
This lasted until Kari was in her early 30s. She was also experimenting with different diets, workout programs, cleanses-whatever she could get her hands on to lose weight. But she gained weight instead.
Worse, in 2009, Kari lost her brother in a tragic accident that caused her world to fall apart. The shock of the news led her grandmother, who had raised Kari, to a deep depression.
"As soon as my grandma found out that my brother had died, it was lights-out for her," Kari says. "It was like in one instant she went crazy-she quit getting out of bed, quit talking, quit eating-she just gave up. So here my brother passed away and the same day I lose my grandma-who was physically there but was no longer the same person."
After that, Kari became the primary caretaker for her grandfather, who had been the only father she'd known. He passed away less than two years later. "I had never lost anyone before," she says. "But in just two years, I felt like I had lost everyone I'd ever loved."
"Over the past year and a half, I've learned there are no magic pills," she says. "While those little white pills calmed the endless negative chatter racing in my head, they didn't help fix what was going on inside. When nothing really changed after eight weeks, I knew I was going to have to suck it up, face my past, and finally become at peace with my soul-and no one could do that for me but myself."
She started following people on social media who she found motivational and positive. She started journaling in an effort to understand her emotions better and read the self-help book Adventures for Your Soul.
"It wasn't about the food or the weight, it was about these super-sad moments that I was carrying with me all the time," she says. "Once I started letting go of all that, I naturally started making better choices for myself." (Related: 9 Ways to Fight Depression Besides Taking Antidepressants)
Since then, Kari has focused more on nutrition and works out at home four to five times a week to maintain a healthy lifestyle. "Within the first 60 days, I lost 30 pounds, which is a lot for me, especially considering I did the right way," she says. Today, she's 75 pounds lighter and feels better than ever.
That isn't to say she doesn't have her bad days. But Kari's journey to self-love has helped her better prepare to handle those tough times. "There are still days I don't want to get out of bed-we all do," she says. "But now I have the power to stand up to those feelings."
"Yeah, I'd like to lose some more weight and tone up everywhere. But if that doesn't happen, that's okay," she continues. "What matters most is that I'm finally taking care of my body the right way, and that's something I will continue doing and be proud of."