I don't know many women at all who haven't struggled with their weight and their body image at one time in their lives. In fact, I may not know any at all.
I did, for years and years. I thought I was too fat even when I wasn't. Then in college I was pretty heavy (drinking your weight in cheap beer every weekend will do that to you), and I hated, hated, hated how I looked. I "dieted" but not well, and not in a healthy way, and honestly I really love food too much to maintain a diet for more than a few days.
I tried Atkins once, and after about 24 hours I was craving a cracker like an addict. It didn't last. I tried Slim-Fast, Weight Watchers, calorie-counting. I went to the gym (though never really regularly) and I would cardio the crap out of every gym visit. I would run on the treadmill, do the elliptical, the step machine, and all kinds of aerobic classes. None of it ever helped me lose weight or get in shape.
In my early 20s I thought I was resigned to a life of being overweight.
Then I joined the Army and I thought FOR SURE I would just shed pounds in Basic Training. They would melt off and I would come out of that as the size 4 I always longed to be. But even though I was active to a ridiculous degree, I also ate as much as I could every meal because I was STARVING all the time. Although I was in good shape when I left Basic, I didn't lose more than a few pounds. To be fair, I probably replaced some fat with muscle. But I still look pretty chubby in my graduation pictures.
When I got to language school in Monterey, I joined the run team. I was running every day, doing hills, sprints, intervals, long-distances--I probably ran 20+ miles a week. I didn't lose any weight at all. I figured my body just wanted to weigh what it weighed. (Also, I went out to eat A LOT and I drank A LOT. So did everyone else I knew, though.)
Then when I started dating Matt, we would go to the gym on post together 3 or 4 times a week. And for the first time EVER in my whole life, I mean EVER, I started lifting weights. He showed me how, and I did basically the workout he did but with lighter weight. And suddenly, no exaggeration, I was losing 2-4 lbs every week. Like, EVERY WEEK. Although we did cook together and make dinners at one of our apartments fairly often, we also still went out to eat a lot and hit the bars every weekend. But still, I continued to lose weight. In the span of just a few months, I lost 20 pounds without changing my diet or cutting out alcohol. It was literally amazing and life-changing.
As the article I linked above mentions, the messages we, as women, receive about our bodies are generally not healthy. I spent years of my life hating my body, listening to advice that did nothing to help me, and feeling helpless and frustrated and angry and jealous of anyone who was in good shape. It was always within my power to make a change, but I really didn't know HOW. And all the information I read was telling me all the wrong stuff.
Now, as a mother with a preteen daughter, I am extremely conscious of how I talk about my body and my health and how I look.
I never ask if an outfit makes me look fat. Ever. Instead I ask my husband or my daughter if an outfit is flattering. I never say I want to lose weight, I say I want to get healthier. I talk about how important it is to be strong, not skinny.
I try to set the example that my health is important by going to the gym, running, playing sports and running around with my kids, and eating the healthiest, most whole-foods based diet I can eat.
I want my daughter to NEVER, EVER hate the way she looks the way I hated myself for years.
I want to show my daughter that strength=beauty.
And I want to love the way I look and feel, for me.