It’s not that I didn’t already know this, but I’ve never really said those exact words to myself before.

I made this realization as I was standing in the dressing room of my local The Walmarts last week (and that sad fact right there should be proof enough) when I sort of caught a glimpse of myself and thought “Wow, I have really let myself go.”

It wasn’t a sad thought or a Mean Girl thought – it was just the realization of a fact. I have indeed let myself go.

When I was little, I remember looking at photographs of older family members and seeing how thin they were when they were young women and then seeing more photos of when they were older and plumper.I thought it was sad that they had once been so beautiful and young and then later they just “let themselves go”.  I vowed to myself that I would never let that happen to me because when I was a kid, fat was not something you wanted to grow up to be.

I am the perfect example of fear manifesting itself into reality.

I can laugh at this now because it’s sort of the same thing as having a friend with no kids trying to tell you how to raise yours. If I could go back to my younger self I’d laugh and say “Oh just you wait, kiddo. You have no idea. You have no idea how often you will eat your feelings or how you’ll be too exhausted from chasing toddlers to work out or how later perimenopause will screw with your metabolism. You have no idea how fast those pounds will pack on once you get a boring desk job and how lunch and snack time will be the highlight of your day for those 8 hours. And to soothe yourself after a long frustrating day at work, you’ll partake in a 1,000+ calorie binge and still eat dinner an hour and a half later. You just really have no idea.”

I let myself go. But honestly, it’s not something I could have stopped even if I wanted to (but I really, really wanted to – hello, 20 years of dieting) because I just didn’t know what I didn’t know: that an hour of talking on the phone with my best friend is way more satisfying than eating a dozen cookies; that taking a walk after work is more fulfilling than a binge; that letting my husband and kids help out does lower my stress level because ultimately it’s not “just easier to do it myself”.

Little by little, day by day, I’m learning more and reclaiming what I lost. I’m learning to love vegetables, I’m learning to cook, I’m learning to love exercise more for what it can do for my brain than my body. I’m learning that taking time for myself yields some serious dividends and that once in a while you really do just need to Treat Yo’Self.

So yeah, I let myself go, but I’m getting myself back.