by Damon D’Arienzo

You can’t create and enjoy life’s sweetest moments without first loving yourself. It’s an absolute requirement to get the most out of life. There is no debate.

So, what does it mean to love oneself? Well, I say it’s acceptance and proud appreciation of all you are. But there is no universal definition. I also like to believe it’s finding a place of peace and comfort about what you stand for – your likes, dislikes, morals, values, etc. Maybe for some, it’s having purpose. Maybe to others, it’s constant kindness. My point here is that only you know what it is for you, and ONLY YOU are responsible for finding and embracing it.

And by no means do you find it and your job is done. It’s quite the opposite! Evolving as a person is the most beautiful gift you are given in this lifetime. We will forever be works in progress, which also means we can always achieve new goals. There is always the opportunity to do more. To be more. To change more. To discover happiness in ways you never imagined. But, yes, my friends, it requires “work”.

Now, I could ramble on for days about all the things we need to do to help truly love who we are. But, for today, I want to focus on the love and acceptance of our physical self and how that is a foundational part of our confidence and dreams. I will talk about it in the context of how it has helped me find success and happiness in my life, especially as a single parent.

Body Image

The reality is most of us struggle to feel body-positive, although we hardly ever talk about it. We don’t want to volunteer this in conversation, because it requires us to be vulnerable, and that is hard and scary. In the same sense, we also sweat the thought of confronting the topic with someone we care about, who could probably benefit from our love and support in their physical struggles. It’s almost as if it’s taboo. Terrible!

So let us talk about it! I’m no different. I’m just like you. I’m not an expert in this. I’m not trying to sell you anything. Let me just open up as a man who has struggled with confidence in his appearance. Then add some colour for how that has manifested in my time as a single parent. I will tell you about my challenges and what I have done to build love for myself.

Before we continue, I need to make an important distinction. Self-love is important because we utilise it as a guide to our happiness. Loving our body is such a big part of that. But it’s not as much about thinking you “look” good, as it is about feeling good. You may know this already, but you will find that making healthy lifestyle choices in terms of taking care of your body has so many beneficial effects on your mental and emotional dignity. And that is where it counts!

I’ll just say it. My weight is all over the place! So is my fitness. My diet, too. But regardless of whatever my current status is, I always know where the right place is to be. I know you do, too, unless you haven’t been there – but at least you know the right direction.

Simply put, I have felt the positive effects of less body fat and a stronger core. When I am eating right and in “better shape,” I have less aches and a lot more energy. I’m simply more productive in life, whether that be more motivation to step up my performance in my career or engage more proactively with my daughter.

But even as I write this, I am conscious of my love handles pressing on the sides of my shirt. Do I have “man boobs”? I’ve thought to myself at times. I stared at a blemish on my face for way too long this morning. I’m not saying it consumes me, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I thought about it.

I also accept that my body is always changing due to age and other environmental factors, but that is something we will only understand as we go. It’s a constant learning process. We have to stay flexible and open-minded about the ways we perceive, protect and cherish our bodies.

It shouldn’t only be about what you see in the mirror. Your levels of confidence, energy and optimism are what will enable you to create magic and live a fulfilling and beautiful life. And that comes from feeling good. And believing you are making good choices for your health.health

Building Good Habits

As a single father, I have struggled to find a steady routine that I can sustain. Why? I’m exhausted from working and parenting. That simple. I spend many hours in the car every week covering my part of multiple traffic-soaked 50-mile round trips (80 kilometres in Australian metrics) to pick up and drop off my daughter. I’d also rather play with her than work out.

It’s way easier to eat than to go exercise when I am stressed and need to be in full-on dad mode. How about this one? I just really like food that isn’t necessarily the best for me. It all compounds, and before you know it, we are just that much further away from a healthy way of living and forgetful of the benefits. It’s not the best place to be, but often, we are just doing what we can to get through to another day and take care of those we love. Oh life…

 

Yes, it’s so easy to make excuses and so difficult to commit to a diet and exercise routine that is both effective and sustainable. For many of us, it is a lifelong struggle. But I am here to say that an “excuse” doesn’t always mean you are weak to push it off for another day. I know that word carries a negative connotation. It shouldn’t. I’m here to tell you that priorities get confused with excuses sometimes. Many of us carry a lot of responsibility and stress, and we are always trying to just get it all done, by whatever means necessary. That’s how I feel. We are often consciously making the choice to not put ourselves first.

And I am not here to argue with that decision-making process. We can only judge our own actions, not those of others. Sometimes, there is a perfectly good rationale for not taking care of our health properly. We just have to be careful not to let this become a permanent thing. I am always fluctuating on the fitness scale. I can live with that. I know my limitations. I just need to make sure I don’t abandon it completely.

Commitment

There are many answers out there. Join a gym. Hire a trainer or nutritionist. Try XYZ diet. Use a coach to improve your mindset. Don’t get me wrong – all potentially great solutions! However, many of us don’t have the time or resources, or even the desire (and FYI, that is plenty ok) to make this happen. At the end of the day, it comes down to identifying something that will keep us accountable as we pursue a path of healthy habits that result in greater self-esteem.

A lot of your individual success will start with respecting your motivations and limitations. You MUST first make a pledge to improve your health and fitness. Even if your efforts don’t materialise for some time, you commit to a goal of improvement when the time is right for you.

I wish I could tell you I had the perfect, customised solution for you! But I can’t. What I can assure you is that getting to a place where you accept yourself is paramount to your happiness. More often than not, I fall short of where I want to be. But I am always aspiring to it – because I’ve been there, and I know how much better I feel about myself.

The start of my health transformation began when I read the book You on a Diet. I was 30 years old, and at my annual physical, my doctor informed me I needed cholesterol medication. I was shocked and asked what the alternative was. “You need a healthier lifestyle,” he said.

I went to my father, a super health-conscious person, and asked what I should do. He said the best weapon was knowledge. Little did I know, it’s not as simple as eating healthier foods, doing a bunch of cardio or reducing one’s calorie count. The book opened my eyes to the science of it all. I learned how and why our bodies react with certain foods, and this enlightenment was exactly what I needed to change my life. I now reference https://nutritionfacts.org all the time to stay on top of my game.

Now, I love food, and I enjoy having carefree fun. I want to indulge from time to time and not worry about what this means for my overall health journey. I bought into the “everything is good in moderation” mantra. I would encourage you, if you are not there already, to adopt this way of thinking. Don’t be too regimented. It’s not sustainable. Keep trying new things and pay close attention to how your body responds.

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This is a 10-week transformation that started in early May. Like so many, the coronavirus pandemic threw my life into a world of hurt. I was depressed, anxious, unsure, scared and trying to silence these troubling emotions with crappy (but delicious) food. And to be honest, it worked! But two months into it, I felt awful. After getting on some stable ground, I took a step back and understood again how my physical state was depressing me.

My (and emphasis on the MY) time-proven method to jumpstart my healthy eating process is something I found online a few years ago – Dr. Oz’s Two-Week Rapid Weight Loss Plan. Some of you may laugh. Some of you may roll your eyes. So be it. The guide has really helped me approach food in a more constructive way. I don’t need to follow it exactly, but it never fails to give me the cleanse I need to move on from exceptionally poor eating habits.

Personal Goals

I’m not trying to get shredded. That’s just who I am – I can’t allocate that kind of time or discipline. I’ve accepted that I enjoy spending my time in other ways. Running or biking 3-4 times per week and 15-20 minutes of push-ups, pull-ups, and ab work daily is plenty to get me to a place of feeling healthy and confident (as seen in the photo on the far right).

Others can’t even allocate as much time as I do. And others have physical or physiological challenges that restrict how much they can give. All I can say is that we are all different and all beautiful in our own way. Do what you need to do to find your confidence. It actually may have nothing to do with what I have just shared!

I understand that you get out what you put in, and I accept that I have a big responsibility to take care of myself. Ultimately, it is my choice.

Our lives will forever be taking turns by the minute, and we will be required to manage this stress. Good people put others before themselves – an admirable quality but one that shouldn’t come at the cost of sacrificing one’s health.

But, as I always preach, it’s ultimately about acting in the best interest of our children (if you have them). I want to get as many quality years and moments as I can with my daughter. I don’t want to live in pain if I don’t have to, because it impedes my ability to enjoy her and being a parent. Almost always, there is something I can do about it. And something that simply requires a little commitment and accountability.

The crazy thing is that I presently don’t look nearly like that July me from the right of the picture. That is the story of my life! Up and down! But do I want to get back there? For sure. But was it okay to temporarily jump off the routine to enjoy my three-week road trip with my daughter, tackle a long overdue house project and work my butt off starting a new business? Absolutely!

I will see you down the road, “July” Damon, but know I love you any way you are…

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Originally published at Single Dad Magic. Photo by Kampus Production.

About the Author: Guest Writer

Dads4Kids is a harm prevention charity committed to excellence in fathering. Our vision is to transform the nation by inspiring fathers to help their children be the best they can be.There’s a crisis in Australia. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 870,000 children, more than 1 in 6, live without their biological father at home.

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