I was up all last night thinking about body image and where things went terribly, terribly wrong. Since you’re reading this, please take a moment to name something that you like about yourself. Don’t think too hard… It shouldn’t be so difficult to point out your attributes. If you struggled with that, you’re not alone. The sad reality is, so many people only focus on the “negatives” when it comes to their bodies that they rarely see the amazing individuals they are!
I believe that we should be the best version of ourselves and respect our bodies enough to take care of them, but we go to drastic measures in the completely opposite direction in the name of “perfection”. We define ourselves by our waistline, the number on the scale, how our clothes fit (or don’t fit), what “size” our dress is, and even what we hear from other people. It’s true that when others criticize themselves we feel we should be doing the same thing. If the person next to you says they hate their arms you instinctively look at your arms to compare. What is wrong with this picture? When did this become okay to do and why, oh why, does it keep creeping up even when we try to be positive? Why do we compare ourselves to other women when it is impossible to change our body type (without surgery)? Why can’t we just be happy?!
I’m going to share in this blog post a truth, a reality I didn’t comprehend until my schedule got a little more hectic (although it seemed impossible). Since the beginning of the year my schedule and routine have shifted so far from what I was used to that I just haven’t been able to invest as much time into my fitness routine as before. I would workout/run/exercise in general at least 5-6 days per week and was always on the “go” socially. The truth is, I didn’t realize how unhealthy that was for me. Everyone is different; some people’s lives and careers depend on them being in the best physical shape they possibly can, but some have desk jobs, and a commute, and families, and a busy agenda that limits or even prohibits such things.
I exercised and talked with a friend yesterday and we have both gained a little weight recently. I couldn’t help but think about how great she looked… She even told me that her boyfriend complimented her since gaining a few pounds but she just didn’t feel like she looked as good. (WHO in the heck are we modeling ourselves after, anyway?!) Others have commented on my recent weight gain saying how “healthy” I look, but all I could think about were the pounds themselves and why this was happening.
I thought I was healthy. I thought I was completely ‘happy’ with who I was and where I was with my mental concept of health that I needn’t worry. What I have learned in these past few months is that my perception of positive body image depended heavily on my ability to exercise as much as I possibly could (almost every single day). I have never been 100% pleased with my physical appearance no matter how many miles I ran or how many smoothies I drank. Even when I was in the best “shape”, I thought I was too thin. Negative body image isn’t exclusive to those who feel they need to lose a few pounds. I was in this vicious cycle of eating to gain weight and then lifting to make the weight go where I wanted, and then running for mental clarity. The running would make me lose too much weight which then made me eat more which meant I needed to exercise even more to keep up. I’ve never counted a calorie or carb in my life and I’m very grateful that I don’t feel the need but I’m telling you, the cycle was just as bad! When do you find time to sleep in such a crazy spiral?! Answer: You don’t!
It’s hard to admit this when you feel your mission is to help and encourage others to love themselves and take care of their bodies. I didn’t know that I was quickly falling victim to the negativity that affects almost every single person I’ve ever met. It seemed to happen almost overnight. I hadn’t been running for a while or exercising any more than 2 (maybe 3 if you count planks) times per week. And those workouts were nothing like what I was accustomed to putting my body through. I went to try on some pants and they wouldn’t button so I reached for another pair, and then another. Same thing! My first thought was, “When did I get so fat?! I hate this!” I must have tried on every pair of jeans I own and gotten frustrated at everything in the process. Never once did I focus on the fact that I wasn’t feeling as tired or stressed or worn out as I usually did. I was still exercising but not at the same level so I kept telling myself I was lazy and I deserved this!
How many of you do this? You tell yourself these lies thinking they will motivate you to get your butt in gear when all you’re really doing is creating a hostile environment within yourself? Do you know that when I took a step back and looked at myself, I mean really took inventory, I was actually happier with how I looked and felt now that I wasn’t over-doing it. I am grateful that I can fill out those jeans instead of praying they wouldn’t fall off! Who cares if I have to go up a size? As long as I’m doing my very best and taking care of my health. I still drink a ton of water, eat all of the fruits and veggies, and make sure that I incorporate exercise into my routine. Although my exercise regimen now consists of a walk around my neighborhood, a few planks and wall-sits in between laundry and cooking, maybe some stadiums or even yoga/Pilates if I have time. I feel way better than I did when I was pressuring myself to kill it for an hour or more per session so many times a week.
I’m sharing this story in hopes that it will help you think about the positives. Please don’t think I’m saying that it’s okay to not exercise and eat junk every day. That goes against every single thing I believe in and promote. It is absolutely essential to your mental, physical and emotional health to live a balanced lifestyle. What I’m saying is to do this within YOUR means and YOUR abilities. Don’t compare yourself to someone else. (Every BODY is different!!) Don’t beat yourself up when you can’t make it to the gym or you just want that freaking cookie! It is OKAY. You are HUMAN! Pay attention to the things you fuel your body with on a daily basis and those “slip-ups” won’t feel like life-altering mistakes!
A friend of mine is on a journey to lose weight and she mentioned that she just wanted to be as thin as she used to be. She has recently gone through a lot of traumatic life events (the passing of her father is the main one). I can’t imagine what it’s like to lose someone that close to you, but I do know that it can play a huge role in your health and lifestyle and it’s important to let yourself heal. The advice I gave to her was this:
Try replacing the word “thin” with “healthy” and you’ll automatically feel better about the journey. We set crazy expectations when we try to change our body type instead of our nutrition and health as a whole. You’re doing great. Mental health and healing are essential to balance and you’ve had a lot going on. It’s okay to start slow. Big lifestyle changes always start small… If you try to do everything at once you’ll get burned out and go right back to unhealthy habits.
I’m sure I could go on and on and on and on about this but I’ll leave it right here for now. Please love yourself, respect yourself, cut yourself some slack and realize that as long as you’re doing the best that YOU can do, that’s what matters. Learn to love your body and appreciate what it does for you. I’m on this journey, too. Let’s do this together!
Stay healthy, friends!