Being uncomfortable in our own skin is like being simultaneously caged and exposed. On one hand, we feel trapped in our body; our shame and dissatisfaction makes us wish we could shed our shell. On the other hand, we feel like our body is under a magnifying glass. In our mind, everyone sees our flaws tenfold. So we hide the our fleshy cage of shame by wearing loose clothing or not going out at all.
I’ve seesawed with my body image my whole life. Some days I’d think I was hot and others I’d be frustrated with my saddle bags, my cellulite, my tummy or whatever the flaw du jour was. Fortunately with age I’ve more or less let go of self loathing. My body is normal and healthy and I accept that, even if I’m not always thrilled when I look in the mirror. I love myself regardless of what I look like.
When I have a bad body image day I tell myself that it’s just a lifetime of societal conditioning eating away at me, and that I don’t actually look as bad as I think. It helps me to get objective about the subjective nature of beauty, and to recognize the underlying forces working against a healthy opinion of myself.
I talk a lot about fat loss, which can be a sensitive topic given that eating disorders and body acceptance are in the spotlight more than ever. So is it possible to focus on health, fitness and/or fat loss and remain body positive?
I think the answer is yes, but with certain caveats. If you are pursuing fitness or fat loss because you inherently hate your body, then it’s going to take you even deeper into an unhealthy mental state. Getting fit is not going to make you love your body more if that love is not there in the first place. In fact, these endeavors can make you even more dissatisfied as you reach a certain weight or size and realize that it’s no longer good enough. In that state, we are always wanting more, looking in all the wrong places for a happiness that can only be found within.
But there is nothing wrong with wanting to be healthy and fit for the sake of being healthy and fit. Isn’t that a powerful way to honor your body? By treating it well? When it comes to fat loss or wanting to change your physique, who is anyone to tell you that you’re wrong or you don’t like yourself because you want to do these things? If you want to lose weight to get hotter to be more in line with what’s considered conventionally attractive, it’s nobody’s business but your own. And you have every right to pursue that. It is YOUR CHOICE and you are not WRONG for choosing it. It is possible to love yourself and have physique goals. Watching your body change because of your dedication and commitment is actually really good for self esteem. The key is that you have to already love yourself. Diet and exercise will never be a substitute for self worth.
So with that said, what if you want to embrace a healthy lifestyle where fat loss isn’t necessarily the goal? Maybe you’ve struggled with an ED before. Maybe you’re overcoming body image issues. It is possible to remain body positive while working out and adopting healthier habits. Here are some tips for focusing on health without a priority on fat loss:
- Do what makes you feel good in the long term – not in the moment. Now, some people might interpret “doing what feels good” as eating a whole pizza or a tub of ice cream or binge drinking. But for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Meaning that if you eat a ton of crap, chances are you won’t feel so great afterwards, physically or mentally. Enjoy small treats or having a lazy day, but work towards the overall trend of balanced meals and regular activity.
- Find a form of exercise that you enjoy that you can do forever. You don’t have to lift weights or run or do anything you don’t like. Sustainability is the name of the game. If you like it and it keeps you moving, then that’s a huge win.
- Embrace challenges. Doin’ the same ol’ same ‘ol everyday can get stale. Get out of your comfort zone by trying new foods or signing up for an athletic endeavor.
- Have a self care plan to manage stress. For me it’s walking, and that kills two birds with one stone. I move more and manage stress.
- Don’t sit too much. A sedentary lifestyle can lead to a host of illnesses. Get up and walk regularly. Your body will thank you.
- Drink water
- Ditch the soda
- Eat more fresh foods
- Eat lots of vegetables
- Get enough sleep every night
Take these things on slowly. They may or may not cause fat loss, but they will certainly enrich your life. And you may in fact find that they are easier to follow without the pressure of losing weight hanging above your head. The ultimate goal is to leave you feeling good and your body working optimally.