“How do you reconcile wanting to be in better shape while also accepting your body now?"
I got this question from one of my Instagram followers the other day, and it was immediately backed up by dozens of others affirming that they also had the same question. How TF are you supposed to “love your body” when you still have #goals?
First of all, you don’t actually ever have to “love your body” if that doesn’t resonate with you.
It might come as a surprise to of you, but that’s usually been my response to anyone who tells me to “love my body”. I mean, if you feel like you do, awesome! To me it just seems like a bandaid fix for people who don’t really get how hard it is to just do that. But acceptance is a place that might be little more accessible for a lot of us. Just liking your body. Being kind to it. Or even neutrality. Settle for a day where you can just go about your business and not have your body or appearance even cross your mind. Or see it like any other relationship–like the way I love my husband, even though sometimes he makes me wanna bang my head against a wall.
In any case, what I really wanna say is that I hear you when you say that you want change your body.
That you want to be thinner. Or just “get rid of that one little thing right there”. That you “have to” because of your health. Because of your joints. Because you’re a dancer (I know many of you who read my blog are.) For people to find you attractive. Of course you feel that way. Especially if your love language is words of affirmation. Because everyone praises weight loss and thin (but toned!) bodies like it’s the highest accomplishment you could ever achieve. Except it’s not.
AND I want to challenge you on this a little bit. Because that’s what I do around here.
I’m not gonna tell you what to do, but my hope is that you’ll come to some conclusions all on your own after you read this. So here are some things you might want to look at when you want to accept your current body but you also have some health and fitness goals too.
HERE’S A THOUGHT TO PONDER: WHAT DOES BEING “IN SHAPE” EVEN LOOK LIKE IN YOUR MIND?
Because if your definition of being “in shape” is looking like the cover model on Women’s Health magazine, you might wanna reconsider that. When it comes to being a fitness model, what you don’t always see is the work that went into trying to look that way. For many people that means, a really restrictive diet and making exercise your full time job at the expense of other important things. Yanno, like sleep. A social life. And your actual health. So if looking one specific way is a non-negotiable for you, then I don’t think I can help you. In fact, I’d argue if anyone promises that, they’re probably lying. Because when you’re taking good care of yourself, you’re gonna look like the best version of YOU, not an airbrushed model.
THEN CHALLENGE YOUR IDEA OF WHAT BEING IN “GOOD SHAPE” EVEN MEANS.
The media portrays fitness in a very specific way. I’ve said this many times before, and I’ll say it again: it’s this image of a young white woman, able bodied, cisgender, thin, with visible abs and an expensive looking sports bra. If you don’t fit that narrow mold, you feel like there’s something wrong with you. Even if you are pretty close to that image (this includes me) body dysmorphia can still make you feel like you’re not worthy. Or feel pressured to be perpetually trying to maintain it. Especially if you work in a field where you’re constantly judged for your appearance. So let’s push back against that a little. . .
START WITH YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA.
What kinds of fitness accounts do you follow? Does everyone fit the above description? What kind of advice are they giving? Be selective when it comes to the types of fitness and wellness information you consume, because I’m willing to bet that a lot of it is making you feel like crap. So notice how you feel about yourself when you’re scrolling Instagram, and if an account makes you feel bad, get that $hit out of your life. Unfollow. You don’t have to apologize.
I thought about making a list of some of my favorite accounts for you to follow instead, but there are far too many. So I’m going to suggest that you check out Body Positive Fitness Alliance. Follow everyone and their mother from there. Then head to Superfit Hero’s Body Positive Fitness Finder and follow everyone you missed. Want solid fitness advice that’s not laced with diet culture? Girls Gone Strong (and many of the people who write for them, including me!) has some of the best content around. Fit people look a lot of different ways. Go out and find them!
HERE’S THE NEXT QUESTION TO ASK YOURSELF: WHAT’S MAKING YOU FEEL LIKE YOU AREN’T ALREADY IN “GOOD SHAPE”?
We’ve already covered the appearance piece, so let’s talk about your habits and self-care. Does not feeling “in shape” have to do with your habits? Are you not moving as much as you’d like? Do you feel tired all the time? Could you use some more sleep? More water? Has it been awhile since you’ve eaten a vegetable? In this case, I’d encourage you to focus on your habits and let external factors like your weight, body fat percentage, and measurements come to the back burner. Accepting the body you have and “letting yourself go” are not the same thing.
I often say that our society has it a$$ backwards when it comes to health and fitness. We tell people to lose weight at all costs so that they can be “healthy”. When in reality, when you are taking good care of yourself, your body will naturally settle into a size and shape that’s right for it. The hard part to swallow? For most people, it does not mean a 6 pack and a butt that looks like a peach.
NEXT QUESTION: IS YOUR EXPECTATION OF WHAT YOUR HABITS “SHOULD” BE ACTUALLY REALISTIC?
The internet is awesome, but as I mentioned it also has a way of making you feel like crap sometimes. Everyone is posting pictures of their beautiful Whole30 compliant salads. What you don’t see is the part where Panera forgot to leave off the candied pecans and gorgonzola crumbles and they cried on the floor for 20 minutes trying to pick them off. (This actually happened to me). But #cleaneating #livingmybestlife.
You can be healthy and in shape and still do things like eat pizza and take time off from the gym. Sometimes we set ourselves up for failure because we try to do the impossible. But it’s not sustainable to do HIIT 6 days a week, and also go to yoga, and learn how to make every food out of cauliflower, and have a beautiful morning routine where you meditate and journal over a steaming cup of green tea. We see snippets of other people’s lives where they seem to have it all together but it’s the highlight reel. Start with some habits that will help you rack up some small wins. And for the love of carbs, please don’t spend your weekends trying to turn sweet potatoes into nacho cheese (unless you legit love sweet potatoes and cooking really complex recipes). You’ve got better things to do.
WHAT IS YOUR MOTIVATION FOR WANTING TO BE IN “BETTER SHAPE”?
What is your “why”? Some examples I’ve heard recently are to to feel less tired or have more energy. To be able to do something really bada$$ like do a pull-up. To be able to rock a bikini on your next vacation. Cool. But could you just focus on those goals without stressing so much about what your weight does? Start practicing some pull-ups progressions on a more consistent basis. Get some sleep! (The most underrated way to support your health and up your energy, in my opinion.) And get yourself a swimsuit that you love and fits you well! One objection I hear often from many women “Nobody wants to see me in that.” My response? Eff beauty standards. You do not exist for anyone else’s viewing pleasure.
BUT HOW DO YOU ACTUALLY LET YOUR WEIGHT TAKE THE BACK SEAT?
This is SO hard. And the temptation is REAL when you have a scale in your bathroom, a Fitbit on your wrist, and My Fitness Pal on your phone. Return your scale to Bed Bath & Beyond exchange it for a muffin pan. Sell your Fitbit on Ebay. Delete MFP. I know you probably have a lot of objections here, but trust me. When you stop tracking things so closely, you can better tune in to what’s actually right for you. How you actually feel as opposed to how those external factors tell you you should. I know doing this work is hard. And you can do hard things.
TAKE A GOOD HARD LOOK REALITY THAT YOU ARE LIVING IN
Ask what stories are you telling yourself. Here is the harsh reality: the world actually is a pretty cruel place for fat people. There really are some situations you might be in where you need to look a certain way or fit a certain mold to do what you want to do. I’ve been there, and I’m not going to argue with the fact that if you are, for example, a professional dancer, it is easier to get hired if you are thinner. I’d encourage you to really dig into what is true for you. Are you still stuck in that narrative even if you’re no longer working in that field anymore? And if you still are, can you think of people who are who breaking that stereotype? How are they doing it? How can you support them? How can you be more like them? We really have two choices here: we can either try to conform to society’s narrow standards of what a fit person looks like. Or we can fight to change it.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
I have a confession. I used to feel like I was superior to other people because I ate “clean” and worked out all the time. That’s just not a cool way to be. If you do decide that improving your health and fitness is a goal you’d like to pursue, please remember that it’s not a moral obligation for you or anyone else. Nobody deserves to be treated like crap because they’re not doing the same.
I hope that some of these ideas sparked some inspiration for you! Just know that working on your body image is kind of like brushing your teeth or taking a shower. You don’t just do it once and then you’re good. It’s daily work. But the more you do it, the more it becomes a natural non-negotiable for you. You can do this!!