In part 1 of this article (my most popular article to date), I discussed my struggles with body fat levels, body image, and the scrutiny that comes along with being a fitness professional.
The response to that article was like nothing I could have imagined. The entire day I was flooded with emails, messages, texts, stories, and comments. I think I cried 5 different times that day. I was so touched that so many women (and men) opened up and shared a piece of themselves with me and my readers. Man it feels good to not be alone! There’s something perversely comforting about knowing that other people struggle, too.
With the explosion of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and other social media sites, we all know more about one another’s lives than we ever have. At least, we *think* we know. But let’s get serious.
We all put up posts that are carefully crafted and well-thought-out, (well, at least most of us do ), and they shape the exact image of how we want our friends and followers to see us.
There’s not anything wrong with being thoughtful about what you post. In fact, I encourage you to be thoughtful about what you put on the internet!
But it’s easy to see everyone’s beautiful bodies, job promotions, gorgeous children, huge houses, and exciting vacation pictures, and feel like you’re the only one with bills, debt, a struggling personal relationship, a 5 year old you’re still trying to potty train, and cellulite on the backs of your thighs. (Pssst: you’re not the only one.)
So yes, in this age of carefully-crafted-over-sharing, it’s easy to feel down about yourself. And whether you are a fitness professional, a weekend warrior, someone who has never stepped foot in a gym, or somewhere in between, it’s even easier to feel down about your body. Trust me. I know this firsthand.
So how do we go about changing the relationship we have with our bodies?
How do we begin to nurture and love ourselves from the inside out?
How do we find the grace and compassion that’s so vital to happy and healthy relationships with ourselves and with one another?
I’m not claiming to have all the answers, because I don’t. But I think I can give you 7 things that have helped me on my journey towards self-acceptance. Notice I said, “towards.” I’m not there yet. In fact, I may never fully get there. But the way I see it, constantly striving towards it, is my only option if I want to live a happy and fulfilled life.
I also have to give props to my girl Sirena Bernal. She and I did a serendipitously-timed podcast with Damian Brown on Tuesday night all about how beliefs shape our bodies. One of the questions was, “What are your top 5 tips for having a healthy relationship with your body?” I already had my 5, and had been planning on sharing them here. Then I got to hear Sirena’s top 5, and I instantly felt compelled to “borrow” a couple of hers because they were SO good.
You can listen to the podcast here (and please do. It’s very cool). The asterisks (*) are next to the one’s that I borrowed from the brilliant Ms. Bernal (paraphrased, of course. I took her general ideas and put a bit of my own spin on them).
Without further ado, 7 tips to help you on your journey towards self-acceptance:
1. Don’t listen to critics (yourself included).
Over the last few months so many women have confided in me regarding how horribly they feel about themselves and their bodies, and how paranoid they are that everyone is talking about them behind their backs. I have two things to point out here:
- It’s highly unlikely than anyone thinks about you nearly as much as you think they do. I can promise you most people are more worried about themselves than they are about you. It’s just human nature.
- In my experience, when people spend their time saying nasty things about other people, it always stems from a place of anger, self-hatred, insecurity, sadness, or any combination of those things. I never see genuinely happy people spend their precious time speaking poorly about others. If they talk, let them talk. You have better things to spend your time on.
Now… what to do about the worst shit-talker of all? (That’s YOU, by the way).
It’s been said time and time again, we are our own worst critics. In fact, if you take a minute to actually stop and recognize the dialogue that’s going on inside your head each day, multiple times a day, I’d be willing to bet that you would be horrified.
We say things to ourselves that we would NEVER, EVER say to anyone else, and we (hopefully) wouldn’t let anyone else say them to us. Next time you catch yourself having a nasty inner dialogue I want you to stop and think. Would you say those things to your daughter? Your niece? Your mother? Your best friend? I think not. Treat yourself with the same respect. You deserve it
2. Take care of your body, your mind, and your spirit.
Yes, they all three matter equally. Not convinced? I have a couple of questions for you:
How well does your brain function and how happy do you feel when you’re in pain or you’re extremely sick? You feel foggy headed and crummy, right? Your body affects your mind and your spirit.
How does your body feel and how do you feel emotionally when your mind is racing a million miles a minute and you have a ton of stuff you’re trying to remember? Your heart races, your adrenaline pumps, and you feel really stressed out and anxious, right? Your mind affects your body and spirit.
How does your body feel and how does your mind function when something tragic or emotionally draining happens? Your body feels exhausted, and your mind feels foggy and exhausted too, right? Your spirit affects your body and your mind.
It’s all connected. And considering that you only have one, I’d recommend you take good care of it. =)
Take care of your body through intelligent exercise, sound nutrition, adequate sleep, and moderate sunshine.
Take care of your mind with positive self-talk, good stress management techniques, and giving yourself time to meditate and relax.
Take care of your spirit through engaging in activities you enjoy, positive interactions with friends and family, and spending quiet time reflecting on your gratitude.
3. See food as fuel and nourishment, but don’t be afraid to enjoy it.
Yes, it’s important to eat foods to fuel your body, fuel your workouts, and keep you healthy. But food is also meant to be comforting and enjoyable. Think about it. For many of us, our first experience with food was nursing with our Mothers. Even if you were bottle-fed, you were still probably being held and rocked and nurtured. No wonder many of us search for comfort from eating. It’s ingrained in us from birth!
That being said, pay close attention to how certain foods make you feel. I know that ice cream and gluten-free cupcakes, and french fries taste delicious. But they also make me exhausted and a little sick to my stomach. Occasionally, that’s totally worth it to me. But most of the time it’s not. So most of the time, I eat food that gives me energy and makes me feel great.
If you find that you turn to food too often for comfort, love, acceptance, or self-soothing, it’s probably worth seeking counseling. I’ve been in therapy for over 4 years now and I absolutely love it (not for food issues, but other issues). We all have our own demons to deal with, right?
For most of us, there is an intersection of health, performance, aesthetics, and an enjoyable lifestyle. A “sweet spot,” if you will. It’s when we try to go too far in any one direction that one or more of those other areas will suffer. If you have an extreme goal like a high-level powerlifting competition or physique competition, then that’s fine. You are choosing to focus more specifically on one of those things. But if your main goal is simple to feel good and look good, balance is key.
4. *Embrace your uniqueness.
I absolutely love these quotes,
“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” – Dr. Suess
“Keep in mind that your body is your own, it’s unique, and it will move and feel differently than anyone else’s.” – Sirena Bernal
You must find your own sweet spot where health, performance, aesthetics, and an enjoyable lifestyle come together. And remember that it probably won’t look like anyone else’s, and that’s OK. You are beautifully and wonderfully made. Don’t deprive the world of getting to experience all that you, just YOU, have to offer. Because it’s awesome.
5. *Don’t be afraid to experiment.
Experiment with your nutrition, your training, your sleep, your stress management and recovery techniques… just experiment!
Personally I have done everything from 6 meals a day to intermittent fasting, a ketogenic diet to high carb/low fat diet. I’ve eaten 1,400 calories a day, and I’ve eaten 3,400 calories a day. I’ve done body part splits, and I’ve trained full body 3-4 days a week. I even took 6 full weeks off from lower body weight training, and only did sprints. I’ve trained as often as 10-12 times a week, and I’ve trained as little as one to two days a week. The point is, I’ve done a lot of things. And I’ve learned a LOT about my body in the process. I encourage you to do the same. (and if you want to read about ALL of it… and I mean all 4,000+ words of it… you can. Here and here).
Keep in mind however, that when it comes to your body, you are chasing a moving target. What I mean by that is, your circumstances are always changing. When you’re 34 with two kids and a high stress job, your body will likely not respond to nutrition and training the same way it did when you were a 21 year old college student with very little stress. Just because something “used to work,” doesn’t mean that it will always work.
Change one variable at a time. Observe the results. Adjust your program accordingly, if necessary. Repeat.
6. Set performance and strength goals, but don’t be afraid to set aesthetic goals, as well.
It’s really popular in the fitness industry right now to talk about setting performance and strength goals. And I think that’s awesome. In fact, I recommend it often myself.
That being said, there’s nothing wrong with setting aesthetic goals as well! “Looking good naked” is a huge motivator for so many of us. We want to feel like we are attractive to our significant others. We want to feel confident and comfortable in our own skin, and that’s great! Heck, it’s what got me in the gym in the first place almost 10 years ago!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There are seasons for everything. Seasons to put a lot of time and effort into training. Seasons to go into maintenance mode and not stress so much about your training. Seasons to be lean. Seasons to be strong. Seasons to train like an athlete.
Almost every fitness professional I know regularly changes their training goals. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t want to change your goals every couple of weeks or you will never get anywhere. But setting and working towards different goals throughout the months and years will do several things: it will prevent boredom, it will ensure continual progress, and it will keep you well-rounded and healthy.
Maybe you take 12-16 weeks to focus on pure strength and getting your squat and deadlift numbers up. Then maybe you take another 12-16 weeks to focus on weak or lagging body parts with a more concentrated hypertrophy program. Then maybe life gets super busy and you decide just to train twice a week and maintain for a while, and when life gets back to normal, then you can do a concentrated fat loss protocol if you want.
I know that for me, when my body was struggling to respond to fat loss training, switching gears to focus on strength helped keep me sane because instead of consistently struggling to reach my goals (fat loss), I was hitting PR’s left and right and feeling awesome!
The point is, focusing on strength and performance is awesome (it’s my favorite focus), but changing your training goals to reflect where you are in your life, and how much time you have to devote to your training is vital to ensure that you can stay committed over the long haul.
7. Train because you love your body, not because you hate your body.
You had to know this one was coming, right? If you’ve read my blogs or follow Girls Gone Strong, you know this is my personal mantra.
So often we work out or we train because we dislike something about ourselves. How many of us have turned around and looked at our backsides in the mirror and groaned, “Ugh! I have GOT to get my ass to the gym. It’s so flabby and gross!”
Or we pull up our shirts and pinch our belly fat and think, “Eww. This is disgusting. I’m going to work out every day this week and make this go away.”
We are in the gym training because we HATE something about ourselves.
Why don’t you train because you LOVE yourself?
Why don’t you train because it’s a way to nurture and honor your body (the only one you have, remember?)
Why don’t you train because you are able and capable?
Why don’t you train because you want to stay healthy and feel good for as long as possible?
Why don’t you train so that you can be around for a long time for your kids, your grandkids, and your spouse?
Several months ago I was at a friend’s house visiting as she recovered from surgery. I was positively exhausted and did not feel like working out. When I was about to leave to head to the gym, I let out a whiny groan, rolled my eyes and said, “I do NOT want to go to the gym today.”
My friend looked at me and smiled weakly, with gauze covering the incisions on her throat and whispered, “I’d give ANYTHING to go to the gym today.”
I’ve also watched my Gama struggle the past few weeks as she recovers from a stroke. She would do anything to have the ability to control the left side of her body right now. She is making progress, but she’s not there yet.
When I was helping take care of her this past weekend and watching her struggle, I was reminded of one of my favorite Neghar Fonooni quotes,
“Movement is a privilege. Do it every day. As often as you can.”
Umm…yes. Just. So. Much. Yes.
Well friends… that’s all I’ve got for you today.
There are 7 tips here, and remember, they may not all apply to you, and that’s OK. Find the ones you identify with and actually devote some time and energy to changing your relationship with yourself and your body. When you do this, you’ll radiate positive energy, lift other people up, and leave the world a better place than you found it.
Make it a priority to do this for yourself. Trust me when I say…
You’re totally worth it.
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