I’m a little riled up and I need to get something off my chest…
I’ve spent a lot of time focused on self-improvement and personal growth over the past five years. I’ve made no secrets about this. My own physical fitness has been a significant part of this journey, and I’ve tried a number of different approaches.
I’ve been quite open about my love affair with movement. I’ve done outdoor bootcamps, running, group fitness classes, yoga, and a whole bunch of different home workout programs.
And I’ve even hinted at how I increased my physical activity while severely restricting calories in an attempt to lose weight, inches, pant sizes, and the shame I felt around certain parts of my body being bigger than they “should be.”
But what I’ve never really talked about openly before is how I’ve done a lot of different things with the goal of making my body into something it’s not, and may never be. How I’ve tried with all my might to take up less physical space in the world, with all of my efforts stemming from a deep-seated desire to correct my perceived flaws and imperfections.
Despite successfully losing nearly 20 pounds and close to as many inches in one particularly rigorous cycle of diet and exercise a few years back, buying into the vanity side of the health and fitness industry has left me hollow and jaded. I think I may have actually lost a piece of my soul as some of my fat melted away, but then it just came back again, with a vengeance (the fat that is, not my soul). The worst part is, at the end of it all I still feel as though I don’t measure up to society’s expectations, or my own.
I’ve been on this tireless quest to reshape my body into something that more closely resembles the ideal woman, with toned arms, flat stomach, firm legs, and of course, a thigh gap. But after trying and trying and trying, reaching and striving, grasping and clawing my way through the thick of my own dissatisfaction with myself, I just have to say I’m tired. Like, exhausted.
At the risk of provoking some and offending others, I’m just gonna go ahead and say what’s on my mind: dieting and exercising for weight loss and vanity alone is shallow and short sighted. That’s the simple truth. And I’m pretty sure those who go at it from this angle will find themselves in the same position of repeatedly regaining the weight they lose, just as I have. Because as long as we’re not addressing the underlying issues— the reasons why we eat crap, or don’t eat enough, and don’t move our bodies enough—we’re only masking the problem with a temporary band-aid.
The diet and weight loss industry is built on the fear and desperation of the people it serves; it preys on our vulnerabilities. The industry knows we’re all looking for a quick fix, and that’s why it packages up the promise of a better life for us in a shiny, irresistible package. The industry knows we’ll come back time and time again for more after the initial promise stops working. The industry knows there’s no such thing as a magic pill, but will sell one to us anyway. The long and the short is that anything that’s promising you extraordinary results in a short period of time is too good to be true. Period.
These are the lies we believe when we’re afraid we’re not enough as we are. This is the garbage we buy into when we don’t love ourselves, because we are motivated by our fears.
In my attempt to see this situation from all possible perspectives, I’ve run the full gamut of emotions—from frustration to anger and despair to resignation. And I suppose you could say I’ve reached a metaphorical crossroads in deciding that it’s time for something to change. The world around me isn’t going to budge, so I guess it’s up to me.
The only thing that makes sense to me at this point is the realization that taking care of myself needs to come from a place of love, rather than being instigated by my feelings of insecurity, my hatred of my thighs, and the fear of not being good enough.
Let’s face it, exercise is not punishment for what I look like, or what I may have eaten last night. And it most definitely is not something I should engage in from the standpoint of being disgusted by what I see when I look in the mirror. As I’ve already mentioned, I’ve been guilty of this attitude in the past, but I’m really starting to see not only how damaging this is to my mental health, but also how counter-productive it is to continue down this road.
The ability to move my body is a privilege not everyone has in this life, and is something not to be taken for granted. I want to move my body in ways that feel good to me. I want to take the best possible care of myself. I want to feed myself healthy, nutrition-dense foods, because my body—my physical container during my time here on earth—needs the highest quality fuel to function optimally.
So, if I know what’s good for me (and I’m starting to think I do), I can see how approaching nutrition and exercise as self-care, coming from a place of love instead of fear, could make all the difference. Instead of exercising because I feel like I’m not enough the way I am and feeling desperate to change what I don’t like about my body, I need to change my mindset, instead.
It’s a strange place to be in, and one that I’m not sure I entirely understand yet, but my goal is to cultivate the energy of loving myself as I am right now while being open to improving my health and wellbeing at the same time.
The words of affirmation that will guide me (please feel free to borrow any of these if they feel right to you) are:
I am active because I love myself.
My body deserves to be treated well.
I feel good when I move my body.
I nourish my body by eating whole, healthy foods.
As I’ve already suggested, the reasons for leading a healthy, active lifestyle run way deeper and are far more meaningful than vanity alone. And according to one article I found online, thinking of exercise as beneficial for reasons other than weight loss helps people stick to exercising more regularly—about three more hours per week than people whose primary focus was solely on weight loss.
With this in mind, I’ve come up with the following list of reasons to exercise that have absolutely nothing to do with weight.
- Breaking a sweat is super healthy, as it allows the body to release excess sodium, keeps blood pressure in check, and rids the body of some environmental toxins. Just remember to rehydrate with plenty of water during and after a good sweat session.
- Increasing your heart rate with exercise strengthens the muscles of the heart, as well as reduces the risk of heart disease. With heart diseases and other related conditions on the rise, this is a very compelling reason to look after the health of your ticker.
- Any weight-bearing exercise, such as running, dancing, or resistance training, will help with bone density, thereby reducing the risk of fractures and osteoporosis that increase with age.
- It has been scientifically proven that those who exercise regularly actually live longer. Just 150 minutes of exercise per week (that’s just five, 30-minute sessions) can add up to seven years to your life.
- If you’re feeling fatigued or lacking energy, consider that exercise can leave you feeling like you have more energy thanks to the effect of endorphins—the feel-good vibes and rush you get after exercise, also known as “runner’s high”.
- Stressed out? Working out helps manage and release stress by battling cortisol, the stress hormone.
- Feeling blue? Exercise is a natural antidepressant and mood lifter, improving overall mental health and helping stave off symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Aerobic exercise can reduce both the physical and emotional symptoms of PMS, alleviating mood swings, depression, fatigue, cramps, and even balancing out hormone levels.
- Regular exercise promotes improved restful sleep, lowers incidence of insomnia, and promotes higher quality of sleep.
- The habit-forming power of a consistent exercise routine is transferable. Some notable improvements you may notice as a result of engaging in regular exercise include increased ability to focus on tasks, boosting creativity, and fostering greater productivity in many areas of your life.
It seems to me these are the real and meaningful reasons to treat yourself well with regular exercise. It all comes down to putting yourself first. Loving yourself and being good to your body are the only “why” you need.
So for the love of all that is good and holy, can we just give the diet and fitness industry (and all the superficiality and lies that go along with it) a great big collective middle finger? Can we all agree it’s time to break up with the idea of being defined by our weight, measurements, and dress size? And wouldn’t it be nice to just go for a walk or ride a bike or do some other type of movement that feels good to us, and maybe eat a few extra veggies somewhere along the way today? How awesome would that be?
I’m kind of done with hating myself. I know it may seem quite radical, but I’m going to try loving myself from now on and see where that takes me.
What if, right?
As always, if you have any thoughts to share, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.