Confronting My Body Image Issues
**Full disclosure, sometimes reading posts like this can be triggers for certain people dealing with eating disorders, anxiety, or depression. If this is the case for you, please stop here. In this post, I discuss my personal issues dealing with negative thoughts about my body and how I am (still) learning to overcome them. My hope is that sharing my story might help some of you who struggle with similar feelings!**
Almost all of us have looked in the mirror at some point in our lives (some more than others…my hand is also raised) and said to ourselves “I hate my thighs,” “I wish I had a bigger butt,” “Why can’t my stomach get flatter?” “Where is my 6-pack at?” “What do I have to do to make my arms look tone?” I am 100% on the same page with you. I have struggled with body image issues since I was in elementary school, and it can really wear on you over time.
Even when I was in the most incredible physical shape of my life while competing, I still had a skewed image of my body. I was definitely a victim of my environment, looking around a competition venue, admiring all the super jacked women I was competing with. It constantly made me wonder what I needed to do to look like them. I would look at myself in the mirror every morning and think to myself, “I could be leaner,” “My legs still don’t look muscular enough,” “I feel like my abs aren’t as cut as they should be.” It’s insane. I know. People would tell me all the time how great I looked and I would still think to myself, “well if I hadn’t had that Halo Top last night for dessert, I might look a little better.”
No one wants to live like that! I have to remind myself of this all the time. The most important thing in all of this is health. Are you healthy? Are you feeling like you have to deprive yourself all the time in order to attempt to achieve a possibly unachievable image that you have concocted in your mind. Eventually I had to come to terms with the fact that my answer to that question was yes. That does NOT mean I go out and eat all the junk food and drink all the beers and just say f*** it. Not at all. But it does mean that I give myself a freaking break once in a while.
My advice to you is that you do the same. The perfect body does not exist. You do not need to maintain a perfect 6 pack for 365 days a year. What matters is that you eat right the majority of the time, and that you stay active on a consistent basis. Who wants to weigh and measure every single morsel of food they put into their bodies for the rest of their lives? Who wants to sit out of every social event, wedding, birthday, holiday celebration, etc to maintain a particular physique year round? Let me tell you, I have done all of these things at least once and it is NOT worth it in the long run.
I had a goal for a long time to have abs. Lots of people even told me that it probably just wasn’t in my genetics to accomplish that. That made me want to work for it, and I did. I signed up for a nutrition coach through the company called RP Strength, and I worked through a fat loss plan for 3 months. After those 3 months I had lost about 9 pounds and FINALLY had those abs I had been dreaming of. Mission accomplished right? Nope. Even though I had been satisfied in my pursuit of one goal, I had developed others as I went and still felt like I wasn’t there. My legs weren’t totally defined, my arms looked too small, and I still felt like I had fat to lose (and y’all, I really didn’t). Nothing was ever good enough.
As my goals and perspectives are beginning to change, I have learned that many of the views I had on body image were unattainable and totally unnecessary. After all, my ultimate goal is simply to lead a healthy lifestyle and to be able to set that example for my clients, friends, and family members! Healthy translates to sustainable! Many of the things I was doing were opposite to that. After my final competition in January, I decided to start making some changes.
I’m done with the competitions for now, maybe not forever, but with my goals shifting more towards starting a family and building my career, there just isn’t enough time to accommodate the demands of training at that level anymore. I will definitely miss certain parts of that life, but now, I am ready to settle down with my training and prepare my body to get ready for pregnancy. As a byproduct of stepping down my training, I learned to give myself a bit of a break. I’m training way less and learning how to tailor my meal plan to fit a slightly less active (though still very active) lifestyle. My body has to learn how to adapt to that as well. And guess what? My body feels so much better now!
It is so important to give YOURSELF a break once in a while too. Are you super busy with your career? Do you have kids that demand tons of your time? Do you feel like you are juggling a million different priorities, pulling you in all sorts of directions? That’s life! Fitness and nutrition absolutely should not CONSUME your life. You should consider it a priority and set aside SOME time for it, but it does not have to be hours a day!
I also learned to stop comparing myself to people on social media. Instagram and Facebook can really suck sometimes. Aside from the fact that these platforms are often your highlight reel (cue amazing lighting, ideal angles, best cuts, filters, photoshop, etc), you never know what that individual is going through or has gone through to achieve that particular thing that you are focussing on. You have your own set of circumstances and should spend your time focussing on how you can achieve your own goals, not how others achieved theirs. I highly recommend taking a social media break for a week if you know this affects you. It’s tough, but it REALLY helps, and as an added bonus, you will be surprised at how much more time you have ;).
During competition, I forgot to reflect on how far I had come. Never get so lost in comparing yourself to others that you forget about where you started and how much you have achieved. Celebrate your success! Give yourself credit for what you accomplish, and the work you put in to get there. I know how hard I worked, how much I sacrificed, and how much effort and dedication it took to get my body to the place it was at the peak of my competitions. Although I didn’t give myself enough credit for that at the time, I’m recognizing it now, and also learning to accept that that is no longer where I am today. As a result, I am appreciating the season of life that I am in NOW. I am still a super fit human! I GET to attend regular classes at my CrossFit gym with all the members that I have grown close with over the years. I GET to lift heavy weights, and do so many other incredible things in and out of the gym as a benefit to my health and fitness. Learn to appreciate where you are at at this particular moment. Don’t get caught up dwelling on the past or on a particular thing you wish you could change. Life is too freaking short, y’all!
I am so guilty of negative self-talk about the way my body looks. I’m starting to catch myself doing it now and say to myself, “Stop being such a Negative Nancy!" Shift your focus to the positive aspects of your body, such as what it is capable of doing. Think about the good things that your training and nutrition regimen have brought to your life. For example, “my body feels great when I get out of bed in the morning;” “I don’t get sick nearly as often;” “I can play with my kids without getting tired;” “I am able to lift heavy weights in the gym;” “I can go hiking with my friends on the weekends;” “My jeans fit better;” etc. None of these things are a number on the scale or an image in the mirror. Also, none of those things were there when you were crushing your workout in the gym either, so they don’t know what’s up! You’re a badass who can do anything you put your mind too! No more negative self-talk bullsh**!
Not to mention, when you vocalize that negativity, it can affect others too! Speaking negatively about the way that you look can have a major impact on the thoughts of others. I would be horrified if one of my clients heard me talking negatively about myself, and that, in turn, caused them to have negative self-talk to themselves. You can’t control what other people say, but try to tune out the negativity of others. You never know what they are going through, but their thoughts are their own and should not affect you. Put those Negative Nancys on MUTE. Focus on YOUR training, nutrition, and what is healthy for YOU at that particular time.
Remember that everyone has a unique set of circumstances. We can control the amount of effort we put into our goals, but it is important to understand that comparison is the thief of joy. Focus on YOUR health and fitness journey, be accepting of the time it takes to achieve your goals, and celebrate your achievements along the way. Appreciate the things your body can do because you exercise, as well as the way your body feels day to day because you enjoy a healthy diet filled with whole, nutrient dense foods. Above all, live a life that supports body positivity! Our bodies can do amazing things! Go out and enjoy it!