The day before my I Am Not Afraid To #LiftBoston Workshop I went to get a manicure and while I was drying my nails I flipped through some of the fashion magazines they had at the drying station. The only time I ever read these magazines is when I’m at the nail salon, drying my nails, or at a spa or salon waiting for some other spa service appointment. EVER. I’m always curious as to what they have published about “toning your arms and abs” or any body image driven articles that are published to help women feel better about their bodies or rather overanalyze even further if their bodies are “ideal”. I feel so detached from what they publish that it always fascinates me that 1) There are women out there who read this crap and take it seriously and 2) That these magazines still exist. Then I remember that, unfortunately, as a woman who has a healthy body image (now) and a balanced approach to eating (now), I am the minority. However, this was not always the case.
As I flipped through Glamour magazine an article caught my eye, “How do you feel about your body?”. It was actually a survey that they took once 30 years ago in 1984 and again now in 2014 in which they asked women that exact question. They reported that even though over the past 30 years there has been a movement of self-acceptance for women, that overall they actually feel WORSE about themselves today in 2014. According to this survey, in 1984 41% of women were “unhappy” with their bodies and now in 2014 54% of women are “unhappy” with their bodies. Now who knows how much truth there is to their results (refer back to point #1: “People take this crap seriously??”), but it definitely sparked some thought.
Despite the “self-acceptance” movement for women over the years, what was the reason for this 13% increase??
I’m not surprised.
We all portray our best, happiest, sexiest, selves on social media with the most flattering filter possible.
“Look at me, look at me!! I’m so sexy, I’m so beautiful and my life is so incredibly AWESOME!!!” ~Instagram User @Foxy2399
So now, since the rise of social media, not only are we subjected to air brushed, altered photo perfection in magazines, but we also have social media to fuel our poor body image.
However, remember this, no one is perfect, no one is happy 100% of the time, everyone has their own challenges, and no one is going to post their dark side (well, maybe Marilyn Manson will) or their bad day on Instagram. (For an entertaining post about how people manipulate photos on social media to put forth false body transformation and their best self on social media, read “Transformation Tuesday: I’m Calling Bullshit”.)
As I read this article, what really hit home and got my wheels turning to rewind back 10 to 20 plus years ago and to reflect upon on my life and where I was at during that time, were the answers to the question they asked women, “How much more could you weigh and still like yourself?”
The answers: “60 percent of survey-takers of all weights said five pounds at the most. Over a third of them said not even an ounce!”
That 5lbs that we want to lose.
That 5lbs that we don’t want to gain.
How did it come about that the number on the scale defines who we are, our body image, and how we feel about our bodies and ourselves?
Reading this answer caused me to think back to a time in my life, starting when I was 15 years old until I was 28 years old (I’m 38 years old going on 39 I January) when I always watched the scale and I was literally fanatical about what I ate down to the calories in chewing gum. I do not lie.
I touched upon this topic in my post “Strength Goals Trump The Scale” and in “Unsexy Training Methods Produce Sexy Results” (when I discuss intermittent fasting), but I don’t talk too much about this aspect of that time in my life because it’s so far away from who I am now. When I reflect upon that time in my life it’s hard for me to believe that I was actually that person.
At age 15 I started to become very unhappy with my body. However, this did not start at age 15. By the time I was 15 years old I had 12 years of the culture of classical ballet drilled into me, and had instructors telling me from the time that I was 9 years old that I could stand to lose a few pounds and that my curves and muscles did not fit the mold of a classical ballet dancer’s body. Combine 12 years of those thoughts and beliefs with a changing teenage body and you have a recipe for an eating disorder.
At age 15 I thought I was fat and that my body didn’t measure up to many other girls at school, or at ballet for that matter. As a result I became obsessed with losing weight and counting calories and making sure the Stairmaster reported that I burned all the calories I ate that day so that mentally I could feel like it was OK for me to eat dinner.
A typical day for me would be a slice of pineapple for breakfast, a can of cranberry juice for lunch, ½ stick of gum (yes, a ½ stick of gum because one whole piece of gum had too many calories to have all at once!), celery and carrot sticks and a cup of pasta, measured carefully for dinner. I rarely ate meat, and I would make sure I burned every calorie I ate that day on the Stairmaster before I had dinner (the pasta).
I would go to bed hungry. My stomach would growl and instead of eating I would force myself to go to sleep and wait until the next day to eat again.
My obsessive eating behavior was driven by poor body image. I had anorexic tendencies. This carried on for almost a whole year. I lost a tremendous amount of weight, to the point that my family and my friends were extremely worried about me. My family would constantly try to get me to eat something and I would just run upstairs and lock myself in my room. For most people with an eating disorder the main factor that drives them is control. They feel out of control in other areas of their lives or how they feel about themselves so they control their food intake; then, for people who are anorexic, the weight loss and being thin empowers them. They may still feel like they need to lose weight even if they are rail thin, but they feel empowered by controlling food and weight loss and this drives them to continue on their self-destructive path.
This was my case. I felt empowered by the compliments I received about my weight loss and the teenager in me rebelled against my parents by not eating and I felt in control because they couldn’t make me eat.
The crazy and ironic thing is that even though you think that you’re in control, your obsessive thoughts and food are actually controlling YOU instead. Filling your brain with irrational thoughts that fuel your actions.
Eventually, as the months passed, and my daily energy diminished, I became hungry and I started to eat.
Even though I gave into my eating disorder and borderline starved myself, in the end, hunger did win the battle; which is not always the case for people when they fall into this dysfunctional behavioral pattern with food. More often than not people who have an eating disorder need behavioral, nutritional, and medical help because they don’t know how to help themselves.
Hunger helped me and somehow I was mentally strong enough to help myself.
HOWEVER, even though I started to eat again, and went on to finish my senior year in high school on a healthy note, I fell right back into this dysfunctional behavioral pattern my freshman year in college.
I continued to waiver between healthy eating periods and periods when I would eat very little, or not eat, count calories, and exercise to burn off what I ate. Usually I would fall back into my dysfunctional eating patterns (or rather NOT-eating patterns) if I was experiencing change or stress in my life because controlling what I ate, what I didn’t eat, and level of exercise was the one thing I felt like I could control when I couldn’t control stress or change.
This carried on until I was about 28 years old, shortly after I had started to study kung fu, started to lift weights more consistently and more seriously, and shortly after I obtained my spin instructor certification and started to work part-time as a group fitness instructor. After a year studying kung fu, lifting weights more seriously, and teaching spin classes, I finally started to get fed up with being victim to this obsessive behavior. The more I engaged in these activities, they helped me to focus on what I could DO and not how I looked or the number on the scale. As a result, I started to become stronger mentally and build a more positive body image.
Not only was I starting my journey as a role model for health, fitness, and nutrition as a group fitness instructor, but also I just wanted to EAT and not think about it. I wanted to eat when I was hungry, stop when I was full, and just be happy and not obsess about the number on the scale and whether or not I was staying at that desired number that would help me to think that, that number equated to my “ideal body”. Not muscles or being strong, but the number on the scale defined me and how my body looked to me; A NUMBER ON THE SCALE DEFINED THAT FOR ME AT THAT TIME. That sounds so ridiculous to me now as I write this because it is SO far away from who I am now!
I had my last dance with starving myself exactly 10 years ago in November 2004. Below are pictures from this time, when I was 28 years old. I was on vacation in Aruba with an old friend of mine and I probably weighed 105lbs, 107lbs MAX. Before I left for this trip I remember weighing myself at the gym after each time I ran on the treadmill to make sure I was staying under 110lbs. I weigh 117lbs now and have for many years now, happily and consistently.
Some of you may think I look “hot” in the bikini…
and if the camera angle was just right I actually didn’t look like I was starving myself…
…but hopefully most of you see how thin, miserable and both mentally and physically unhealthy I was.
In one of the pictures you can see this misery as my pants, which are supposed to be fitted, are falling right off of me…
While I was on this vacation, I ate, and I drank. When I got back I started to make positive changes to never fall back into these unhealthy not-eating patterns ever again.
I always made healthy choices when it came to food when I did eat, but this time around I made sure that I was consistently eating. I started to really pay attention to when I was hungry and when I was full and followed that. I made sure I ate three meals a day and ate snacks in between if I was hungry for them. I followed the 80/20 or 90/10 rule by eating clean 80-90% of the time and then allowing myself to enjoy wine, pizza, ice cream, a night out at dinner 10-20% of the time and NOT obsess about it or exercise excessively to burn off the calories.
It wasn’t easy but I worked hard for it because I knew it was important for my physical and mental health and important if I wanted to be a role model that truly represented a healthy, sustainable approach to fitness and nutrition.
In addition, personally, I wanted FREEDOM; freedom from my low self-esteem and poor body image. FREEDOM from caring about what the number on the scale read.
The stronger I became mentally and physically through practicing intuitive eating, training in kung fu, and focusing on strength training rather than running my calories off on the treadmill, the happier I became and the more detached I felt from my past obsessive and unhealthy behavior.
It was hard, it took work, mental will, changes in my thought processes and behavior but I was on a mission.
It was not just a mission for me to change this behavior in myself, but it was a journey, a new chapter in my life. I wanted to be free of these unhealthy thoughts and behavior. I was excited to NOT obsess about what I ate. I was excited to finally discover what it was like to JUST EAT. Eat because I was hungry, eat because I wanted to have energy to train, eat because I wanted to have energy to laugh and enjoy social events.
In 2007 my mom became a CHEK Level II Holistic Life and Nutrition Coach and I read the book How To Eat Move and Be Healthy, by Paul Chek. Learning from my mom, and reading this book was another step in my journey that helped me to learn about a holistic approach to nutrition that included everything from sleep and managing stress to eliminating the use of a microwave and the importance of eating organic foods, grass fed meats, and body type eating.
The more I focused on having a healthy and holistic approach to nutrition, worked towards building my career in the fitness industry, and embraced being a role model to others in the realm of fitness and nutrition, the more I moved farther away from having a poor body image and engaging in obsessive and unhealthy behavior related to food.
I am mentally and physically healthy and strong now and I rarely weight myself. I’m proud of myself for maintaining 117lbs consistently over the years since that trip to Aruba, and honestly don’t worry if one day the scale reads more.
(This is me, year 2014, at age 38, as a result of EATING and Lifting HEAVY Weights)
I recognize that there is a plus or minus 3 pounds that we all waiver between and that is the natural, normal, human body to weigh less one day, more the next and even weigh differently at different times of the day. Hormones, menstrual cycles, a full stomach, hydration, sleep and bowel movements all play a part and the bottom line is, YOUR WEIGHT DOES NOT DEFINE YOU OR YOUR BODY IMAGE. That number on the scale doesn’t mean that you have a “perfect body” or a less than “perfect body” whatever the hell a perfect body is.
There is a healthy weight for each of us to maintain as individuals as we eat the diet that is right for our body type, and follow an 80/20 or 90/10 rule so that we can ENJOY our 10-20 percent.
As a result of overcoming my past struggles and changing my mindset to focus on what I could DO and not how I looked, I achieved my black belt in kung fu…
(I never would have been able to pass the strength test for my kung fu black belt test, detailed in Strength Goals Trump The Scale, or have had the energy and strength to endure my three hour, physically intensive black belt test if I was worried about the calories in a piece of chewing gum.)
Opened my own business…
Completed the Iron Maiden Challenge as a lightweight…
(I never would have been able to complete the Iron Maiden Challenge if I continued to starve myself.)
AND I have the opportunity to help others make similar positive changes for themselves no matter what a survey in Glamour magazine says.
In addition, my past shaped my philosophy and my approach to fitness and nutrition for the BETTER, which is to maintain a mentally and physically healthy homeostasis that you can realistically apply to daily life.
I was a slave to my past obsessive behavior and I am liberated from those thoughts and that behavior now. Therefore, not only will I never let myself be prisoner of that again, but nor will I let anyone feel prisoner to similar thoughts and behavior if I can help it!
SO when people obsess to me about eating a piece of bread on a day they are not going to exercise and worry that it is too many calories to eat, my response is (are you serious???), JUST EAT.
Or when people ask me, “Do you train fasted?”, “Do you take BCAA’s?”, “What do you eat BEFORE you train?”, “What do you eat AFTER you train?”. My response, “I JUST EAT. I never train on an empty stomach and I don’t take BCAA’s. I JUST EAT.”
Or when people obsess to me that they fell out of their routine for a week because of travel, being sick, or other events. My response is wake up tomorrow, leave the past week behind you, because it’s the past and you cannot change it, start fresh tomorrow and look forward to getting back into your routine!
As long as you are following the 80/20 or 90/10 rule, exercising regularly (4-5 days per week is a good number to aim for), lifting weights and accomplishing BIG things in the weight room (Be Xena, NOT Edna!), as lifting weights and putting on muscle and muscle weight will help you to ENJOY that 10-20 percent even more, then YOUR best body image and sexiest self will reveal itself.
Lifting Weights = More Muscle = Burn More Calories = Weight Loss, Leaner Body, STRENGTH & CONFIDENCE!
The number on the scale may stay the same or go up, but your clothes will fit better, and maybe even go down a size, and at the end of the day who cares what the scale says, because Strength, Confidence, and Positive Body Image trumps the scale ANY DAY.