There is an epidemic amongst us that is destroying our attempts at reaping the health benefits of proper nutrition and lifestyle changes. This epidemic is not a new food, a magic supplement, or a new variation of exercise. No, this is the epidemic of setting unrealistic goals and expectations when you embark on a journey for health and it can literally ruin your chance at living a healthy and happy life.
The issue begins when people set their sights on achieving a preconceived notion of perfection that usually equates to being super lean and having zero cellulite, eight-visible abs, and a gap between their thighs. Let’s be honest – how often have you said to yourself, “I hate my *insert body part here*” or “I want to get rid of the fat on my *insert small part of body here*?” It never ceases to amaze me how many women (and men) harbor so much hatred for their bodies.
With the media constantly bombarding us with images of genetic mutants who appear perfect, it is no surprise we are seeing more and more of this obsession with the perfect physique. And it is not just Hollywood perpetuating this. We now see this within the fitness community too, with rock-solid CrossFit bodies being featured everywhere. As Tina Fey so eloquently put in her book Bossypants: “Now every girl is expected to have: Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama and doll tits.” Our ideals have become out of control.
People assume if you have the perfect diet, training program, get eight or nine hours of sleep every night, and have zero stress (lucky you!), that you will automatically be able to achieve the body worthy of a “fitspiration” ad. I am sorry to tell you this is not everyone’s destiny and these unrealistic expectations are likely holding you back from being the best and healthiest version of yourself.
Holding onto unrealistic body composition goals may actually be hindering your progress because they are a stressor on your body and can disrupt levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, which can wreak havoc on your health. This can manifest into various behaviors such as micromanaging your food and supplement intake (“maybe I just need to eat more kelp?”), becoming guilt-ridden if you miss a workout, and being obsessed with measures such as body fat percentage and weight. These habits put a mental strain on your body and leave you in a stressed and saddened state. They can also push you towards disordered habits such as overtraining and under eating, further adding stress to the body. In the end, you are doing more damage than good. Accepting yourself by letting go of unrealistic expectations and preconceived notions about what your ‘ideal’ body should be are often the missing link to achieving optimal health – and sanity.
Women especially need to realize there are many factors that come into play when we talk about body composition. Of course things like diet, exercise, sleep, and stress management play an important role, and there are people who naturally achieve a ‘perfect’ physique by optimizing these factors. But, this is only in a small percentage of the population. Things you cannot control like genetics, lifestyle history, and age will also dictate what your best body will look like. You may never be able to get your body fat below a certain level because this is the way you were meant to be. We are all built to look different – we are not Labrador Retrievers meant to look identical to one another. We are supposed to be unique and this is what makes us beautiful. Lastly, healthy women are meant to carry some additional body fat because we are programmed to be fertile and in order to be fertile, we need some additional fat mass, especially in the buttocks and hip area – which is sexy!
This is not to say you cannot change your body composition. Rather, you need to set realistic expectations for yourself and what your body is capable of within the structure of a healthy lifestyle. Rather than trying to fit into a cookie-cutter appearance, start working towards being the healthiest version of yourself.
Here are some ways to free yourself of this epidemic and start living your life with acceptance and compassion:
- Ditch any goal that includes a number (weight, dress size, body fat – it’s a good idea to destroy your scale), looking a certain way, or improving a certain body part. Rather, set goals around your performance, being consistent with your eating habits, getting sleep, and enjoying life. If you are working towards these goals, your body will naturally fall into its healthiest appearance.
- Make love to yourself. Spend five minutes every day looking at yourself in the mirror and telling yourself you are beautiful. If you have a body part you really dislike, start telling yourself how gorgeous it is (for example, “My thighs are slammin’”). Research has shown positive affirmations can reprogram your thought processes.
- Keep a gratitude journal. Often when you take the time to appreciate what you have in your life, you are less likely to pour the hatorade on yourself.
- Write down your negative thoughts, analyze them, and put a positive spin on them. Often when you see your thoughts on paper, you realize how inconsequential they are and are able to turn them into something positive.
- Loosen up! If you miss the gym one day or eat some cake, acknowledge that it is okay and likely a healthy disruption in your routine.
- In the social media world, un-follow anyone who posts ‘fitspiration’ pictures. Also anyone posting photos of their abs, the number of calories they ate that day, anyone who uses hashtag #lean and people who post pictures of their scale.
Now. Go. Work it! Own the body you have and rock it like the gift it is meant to be. Buy clothes that make you feel sexy and don’t stress about what size they are. Let’s break free of this epidemic and start living a life with complete acceptance for our unique selves.
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.