Chasing Thinness — Your Ideal or Mine?

This morning I watched a spider weave her web.  Like an aerialist, she crossed back and forth from the chair to the table edge performing her task.  The intricacy of her work was only visible to me when the sun caught it’s reflection.  I thought about how beautiful spider webs can be, if you take the time to notice them.  I also considered if it’s that beauty that ultimately captures its prey  …

I work in the fitness industry where accomplishments are defined by numbers “How much weight have you dropped?”  “What’s your body fat %?”  “How many inches have you lost?”   Coveted images of the ripped, hard rock abs of the long and lean set the standards; this is what you could look like, IF you work hard enough.  Some consider  this inspiration… I have to question, is it?  For many these statements and visions foster a sense of friendly competition, for me, they can be a constant reminder of what I am not.

I have lived the life of the extreme exerciser and dieter.  I have lost weight and gained it back.  I have exercised to the point of exhaustion and chronic injury but could not stop.  I have struggled with my eating from the extremes of not eating to binge eating, all in an attempt to control my weight and ‘fit the image’.  I am now a practicing Intuitive Eater.  I have found a peace and balance that enables me to eat and exercise reasonably.  I am happy and in a place I never thought possible, but fully aware that at times, the lure of the web still taunts me.

When my main reason to exercise was attaining my ‘magic numbers’ I firmly believed that when I weighed 120 lbs. or wore a size 4 I could feel accomplished;  then I could be proud of who I was.  It was during this time I felt most out of control.  I was willing to do ANYTHING in order to look the way I thought I needed to look.  I was defining my self-worth from the outside in.  If I had stopped to pay attention, I would have noticed my actions weren’t making me feel good.  Physically, I was hurt and exhausted.  Emotionally I beat myself up.  If I strayed from my regimen I chastised myself for having no willpower.  I wasn’t strong enough.  I wasn’t good enough.

Finally, after years of feeling like a failure, I stopped and asked myself “Why?”.  What was I accomplishing other than making myself miserable?  That’s when I realized the truth:  the standards that I fought so hard for were not my own.  I was trying to be what I thought I needed to be… Instead, I needed to be honest with myself and question, what did I really want?  My answer was simply health and to remain physically active.  In order to do that I would have to treat my body differently.  Over exercising and starving myself were not helping me achieve my goals, they were pulling me further away.

For me, thoughts of thinness are a compulsive trap.  If I allow myself to get too caught up in the ideals of ‘body perfection’ I can fall prey to my former life;  translation:  you are not good enough.  Becoming an Intuitive Eater taught me to respect and appreciate my ‘here and now’ body for what it CAN do.  I am not a size 4 or weigh 120lbs. but today I make choices based on what’s important to me.  Instead of deriving my motivation negatively, always telling myself what I am not, I choose to appreciate who I am, and work patiently towards who I aspire to be.

Unless you live under a rock,  it is hard to get away from what we perceive to be the  ‘thin and beautiful’.  I would be lying to you if I said I don’t occasionally find myself thinking about what could be.  This is when I feel most vulnerable… stuck in my spider web.  When pervasive thoughts of thinness pop back into my head I know I need to stay grounded.   Here are some thoughts that help keep me connected to my ‘here and now’.

  • Be sure that what you seek is something that’s important to you.  Honesty required:  What is my motivation to lose weight?  My current weight is healthy for me… what is making me think I need to lose weight?
  • What will accomplishing this goal give you?  Clothes shopping may be more fun.  Seriously, do I really think others will perceive me as more accomplished if I am thinner?  If so, do I really want these people in my life?
  • Are the actions necessary to attain this goal congruent with your values and beliefs?  I believe strongly in health for body and soul… Are starving myself or denying myself foods I enjoy only to be thinner healthy actions?
  • How can this hurt you?  For me, focusing on weight loss leads to absolutes; ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods or days.  A ‘bad’ day leads to feelings of  shame, guilt, no willpower, and failure.  Is this how I want to live my life?
  • Would you encourage your son/daughter to follow your behavior?  I want to encourage my kids to look beyond appearances only.   Am I setting a good example by emphasizing the importance of being thin?  
  • Can your goals be met in other ways?  Back to question 1, what is my motivation?  Is it feeling better about myself?  Isn’t a commitment to treat my body with respect something I should be proud of and feel good about?  
  • Is pursuit of your goal denying you enjoyment in other areas of your life?   Am I putting my life on hold?  Wrote a whole blog about this one!!  You can read about it in You Matter.

As a personal trainer, the majority of my clients come to me because they want to lose weight.  If I ask them what weight loss is going to give them, they almost always tell me losing weight makes them feel better about themselves.  What I want most for my clients is to help them understand that making a commitment to treat their body well IS an accomplishment to be proud of.  Acknowledge who you are right now; appreciate what you can do; and look forward to realizing what you can become.  Your life is here and now, not 15 or 20 pounds from now, right now.

I would like to offer this Abraham-Hicks quote:

You can be fully satisfied with where you are, understanding that you’re eternally evolving. When you get into that place of feeling appreciation of where you are and of who you are, and appreciation of what you are, and you accept that you are a never-ending, always unfolding Being, then you can stand in that delicate balance of being optimistic about what is to come, without being unhappy about where you stand. Find a way of eagerly anticipating future changes, while at the same time you are in love and satisfied with who, what, where and how you be.  

If your are having a tough time achieving your goals, take the time to re-evaluate what you seek.  Chasing thinness did not work for me because it did not come from my heart.  In order to achieve the image I believed to have been set for me, I had to disrespect my body.  Now I understand the importance of  staying true to who I am and to pursue what has meaning and a purpose for me.  Learn to question where your motivations come from.  If it’s always a place of negativity (I’m so fat, I need to lose weight), stop and listen to the words you say to yourself.  Is this how you would choose to motivate your children?   Do your actions feel right to you?  Don’t let others set the standards, believe in yourself enough to define your own.

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Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Always looking for new inspiration and motivatation, I subscribe to several different sources.  This morning I read an article that caught my attention.  In “12 Lies To Stop Telling Yourself”*  I found one point of particular interest to me:

I am stuck with people who hurt me. – Life is too short.  Look out for yourself.  If someone continuously mistreats you, have enough respect for yourself to leave them.  It may hurt for a while, but it’ll be OK.  You’ll be OK.  Oftentimes walking away has nothing to do with weakness, and everything to do with strength.  We walk away not because we want others to realize our worth, but because we finally realize our own worth.

Reading and absorbing those words made me think of dieting.  In her book, Life Without Ed, best selling author Jenni Schaefer associates a persona to her eating disorder.  She called him ED.  In doing so, she was able to separate and free herself from this destructive relationship.  Breaking free from the dieting world can be like that too.

What is a dieter to do?  I am stuck.  I want to lose weight.  I need to lose weight.  I decide to diet.  I am good for awhile, but then I start wanting the foods I can’t have.  I give into my cravings and eat way too much!  I am out of control.  Now I feel guilty.  I broke the rules, again.   What is wrong with me? … I have NO willpower.  I will be better this time.  My diet begins again.

STOP.  Ask yourself, “What exactly is different this time?”  What is going to make your diet work this time?  Being stuck in the world of dieting is like being in a bad relationship.  Re-read the words above… Life is too short.  Look out for yourself.  It is in your best interest to think about your health, emotionally as well as physically.  Consistently putting yourself in a place that causes you stress, feelings of guilt and shame doesn’t feel good.  Thinking that you aren’t good enough as you are is mistreating yourself.

Breaking up is hard to do.  It’s scary at first because this is the world you have always  known.  Sometimes we remain in bad relationships because we know what to expect.  Been there, done that.  But for me, I decided enough was enough.  I owed it to myself to break away.  Why consistently expose myself to a place that was not helping?  If dieting worked, I should have been a model by now!  I have spent the better part of 30 years stuck in that relationship.  It wasn’t working and only left me feeling miserable about myself.

I had a choice.  I decided to walk away.  Intuitive Eating gave me the skills and confidence to divorce myself from my unhealthy relationship with dieting and poor body image.  I now feel empowered because I have choices.  I no longer have to “follow” the diet rules.  I can choose, according to what my body tells me I need.  I have trust and faith in myself to know what is best for me.  Ultimately, I am my own best advocate.  I am the expert of my body.  Learning to trust myself, and break away has given me the peace and freedom I have longed for.

Oftentimes walking away has nothing to do with weakness, and everything to do with strength.  We walk away not because we want others to realize our worth, but because we finally realize our own worth.  I have learned to respect myself.  I broke up and I am happy.  I am worth it… and you know what?  So are you!

* Source:  Marc and Angel Hack Life, Practical Tips for Productive Living, http://www.marcandangel.com/2012/03/12/12-lies-to-stop-telling-yourself/

Special thanks to Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch for giving me my life back.  For more information on Intuitive Eating:  www.intuitiveeating.org

What’s Your Motivation?

“Where there is a will, there is a way.”  Those words were spoken to me a long time ago by a wise lady and have carried me through many of  life’s changes.  Thoughts of giving up on something always made me think of my grandmother and the way she encouraged me to continue on…

Oftentimes when we are looking to implement a change in our lives we wind up saying things like ‘I should’, or ‘I ought to’.  Working as a personal trainer, I hear this a lot.  People know that they should exercise or ought to eat better but often complain that their motivation diminishes and they just don’t do it.

What is missing?  Actions based on what we should do don’t usually keep us going for too long.  We may start out fired up for our new exercise program, but when we aren’t doing it for our own right reason, enthusiasm waivers and old habits reemerge.

The pathway to successful change lies in knowing yourself.  Ask the questions, “What do I want?  What is this going to give me?”  If you believe that exercising regularly will create a stronger, more confident you, set a good example for your kids, or give you more control over your life, you will be realizing your unique inspiration.  Being clear on what you really want is going to help you persevere and and rise above the the challenges you will inevitably encounter.

Take eating healthier for example, “What is important to me?”  Determining your answer to that question is a first step towards change.  Once you identify what you really want you can enhance your vision.  “What does healthy eating look and feel like to me?”  Why this step?  Each of us is unique.  We all live in a world full of ever changing variables and circumstances.  What is right for one person may not be right for another.  You are the only one who knows what feels right and will work for you.  You are your own best expert.  Put your knowledge to work in determining your answers.

Once you have explored what you really want, what it looks and feels like; you have the makings of your goal.  A clearly defined goal or vision is your road-map to success, for without one you don’t know where you are going and without a destination, you won’t know how to get there!

Clarity about what your goals are and why they are important to you is what is going to replace the “I should” with “I want to” and “I will”.  A thorough understanding of your goal will create your unique action steps.  You will know what to do next because it will be the only thing that makes sense to you.  A clear definition of your goal will enable you to determine the approach that’s right for you.

There are many good ideas about ways to eat better, exercise more, or stress less, but unless you are willing to do them, then that’s all they are, good ideas that have worked for other people.  Staying motivated for change involves finding the methods that make sense to you.  You may have a very healthy friend who is a vegetarian.  You may in turn think this is the way to go but does this make sense for you?  If your favorite meal includes a big, thick, juicy steak this dietary approach probably won’t last too long 🙂

What happens when you find yourself losing motivation?  Revisit the question “What do I really want?”.  Take for example the woman who begins an exercise program because she wants to lose weight.  At the beginning, she may be VERY motivated, but then as the days go on, she begins to dread the gym.  She is sore, tired and probably not eating enough in an attempt to diet.  If the weight loss doesn’t happen or stops, usually her desire to exercise stops with it.

By continually asking the question, “What do I want?”  She may be able to find new motivation.  I want to exercise, because I want to lose weight.  I want to lose weight to be healthier and be more self-confident.  I want health and confidence!!  Going to the gym regularly is something I have never been able to do.  I know when I go I feel good about myself; I am doing something good for me that makes me feel strong, healthy and alive.  

What if you lose your motivation and keep losing it?  Maybe you’re trying to do something that you are not truly inspired to do.  I need to lose weight because my husband thinks I look fat.  Doing something to please someone else almost never works.  This is the ‘will’ in ‘Where there is a will, there’s a way’.  Only when you know what you want will you have the fortitude to make it happen.   Reflecting upon what is important to you will help you stay focused and motivated to make things happen.

Finally, keep in mind that you are not perfect, none of us are.  Slip-ups will occur.  View these not as failures but opportunities for you to learn and grow. These experiences are vital steps towards change, and any step, big or small, is key to your success.  Unless you are Superman, you won’t be climbing a flight of stairs by jumping from the floor to the top.  One step at a time will get you where you need to be.  Believe in yourself and know that you have the power to make it happen!

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