This is the 5th and last post in my 5 week series on Body Image. See part 4, part 3, part 2 and part 1.
Last week, I talked about how picturing myself as a child helped to turn around my urge to tear my body down. It’s a lot easier to feel sympathetic towards myself when I think of the innocent kid I am deep down inside.
It’s just one of many things I’ve been doing on a regular basis to transform the way I feel about my body. Loving or liking your body is a “practice”. We practice yoga, we practice sports, we practice before giving a presentation or dance recital. And yes, changing how we feel about our bodies or how we feel around food requires creating a practice of sorts. Today I’m sharing the 5th “practice” in my body image toolbox.
The fifth thing I’ve done is that I’ve changed my workout focus from one where calories burned was all that mattered instead to how it makes me feel. Same with my food choices, I don’t choose them based on how few calories or fat grams are in them, I choose stuff that satisfies me and give me energy.
In my workouts and in my food choices, I put my focus on how it’s going to affect how I feel.
This kind of goes back to the second post in this series, about appreciating what my body can do. I used to only exercise to burn as many calories as possible so that I could eat more. This meant lots of cardio or lots of long walks. Miles covered and minutes accrued mattered. This left me feeling drained and like I was always trying to make up for something. Every bite of food meant another minute I’d have to workout. I could never rest and just enjoy a meal. Choosing what to eat and how much to eat became very complicated.
If I wanted to enjoy pizza and some wine on a Friday night, I’d have to either not eat most of the day in order to have “room” for those things or I’d have to spend two hours in the gym to “earn” it. It was exhausting.
My workouts left me feeling drained. They were compulsory. They were punishment. Sure, there were aspects of exercise I enjoyed, but it was so often done as a component of weight loss that I began to dread it and I would go through periods where I rebelled and wouldn’t work out for weeks out of retaliation. With food, I couldn’t eat a meal without automatically calculating the calories in it. Even today, I have calorie counts memorized and though I don’t “count” them intentionally today, that knowledge is in my head and I can still give a tally to a meal lightening fast, and pretty accurately. It’s not a skill I’m proud of. I hate that so much of my mental energy in my life was dedicated to how good I could be at restricting food.
Today I do things differently, and I’ll admit, it has taken me years of trial and error to get here.
I now only do exercise that makes me feel good. I now only eat food that makes me feel good or what I truly want (sometimes that’s raw vegetables and sometimes it’s potato chips).
Sometimes I want to feel powerful and strong (weight lifting), sometimes I want to feel graceful and controlled (barre), sometimes my body aches and I need a rest (yoga or walking), sometimes I’m angry or stressed and want some relief (HIIT or kickboxing).
Choosing exercise on any given day that will make me feel the way I want to feel, instead of as a punishment helps me appreciate and care for my body and it also makes choosing what to eat much easier. If I want to get through an intense workout, I need to have the right balance of nutrition in my body. A donut or cookies is not going to give me the energy I want to have (not saying you can’t ever eat these foods – just that this helps us to make more conscious choices).
Alternatively, if I have a yoga class or barre class to go to, I have to be careful not to eat too heavily beforehand, or I’ll be burping or uncomfortable all throughout class. Over time, making choices this way reduces my desire to eat foods that won’t help me tackle these physical goals. This doesn’t happen overnight and certainly I still sometimes eat things just because it tastes amazing and I really want it (but I move on and don’t beat myself up about it).
Listening to what our bodies need is really important too. Lately, I’m thinking I may have to take a break from barre. I don’t want to because I do love it (despite zero grace or dance ability it makes me feel like a ballerina and I secretly want to be a ballerina, at least when I’m alone in my kitchen!) but my hamstrings and glutes are so tight from 3 years of repetition that class is starting to feel less like a good thing for my body and more like the potential for injury. I need to listen to my body. I may take some time off from those classes (I’ve already cut way back) or I need to make massage and foam rolling a priority to keep my body feeling good. I’ve been doing more yoga in the meantime until I make a decision. It’s helping but it may not be enough.
I trust that my body knows what it needs. It knows when it needs to move (I feel that urge as my focus wanes when I’ve been in front of the computer for three hours without a break). It knows when it needs to rest (as I write this, I’ve decided I’m not going to workout tonight – I am tired and I’m respecting that). It knows when it can handle (or even crave) high intensity cardio, a long bike ride or extra weight on the barbell. My body is incredibly intelligent and if I listen to it, I don’t have to worry about if I did enough If I burned enough calories etc.
Making the switch from exercising or eating as a form of punishment or solely as calorie burner to exercising and eating to feel good won’t happen overnight and it’s not a simple thing you can do once or twice and have it stick. It’s something we need to work on on a deep level and before we can really start making strides with these concepts we need to practice more self love, learn to choose foods that nourish, and learn to tune in to our body. But even though you may not be able to jump into these ideas right away . . .I wanted to share this idea as something that has made a big difference in how I feel about my body because it makes it easier for me to exercise regularly and eat well more often and I think we all can get there one step at a time.
I hope this 5 part series on body image and how I stopped hating my body has given you some ideas to try in changing your own body image. Please let me know if you try any of these!
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