The other day I shared a post on Facebook about the media attacking a picture of an actress with cellulite wearing a bikini and how it’s time to get the hell over it.
A friend of mine commented, asking: “What is the world coming to? She looks happy and like she having fun….isn’t that the whole point?”
I’m just going to let that question sink in for a second.
Isn’t that the whole point?
But ask anyone what they’re worried about, and after death and taxes, the answer is probably: their bodies.
Seriously, do this experiment: the next time you’re standing around a group of people (your office break room, the locker room, in line at Starbucks, at your child’s preschool holiday show…), just say the magic words “omigosh, I was so bad today,” and people will jump on the body hate conversation faster than you can count the calories in your bulk-cooked chicken breast.
And any chance we have to talk about the things we’re doing to combat/feed that body hate, we’ll make sure to take it. I’ve heard jokes made about vegans and Crossfitters and anyone who follows a nutrition or fitness dogma to a point of religiosity: “How do you know if a [INSERT DOGMA FOLLOWER HERE] is in the room? Just wait—they’ll tell you.”
We are obsessed with our bodies. We’re obsessed with talking about ways to tweak them. We’re obsessed with obsessing about them on the days when we’re “good” and the days when we’re “bad.”
So how in the world are we supposed to be happy and having fun when judgment (self-judgement or otherwise) of our cellulite-ridden legs is at stake?
I’m a big fan of Kevin’s #DWYLT philosophy: I think that, if you’re going to participate in any sort of physical activity or sit down to a meal, you deserve to enjoy the heck out of it.
Here’s the deal, though: When it comes to doing what we love to do with fitness and nutrition, there are a lot of people who say they are already doing it.
The trouble is that we sometimes don’t recognize when the things we think we love to do are actually things that hurt us.
If you had asked me 5 years ago “what I loved to do,” I would have told you: strength training. Weight lifting. Reading strength training and weight lifting magazines. Bulk-cooking my lean protein.
And I believed it.
If you had asked me 4 years ago “what I loved to do,” I would have told you: 30-day Bikram yoga challenges. Juicing. Reading raw vegan recipe blogs. Buying organic vegetables in bulk at the farmer’s market.
And I believed it.
5 years ago, I was also diagnosed with anorexia, capping off 13 years of an eating disorder not otherwise specified (mostly orthorexia and calorie restriction, riddled with binge eating and cleansing) and an exercise addiction.
4 years ago, I was also “recovering” while still limiting my caloric intake to green juice and doing two-a-days at my local hot yoga studio.
The thing is: I see women (and men!) just as obsessed and obsessive about “the things they love to do” without ever reaching a diagnosis of an eating disorder—but still damaging their health, both mental and physical.
More than just being the trend du jour or a product of the fear-mongering over the obesity “epidemic,” a big part of this need to “love to do” fitness and nutrition is that it builds an automatic community.
And community is important. We’re scared to death of being left out or judged because we’re not good enough. We’re scared of being made fun of for our cellulite or laughed at for being a beginner in a room full of experts. Community, the in group, means emotional safety.
Moreover, we humans spend the majority of our communal time over meals and taking part in sports or workouts, engaging in conversations and activities that are tied directly to our bodies and the way we use them. It’s just easier to associate with people who use their bodies and look the way we do. And while a trip to the museum with an out-of-town guest might be something we reserve for a special occasion, it’s also easy to find everyday friends to do a WOD and then go out for grass-fed burgers (or take a yogalates class and go out for smoothies, or insert-your-stereotype here…)
The other part of it simply comes from the ease with which we can observe, quantify, and critique our own bodies.
A body is an objective thing (for all intents and purposes), and when we throw ourselves into a new skill or task, like lifting weights or studying nutrition, it’s simple to chart our progress. And there are few moments more exhilarating than getting that first PR or serving your doctor an “I told you so” when a biomarker changes due to diet alone.
But that first PR becomes a second or a third and the biomarkers you care about change from cholesterol to cRP as the rabbit hole opens wider and we become more single-mindedly focused on progress at all costs….
And there are costs.
As someone who speaks with women on a regular basis who are not considered “eating disordered” and yet still feel somehow trapped or addicted by the things they “love to do,” it is apparent to me that we have a serious problem on our hands, and it’s just going to get worse the more we define our identities by the way we eat and work out.
Now, you might argue that there are people out there who are trying to change the conversation—but even in the most body positive viral blog posts or the most “sensible” fitness and nutrition plans, we’re still focusing too much of our attention on the wrong thing: bodies.
Yes, we can be positive about our cellulite. Yes, we can start working out on the playground or finding joy in learning about the biomechanics of a certain diet…but if that’s all we do, then maybe it’s time to redefine our priorities.
Instead of talking about why we love our bodies and the PRs they achieve and the foods they do or do not enjoy…why don’t we start trying to find ways to “be happy and have fun” without having to tie them to a fitness or nutrition goal?
Go to the theatre. Take a class in something other than biochemistry or kinesiology, like 18th century French poetry or pottery. Take up photography. Teach yourself a card trick. Do origami. Whatever it takes, but start defining yourself by more than your favorite spin play list and your latest Paleo recipe.
Your body does matter. It matters a lot. And you should take care of it. But not for its own sake: take care of it because it helps you enjoy the feeling of sand between your toes when you go to the beach. Because it loves the stomach-dropping rush of a roller coaster at the county fair. Because it helps you finally master the intricate and precise art of building ships in a bottle.
While I have chosen to become a certified health coach, who helps people set and achieve goals that improve the quality of their lives and their health, I’ve recently chosen not to renew my previous personal trainer certification. I no longer want to facilitate and surround myself with obsessive exercise, restrictive meal planning, and reinforced (literal) navel-gazing all day; however, I’d like to leave you with my last ever work out plan:
ABS: Work your obliques by laughing as hard as you can at the nearest comedy club, or by downloading a comedy CD.
BONUS: To keep your abs “toned,” find an excuse to laugh at least once a day.
BICEPS: Wrap someone you care deeply about in a big bear hug and hold on tight.
BONUS: Superset with a triceps move: an over-the-head “high-five!”
GLUTES: Watch a horror film with a friend or two. Notice how many times you clench your butt when the killer’s in the room, but the protagonist doesn’t know it.
BONUS: Work your diaphragm by yelling, “Don’t open the door!” with good breath support.
GRIP STRENGTH: Go to the library and find some page-turning fiction. Alternate between flipping pages as quickly as you can and grabbing your seat.
BONUS: Work your quads and core by sitting at the edge of your seat.
LATS: Take up landscape painting. Make sure to really squeeze those lats as you sweep the brush down the canvas while you recreate that beautiful sunset you’re watching.
SHOULDERS: Go to a sporting event as a spectator and not a competitor. Bring your friends and “raise the roof” or do the “wave” every time your team scores. Be loud and obnoxious and use this opportunity to cross train by laughing and cheering (see “abs” and “diaphragm” above) as often as you can.
FINISHER: Want to get your heart really pumping? Go find an organization or a cause you care about and volunteer. Spend a day reading to the elderly or building a Habitat for Humanity. Like the Grinch, you’ll feel your heart grow a couple of sizes, and you’ll be rewarded with the sparkly, endorphin-rush feeling that’s better than the one you get at the end of a high intensity workout.
There you have it: a sure-fire way to stop obsessing about your fitness, nutrition, and body and to start defining yourself by doing what you really love.