I joined a gym this month… for the first time in my life! I’m liking the variety, the machines and classes, the “atmosphere” of fitness and hanging out with like minded people and seeing other people push themselves. As part of my orientation, I had my body fat tested which revealed I was in the higher end of average. That messed with my mind a bit. I had it re-tested with skin fold calipers and was a bit dismayed as she pinched folds of fat from the fattest parts of my body….yep, average. Everyone has different goals. My goal has been to be “fit.” I work out hard, I eat well, I push myself hard and was a little stunned to hear I wasn’t.
I really hate to admit this because it’s petty and perfectionistic and yes, a little obsessive, but I felt humiliated. I know, I’m healthy and all but I want to be classified as “fit.” Petty I know. But, I am a fitness professional and don’t even fall into the fit category! I realize some of you may be judging me here; I am at a healthy weight, my clothes fit fine, I look OK so why am I complaining?
This took me back to my teen years when at age 14, I had a very distorted body image. I basically starved myself and lost from 115# down to 95# because I thought I was fat. I wanted a flat stomach! When I got to 95 pounds, I realized that wasn’t so good; I knew I was too thin and not healthy so I gained it back, vowing not to go by the scale or what the media suggested was perfect, and instead, start focusing on a lifestyle of being active and healthy eating. To this day, I rarely step on a scale. The desire to be healthy has stuck with me all these years but there is still that nagging voice of my past, that nagging distorted body image and that takes a firm objective mind to beat. I associate with the fittest of the fit and it’s hard for me not to focus on the glob of belly fat that has never fully disappeared since childbearing or the softness on the underside of my arms that won’t go away even though I lift as heavy as I can. I’m a perfectionist, always striving to be better and if a trainer suggests I do A, B and C to achieve D, E and F, I will do it….but when the plan is to lose 8% body fat and gain 10# I stopped in my tracks.
It took me a day or two but I finally got some perspective. I still would like a flat stomach with washboard abs but realistically, if I lose enough fat to achieve that, my face would be a washboard too. So I had to determine how I could improve without being too extreme. What do I really need to improve on and what is realistic? Healthwise I don’t need to improve on anything but the perfectionist in me, thinks I can step it up a notch. I had to think about what I would tell a client in the same position.
*You can’t spot reduce: I know I can’t spot reduce. I can’t lose fat in the areas I would like without sacrificing it from somewhere else. So I ruled out losing fat as a goal. Even if I don’t lose any belly fat, I can still firm up my core.
*Reassess your diet. Where can I improve while still allowing a little flexibility? I know that I don’t tolerate a low carb diet; my blood sugar just won’t allow it. I keep my carbs at 50%, protein around 20-25 and fat at 30%. I can tweak things a little by increasing veggies and protein while still getting in enough carbs and keep my macros at 50/25/25. That should allow me to add a little more muscle if I keep lifting.
*Re-evaluate exercise. As I look over the past year, I have been more sedentary with work and have been doing more intense exercise but spending less time doing it. My clothes fit the same so I thought it didn’t matter; but my core is looser. My body has been changing slightly and I haven’t noticed. I thought I was “getting by” with less activity. Reality check! I haven’t really been focusing on core or flexibility and I need to add that to my routine.
*Status quo – our bodies tend to adapt to whatever we’re doing. I’ve been doing the same program for months without mixing it up much. I think I’ve lost the ability to advance because I’m not mixing it up enough. Time to change it up.
I have to be careful because I am a perfectionist and have enough discipline that I could become obsessive. But I don’t want to do that. My common sense has to win out here. I do want to be the healthiest I can be. I do want to add muscle and be strong but I don’t want to become so lean that I’m not healthy. I know some body types can do that and look totally sexy but at my age, to do so would result in saggy skin and a gaunt look. So I have to put aside the measurements that want to mess with my brain. I have to focus on health and what’s real and best for me according to how I want to feel. Images in the media and measurements that determine fitness can create havoc as we try to reach what we think it optimal. It all comes down to what is healthy and what is realistic for us to achieve given our genetics and lifestyle. It took me a few days to become centered again and remember all of this. I share this because I know a lot of people struggle with their body image and are frustrated because they can’t achieve what they want. My goal is to be strong regardless of body fat so I will continue to lift. For me, strong is better than lean, because it’s realistic. I would encourage others to focus on health and what is realistic for you too. So don’t get hung up on the scale or the calipers or any number…..and I’ll try not to either.
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