A few months ago, I went to Sydney for a work function.
I’d been working hard at running my business, The Healthy Eating Hub, and so as a little reward, booked myself a room at the Rydges, right on the beach at Cronulla.
I believe in finding what’s right for you.
Before I get on with my story, I’d like to re-iterate my philosophy when it comes to working with my clients to help them lose weight and improve their eating habits:
- think long term, no crash or yo-yo dieting
- learn to accept yourself
- you don’t need to be super lean to be healthy, find what’s healthy for you
I work with clients from this perspective because I wholeheartedly believe in every single point. I don’t believe that we need to put unnecessary pressure on ourselves to drop weight fast or be ‘skin wrapping muscle’ lean. If that’s what you want, that’s completely fine, but most people that I’ve met over the years can’t sustain it and find that the unnecessary pressure and restriction leads to developing poor relationships with food and themselves.
I struggle with body image.
Just because I believe this to be the best approach for my clients, however, doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with the same pressure we all do to be leaner and look ‘healthier’. I do feel it, often.
This particular weekend, I felt it. I thought that because I’m a nutritionist, people would judge me for not being leaner. I genuinely thought that’s what people expected. I spent the evening annoyed at myself while I got myself ready to go out in my hotel room.
Now, I’m not overweight, nor would I classify myself as ‘big’ or ‘chubby’. But I’m not lean. I’m nicely rounded and to be honest, I feel really healthy. I rarely get sick, I’ve got plenty of energy (as much as a mother and business owner can have) and most days I feel pretty good about myself.
However, when I scroll through my Instagram feed, it tells me every single day that I’m not lean enough. PTs, nutritionists, dietitians, health ambassadors, wellness warriors, health coaches, chefs, fitness enthusiasts… Many of them post pictures of themselves sculpted, lean and sporting their perfect body.
I don’t have a six-pack. I can grab the fat on the back of my arms and depending on the type of trousers I wear, you can see fat stored on my lower back. The stretch marks on my stomach, after having two beautiful children, resemble an elephant’s scrotum and you can’t see my biceps while I point to a random faraway object.
I’ve always thought that it’s silly that I feel insecure about this. I’d only need to lose 5-6 kg and work out hard every other day and I’d be leaner. What about someone who had 20, 30 or 40kg to lose? It feels unattainable to me, let alone someone who, on the scales, has more to lose.
It’s not inspiration if it leaves you feeling bad about yourself.
These photos get the tags #fitspiration or #fitspo but I’d question as to whether they inspire everyone. They don’t inspire me. All I see is the same body type flaunted across my mobile screen, just in a different pose or different ‘inspiring’ mantra. Looking at those bodies each day leaves me feeling the insecurity I felt that evening in Sydney and what I feel many days while doing my job.
So, back to the story. I head out to dinner. It was fabulous and I had a great night. No-one mentioned or criticised my lack of leanness or made a comment about my body fat percentage.
How people watching helped me.
The next morning I wanted to linger in Cronulla before heading back home. A busy life full of lots of people, plus two busy, talkative kids leaves this introvert hanging for some ‘alone time’. I planned to walk along the headland from Cronulla beach and find a cafe for coffee and eggs Benedict. It’s my favourite breakfast.
Being a Saturday morning, there were LOTS of people out exercising. As I meandered along the headland, lots of women lean enough to pop outside in their Lorna Jane crop top ran past me, and the most uncanny thing happened. All those women were not perfect. Despite their leanness, by comparing them to the Instagram standard, I found plenty of things wrong with them. Hmmm, lots of imperfect women all around me. How interesting.
Please stay with me. This post is not about criticising other women’s bodies to make myself feel good.
A thought started growing in my heart.
I found a cafe and grabbed a table for one looking out over the walking path and on to the ocean. It was rather lovely. I have no problems with being a loner at a restaurant and eagerly ordered my coffee and eggs. My walk had worked up an appetite.
After an obligatory coffee shot, I locked my phone and turned it over. I just sat there and gazed out the window at the myriad of people walking by. I started to watch them.
I saw LOTS of different people and LOTS of different bodies. Young and old. Men and women. Big bodies and little bodies. Tall bodies and short bodies. Pregnant bodies and breastfeeding bodies. Bodies in bikinis, sports gear, trackies, day wear, even PJs.
At first, I only noticed the beautiful ones (by Instagram’s standard) and for a brief moment, I envied them. Why couldn’t I have tight, chiselled butt cheeks, with glowing olive skin in the Australian sun? I’m pretty sure I don’t look like that when I’m lying on my beach towel in the sun. Then I caught myself.
A few years ago, I made a promise that I wasn’t going to spend the rest of my life hating my body. My body is what it is and I spent a good deal of my teens and twenties in body hate turmoil. I can eat well and exercise as regularly as I can, but other than that, I can’t change it. My skin has freckles and bumps, my second toe on my right foot is totally deformed and munged, I’m small chested and there are dimples on my thighs and in other places. Now that I’m into my 30s, I’m starting to notice a few eye wrinkles and sun damage on my chest and shoulders… If I pulled up a pic from Vogue Magazine, I should be at least 10 kg lighter, four inches taller, have a better belly button to waist ratio and you’d be able to see my cheek bones.
You know what? I have a sneaking suspicion that I could lose ‘x’ amount of kilos to reach a desired level of leanness but unless I address the issue of self-acceptance, I would still critique the hell out of my body. Not to mention the strictness of the regime to achieve this level of leanness most likely leaving me worse for wear.
I don’t want to hate my body for the rest of my life. Life is far too short for that. There is too much fun to be had, dreams to be chased and people to connect with for body loathing to leave me miserable till I die.
So, in that sunny little corner in a beach front Cronulla cafe, I decided to start looking at people differently. And this is what I saw:
I saw a mother run after her toddler on the beach. Her face seemed to beam with a smile that took up her whole face. Laughter filled the air as they collided and fell into the sand. To me, that woman was so beautiful. I smiled watching and suddenly missed my kids back home. They would have loved it here.
I saw a group of young women. They were sporting #activewear and walking fast with their flushed faces, bright runners and black visors. They laughed and chatted. One of them put her arms around the two either side of her. I watched the friends share the moment as they jabbered on up the hill past the cafe. They all looked beautiful to me, watching them in that moment.
I saw an elderly woman, in a bikini, walking up out of the surf. She paused and then turned around in the direction that she’d just come from. And she stood there, for a good five minutes, just watching the surf. She was beautiful.
All the women that I saw that morning, regardless of their body’s shape and size, were beautiful. The diversity was beautiful. Watching real life women made me feel like I was OK. Because real life women have flaws and imperfections, just like me. And despite that, they were all completely stunning.
I literally came to the conclusion that comparing myself to another woman was pointless. Absolutely and utterly pointless. And comparing myself to a picture of another woman was even more ridiculous.
Enough pressure to exercise ‘hard enough’. Enough guilt for eating the ‘wrong thing’. Let’s be happy with who we are.
Be healthy and look after your body, but don’t do it because you hate your body or because you think you should be thinner. Do it because you love yourself enough to look after yourself.
This brings me to another thought, that we’ve confused ‘healthy’ with ‘beauty’. The concept that you can only be healthy if you have a certain body type/shape is actually far from the truth. Research actually shows that ‘health’ can be achieved at a large variety of weights and body fat levels. What is unhealthy for one person can be healthy for another.
And what is health anyway? How do you define it? Living to an old age? Being able to reproduce? Reducing your risk of chronic disease? Not getting sick all the time? Is it defined by glowing skin and shiny hair? Is it cellulite free thighs and a bottom that looks like it squats daily? Does that mean you’re healthy?
This post is not about having a go a lean women, because that body type is just as much a part of this diverse family of bodies. If you’re naturally lean or naturally not-as-lean, you’re ok. We’re all ok. Let’s not put healthy into the box of just one type of body.
Really look at ‘why’ you want to be leaner, fitter or thinner. It’s OK if you do, but do it because you value yourself and your future. You are more than the number on the scales, how much you exercise and the amount of body fat you have or the types of food that you eat each and everyday.
My parting advice for anyone wanting to improve their health would be this:
- Eat LOTS of minimally processed plant based foods: vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains.
- Eat minimally processed sources of protein: meat, chicken, seafood, eggs, whole dairy (if you can tolerate it) and legumes.
- Eat a wide variety of foods. Local and seasonal produce would be a good place to start.
- Move your body as much as you can. If you don’t have time for a 5km run everyday, that’s fine. Just go for quick little walks, use the stairs at work and grab a friend for a group fitness or dance class. Keep it fun and enjoyable – not a chore.
- Stop weighing yourself. Your body will change as you focus on building healthy habits. You don’t have to measure it for it to actually happen.
- Have a social media clean out. Unfollow people who make you feel bad about yourself. Follow those who promote a balanced approach and don’t put a massive influence on how you look.
In the end, embrace and accept yourself, all the flaws and imperfections included and discover a life where you love your body!