Overcoming body image – training because we want to, not as punishment

My amazing and inspiring personal trainer, Amy Cohen, posted the blog below last week. It sums up so much of what I think about exercise and our attitude to our bodies that I thought I would share it here (always been a fan of recycling!). I hope some of it strikes a chord with you. Thanks for letting me share Amy!

Life is too short
Something that comes up again and again for me as a Personal Trainer is how women think and feel about themselves and each other. I work with and talk to so many women of all shapes and sizes, with all sorts of personalities, jobs and lifestyles. They all have in common a sense of dissatisfaction and unhappiness about their appearance. Regardless of how they look, how intelligent they are, how powerful they are in their jobs, when it comes to their bodies all they see is the extra fat around their middle or the cellulite on their thighs. Why are we so down on ourselves?

In the gym as well as in a social context I hear comments and questions like “how do I get rid of my belly/bingo wings/cellulite?”, “I’ve got to get to the gym, I’ve put on so much weight”, or “I need to lose weight in three weeks before my holiday”. What a negative place to start from. We’re all training or going to the gym because we hate something about ourselves. How can we sustain interest and energy when our main motivation is hatred of our bodies? Ultimately this will lead to disappointment, frustration and relapse into unhealthy behaviours if we don’t see the results that we want. Why don’t we start from a more positive place? Why don’t we want to train because we love ourselves and want to treat our bodies with kindness instead?

exercise-is-a-reward

Ladies, I’ve seen you. Pounding away on the treadmill, cycling for your lives, climbing endless flights of imaginary stairs. You switch off to everything other than losing the weight, shedding the pounds, shrinking the belly. You look miserable. You’re punishing yourselves. You’re literally trying to whip your body into shape. Following a programme that is simply based on fat loss will always feel like punishment. Exercise, training and moving your body should be pleasurable, fun and challenging; not painful, repetitive and relentless. Let’s not just want to focus on losing belly fat, let’s train to build strength, improve health, gain fitness and increase flexibility so we can have fully functioning and happy bodies and minds.

I wish we could accept ourselves the way we are whilst aspiring to make improvements to our bodies. I hope that doesn’t sound hypocritical or indeed impossible. We MUST learn to love ourselves! I want to live in a world in which women stop hating themselves and each other. Enough with the bitching, there’s no room for negativity in our lives – it brings us all down! Remember how very lucky you are to be alive and healthy enough to make it to the gym or move your body. Let’s focus on the positive things about our bodies and those of other women. Next time you’re at the gym pay another woman a genuine compliment – whether it’s about her strength, her trainers or her ability to inspire others.

Here’s my top 3 tips for getting us there:

1. Find activities you’re passionate about
Throughout the years I’ve discovered lots of activities I love. Yoga helps me become more aware of my body, and how I can move it with control to increase flexibility. I love the calmness and peace of mind I feel both during and after class. Boxing inspired me to leave the job that I hated and retrain as a Personal Trainer. It makes me feel confident, powerful, super-fit, coordinated and agile. Pole dancing appeals to my creative, expressive side. I love that it takes time, perseverance, patience (and a lot of pain) to learn anything on the pole. I love the expression of strength and grace that it allows, and that feeling I get when I nail a move!

Did you notice?! Not once did I mention weight loss, muscle gain or a ‘toned’ physique. It was the feeling I got both during and after taking part in these activities that motivated me to continue. Doing something you love takes away the stress and worry of trying to lose weight, change your body, or ‘see results’.

If you’re stuck for inspiration, talk to friends, colleagues and other women at the gym to find out what they do for fun and go along with them next time. Try something new, embrace a challenge, and get to know (and love) yourself a little bit more.

2. Set yourself non-aesthetic goals
Having a goal to lose some weight is a dangerous game to play, even if it’s SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound). There are so many factors that affect weight loss, including stress, lack of sleep and hormonal imbalances. Focusing on diet and exercise alone doesn’t always guarantee results. Weight loss absolutely cannot be your only focus. What if the scales just don’t budge? What if you don’t hit your targets? What else is motivating you to continue? Having non-aesthetic goals such as strength, fitness, flexibility or performance takes the focus away from measuring, weighing and judging your body. I love to focus on strength with myself and my clients, as the results can be seen in black and white. Make sure you keep track of your weekly progress so you can reward your achievements.

Exercise-Food (1)Of course it’s great when my clients lose weight, but often they experience a change that goes beyond what the scales say. There is always a change in their attitude towards training, an increase in confidence and a realisation that they are capable of things they never thought possible!

Set goals based on activity, nutrition and lifestyle too. I like to set my clients ‘homework’ such as eating a substantial and nutritious breakfast, taking a proper lunch break or getting up earlier and walking to work – and give them a target number of days per week to hit. We discuss the activities they enjoy doing and make sure they do them – whether it’s a dance class, a swim, or a walk before breakfast.

Women seem to struggle with scheduling in time for themselves. We should all take time out of each and every day to rest and relax. We have stressful lives, the demands of work, family, relationships, even training – can take its toll. Make time to relax, breathe deeply, meditate, do yoga – or just simply be. No emails, no phones, no TV. Spend time alone or with your loved ones with no distractions.

These small steps can make a big difference in our lives and ultimately make us feel happier about being us.

3. Get to know your body beyond weight and measurements
The more I learn about my body beyond how much I weigh and what my hip circumference is, the more connected I feel to myself. Through training with some excellent coaches and Personal Trainers, I have learned a huge amount about the crazy way my body works. I now know which activities I should be careful with, which areas I need to focus on, and where I need help. Lack of body awareness is something that is shockingly apparent in the gym. People are training with no understanding of movement or their specific strengths or limitations. They take no care in doing things with proper technique and not surprisingly, injuries are common.

Being connected to your body means being able to tell when something isn’t right, and respecting yourself enough to do something about it. I can’t believe how many friends, colleagues, clients and gym members complain about ongoing pain and yet do nothing about it. Lack of time or money is a poor excuse. What is more important than looking after your body? I prioritise my health and well-being, and am willing to pay for what I need, whether it’s an osteopath, a physiotherapist, a massage therapist or a strength coach.

Consistent aches, pains, restrictions or niggles need to be addressed – now! Don’t leave it and think it’ll go away. When you train regularly aches and pains are to be expected, but trust your intuition to know when something’s wrong. We need to learn to listen to our bodies and know when we don’t feel well, when we’re tired, when we need attention and when we need to be alone. Don’t soldier on playing tough, it could lead to injury, stress or worse. Get to know your body and look after it, treat it with the respect that it deserves and most importantly – love it.

So there you have it. I hope these words inspire you to get out there and enjoy life rather than worrying about your wobbly bum/cellulite on your thighs/muffin top!

 

 

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