Owning it: Athletics as (a) source of self-esteem–and why we need to take a darn compliment

Lately, I’ve noticed a(n unfortunate) tendency for some of the most badass women—the strongest ones at CrossFit or the fastest or most experienced ones on the bike—to play a game of downplaying their achievements. They ask “Who, little old me?” when someone tells them that they’re great or assure people that really it wasn’t such a great job or that someone or something outside them was the reason for their success.

This makes me sad.

I know I’ve returned a compliment with the kind of downplaying I’m talking about. But this is an issue I’m working on. Ever since I had the experience of a friend telling me she was going to be “slow” and then proceeding to be much faster than me in a running situation, I’ve tried to watch how I talk about my own performances or abilities—whether I think they’re good or bad. I’m sure that my friend was innocently trying to appear humble—not to make me feel bad—but it certainly made me think about times when I’ve maybe done the same thing to other people.

This is cute, but be careful whose accomplishments you downplay.

This is cute, but be careful whose accomplishments you downplay.

I know some people who can’t just take a compliment are after reassurance and want to be told a little bit more how great they are. That’s fine. I want to talk about the times where it’s more about not being able to own up to how great we are.

My fellow blogger and cycling friend Sam and I had little bit of a chat about this issue as we watched a club race together last week. Our coach (a man) worked with two ladies to do really well in the race together. It was a men’s race. The gal who won absolutely impresses me with her talent and dedication, but I can remember the first time I met her being met with the kind of downplaying that I’m getting at. Sam pointed me towards “Self-Deprecation and the Female Cyclist,” which is certainly worth a read if you feel like you hold yourself back or downplay your athletic accomplishments and want a reminder to stop that right now.

Maybe for some of us, this comes down to perfectionism—or that ever-looming sense that we aren’t good enough coming back again. We focus so much on what we aren’t or on where we fall short that it’s hard for us to appreciate the things that are really worth celebrating in ourselves. You just ran a great race? Yeah, but it wasn’t as fast as my PB. You just did your first CrossFit competition? Yeah, but it wasn’t Rx.

But it was still badass.

It was still worth being proud of.

It was definitely worth celebrating.

While you’re at it, stop adding the word “just” to things. You didn’t “just” do a 10km when someone else did a marathon. You didn’t “just” go to the gym twice this week when you meant to go four times. Those things count for something.

I’m torn on whether or not I think celebrating our abilities is unquestionably the best way to build our confidence. I certainly don’t think that our only source of empowerment should come from our abilities.  But I do know that pretending that these things don’t make us feel good or don’t contribute to our sense of self-esteem would mean we’d miss out on a whole lot of potential. Maybe the answer is that we can’t base all of our self-worth and confidence on what we’re capable of (so that when we aren’t so capable, we don’t suck), but this kind of appreciation can be a valuable part of what fills up our confidence buckets.

redminer

Anyways, I don’t think that it’s fair to expect anyone—man or woman—to be confident all the time. But it’s my hope that we can think about the way that brushing off compliments or trying to convince people that we’re really not all that good is a habit worth getting out of.

What do you think?
What have you done lately that’s worth being proud of?
Where do you downplay your accomplishments, and what’s up with that?

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#storiesnotselfies: Women’s Empowerment Series and a weekend well spent

I’ve not been my regular blogging self lately for a variety of reasons, but I know when something is worth blogging about, and this weekend included one of those things. Besides overdue reunions with busy friends, bouldering (aka falling on … Continue reading

I live #LikeAGirl: embrace it

You know those cheesy as can be, make you feel fuzzy and warm, watch over and over again…tampon commercials?

Me neither.

Except for the latest one, #LikeAGirl, from Always.

You probably wouldn’t know it’s a tampon commercial, but products aside, the ad is part of what the company’s calling an “epic battle to make sure that girls everywhere keep their confidence throughout puberty and beyond.” The woman who made the video had this to say:

“In my work as a documentarian, I have witnessed the confidence crisis among girls and the negative impact of stereotypes first-hand…When the words ‘like a girl’ are used to mean something bad, it is profoundly disempowering. I am proud to partner with Always to shed light on how this simple phrase can have a significant and long-lasting impact on girls and women. I am excited to be a part of the movement to redefine ‘like a girl’ into a positive affirmation.”

The gist of the ad is this: somewhere along the way growing up we start to think of “like a girl” as an insult. Rather than letting it be so, we should take it as a compliment.

I can see why Always would want to put out a video like this. Of course they want to connect with the messages that make women feel warm and fuzzy–it’s women and women alone who are going to be deciding which box of tampons to pick up (though that didn’t stop men from tossing in their two cents in the comment section, though, if you’re bored and want some entertainment). And I think they have a pretty good position from which to promote a better way of thinking about being a girl given that we’ve all got an Aunt Flow to accommodate, ladies. Sure, they’ll make some money off of it, but a campaign to help girls with confidence? I’m good with that! From apologizing profusely to thinking we’re not good enough, I think there’s a bit of a confidence crisis going on with girls–and a similar situation with boys, I’d add–these days, and when we don’t have confidence and self esteem, we don’t live the best lives we can.

“Like a girl” only carries a negative connotation if we let it. In my experience, it’s people who are feeling threatened who might throw this kind of an “insult” out. The more that we see women and girls doing amazing things, the less association there will be between “like a girl” and anything bad. If our gut reaction when we think of doing things “like a girl” is to think of Chrissie Wellington racing Ironmans or Serena Williams playing tennis or Camille Leblanc-Bazinet doing CrossFit, the phrase will cease to be an insult.

GIRL!

Chrissie Wellington: GIRL!

Camille's a girl!

Camille’s also a girl!

I am sure that there are some that would argue that reclaiming “like a girl” might just reinforce that there are differences between boys and girls. But I personally do not mind that I am different than boys. There might be things that I don’t do as well as an average male–but there are things that I can do that boys cannot (i.e. carry and give birth to a child). Women are certainly held back if they think of themselves as the weaker sex and let it stop themselves from trying. Luckily, women don’t have people telling us that our uteruses are going to prolapse from any kind of strenuous exercise or that we need to conserve our vital energy for our more feminine pursuits these days. Without those kinds of messages, women push the envelope and achieve amazing physical feats. The goal shouldn’t be to be the same as a man, it should be to stop thinking about being a man as somehow better than being a woman. With that kind of thinking, it’s no wonder that people take “like a girl” as an insult. There’s a difference between reinforcing differences and embracing them. I know that accepting that there are things about being a girl–i.e. needing more fat in order to stay healthy, not having the same amount of muscle, etc.–frees me up to try my hardest at doing things well, giving me the freedom to live #LikeAGirl without feeling bad about it.

What do you think of the #LikeAGirl video/campaign?
Do you take it as an insult if someone tells you you ______ “like a girl”?

 

think about it: perspectives on self esteem

On my plane ride home last week, I picked up the latest issue of Scientific American Mind (yes, I am this nerdy). In it was one article (you can read part of it online) entitled “Self Esteem Can Be an Ego Trap,” which got me thinking. The gist of the article is, as the summary says:

  • “Having high self-esteem has a few modest benefits, but it can produce problems and is mostly irrelevant for success.
  • The pursuit of self-esteem through a focus on greatness makes us emotionally vulnerable to life’s disappointments—and can even lower our chances of success.”

Fair enough. Something that I’ve done a lot of thinking, reading, and writing about is self esteem and how to improve it. The first limiting the belief where I had a “holy shit, no wonder things are like this” moment was one around not being good enough–a red flag that my self esteem needed some work. For the last while, I’ve told myself that self esteem comes from being successful at things that challenge us. I can remember deciding that I needed to start proving to myself that I can achieve things in order to build up my self esteem.

I’m starting to reconsider that perspective.

Red flag: proving.

Truth: Self worth is inherent. You deserve to feel good about yourself whether you get out of bed and put pants on in the morning or not. This is an idea I keep coming back to and one that I remind myself and others of regularly. 

If you read my post on Monday, you might remember that I’ve been trying to rest and figure out a foot injury since the beginning of the month. Turns out it’s a stress fracture. If you know me at all, you know that sitting still isn’t my forte and that I like to do lots of things that involve sweating and using my foot. Naturally, not being able to do them is a big ol’ bummer.

But beyond just being disappointed that I can’t run or do yoga or CrossFit or whatever the way I’d like to, I’ve also noticed something bigger going on with my emotions in the midst of all this: I’m feeling worthless (or at least not optimally worthy). It looks like this: not thinking that I “deserve” to eat dessert since I’m not working out, not feeling like I’ve accomplished enough in a day and thinking that since I can’t work out, I should be way more productive, not bothering to take care of myself in other ways (putting off things like painting my chipped nails or folding my laundry, etc.). It feels like this: crappy. And that old perspective on self esteem is what was driving the whole mess.

Realizing that I’d like to feel good about myself regardless of whether or not I’m succeeding or failing is kind of a big deal. Great success requires being brave enough to take on challenges. What comes with taking on challenges is failure. When we’re striving for a new level, we’re stretching ourselves. If we’re not failing, we’re not trying hard enough. If I want to be excellent, there’s no room for letting my failures (or successes) dictate how I feel about myself at the core.

Like the article says, self esteem based on success is fragile. I’d also argue that if your self esteem is situational, it can be fleeting. I wrote about how we can get caught up in if only thinking and chase one thing after the next after the next to no end in that post on Monday–and the same thing applies here. From one thing to the next, when will it be enough?

The article has its own suggestions about what a better option for building self esteem might be, namely compassion: “Compassion, along with a less self-centered perspective, can motivate us to achieve while helping us weather bad news, learn from our mistakes and fortify our friendships.” While I don’t think there’s anything wrong with focusing on yourself or putting yourself first, I think this suggestion is just a nicer way to tell people to get over themselves, which sounds like a good first step. The article also points to using values instead of failure and success as a way to measure our worth. I agree wholeheartedly and think that the best way to look at this all is to consider the question, in true coactive coaching style, “who am I being?”

If we are in touch with our values and what we stand for in the world, we have a way of measuring how we’re doing–and good way to build up our self esteem. Sure, we might still see ourselves in negative light, but if we’re disappointed with ourselves for failing to honour a value, that’s the kind of feedback that we need in order to course correct and become a more fully expressed version of our most authentic self.

yup yup

I’m aware that this might be “out there” for some people. We tend to focus on the doing (the “active” in “coactive”) but in this situation, a little shift back to the being (“co”) is worth a shot.  Being asked who you’re being in the world can be different. Thinking about who you want to be in the world can be revolutionary.

What do you base self esteem on?
Who do you want to be in the world?

think about it: fitspiration frustration

I’ve blogged about my stance on fitspiration (“strong is the new skinny,” etc.) before–more than once–but I think because I love me a good workout and hang around in the fitness world on the interwebs, it haunts me.

I’ll start with an apology if you share and/or like this stuff.

I do not.

This week’s offender?

fitspiration

Before I get into it, I feel like I need to at least give this image props for showing the gal’s face.

But that’s all it’s getting props for. My “are you kidding me?” instincts need to point out that wearing that much makeup is a recipe for a Good Charlotte-esque disaster.

eyeliner good charlotte

While I’m ridiculously jealous of her glad that she has beautiful long hair that can blow in the wind while she does mountain climbers or burpees or sprints or whatever is about to go down in this image, let’s get real. My hair, which doesn’t even touch my neck, drives me batty when I work out if it’s not pinned into a pathetic excuse for a pony tail (a feat that requires a whole lotta bobby pins, I might add).

I’m used to the image of the pretty girl working out and I’m used to just doing my own sweaty thing with a smile on my face instead of it. I wouldn’t say “I’m over it” but I am a little bit over it. What really made me mad about this picture were the words and the messages that came along with them.

I’m all for continuously improving. Training harder, yay. Eating cleaner, maybe (“dirty” food is dangerously close to the good/bad paradigm that is a recipe for insanity in my books, but that and words like “cheat” are a topic for another post of its own). But from there, it heads into territory that I’m not so okay with.

I’m not okay with hating yourself–even your “old” self.

This reminded me of something that Jillian Michaels said when I went to her Maximize Your Life show a few weeks ago. She’d talked about how when, at the end of the season, the people on Biggest Loser would be presented with a cardboard cut-out of their old bodies, they’d initially react with disgust– kicking their old selves down, saying mean things and calling themselves gross, etc.

That makes me sad.

Just like that “gross” person was actually the person who signed themselves up for the show and did the work to lose the weight—the strong one, the determined one—the strong person that this fitspiration is so ready to become has to come from the “old” girl.

Saying this seems stupid, but: you will always be you.

What I’m getting at is this: hating yourself is the fastest way to make yourself feel like crap, not for making lasting change in your life.

You can trust me on this one, I’ve dabbled in it.

Whenever I’ve tried to hate myself into change—beat myself up for drinking too much coffee, told myself I’m a pig and that I need to eat less, called myself lazy for not working out, etc.—it’s backfired. Feeling crappy, I end up doing more of the things that “sabotage” myself in an attempt to feel better—eating more, spending more money, etc. etc.—and end up a not so happy camper no better off than I was in the first place.

Trying to change your life is hard. When you feel bad, it’s even harder.

So what’s the alternative?

Loving yourself into and through change.

My suggestions:
Play on your own team. Notice when you’re beating yourself up and get out of that headspace. Find something positive to focus on, like what you’re presently achieving and the kind of person you’re already in the process of becoming. Be patient with yourself.

Self-esteem and the way you look at and talk to yourself matters. Put the same amount of effort into learning to love yourself that you do into attempting to “fix” yourself and I have a feeling you’ll be a heck of a lot better set up to achieve whatever your loved and happy little heart desires.

When you love yourself, you take care of yourself.

When you take care of yourself, things get better.

Love yourself now.

be nice to yourself

What goals do you set based on what’s wrong, broken, or needing to be fixed? What could you use that energy for instead?
What do you beat yourself up for?

As if

First, a flashback (skip to 1:08ish for the title reference, please!):

Second, here goes…

This week’s been filled with fun and plenty of things to keep me busy, but I’ve been having a hella time sleeping. Last night, after lying in bed for about an hour, I said to hell with tossing and turning and got up and wrapped up the Christmas presents under my new tree. Is it strange to wrap gifts at 2am? In November?

While I wrapped, I listened to a podcast where Geneen Roth was talking about one of her books—“Women, Food, and God”—which really changed the way I looked at my eating issues back when I was first introduced to her work. Geneen writes in a way that takes the words out of my mouth but also has a knack for getting at something deeper. I’d go so far as to say she awakens consciousness to things I might never have considered on my own or perhaps just puts down on paper the things that many of us are awesome at avoiding.

At any rate, I’m feeling absolutely inspired by her and the book, which I paged through today for old time’s sake. One of the dog-eared pages I came to talked about the concept of living “as if” and I really think, given my posts yesterday, that it applies. Though her reference to “The Voice” might not make full sense, think of it as the beliefs and chatter in your mind about yourself (your inner critic) and reflect on this:

“I tell those who haven’t experienced themselves without The Voice that they need to live as if. Live as if they are worth their own time. Live as if they deserve to take care of their bodies. Live as if the possibilities they long for actually exist. Living as if creates a bridge to a new way of living. It allows you to see that something else is possible. That you really can walk, talk, and eat as if you deserve to be here.”

I think what she suggests here is extremely powerful.

If you’re like me, that’s a refreshing idea. If you’re convinced that you’re overweight and the itty bitty shitty committee that sometimes shows up in your thoughts drives your actions, you’re in a tough spot.

If you’re like me, you realize that that belief is absolutely misguided. Maybe you even know where the voice came from—for me, I can remember a painful time when someone who I love called me “fat and lazy”—and you’re actively trying to flip the switch to a more positive frequency.

But maybe like me, that’s tough. Seeing yourself in new light—as awesome at your core and inherently healthy—can take time. I know that in some areas of my life, I’ve certainly been able to flip that switch. Take, for instance, relationships. It’s easy for me to recognize that I deserve to be surrounded by amazing people who make me feel good and to spend less time with people who bring me down. Done and done. It’s not so easy to convince myself that, in the case of my body, my default is fit.

While it’s tough, it’s not impossible. And it’s happening, albeit slowly. I can catch myself heading into a negative headspace. I can recognize my thoughts for what they are. And while building self-esteem takes effort, the work is rewarding in and of itself. Who wouldn’t want to feel healthier and happier?  I’d suppose that if you’re reading a blog called Happy is the New Healthy, you’d be all over that!

So how about we do a little reflecting on hypothetical situation: What if you were always going to have this body—at this weight, with those thighs, and that jean size?

  • How would you eat?
  • How would you talk to yourself?
  • How would you exercise?
  • What would you stop doing?
  • What would you start doing?
  • What would you do more of?
  • Less of?
  • What would you wear?
  • What would shopping be like?
  • What would your pantry look like?
  • Where would you spend your money?

My guess is that, particularly if you’ve been dieting or “holding yourself back” you might start with an answer like “I’d eat cake all the time!” Sure, permission to eat freely might sound like permission to binge. But at the end of the day, weight or no weight, bingeing sucks. You’d start to eat the things that genuinely move your body towards health—knowing that food either makes you healthier or makes you sicker. Perhaps the talk of thunder thighs or pudge would change into appreciation of your curves or muscular build or at least into acceptance. Maybe you’d hop off the elliptical and lace up your hiking boots to move your body in a way that you’d love. Maybe you’d stop bingeing, restricting, talking about dieting with your friends, or comparing yourself to other people. Maybe you’d start taking care of your body (check-ups, adjustments, hygiene, etc.), getting more sleep, or going on dates. Perhaps you’d wear clothes that fit you and that flatter you—not baggy duds to hide yourself or things that are too tight and make you a cranky sausage. Would you dread shopping or would you find stores that sell things that you could swear were made just for you? Maybe you’d keep foods you’re certain you could never have around for fear of demolishing them in your kitchen. Maybe you’d stop buying magazines offering how to lose the last 10lbs, diet supplements that promise to be the missing answer in your weight issues.

Maybe you’d start to live a whole different life.

If those questions shook you up, I encourage you to start doing some of the things that I listed (or if you thought of something that you’d do if your weight didn’t matter)—maybe not the cake one. The things that you’d do for the sake of being healthy and happy—the stuff I listed as the answers—are the things that I absolutely must do if I want to be healthy and happy. Anything else is trivial. What would happen if you asked yourself the first question as it applies to the things you do daily?

At the end of the day, whether you’re 20lbs overweight, underweight, or exactly where you think you belong, you’re not healthy if you don’t take care of yourself. Regardless of what your body looks like or weighs, you’re wonderful. You deserve everything good and lovely in the world. Using food to make yourself miserable—fat, skinny, obsessive, etc.—distorts that. It gives you a problem, something you can wave in your face as proof that you’re not so amazing.

But you are amazing.

Whether or not you have weight to lose or gain, giving up the idea that that weight is a problem is a big deal. It offers you the chance to make a radical shift to how you approach yourself and your day to day actions. It takes you from a living against—problem-focused—approach and creates the space for you to instead live for.

Rather than an excuse to be fat and lazy and all things people like to assume not being attached to your weight mean, letting go puts the focus back on our actions. It gives you the right to do what’s healthy for healthy’s sake. Sometimes our weight can distort things. Consider the skinny fat person who eats like crap and never moves. With weight as a distorting lens to judge whether or not they’re healthy, they’re winning. Without it, they’re shit out of luck.

Weight is just an outcome—and as the skinny fat example suggests, it’s just a part of the picture. It’d take a certain kind of person to suggest that appearance trumps everything else and I’d like to punch that kind of person squarely between the eyes.

Lose the lens. Take some responsibility for taking care of yourself and be proud of the fact that you’re doing it.

All of this is asking you to take a step. To start to live for being healthy and happy and fit and strong rather than to live against being fat, sad, out of shape, or weak. Instead of avoiding the things that you think will bring you down, go after the things that will lift you up. Instead of avoiding whatever it is you’re scared of in life, create what you want.

Are you ready to live “as if?”

Finally, some more cheese…

The bigger the better

When it comes to certain things, my motto is most definitely “the bigger the better”…

desserts

mountains

coffees

deadlift weight

shoe collection

gifts

When it comes to certain things, I’m less likely to be so excited about all things large and in charge.

For instance, my thighs.

Let me give you the background on this so you know where I’m coming from.

Yesterday at work, I decided to buy myself a lovely pair of wunder under crops.

Cute, no? Reversible, too!

Before I go into why these tights are so awesome (sweat-wicking miracle pants, anyone?), let me stay on track.

A few months ago, I started buying my pants in a size larger than when I was at my smallest–an extra small (who was extra cranky, extra hangry, and extra sick). I’ve come to terms with it and really have had no problems buying myself the equivalent of a small.

Yesterday, I decided to try these bad boys on in that small size just to make sure the length was right. Didn’t I have a surprise when they were see-through. According to the gals I work with, it was fine. But according to me, the girl who tries to be honest with anyone who asks me for an opinion on the size of their pants–shiny, see-through = too small, bunchy/baggy = too big <– it’s simple!–I needed to at least try on the other size.

I grabbed the mediums, albeit a bit dismayed. When I put them on, they felt awesome. They also looked awesome.

I had a moment of “oh man, another size up!” in my head, but I mostly shut it up and decided that my options were to stop squatting (not happening) or to just suck it up, take ’em home, and get on with my life. I chose option B but not after commenting that I’d gone up another size.

The response (and I always feel awkward blogging about what other people say, but this is necessary for me to make my point) was that it was okay to go up a size.

Fair enough.

But, “Just keep going to spin and you’ll get back down.” (or something roughly along those lines)

Ha.

There was a time in my life where I spun every day. I think I was 20lbs heavier than this for part of that period and then 20lbs lighter for another. Spinning has little to no effect on the size of my ass–it’s my mindset that does that.

What struck me about the comment wasn’t that I felt offended–cuz I really don’t every want to be back in those tiny little pants–it was the assumption that I was upset over going up a size that resonated with me.

So now that you know where I’m coming from, here comes the word vomit part of this post:

As someone who is just doing what I know is good for me–working out in a balanced way, eating whole foods that move me towards health, giving myself downtime, etc.–and embracing my body as it comes out, I felt sad when I realized that the thought that going up a size is somehow wrong is totally common. I can’t count the number of times someone at work or elsewhere has complained about, refused to, or been otherwise upset about going up a size OR the number of times I’ve heard people comment how nice it would be to lose a few pounds or to fit into a small or size 2 or 4 or whatever number it is they’ve decided is small enough.

News flash: we’re not all meant to be small. Medium exists for a reason. So do large, extra large, and extra small, for that reason. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes and beyond that, healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes.

You have permission to take up space. Why is small so celebrated? Why is it that when it comes to our bodies, we change our tune from “I want to be big and strong when I grow up” to “I want to lose be a size 2,” “I want to lose weight,” or “My butt is too big.” All of these ideas suggest that we’re somehow wrong but we’re not wrong–our thoughts are. 

The nice thing about thoughts? We can change them!

Instead of thinking you’re somehow wrong by being the size you are, you can think that you are perfect in every way. You can decide that you are here to take up space in this world and move into owning that physical space. I could run away with the idea that when you give yourself full permission to take up physical space you also give yourself permission to take up space in other ways (emotionally, mentally, etc. in your relationships, in your work, in the world at large) but I’ll save that for another day!

If you’re stuck on small, consider this:

For the smalls out there–who are really meant to be small–this isn’t an attack on skinny gals. If you’re skinny and you’re doing the things you need to to be healthy, ROCK that size 4. But if you’re struggling to stay there at the cost of your happiness, healthiness, or sanity…give it up! We are not all meant to be smalls. We are not all meant to be mediums, larges, or any other size we come up with and make “wrong”. We are all meant to be whatever happens when we do the right things. I firmly believe that.

I’d go further to say that while we struggle to buy a bigger size, it’s not really about being medium, large, extra large…whatever. The problem isn’t with our bodies or the size of them, it’s with what we think of them. The sooner we can learn to stop making the size or shape of ourselves wrong, the better off we’ll be.

Please do me a favour: STOP basing your goals on what your body will look like or how much you’ll weigh. Do things that you know are healthy because they’re healthy. For example: if you end up gaining weight from the muscle you’ve put on in your efforts to get strong lifting weights, awesome. If you lose weight because you’ve started walking to work instead of driving every day, bonus. The good things are that you’re stronger and moving more, not that your body composition improved in a certain direction (whichever one you think is “right”).

Reminder: You are supposed to take up space. You are supposed to be healthy. You are supposed to have the body that results from doing healthy things that make you happy.

You can spend the rest of your life thinking that you’re supposed to be smaller, or you can accept your body as it is and do the things you know are good for your mind, body, and soul (eating well, exercising, finding your passions and going after them, and having some chocolate along the way?).

You can spend the rest of your life thinking that you should optimize your body composition, or you can optimize your choices instead and let whatever is supposed to happen happen.

You can buy into the idea that we should be as small as possible and you can pass this idea along to your kids, reinforce it to the people you come into contact with, and leave the world no better, or you can challenge it by accepting yourself and owning the decision to embrace your body at it’s natural, healthy, ideal size.

This is one of those posts that I think needs to be shared. I think a lot of people are probably on the same page as me–and a lot of people are wondering if it’s OK to be on this page. You’re not alone. The more people that talk about this and the more people who start living this self-acceptance and challenging fat talk and the notion that we should always be after weight loss, the bigger the impact we can have.

And just like ice cream sundaes, when it comes to trying to change the world, “the bigger the better” most certainly applies.

Watch your language

If there’s one thing that makes me a total nerd,  I love, it’s words. 

But lately I’ve been picking up on things that I say and write and I had a bit of an “I really need to address this” kind of realization this weekend.

In specific, I had a double dose of barbecues and a date with friends for a beer planned after a bike ride. Sounds like a good day, right?

My thoughts: “Well you can get away with a drink or two since you’ll be biking for a few hours this morning.”

HOLD UP!

I know I’m not the only one guilty of this—I see it all the time:

  • Olympic athletes being able to “get away” with eating less than perfectly since they burn so many calories
  • Young people saying they can “get away” with things like binge drinking, eating crap, and not exercising
  • Articles about how you can “afford” to let loose if you’re an active person
  • During my recovery from my eating disorder, being told I could “get away” with having extra treats given my circumstances

I wish someone would ask these people – and I wish I’d asked myself sooner – what are you getting away with? If you have to get away with it, should you be doing it? If you really want to do it, should you be making it into something you have to get away with?

I’m reading The Six Pillars of Self Esteem and funny enough (I’m starting to think coincidences don’t actually exist), something came up in the book that really relates to all of this. In the section on integrity, Branden discusses how little issues with integrity and the small choices we make are the ones that accumulate to really affect us. In short, when we act in a way that’s different then our values, we are damaging our self esteem and acting in contradiction to ourselves. That’s not good! We might say that “getting away” with stuff makes us feel badass (I got away with skipping school today! I’m so badass!), but I think we all know how we really feel when we go against what we know is right—bad (I got away with listening to my heart and did something I know is bad for me! Ew! OR I did what I really want to but I’m supposed to feel bad for it! I’m a bad person!).

All of this comes back to a thought that changed my life (big deal, I know!): you only go to bed with you. I have a yoga teacher friend who likes to tell us that you better start liking yourself because you’re always going to be with you. You can’t argue with that. When I heard this, I was just realizing how I really am in charge of how I operate in this world. I am the one who I have to answer to–not my parents, not my friends, not a doctor or a nutritionist or a dietitian or shrink–ME!

So if the goal is to be healthy, why do we use this kind of language?

I think it’s because we have a skewed idea of what health is, plain and simple. We’re confused about what it takes to be healthy and while it might not be entirely our fault, that’s not an excuse. News flash: being skinny isn’t being healthy–contrary to what the cover of most health magazines or newspaper headlines regarding health might suggest.

Exhibit A: Eat what you crave (& still lose) – I could have chosen just about any magazine, but this one’s on new stands now

Not being sick, fat, or hurt doesn’t mean that you’re not doing harm to your body. In other words, if you put a bunch of chemicals in it (binge drink), load it up with crappy food (eat poorly because you think you can “afford” it as a big exerciser or an endurance athlete), neglect it (skip things like flexibility or mobility work because you have somehow evaded injury thus far)—you’re still doing bad things to your body and to yourself. The focus needs to be on the behavior and whether it in itself is actually beneficial—not on the outcome. In short, when you do something, we should be able to answer with confidence that it’s helping us achieve our goals and our values–or be prepared to pay the price of going against our own heart/will/intelligence (lowered self esteem, the actual detrimental effects of what it is we’re doing, etc.).

The biggest application of this to myself is in terms of health, so just to be clear on what I’m thinking: Health is simply the outcome of doing the healthy things that we all know are good for us – sleeping, eating good food, moving, drinking plenty of water, resting, loving — and it’s the way we’re supposed to be (health is your birthright, your natural state, and where your body wants to be). Where I think people get mixed up is forgetting that health is the natural state we want to be in OR thinking of a picture of healthy and then aiming for that instead of exploring what is actually healthy, doing those things, and letting the outcome (Health! Imagine that!) happen. In short, you can’t take a picture of health and then hammer yourself into it. For example: Thinking that people with a six pack and clear skin are healthy and then going on a crash diet and taking acne medication to get there would be this kind of end-focused, misguided approach. Personally, this matters: I got a lot of comments about how “healthy” and great I looked when I first lost weight during my dances with my eating disorder. Sure—I might have been healthy by the looks of things, but healthy can’t be judged by the looks of things. My behaviours were far from health-promoting and that’s where the real issue is (unless it’s in the fact that most people equate weight loss with health, but that health is more than weight is one of the points of my blog, in case you missed it).

What this all means to me: go eat your ice cream and be done with it. Don’t justify it, but shift the way you think about it (could eating ice cream every once in a while be part of your definition of health?). The minute you say “I can get away with this,” you contribute to that skewed idea about what it is to be healthy.  Own your decision to do whatever it is you’re doing. Think about your definition of healthy. If you base your idea of health and wellness on deprivation, you’re going to be more tempted to try to “get away” with things—we want what we can’t have. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what happens if people based health on the positives instead of on all the things they’re trying to avoid? Or if more people started exercising because it’s good for us, not because it helps us avoid weight gain? If we ate more vegetables because they were healthy, not because they prevent ___________ (insert disease/condition of choice here)?I’m working on a definition of health that makes doing the things I used to think I was “getting away” with less appealing–and it’s working. Why would I want to go out and do things that bring me down when I actually care about myself and want to take care of myself? Alternatively, why would I pretend like I think something I’m doing is bad just because people think it’s bad, justify it to please them, and belittle my own intelligence and self esteem in the process? If you want to do something, do it. No apologies, no regrets.  

This is a bigger issue than a blog post can take on, but I thought it was worth at least putting out there.  Like I said before, the first step is to notice this kind of talk in yourself. Sure, if it’s a societal thing and people are focused on this notion of health as just not being sick or not being fat, that’s a problem that’s going to take a lot of work to change. But throwing up your hands and saying “that’s the way it is” and going on contributing to it if you’re aware isn’t helping anyone, least of all yourself.

If you got sick of reading and now here you are hoping for some cheesy quote, here’s the summary: If your goal is healthy, you don’t “get away” with things that are unhealthy.