Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, there’s no denying this is the season of giving. Luckily, one of the truths of humanity is giving is contagious. Cases in point, the “Pay It Forward” movement and the “Ice Bucket Challenge” that both went viral. Taking a look at this season from a fitness perspective, however, I’m suggesting we all start with ourselves when it comes to this phenomenon.
While my wish for everyone would be that we strive for fitness for the sake of health as opposed to body image, I know this isn’t realistic. Go to any gym and one will be able to spot just as many, if not more, nods to vanity than to fitness in the way people behave, dress and treat one another. If you doubt this, your mind will be changed once you read “9 Ways You Could Be Fat Shaming Someone at the Gym” from Shape.
When our exercise and diet habits revolve primarily around body image, we are constantly comparing ourselves to others and nervously monitoring our weight, appearance and every calorie we ingest. And, just as the Shape article suggests, this can lead to negative behavior when we deal with others.
From my reckoning, this is no different from the bully in the schoolyard who is abused at home. Or the perfectionist boss who never seems accountable for any of his own failures. They are flawed and they know it. They compensate for their incompetence by tearing down everyone around them to make themselves feel more competent. The classic inferiority complex.
Maybe I’m giving these nasty people at the gym too much credit but, I’m guessing, they probably say worse to themselves in their internal dialogues. Perhaps if they were a little kinder to themselves, a little more forgiving, they wouldn’t feel the need to fear or insult the people around them.
Even if I’m wrong – even if they’re just nasty people who love to look at themselves in the mirror – there still are far too many of us who could afford to be less judgmental of our own appearances. And, in turn, we would show more compassion to the people around us, no matter their body shape or fitness level.
Be Kind To Yourself
In a perfect world, mirrors would only be used to check for runs in stockings, spinach lodged between teeth and misbehaving locks of hair. Sadly, we often use them to tick off an A to Z list of perceived imperfections. Start a new habit in this season of love. When you catch yourself taking mental note of a flaw, find two things about what you see that you like. Two positives for every one negative. Every time.
Similarly, feed yourself with quality food. Instead of being concerned with calorie count and fat content, think about feeding your muscles, bones and organs. Focus on the freshness of foods. When you want a sweet treat, don’t sell yourself short by opting for processed supermarket fare. Get your indulgences at a bakery or, better yet, make them from scratch. And then, most importantly, savor and enjoy.
Feed your body, too, with movement. Whether it’s cardiovascular, strengthening or stretching, it is all good for you and nourishing mind, body and soul. Every workout – no matter the mode, length or intensity – is a victory and should be treated as such. A missed workout is only a failure if you use it as an excuse not to exercise the next day.
Doing these things encourages you to appreciate what is good about you, the foods you put into your body and the things you do to keep it strong. It forces you to practice mindful eating which ensures you will make healthier choices more often than not and be satisfied with small amounts of the not-so-healthy ones. It trains you to take opportunities to challenge yourself physically when they arise rather than focus on missed opportunities. And remind yourself that doing all of these things are gifts because you love yourself and not because you want to look a certain way.
What exercise and nutrition science is telling us, loud and clear, is scales and the Body Mass Index or BMI (a formula using a ratio of height and weight) are, at best, incomplete tools in assessing one’s health and risk for disease. Overweight and fit is healthier than normal weight and unfit and far healthier than underweight under any circumstances.
This is what I’m always reminding my clients. And, as such, I’m so much more pleased when a client comes to me with a story about running a mile without having to stop or carrying an object she once wouldn’t have attempted to lift as compared to telling me she lost five pounds. The weight-loss is a positive, to be sure. But it isn’t nearly the evidence of improved health and well-being as the other two scenarios.
Kindness and comfort described here lead to improved health and all three lead to happiness. And it is all contagious. Watch these women, most of whom don’t possess society’s ideal body shape, and note the utter joy in being fit:
‘Tis the season of love and peace. Begin with you and pass along kindness, comfort and joy to everyone around you.