At the gym one day, I shamelessly eavesdropped on a conversation between two women that went something like this:
(As a tall, thin, glistening woman walked by) “Oh, look at her. She’s so skinny, she probably hasn’t eaten since Clinton was president.”
“You know she’s had work done–nobody could look that perfect without some help.”
“Listen to you talk! I would kill for your thighs.”
“Oh, please–look at these flabby things! And you’re one to talk, Ms. Perfect Abs.”
“Perfect? Maybe perfectly awful.”
Here’s the thing: These women looked great. They were strong, curvy and obviously fit but, like many women, they were so focused on their imperfections, they weren’t seeing what I was seeing. And it’s not just women who are so hard on themselves. Men also talk about their bodies, just not the same way women do. Witness this conversation between my husband and one of his buddies:
“Dude, I’m getting fat.”
(Shrugging) “Let’s go get a beer.”
Whether you’re a man or a woman, chances are you don’t have the perfect body. Chances are even greater that you’ve done things to try and get the perfect body. Things like leg lifts, crunches, squats, lunges, hours on the treadmill, hundreds of salads, thousands of glasses of water…all of it in the hopes that you will finally get rid of those love handles or those chunky thighs.
What you’ve probably figured out is that all the exercise and dieting in the world may not be enough to achieve that perfection so many of us desire. We’re still a product of our genes. The question then becomes, how much can we really change and what do we do if we can’t get that perfect body?
How Much Can You Change Your Body?
We all approach our bodies differently. Some people scrutinize every detail to see what they have or haven’t achieved. Others studiously avoid looking at themselves unless they absolutely have to. With images of effortless perfection coming at us from TV, magazines and the Internet, it’s no wonder we fret over our own bodies. Why can’t I look like THAT, we wonder?
One reason is that many aspects of your body are determined by factors beyond your control and that starts with your body type.
What’s Your Body Type?
It’s hard to know how large of a role genes play in what we can accomplish with our bodies. They determine things like height, hair color and eye color, but they also determine your basic body type:
- Endomorph – This body type tends to have a higher body fat, big bones and a slower metabolism. For that reason, it may be difficult to lose weight.
- Mesomorphs – With this body type, a person is more muscular and may have an easier time losing fat and gaining muscle.
- Ectomorph – People with this body type tend to be lean and may even have trouble gaining weight due to a faster metabolism. Yeah…that sucks, right?
Most of us fall somewhere in between these different body types, which means that some of us will lose weight easily and quickly while others won’t. There are also different body shapes: Apple, pear, hourglass…you know the drill.
While we may think that the right combination of exercise and diet will give us the ideal body, we may be limited by our inherited body type.
So, what does that mean for you?
The truth is, no one can tell what you can or can’t change about your body. You can lose or gain fat by burning more or less calories, and you can change the amount of muscle you have by lifting weights.
You can control the calories you put in your body and the calories you expend with exercise and activity, but, what you can’t do is choose where you lose that fat or gain that muscle.
So, what if you do everything right and you still have stubborn areas of fat you can’t seem to get rid of? One option is, of course, plastic surgery, but, I have a better idea. What if you could change your idea of a perfect body? This process requires dedication and commitment, a commitment to changing how you think about yourself.
Can You Accept Your Body?
The idea of accepting your body just the way it is may seem completely foreign to you.
In fact, it feels like the world around us is set on keeping us unhappy with our bodies. We constantly see ads, commercials and informercials for diets, pills and gadgets to help us reshape every inch of our bodies.
There are magazines with pencil-thin models on the front and headlines promising solutions for everything from flabby abs to dimpled thighs.
If you didn’t know better, you’d think getting the perfect body is something we should all be working on morning, noon and night. Even if we don’t work on it all day, a lot of us are at least thinking about it.
And many of us may balk at the idea of body acceptance. If we accept our bodies, won’t we become complacent? If we embrace our bigger thighs or love handles, won’t we get even fatter?
Many of us are afraid that, unless we put ourselves down and remain constantly aware of our flaws, we won’t be motivated to exercise or eat right.
The good news is, there is some evidence that a healthy body acceptance actually encourages us to exercise and eat right. In
There are a number of ways to work on body acceptance and, yes, I’m going to talk about exercise.
First Exercise For a Healthy Body
While exercise isn’t a magic pill for creating the perfect body, it does have magical qualities on your body image and self-esteem.
A variety of studies have shown that people of all ages and genders experience improved self-esteem, self-worth and perceptions of how attractive they are after starting an exercise program.
While many of us use exercise as a tool to get the perfect body, it can also be a tool for shifting your focus away from perfection and on what you can accomplish each and every day. Exercise improves your:
- Strength and endurance. When you exercise, you may be so focused on the scale that you’re not aware of other progress you’ve made. But, if you pay attention, you’ll notice those strength gains in other areas of your life – being able to carry more groceries or pick up your kids or grandkids without throwing out your back. You’ll have more energy to get everything done without feeling exhausted.
- Confidence. Mastering a new activity makes you more confident. You may start that kickboxing class or strength training workout tripping over your own feet or feeling a little ridiculous, but, it only takes a few workouts for your body to get used to those activities and get better at them. That confidence may spur you to even greater goals like signing up for a race or taking an active vacation.
- Connection. We spend so much time sitting, we forget what it feels like to actually move our bodies. When you start exercising, you learn about your body in a whole different way – how it feels when your heart speeds up and your breathing increases. You can feel your muscles contract and, best of all, you feel your own power. That awareness makes you realize you’re capable of so many things.
- Function over appearance. When you spend more time moving your body, you become more interested in doing things to make it work more efficiently. Now, instead of only focusing on how to make your thighs thinner, you’re focusing on how to make them stronger so you can make it through that next 3-mile run. Your goals change as you focus on staying healthy and fit.
Rethink Your Goals
If you’re ready to give up on the idea of perfection, it’s time to set new goals for yourself.
Doing this will open the door for new ways of thinking and new ways of exercising. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a goal to lose weight or even to improve on different areas of your body.
It’s when those goals leave you frustrated that it may be time for a change. Try this step-by-step process for creating new goals:
- Make a list of your goals. Write down every goal you have and estimate how long you’ve had that goal (e.g., “I’ve wanted smaller thighs for the last 25 years”).
- Assess your goals. Put a star next to any goals that, a) you’ve had for years and haven’t achieved, b) may be out of reach and, c) that make you feel bad about yourself. For example, if you’ve been trying to get rid of those love handles for the last 5 years, nothing has worked and you feel awful every time you think about it, that goal deserves a star.
- Get rid of your impossible goals. Go through the goals you marked and ask yourself how likely it is that you’ll reach that goal, given all the time and energy you’ve already spent on it (or maybe HAVEN’T spent). Then ask yourself what would happen if you crossed it off your list. What if you decided to forget about getting rid of those love handles for once and for all? If you’re ready, do it! This may take some practice in your thinking.
- Set new goals. Just because you get rid of some goals doesn’t mean you stop working towards something. The difference now is that you can set goals based on new parameters. Instead of getting rid of your love handles, what if you focused on getting in a certain number of workouts each week or building strength so that you can do more around the yard or house? Think about what you want your body to do rather than what you want it to look like and set your goals accordingly.
You may need some help in both letting go of old goals and setting new ones. These resources can help you get started:
Another part of giving up perfection is changing how you think about your body and about exercise. It’s funny how exercise can seem impossible when you’re trying to change your body…and why not? Doing hundreds of crunches to get flat abs would frustrate anyone since spot reduction isn’t in the cards.
But, opening your mind to the possibility that exercise can be used for something other than reshaping your body may just put physical activity within your reach. Consider these different activities and how you might use them to further your new goals:
You know cardio burns calories and that helps with losing weight. But, it can do so much more
- Strengthens your heart and makes it work more efficiently
- Increases your lung capacity
- Improves bone density
- Lowers bad cholesterol and reduces your risk of heart disease and diabetes
- Lowers stress, depression and anxiety
Looking at these benefits may help you come up with those new goals. For example, knowing cardio can lower bad cholesterol, you could set a goal to get off your cholesterol meds using regular workouts. Or, you could work towards reducing your stress by scheduling short workouts throughout the day.
Like cardio, strength training is great for losing fat and gaining muscle, both of which contribute to looking better. But, since you’re getting away from perfection, other reasons to lift weights include:
- Increased strength and endurance
- Protection from injuries
- Better coordination and muscle control
- Improved balance and stability
Use some of these benefits to set your new goals. For example, if you have problems with back pain caused by sitting too much, set a goal to work on your core strength. This Quick Fix Core Workout can be done in about 5 minutes!
The point is – start using exercise to your advantage rather than thinking of it as an evil thing you HAVE to do. All the benefits of exercise are yours for the taking, not something you have to dread. As long as you stick with what feels good to you, you can sort of forget about exercising into that perfect body. Because unless you’re genetically blessed already, it probably ain’t gonna happen.
And that, as they say, is ok.