Body Image: How To Exercise While Staying Body Positive
As most people do, I've been going to the gym a lot so far this year. But, in the spirit of anti-resolutions, and loving myself as I am, I have been trying to separate health, exercise, and eating from weight. This New York Times piece by Taffy Brodesser-Akner was one of my favorite reads of 2017, and I'm on the library wait list for Roxanne Gary’s Hunger.
I am going through a bit of body anxiety at the moment. I’ve gained the ubiquitous post-weaning weight, and I both lost and then gained back my pregnancy weight, which has left me at my highest weight in a long time.
I am not used to being a body positivity ambassador. It isn’t my niche, and many other women are doing a much better job combating that stigma.
However, body image is a major component of mental health and motherhood. Weight gain or loss can be a symptom of illness or a product of medication. Your body is constantly changing throughout pregnancy, breastfeeding, and weaning, and you have little to no control over it. It is easy for even the most body positive person to struggle when you wake up and your clothes are suddenly less flattering than they were, or you can’t seem to drop that pregnancy weight, or your body is gaunt from breastfeeding (because people who are naturally thin can also struggle with body image issues).
There are things you can do to feel better about your body right where it is. Some of those involve spending a little money, some of those things involve taking a little time. There are also perfectly free, low time ways to nurture a sense of body positivity.
I discovered eShakti while shopping for Bali. I have a very curvy figure regardless of my weight. I fall into that exaggerated hourglass category. Store-bought clothing rarely fits just right on my waist, hips, and bust. With eShakti, the dresses can be made to measure and customized, and they come in at a reasonable price and ship within a reasonable time. And, ethically/sustainability speaking they are not a bad choice. I'm totally going to try the custom jeans out too.
OK, bear with me. I know that exercise and body positivity have a complicated relationship. But that's because we think we need to exercise to burn calories, to lose weight, to get toned arms or a flat stomach. But the truth is, exercise is a mood lifter. If you listen to your body, try fun classes or activities, and focus on how you feel and not how you look, exercise helps you focus on what your body can do right now. Here's a great article on ways to separate exercise from body shaming. Of course, not everyone is able to exercise, and the “fitspo” trend is a really ableist trend, even in its kindest form. If you want to read more on fitspo and ableism, head over to Everyday Feminism.
(3)DoYogaWithMe or YouTube Fitness Classes
(4)“Would I say that to a friend?”
Self talk is so important. My newest rule of thumb is that if I wouldn't say it to a friend, I won't say it to myself. This is simple, free, and low-commitment way to check your thoughts and cultivate body positivity.
(5)Focus on other metrics
Weight is just a number, but it is a number that is easy to fixate on, especially when for sometimes there is very little to do to keep it from adding up (this is especially true if you're pregnant). There are other metrics of health that you can focus on. Heart rate is a great indicator of health. Resting heart rate between 60 and 100, heart rate recovery time, and maintaining a target heart rate for 30 minutes are all signs of a healthy heart.
You can also look at other exercise targets besides losing weight. None of these goals are easy accomplishments, but many can be achieved with effort. Pick one at a time as your time/fitness/inclination allows.
(6)Avoid body-checking behavior
Body checking means a preoccupation with checking the shape and size of your body, be it through touch, in a mirror, or comparison with others. Normally, body checking is a healthy behavior, but it can become an avoidant behavior. Even in a population with healthy eating habits, a preoccupation with body checking can lower one's overall satisfaction.
(7) Ignore the numbers altogether
How you feel is a much better way to focus on fitness. I feel better when I drink green smoothies and eat well balanced meals. I feel better posture when I focus on core workouts. I get a great endorphin rush when I walk or do another cardiovascular exercise. If my anxiety acts up, one of the best things I can do is take the dog for a walk. I feel brave and accomplished when I try a new class at the gym (just tried boxing, and I LOVE) it! If your eyes feel dry, drink something hydrating. If your stomach feels bloated, try some extra fiber or ginger tea. If your body feels tired, get some extra sleep (all the moms of newborns laugh at me) If you feel sluggish, get some fresh air. Focus not on numbers but on other benefits to your mood and life. If you listen to your body, really listen, it will tell you what it needs. Your job is just to accept what it tells you.