Can we talk about this command to “love your body?” As if all those years of fear, shame and insecurity delivered to you by media and society can just disappear when that perky guru said “just love your body.” Gee whiz, thanks, I never knew.
Honestly I hate “love your body” just as much as I hate “fix those problem areas.” I really do. Because both of those phrases, when uttered to the vast majority of us, just sound like “you’re doing it wrong,” “you fucked this up too,” “nope, still not good enough.”
And I work in the fitness industry! In the last half decade I’ve probably worked with more than 1,000 people, drowning in all this messaging. Which is precisely what has made it so clear to me that this order to “LOVE YOUR BODY (right now, damn it, you shallow weakling)” is not working.
I don’t say that any more. Now, what I say is:
FIND JOY IN YOUR BODY.
I say it in the intro classes to our gym, I say it in the forums for the nutritional challenges we have in our gym, I say it so often that…. well, they need to hear it. Still. It’s not sinking in.
But what does “find joy in your body” look like?
Let’s start with understanding the primary function of your body: TO GIVE YOU JOY. That might be skiing, running, having sex, snuggling up by the fire, eating ice cream and blackberry cobbler….. It could mean anything really. But, that’s where we start. The secondary function of your body is to be able to share that joy with others. Your friends, lovers, children, grandchildren.
You don’t do that by looking a certain way, you do that by allowing yourself to feel joy. AND, of course, by keeping yourself vital enough to keep doing those things for as long as possible.
So you stop judging your body by what it looks like, and start judging it by the joy it allows you to feel. Look at that, you literally just found joy in your body. It may not be second nature yet, but congratulations, you’ve taken the first step.
THEN, you have to figure out what you do to enable maximum joy for the maximum time.
Let’s take the sex and sexy stuff off the table right now. No matter how you are shaped, you can have, should have and deserve to have exactly the kind of awesome sex you want to have. No exceptions. If your lover thinks you need to look differently in order to really have great sex with them, you need a better lover, not a “better” body.
Now, let’s look at the activities that you know bring you joy. Let’s say that on your list are: skiing, dancing, snowshoeing, watching TV and cooking. Great, as your trainer, I can work with that. TV and cooking you don’t need me for. But skiing, dancing and snowshoeing, yup. As you spend time in the gym, I will remind you that you’re not here to get either bigger or smaller, but to get stronger so that you can ski, dance and snowshoe longer. What you are doing, then, isn’t fighting against your DNA to look a certain way, but fighting for your own joy. It’s subtle, you still have to get in the gym and workout, but you are doing it for YOU now, not to meet some external ideal.
Let’s look at the indulgences that bring you joy. Let’s say those are beer, ice-cream and fresh sourdough bread. Assuming that you have a non-addicted relationship with those things, there is no reason to give those up. But, what we figure out is how they can co-exist WITH those other things that we know bring you joy.
Nutrition will impact how you feel as much, if not more than, exercise. So I am constantly challenging our members to play with their diet. Not in a “this is right and that is wrong” way, but in a “how does it make you feel” way.
Cupcakes are awesome. Skiing is awesome. But cupcakes every day may make skiing less awesome. So maybe it’s a cupcake once a week in order to stay strong enough to ski like you want to.
I can’t tell you what your formula is, but I can give you some metrics by which you can figure it out for yourself.
And those metrics will always be based on your ability to feel good. To actively seek the joys that your body can give you.
Just like with my daughter, we talk about really paying attention to how you feel both physically and emotionally and making choices that feed the positive and reduce the negative.
Because, as it turns out, you can’t just wish yourself into a state of zen-like love with yourself. It’s just not a thing, and thinking it is proves just another way to prove that you’re not good enough. What you can do is develop a pattern of making decisions about your own behavior based on whether it makes you feel better or worse. And when you do that with enough regularity, it becomes much easier to pursue joy as a lifestyle choice.
Saying “no” to that thing that you know will make you feel worse in the long run turns into saying “yes” to that other thing that you know will make you feel great. It takes practice. It takes listening, and planning, and perspective. And it’s worth it.
Because your relationship with your body is just like any other relationship. It’s one you learn, and practice and have to recommit to. It’s one built on communication and honesty. It takes work. It’s not a slogan, it’s a verb.
Before long, you find it easier to be all like “damn body, that was so much fun, thanks.” Rather than “stupid fat rolls.”
Then you realize how much joy your body brings you, and maybe you ought to protect that thing. That thing that brings you so much joy. So you start making decisions to protect it and keep it safe.
And you know what we do that for? What we protect and keep safe?
Things we love.
And those things bring us joy.