How Do I Look?
Our relationship with our body, exercise and food.
Do you ever punish your body with exercise?
When you "fall off the wagon" and eat junk food, do you chastise yourself?
When we look at our bodies in the mirror, most of us long for something better; less body fat, more defined muscles, a straighter posture... basically, anything that makes us feel sexier and boosts our self-esteem.
Our relationship with our bodies can go pretty dark because how we look can determine how we feel. Throw in how we think others see us, and you've got a melting pot of emotions. Most of these emotions stem from not "being enough"; good enough, sexy enough, skinny enough, muscly enough...
This self-judgment or perceived judgement from others drives our behaviours regarding exercise and food. I saw countless men and women striving for perfection in my previous career as a Personal Trainer. I saw people trying to achieve the perfect reflection by destroying their bodies, measuring every gram of food, and chastising themselves every time they missed a workout or ate a doughnut.
I also saw the other side of the spectrum where people struggled to get started as they perceived the road ahead to be too hard, and their self-worth was through the floor.
I've been at both ends of the spectrum too. I took everything too seriously at one point; I was working out twice a day, five days a week and measuring every gram of my food. The intention was to be a better athlete and have a better body by proxy. However, this came with the mentality of being a professional athlete.
There was no balance; exercise came first, there were strict, self-imposed rules for eating and drinking and... I wasn't a professional athlete!
On the flip side, when our first kid came along, the pro athlete style training went out the window. I trained when I could, but my ego couldn't let go of this story: "If I can't train like I used to, what's the point?". This seriously demotivated me, so I didn't train. Then a few months down the line, I was even harder on myself because I perceived myself to be "out of shape".
Notice that there is no kindness to myself, enjoyment of the process, or balance with both situations.
Whereas now, I have two young kids, less time than I ever had, just turned 40, and I'm in great shape.
So what changed?
Since becoming a Professional Coach, my job has been to be curious about motivations and intentions. I'm also curious about the feelings people are searching for when they set goals (check out this previous article). My drivers used to be about maintaining an athletic physique as it gave me self-esteem, showed I had the discipline and made me feel attractive. These are all relatable driving forces. However, they all hang on the caveat that I would feel them when I felt I had the physique I wanted.
My past self had a clear list of wants; to have more self-esteem (or be "good enough"), discipline, and to feel attractive. The coach in me took it a step further and looked at how I could get more of these factors in my life without solely relying on my physique. This meant I could still have my fitness goals, but I was a lot kinder to myself and took a more playful balanced approach to exercise.
I'm not perfect; I drive my wife up the wall when I don't get to exercise, but it's now more to do with stress release, time on my own or connection with my training buddies that I'm missing rather than striving for how I look in the mirror.
So how can we cultivate a more healthy relationship with our bodies, exercise and food?
Here is the process I go through with clients to give them more balance, play and kindness in their routines so they can flourish:
1. Clarity - The first step is to clarify your driving forces and whether they are serving you. Are you exercising or eating a certain way because you're motivated by the fear of not looking or being "good enough"? If this is the case, take some time to read this article to soften your approach to make room for positive driving forces such as play and enjoyment.
2. Intention - Setting intentions is key to this process, and it covers many areas. Make sure you schedule time for exercise as you would an important meeting. This will help with consistency and habit forming. Approach the workout with positive intentions. For example, I have my fitness goals, and I intend to progress towards them each time I train. However, my main intentions for each session are to laugh with my training buddy, use the session as a stress reliever, and feel like I've progressed towards my goals.
3. Balance - I also want to drill home the fact that the intention is to have a life, which means having a balance. For me, this means putting aside times Monday-Friday to do some form of exercise and eat "consciously". In other words, this means trying to eat as healthily as possible. A simple tip is only to buy food that has a green or the odd amber food label. It surprises me how many people don't even know about the food labelling system; if you don't, Google it. Make conscious choices during the week, and it makes a huge difference.
At the weekend, it's a different story. I'll happily have a pizza, some beer and some crisps. This isn't about "cheating"; it's about living life. I've put the work in during the week, I'm going to let my hair down at the weekends, and I'm still going to make progress towards my fitness goals. Would I get there faster if I didn't indulge at the weekends...yes!...but that's not a sustainable lifestyle. That is a diet, not a lifestyle change.
4. Kindness - This is the most crucial point for me. Notice the language from the step above; "Intentions". I intend to do something different from I must or will do something. It's a softer approach and allows for flexibility.
If we're hard on ourselves about missing a workout or eating ice cream, we're playing the wrong game.
This is about lifestyle, and sometimes life gets in the way... and that's ok! Remember, we're not pro athletes, and what's important is we give ourselves permission to have time off or eat what we feel like and then start fresh the next day with intent. Tomorrow is another day!
5. Play - Look for the joy in exercise; it doesn't have to be gyms, classes or running. Find friends with similar goals and think about fun ways to exercise. Then banter I have with my training partners makes me look forward to my training sessions, and the exercise is a byproduct.
I used to run by myself, and I got bored. A friend and I decided to start running together with the idea of getting as muddy as possible. Running now feels like a mini-adventure as we try new trails and laugh when the other falls in puddles!
It's also essential to bring play into the kitchen. There are tons of quick delicious recipes out there that you can try. Again, set the intention to swap out the mid-week pie for something healthier. Don't worry; you can still have the fun stuff at the weekend!
In summary, this is an intense topic and is different for each of us. Some of us may be struggling to get off the sofa, whereas others need to dial things down a notch.
Whatever your situation, I hope these insights soften your approach to how you view yourself and how you approach exercise and food. Let's change the dialogue from "I'll be good enough when..." to:
"I'm good enough now, and I'm excited about getting even better!"
If you need support in any of these areas I've discussed, please reach out as I want to help. Please click the following link to book a free 30-minute call or message me on LinkedIn.
Here's to your Journey.