Sweet, Sweet, Summertime

Spring has arrived, and will hopefully bring us an abundance of flowers, warmer weather, and a new bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Although the season has just begun, one walk around the mall and the sight of the store displays will have us daydreaming about beach vacations and summertime barbecues. Display after display of disproportioned mannequins in bikinis, posters of models running on the beach, and new racks filled with skimpy clothing reminds us of the approaching summer. Unfortunately, while there is much to look forward to in the coming months – outdoor activities, longer days, vacations, and even those delicious barbecues – a sense of anxiety may be the reality for many. Summer means bathing suits and bathing suits mean exposure and vulnerability to feeling worse about our bodies than we already do. To make matters worse, we seem to find others all around us who have, by all indications, achieved a state of perfection.

Now is the time that we can expect to find humorous memes all over social media about how our “summer bodies” aren’t ready; maybe they feature a picture of an adorable dog with rolls covering its body, or a cute chubby baby in a bathtub.

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Photo via ME.ME

Don’t get me wrong. I do find the humor in these kinds of images, and I know they are only meant for entertainment as we scroll through our Facebook or Instagram. The problem is, there is an underlying message there that stays with us: figure out a way to quickly lose weight in a short amount of time in order to look acceptable in a bathing suit. The key phrase here is, quickly lose weight”. There is absolutely nothing wrong with actively adopting healthier eating and exercise habits, but this is most successful in strides, as an ongoing process. Without this mindset, it is as if the motivation to lose weight is coming from a state of panic, and nothing good can come from quick-fix, fast weight loss. It is not uncommon for something as simple as an upcoming beach party to start the beginning stages of an individual’s disordered eating pattern, and he or she may not realize until many months later that these new behaviors may be a cause for concern.

So… how do many of us opt to get “summer ready”? Maybe by cutting out a food group that we think causes stomach bloating; maybe, we eliminate half of the day’s intake; or, we go on a juice cleanse; hey, how about avoiding fruits because those have sugar and sugar is terrible for our summer body preparation, right?! Most of the time when we change something in our diets resulting in lower calorie intake than what our bodies are used to, weight loss is fast in the beginning. Step on the scale after two days of dieting and maybe it’s already reflecting a two-pound weight loss!

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This serves as a reinforcement to continue whatever new habits have been adopted in our diet, however unhealthy they may be. Before long we become obsessed with weighing ourselves, and stepping on the scale is the first thing on our minds when we wake up in the morning. Many individuals tell me that they become addicted to a daily weigh-in, thinking that staying on top of any slight weight gain will keep them on track. The reason this can do more harm than good is because our weight is constantly fluctuating on a daily basis for reasons other than true weight gain – such as, fluid retention, lack of sleep, or changes in hormones. This is why it’s best to monitor weight once a week, on the same day at the same time, in order to see real changes over time. As disappointing as it may sound, once our bodies become used to a change in diet and exercise after the first week or two, a healthy weight loss pattern will only be about one to two pounds per week. Because of this, it’s no wonder that seeing the same number each day on that darn machine can lead to disappointment and self-loathing.

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You might be asking, what’s the big deal about wanting to lose a few pounds to look good in our bathing suits? Well, we should feel confident in our own skin, and if that means toning up and making better food choices for ourselves, then there is definitely no harm or shame in that! Even if the goal is for noticeable changes in our outward appearance, there is no doubt that healthier food choices and physical activity will have us feeling better and happier, too! You are what you eat, right? The point is, why not try to be kind to our bodies throughout the year, rather than deciding that the only time our health and fitness is important is when we realize our bodies will soon be exposed for others to judge? We deserve to make our happiness, confidence, and self-love a priority throughout the year, because we owe ourselves that much. And, while a perfectly sculpted body might be nice to have, achieving it does not mean that we have found a way to truly accept ourselves. Being kind to our bodies has nothing to do with the number on the scale, but about fueling it properly with whole, natural foods and about continuing to move throughout the day. Trust me when I say there is nothing kind about living off of vegetable juice for a few months to drop some weight quickly and easily, then resorting back to regular eating habits and gaining it back again. Instead of reaching a healthy weight gradually and enjoying a new look that we can maintain throughout the year, we will only feel discouraged when the pounds come creeping back up after the bathing suit is put away.

Your value is much more than a number on the scale. If you lose one pound a week, so what? That is fifty-two pounds in one year. The best part is, you won’t be hungry.

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Today, a passage in the book I am reading, Truly Madly Guilty, by Liane Moriarty, caught my eye, and matched up perfectly with the theme I wanted to talk about in this blog entry. In the scene, one woman (a married mother of two, probably in her thirties), is admiring and complimenting the physique of another mother in her neighborhood who is around the same age as she. The woman is wearing a tight white t-shirt and ripped jeans and still looks like a model. The married mother of two compliments the sexy blonde, but the latter does not know how to respond because “[y]ou weren’t allowed to be proud of your body. Women expected humility on this topic” (Moriarty, 322).

What I want to know is, why is that? We can and should be proud of our bodies and all that they allow us to do, yet, somehow, we are made to believe that no matter how we choose to feel about the way we look, the outcome is a double-edged sword. If we accept a compliment, we are narcissistic and show-offs, yet if we remain modest or become self-conscious when others notice our bodies, we clearly lack confidence. The bottom line is that we compare ourselves to others all the time, and there is nothing comfortable in that behavior, neither for the envious nor for the envied. I am going to go out on a limb here and guess that at least once in your life, you have looked at someone else, whether live, on the T.V. screen, or in a picture, and thought to yourself, “I want to look like that.” What we must work toward accepting is that it is not only physically impossible to look exactly like someone else, but also that we should not wish for it. What kind of a world would it be if everyone looked the same? Not aesthetically pleasing at all.

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Let’s talk about why a “one size fits all” concept for body shape, diet, and exercise is a recipe for failure. First of all, genetics play a major role in determining our body types. Do you ever feel like you’re eating the same way as someone else, and maybe even doing the exact same workout routine, and wondering why your body isn’t changing in the same way? You can beat yourself up over this, cut back on calories, or work out for an extra hour to the point of discomfort, to try to match the other person’s results. The only result you will achieve is frustration. The other option is to understand your own body. While it can be an unfair reality that we all have different metabolisms, leading to our building muscles and losing fat at different rates, there are certain factors that we CAN change.  What we can change is our attitude. We can be kind to ourselves and celebrate the ability to live a healthy lifestyle, with proper nutrition and exercise. If that means being pear-shaped instead of a string bean, then so be it. Is it really so important to have a specific butt shape or a six-pack? What is important is our HAPPINESS, and I can tell you that if we are killing ourselves trying to maintain or reach a weight that is not natural for our bodies, the only thing we’ll be feeling is irritable and HANGRY.

                                                               Photo credit: Pets Lady

This idea even applies to the way we choose to eat. For example, I am not a vegetarian or a vegan, however, that doesn’t mean that it is impossible to maintain a healthy diet without the consumption of animal products. What works for my body will not be the same as what works for yours, and vice versa. I am always asked the question, “What is the best diet out there? Low fat? Low carb? Vegetarian? Intermittent fasting?” and my answer every time is that there is no best diet. What I can say is that as long as you’re getting all of the essential nutrients in the right quantities by eating a balanced diet, making sure you’re fueling yourself adequately, and living by the motto everything in moderation”, then you will be good to go. Eat the way that makes you feel your best and most importantly, choose a pattern of eating that can be sustained over the long term, rather than last for just a few months or a few years.

Amy Schumer said it best in her new Netflix stand-up show Amy Schumer: The Leather Edition. She discusses her struggle with her weight and the added pressures from Hollywood to be thin. She worked hard to achieve the desired “look” but felt unnatural at the body weight she reached and went back to her “old self”. She received a lot of criticism for gaining weight and is now speaking up against her body-shamers. Her response to them comes from the lessons she has learned while watching her father be stripped of a simple pleasure that we take for granted every day: walking. Her father has MS and is confined to a wheelchair. Schumer ends her show with words that should help her audience, and us,  reset priorities: “You’re alive. You can move. You feel good!”

And with that, I leave you with these words of wisdom by Theodore Roosevelt:

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