body image - strong not skinny

Lets talk body image… Strong Not Skinny

Let’s talk about body image…

To most, there is probably not much difference between these two pictures, but for me, I feel they are worlds apart in terms of strength within both the body and the mind – my body image…

The picture of me on the left was taken back in 2014 – my wedding year.

A time when I wanted to look my best, my skinniest, my fittest.

I was around 57kg back then, I didn’t weight train at all, I was a cardio junkie, loved HIIT, ran nearly every day and watched everything I ate, striving to keep slim.

The picture of me on the right is now. I am 62kg, the heaviest that I have ever been! I don’t count the calories anymore, I have switched from a regular gym to CrossFit which means I lift weights (and heavy ones at that) multiple times a week, I still love cardio but it’s mixed in with weights, I only run once or twice a week and I care more now about what my body can do, rather than how it looks.

Numbers on the scale don’t mean anything!

For so many years my twisted brain thought that skinny was ‘fit’ as many of us girls do when it comes to body image. But it’s not – muscle requires mass, creates curves and allows my body to do things that the skinnier version of myself couldn’t even dream of doing…

I often get comments about being very slim and lean, but as we learnt just recently (RIP Caroline Flack), don’t judge a book by its cover. Not everything is as rosy as it appears on the outside. Being slim is not always what you think…

For those of you who don’t know I suffer from IBS quite badly, which means my body doesn’t absorb food and all the nutrients it needs in the same way as others. If I eat the wrong thing, my body can reject an entire day’s worth of food and all that hard work I had done to fuel my body correctly for function goes to waste. For example, late November I lost nearly half a stone and couldn’t eat for two weeks properly without feeling sick or running to the loo. A few weeks of eating all the things that I shouldn’t have without thinking ruined my stomach lining and made me lose a lot of the weight I had struggled for so long to build and retain. I know now mostly what foods trigger my IBS but sometimes I can be caught unawares still – usually when eating out! For me, gluten is the big one to avoid but something as simple as the type of oil used can set me off. My stomach is the bane of my life!

Physical appearances are not all that matter though. With the struggles of mental health hitting the headlines more and more, we are learning that the health of our minds is possibly more important than our physiological health and actually impact more on our vision of body image than we let on.

I don’t think I have ever posted a ‘transformation’ style picture before – I think they are great for weight loss candidates who need to see those life-changing milestones. But when it is just about aesthetics, I think they can become an unhealthy benchmark – creating stress or pressure to sustain a physical shape that perhaps is not healthy to sustain. I know many girls that have done those bikini bodybuilding comps and now have an unhealthy view on their body, food and fitness. And it’s such a shame because they are still so beautiful and definitely not fat, but their view of beauty and how they ‘should’ look has been distorted.

The media doesn’t help a girl’s mindset on body image either, with vicious articles pointing out celebrity flaws, commenting whenever someone gains so much as a pound and idolising unrealistically tall, slim catwalk models. Let’s face it – us girls are fucked!

We need to realise what is realistic, compared to what is not. With so many women turning to cosmetic surgery, piling on the make-up, and photoshop or heavily filtered imagery, how on earth do we teach the younger generation to be comfortable in the skin they are in?!

Have we, as a society, lost sight of true, realistic beauty for some fictional, distorted dream?

With media and social platforms infiltrating more and more of our daily lives the focus seems to be more and more on what others are doing (FOMO), how they look, what they have, rather than focusing on ourselves, enjoying the present moment and giving our selves a bit of TLC or self-care.

Sometimes we just need to STOP, slow down, switch off from the outside chatter and focus on us and solely us, even if it’s just for a moment or two

I have practised yoga since I was 18, but never really fully understood the true benefits until we were going through IVF. Yoga has taught me to listen to my mind and body, be in tune with how I am feeling in the present moment, understand what I need, to ignore the chatter of the external world and to leave my ego at the door whilst I practise. Some days I want to move hard and fast, other days I feel I need to slow down, look after my body and recover. On those slow days a gentle flow or restorative yoga is enough. However, the one thing that remains consistent with every session is how I feel after – less stressed, less anxious and less bothered about what others may or may not be doing. I am left in the present and enjoying the moment.

CrossFit also taught me to leave my ego, and unhealthy mind, at the door too, but in a different way. Switching over to CrossFit was probably the best thing I could have ever done for myself both physically and mentally. I am now surrounded by girls who have taught me the value of being functionally fit, being strong not skinny, focusing on the love of the sport, rather than the aesthetics it brings.

I believe the combination of the two sports or practices has really helped mould me into the person I am today. Hopefully a better human, one that is more understanding and kind to myself and others. Hopefully, one that can share, listen and help bring positivity to those I meet in life.

Who reading this has begrudgingly gone to the gym day in, day out, without enjoyment just so they can ‘look better’?!

The key to success in terms of fitness and happiness (health and wellbeing), is to find a sport or physical activity that you enjoy. One that you are passionate about, one that doesn’t feel like a chore to endure. I also think if you can combine whatever that is with social, you then have a reason to keep going even on a bad day, plus your new-found friends will help to keep you accountable. Life is too short – if you are not enjoying it, then what’s the point!?

That doesn’t mean become incredibly unhealthy.

What I mean is to find a balance, find an activity that you enjoy, try to eat well, lead a healthy life, but from time to time enjoy a naughty treat or two!

For the first time ever, I now love the body I have and I feel the fittest I have ever been. I feel good from the inside out. And really that change began with a change in mindset first. Once I relaxed, enjoyed my food, enjoyed my sport, the physical change became the knock-on effect.

Body Image Myth-busting…

Let’s debunk a few body image myths too…

MYTH – Weight training will make me bulky.

FACT – Lifting heavy weights doesn’t bulk women up – not without completely changing your diet, and probably hoping a few pills too! I was that girl that was scared if I lifted weights I would bulk up. But here I stand – living proof, still looking pretty scrawny, definitely nowhere near bulky.

MYTH – Spending hours training will make me slim and fit

FACT – Overtraining the body puts it into stress mode. Different body types will react differently to this, some will waste away, others will actually appear more bloated maybe even retain weight or gain it as the body tries to store more of your food as it thinks it now needs the extra fuel. If you are not a professional athlete (who also has a professional team of coaches, nutritionists and therapists surrounding them) then you don’t need to stress your body out and train like one!

MYTH – How we see ourselves is exactly how others see us

FACT – No matter how slim, fit, or muscle-bound you may be, you will always have good or bad days. Bodies do not look the same all day long.

At the beginning of the day, you might feel your slimmest simply because you haven’t eaten, your body is in fasting mode from sleeping all night.

After exercise, your muscles may look more pronounced or pumped up.

After eating you might (in my case) feel more bloated as your stomach works hard to digest the food.

Girls, your hormones are going to play a part in it all too – I definitely retain more water just before my time of the month, I also think I look at my best physically early to mid-month – maybe its nature’s way of getting you laid!!!

Whatever the case though, how you feel, isn’t how others see you. What you feel on the inside always feels way worse than how you actually look on the outside – in fact, most of the time people around you might not be able to see any physical change!

*****

Embraced the things that make us unique…

Us girls need to stop giving ourselves a hard time over body image, it’s time we all gave ourselves a bit of self-care and embraced the things that make us unique – whoever wanted to be identical to each other anyways?!

STOP worrying about being too fat, too thin, too tall, too short…

Functionally fit and healthy comes in all different shapes and sizes – just look at the famous ESPN Body Issue for starters – where professional athletes pose naked.

This is my favourite issue of the year (I was sad they didn’t do one last year) – I love seeing how different all the bodies are and how they are sculpted specifically to excel at their sport. No two bodies are the same, but all are beautiful in their own way.

THINK about what you want your body to be able to do.

Now take into consideration that your body needs to be fuelled correctly and enough to do those things.

Rather than going on a fad diet, why not look at a lifestyle change? Eat healthy 80% of the time, cut back sugar, processed foods and enjoy a treat or two once in a while.

Maybe even consider changing your training method to suit your body type – I have used a DNA Fit test to discover my body type and now consider my genetics when it comes to both training and diet.

BE KIND to yourself.

I don’t love my body every day, some days I feel bloated and sluggish, or hate my skin, but remember often people don’t see those things from the outside, we always feel worse on the inside looking out. Make the most of your assets, accept that we are all different and celebrate your individuality!

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