As a culture we have this obsession with being thin and having the perfect body. When I first started my fitness journey I had this idea that only if I had abs would I be considered “fit”. Ask everyone in the gym and 90% of women will tell you they work out to be lean and have abs.. I’m not trying to tell you to stop working out – I LOVE fitness hence why I want to become a personal trainer, but it frustrates me that we seem to be focusing more on aesthetics over strength, confidence and most importantly how exercise makes us feel (endorphins, endorphins, endorphins).
Think about it. How many times do you hear the phrase “I’ll be happy when” …
- I lose 10 pounds
- I can fit into that dress
- I can wear a bikini on the beach in summer
- I’m more toned
Chances are if you’re not happy with who you are on the inside now, you still won’t be happy when your body changes. You can’t force real change out of self hatred – for it to be maintainable it has to come from a place of love, and you need to focus more about how you feel than how you look.
So why are abs not all that?
- Abs do not equal health.
We have this idea that the left is the epitome of health whereas we might think the woman on the right is indulging in a few too many pizzas. In fact, it is possible that these women are eating and exercising in exactly the same way, and the visibility of the abs is due to some very good genetics. You can work your arse off in the gym but if you don’t have the genetics you’re just never going to get there. AND THAT’S OK.
Additionally in order to have abs like this, body fat levels have to drop to dangerously low percentages. This can cause a plethora of negative consequences such as hair loss, amenorrhea (losing your period), fatigue and complete loss of motivation. Does this sound like health to you? When I was at my leanest stage I experienced every single one of these things, and I can assure you I felt neither particularly happy nor healthy. Cookies, pizza, abundance of energy, hair in tact and ability to have children are all slightly more important than having a low body fat in my opinion.
2. It isn’t sustainable – sacrifices.
Lunches with friends. Cake for a colleagues birthday at work. Missing out on social occasions to fit in that workout. The odd bottle of wine on a night out. Family dinners. Trips away. I missed out on all these as my health and fitness regime took priority over everything. I had to eat every three hours, work out for an hour and a half every day and enter every single morsel into myfitnesspal. I made a vow never to sacrifice a night out or a brunch with my family ever again just to “stay on track”. It’s okay not to exercise for a few days, it’s okay to let yourself eat whatever makes you feel good and it’s okay to have more than one treat a week – stop letting all the bullshit in fitness magazines creep into your head. It’s not healthy to stay lean all year round and even bikini competitors don’t recommend it, hence why they often bulk after a show.
3. More energy to focus on other things.
Focusing on losing weight every minute of every day is not fun. In fact, it’s extremely draining. I found it was all I thought about, all I wanted to talk about, read about. I pretty much had no time for anything else. Since shifting my energy to focusing on my relationships, work, general LIFE I feel so much more fulfilled, and I’ve found that I actually do have an identity outside of fitness. Of course I love working out and always will, but it doesn’t have to be 100% – find your happiness in other places too.
4. No one really gives a shit.
Seriously though. Yeah it’s pretty cool to show off your six pack to your friends but is that why they like you? (If you answered yes to this question please go and find some new friends.) I’m pretty sure the people you love are more concerned with things like how good of a listener you are, how much you make them laugh, how much you’re there for them. Having an ab or two literally says nothing about you as a person, your values, your goals for the future, what and who you love. These things make up your identity, and they should be what is important.
So, I am coming to accept the fact that I will never be lean again, nor do I want to be. I am far happier, stronger and healthier where I am now, giving myself permission to eat what I want, rest when I need and love myself throughout the whole process.