Health, fitness and body image
Being fit and healthy is the goal of many people. For some, this also includes a goal to lose weight. For many people, they don’t need to, they don’t want to and that’s totally fine. I really want you to hear this. It’s fine. I’m not here to tell anyone that they need to lose weight. But I am here to say if that is PART of your goal, I’m going to be giving you some hints and tips from coaching that will help you with mindset and behavioural changes that will help you with ALL of your goals.
Now you may be wondering who I am to be talking about health, fitness and weight loss. I’m not a personal trainer, I’m not a nutritionist or a medical practitioner. If what I have to say goes against the advice of any of these individuals in your life, listen to them first. Because what I’m saying here is generic advice that will not suit every individual. Who I am is a life coach with a passion for fitness and a dislike of seeing people being persuaded into unhealthy lifestyles in the name of ‘weight loss’ masquerading as a healthy way to be.
I’ve seen too many posts lately about weight loss challenges that are:
A healthy weight loss depends on a number of individual factors that cannot possibly be covered by a generic challenge with a number attached. You should consult your health practitioner if you’re uncertain what is a healthy amount for you to aim to lose. Although a big initial weight loss can help some people to sustain a longer-term healthier lifestyle, a lot of people who aim for a huge weight loss in the short term often end up yo-yoing and putting on more weight than they lost in the first place. Depending on your journey to a healthy, fitter you, your weight may change very little, although your body fat composition, muscle rate, tone and strength may change a lot.
This is why I’m personally not an advocate for challenges that are about losing x% of body weight or xlbs in a specific time-frame.. It’s too generic, it’s often an unrealistically high goal and it can often set people up for a mindset about deprivation, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods and a whole host of habits that are not conducive to a healthy lifestyle.
What I’d like to help you to do is work out what is a healthy, sustainable, realistic goal for you and help change your mindset and your behaviours. We will look at both of these at the same time because whilst our mindset drives our behaviours, our behaviours also drive our mindset. Initially I thought that this would be a week’s worth of posts, but as I’ve planned and written, I can see that this is definitely going to be 2 weeks’ long! You can either follow along on Instagram/Facebook or see the full lot of posts as one long blog.
The other week when I had intended to begin this thread, I asked WHY do you want to lose weight? If your initial answer is to do with being a certain weight, or size, I want you to ask yourself again why? What is it that weight loss will bring you? There are 3 main categories that people usually have. (If yours falls outside this, please do comment and I will address that also!)
· Body image
It is not unusual for there to be a combination of all three of these. and the one I am going to tackle first is the body image category, because this is the one that can cause the most harm.
What do I mean by body image? I mean that you’d like to feel happier with how you look. It may well tie in with health and with fitness, but I’m going to take this as a stand-alone because some people are both fit and healthy and still want to lose weight because they are not happy with how they look in the mirror.
Here’s the challenge. We want to be happy, be body positive and self-accepting, but at the same time, we may want to alter an aspect of our appearance that can be changed with weight loss. It’s a fine line to walk and becoming too conscious of how we look is not a good thing. But having a mindset that we CAN’T change something can also be negative for us.
If we accept ourselves, does that mean we can’t change anything? Nope! But sometimes we need to accept ourselves as a work in progress. If you’re a work in progress, it doesn’t mean you are unworthy, unlovable, ugly, unhealthy, a hot mess, destined to fail, unfit or somehow outside the ‘norm’. Not at all. Your weight, your body shape, size or appearance changes absolutely nothing about your worth or any of those other things. (You may want to read that again for comfort.) Although social media is becoming more of a force for good in showing ‘normal’ bodies, there is still a lot of what we see that tacitly pushes a certain body size and shape as ‘normal’. We know that social comparison can lead to disordered eating and an increase in anxiety and mental health problems. But we can change that by being mindful of who we follow and engage with. I love @mikzazon of #normalizenormalbodies who promotes body positivity and has recovered from eating disorders, @molke_uk for their use of models that represent a very diverse range of body shapes and @popfitclothing that celebrate women of every shape and their leggings have great POCKETS.
Step one of self-acceptance, think about the messages you are choosing to surround yourself with. There is a fine line between seeing pictures and images that you find inspirational and surrounding yourself with images that cause you to feel bad about yourself. I have no idea where your line is. It’s going to be different for everyone. Your first challenge is to find where that is. Mix up your social media feed) so that it makes you feel good. Find groups with people that are also on a path of progression, follow people that inspire you without feeling judged and engage frequently with content that makes you happy. Unfollow people who don’t make you feel your best self, hide adverts you dislike, unlike pages that add nothing good to your life, leave groups that only bring you down and don’t engage in things you want to see less of. You’re the boss of the algorithm.
Step two of self-acceptance. Look at yourself in a mirror and say at least one nice thing about yourself. It can be about anything. It must be genuine. Don’t counter it with a negative. This isn’t a one-off step. Keep doing this. Say your nice thing with a warm smile, like it’s to your best friend, or your child.
Step three of self-acceptance. Think about what your body can do. Sometimes we can get bogged down in appearance and miss that our bodies are absolutely amazing things that carry us places, lift things, sustain us. Our bodies are the way we make our way through life and they generally do that pretty well. Compliment your body on something it does, ignoring the way it looks. When you think about it, your body is amazing.
It’s ok to work both on self-acceptance and changes but root those changes in things that are good for you holistically.
If body image is your number one concern, the number on the scales isn’t the best measure for your success. The best measure of your success is how you feel about yourself, which is subjective, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be quantifiable. You can rate how you feel on a scale of 1 – 10, from blah to awesome, as a number of stars, emojis or anything else. You could note this down in a journal, in a habit tracker, on your bathroom mirror.
You may also wish to use other less subjective measures such as how certain clothes fit and your body measurements. All of these are a better way of measuring your progress to your goal of feeling happier about your body, than weight is.
(Side note. If you are going to track your weight the best piece of advice I ever had was to weigh yourself every day. I was worried that this would make me feel obsessed with weight, but what I found was that it has made me much more aware of natural fluctuations in weight as well as links between hormones, salt intake and alcohol consumption and my weight. I know that my weight will fluctuate over a week; the measure that I take is my average weekly weight, not my day-to-day weight.)
I do not want to provoke a discussion about what is a healthy weight. BMI is often used as a very rough shortcut, but it does have its limitations. There are many confusing studies about the link between weight and health, fat and health and weight versus health versus fitness.
If you are not sure what is a healthy weight for you, seek the guidance of a medical practitioner.
The reason many people equate weight with health is because certain health indicators such as blood pressure, glucose levels, heart rate are often linked, by medical professionals, to weight.
The reason people without medical qualifications often link weight to health is more complex and nuanced. Sometimes it is to do with a more subjective measure of our wellbeing of when we were at a certain weight point.
If health is the ‘why’ of your weight loss goal, consider if there are better measures of this goal – or at least additional measures – rather than just weight. With the advent of wearable tech and smart scales, it is easier than ever to measure resting heart rate, peak heart rate zones, percentage of subcutaneous fat, visceral fat, muscle rate, a cardio fitness score and probably another 89 things that I don’t even know about.
If your weight loss could only affect ONE of these things (I know it would affect them all, but bear with me), which one would you choose. What particular aspect of your health is it that you want to change? THAT is the best measure of your health, rather than what the scales say.
I know many of you want to lose weight because you want to improve your fitness. Nobody is saying you have to, but if this is your WHY, consider what it is that weight loss will improve. Better running times, cycling longer distances, lifting heavier weights, just not being knackered running up 3 flights of stairs? Whatever it is, make these things your central measures. Why? Because they are a more accurate way of assessing your fitness gains rather than the weight loss which is a proxy for those gains.
Other measures than just weight
Why is it important to look at other measures rather than weight loss (or at least rather than solely weight loss)?
It stops you focussing on the wrong thing. You can build muscle while losing fat and end up with a very small weight difference, whilst improving fitness, health and muscle tone which is related to inch loss. You could see massive progress towards your goals without seeing much change on your weight. If all you are measuring is your weight, you can then become disheartened and stop, or disheartened and more likely to succumb to short-term measures that undermine your long-term success such as unsustainable unhealthy eating habits or overdoing exercise resulting in injury.
Next week I’m going to talk about how you can embed habits into your routine that will lead to the goals that you have. In the meantime, think about what your goal is and where you would like to share it for added accountability. (Feel free to drop a comment below or on the bright rebel facebook or Instagram accounts.)