Happy Sunday! I hope this weekend has been able to provide some rest for those reading; I know mine has for today, at least. Being that today is an off day, I wanted to start on my series of body image entries.
Growing up, I was always on the heavier side. I, like many others, began experiencing insecurities about my body very early on, probably even younger than 10 years old. I don’t have children of my own, but after growing up and observing not only how I felt, but how others felt at a young age as well, I think it is important to start dialogues with kids about body image early on. Topics such as body acceptance, how the media affects us, healthy eating habits, how to manage anxiety and insecurities, etc, are good to discuss with children. I think at the very least, it helps kids know that they aren’t alone in how they are feeling.
When I was 13, I lost about 20 pounds. I remember my teachers asking me if I was ok, and I constantly ensured them that, yes, I was ok. I was just getting rid of some excess weight caused by eating too many sweets. I felt that I was much heavier than the other girls my age, and after losing the weight, I felt much more “normal.” The problem was, I was too young to understand the concept of “healthy lifestyle,” and therefore, viewed intense caloric restriction for a period of time as perfectly normal. The perfect recipe for an eating disorder, right? I don’t think it’s a problem for children to diet if they are overweight, but it must be supervised by parents very closely because kids don’t understand the numerous implications of drastically changing their lifestyle; to change habits just to see “numbers on a scale” decrease can be disastrous.
Weight management is such a complicated topic. Because we are modern-day humans living mostly sedentary lifestyles, our genetic tendencies to hold fat do us much worse than our ancestors who were constantly on the move and never sure of where their next supply of calories and nutrients was going to come from. Therefore, many of us must be cognizant of how much we are eating and what we are eating. However, we must also be able to balance this with our own mental well-being. Last May, I began a 12 week program to lose body-fat and build muscle to change my body composition. It was designed for those potentially interested in entering bodybuilding competitions (at the time, I was interested in entering the bikini category). I lost about 7 pounds of body-fat, but because of the intense restriction, I began to associate certain foods as “good” and certain foods as “bad,” and it started wreaking havoc on my mental state. I would feel immense pangs of guilt if I ate something not explicitly outlined on my food plan. I had to cut the program short, and I gained back the weight quickly. I told a few friends and some family members that I was struggling, and they came to my aid. Not everyone who suffers from disordered eating needs to be thrown in rehab or told to sit down and not get up from the table until they eat a plateful of super-sized enchiladas and down three margaritas, but they may very well need the support of friends and to talk with someone with a background in nutrition.
I won’t say that my program was entirely a failure; actually, it taught me the importance of adding strength training and high intensity interval training to improve cardiovascular endurance and muscle density. It also allowed me to begin my own research on food and how different macronutrients affect us (protein, fats, carbohydrates). Genetics have the biggest say in how these are going to be processed by our bodies, but arming ourselves with knowledge about how can help us maintain healthy body compositions and choose exercise programs that will benefit us the most. We don’t have to look like professional athletes to be healthy (it’s hard when Pinterest bombards us with pictures of bikini/figure competitors doing professional photoshoots and the captions read something like, “This is what health looks like.”), but if we want to bring our fitness to higher level, we must be aware of the overall implications. I sometimes still consider doing a competition, but I now know that I would go into it with a totally different mindset. While I was doing my program, I was going through some major life changes (moving, recovering from a painful breakup, and a few other things), and that did not help. I think if you are going to compete you MUST be at a stable place in your life. It’s also good to talk it over with friends and family so they understand what you are doing and don’t jump to the wrong conclusions (you lose a lot of body fat for a competition, and to most people, it looks unnatural).
Right now, I’d like to lose a little of the body fat that I gained back, but I’m doing it at a pace much more comfortable for me. I have also accepted that just because I gained a few pounds, I’m still at a perfectly healthy body composition, and it hasn’t made me any less of a person. We are ultimately in charge of how we look, but we must be aware of just how interconnected our actual physical bodies and mental state are.
Healthy mind=Healthy body.
Current body composition. Verdict=healthy. Also, please forgive the fact that I am on travel for work at the moment.