I just realized this week that I have the perfect body. It was an a-ha moment that followed a long period of small but important realizations. When I was a kid and through being a teenager, I was a bit chubby. Or at least I always perceived myself that way. I think clinically I would probably have been in the early stages of ‘overweight’. It certainly didn’t slow me down! I played and loved every sport I could, and I was good at them. But I occasionally got a comment from another kid about being fat. That sucked, but thankfully it was infrequent. Fast forward to my early 30s, and I was doing some renovations on a house I had just bought. Somehow in a short period, I had gained 10 pounds. Gaining that weight made me say “That’s it! No more!” And so I made changes. I changed my eating habits, and I changed the way I workout, and over one winter, I lost 25 pounds while gaining muscle. It was surprisingly not that hard. Friends and family that I hadn’t seen in a while were quite surprised at the change.
It was great. But the thing was, I still felt that my legs were too big, my butt was enormous, and I thought “how is it that my boobs have shrunk but I still have love handles?” My body was not perfect; and I did not let myself forget it. I wasn’t horribly critical, but nor was I content. I still thought I needed to lose another 5 to 10 pounds. What is it about us and the “last 5-10 pounds?” Is it even possible to lose those last 10 pounds? I mean, once we lose it, are we happy, or do we then say “oh, if I could just lose another 5 pounds THEN I’ll be happy”?
Fast forward another few years to last fall. I went through a period of being less active than I had been in a long time (yep – I was the trainer who didn’t find time to train), and my nutritional habits were not quite where I like them to be. I gained about 15 pounds of that weight back. Initially it wasn’t the weight that bothered me, it was a moment I had in a change room, trying on a pair of jeans. I was horrified at how I looked in them. I knew that I wanted to get back to the point where I can try on clothes and judge the clothes, not my body.
I dropped the first 7 pounds very easily by working out a bit more and tweaking my nutritional habits. In hindsight, at that point, I had met my initial goal, to look good in clothes. But I was stuck in the cycle of “I need to lose 10 pounds”. There was no concrete reason that I needed to lose them, I just felt I needed to lose them. I was still heavier than I was when I was playing competitive ultimate and in my mind, I had to get back to that weight. But why? What goal did it meet?
There are a lot of very valid goals out there that women work toward every day.
“I want to look great in all of my clothes.”
“I want defined abs.”
“I want to feel great.”
“I want to look hot in a bikini.”
“I want a great butt.”
“I want to be a better athlete.”
“I want to be energetic all of the time.”
This is just a small sample of them, there are endless others. But “I want to lose 10 pounds”? What does that even mean? What happens at the end of the 10 pounds? Are you now at any of your actual goals? What if you achieve all of the meaningful goals at 7 pounds? Is that still a failure because you want to lose 10?
Unfortunately that thought process hadn’t quite evolved just yet, and when I saw that I was stalling on my weight loss “goal”, I decided to try a new nutrition plan. I thought “maybe these low carb people are on to something”, so I purchased Precision Nutrition (PN), the program by Dr. John Berardi. I have always had a lot of respect for him, and so it seemed like the right plan to try. PN suggests that you take before and after pictures, and so I took my before pictures. But then a funny thing happened: I looked at my before pictures and thought “actually I look pretty good”. My mom will be so happy to hear that. She really wishes women could break free of the body image problems that most of us have. I’m not sure if I told her about this “I like my body” realization I had, so I’ll make sure to send this to her. (Hi Mom! )
I tried PN for 3 weeks. It was an interesting experience (I will post my full review shortly) but I only lost 1 pound over 3 weeks. Not exactly stellar results, so I stopped. I once again thought about how I could lose the last 10 pounds. As I did so, I could hear a little voice in the back of my head saying, “but you like your body, so why are you trying to change it?”
I was coming to the realization that other than “I want to lose 10 pounds”, I didn’t actually have any weight loss goals. Suddenly it dawned on me that “I want to lose 10 pounds” is not a goal; it is a self-criticism. I was trying to make lifestyle changes based on self-criticism instead of goals. No more! This realization changed everything for me. I consciously decided to put an end to self-criticism and focus solely on goals and accomplishments.
That change of attitude opened the door for an incredibly liberating realization: I had accomplished all of my goals for my body. I was happy with how I looked, how I performed, and how I felt. I was also happy with my lifestyle, including how much exercise I was doing and my eating habits – periodic bags of Cheetos and all. I think I added 10 years to my life that day and I could literally feel stress leaving my body.
Do I have the perfect body? No. I like my abs, but it is a one or two pack at best. There’s even fat on my butt. And on my thighs. And if I wear compression shorts, I get muffin top. But none of these little imperfections affect my goals. If they did, then I would continue to work on them. And if that is an important goal for you, then I hope you will work on it, as long as you give yourself recognition once you achieve it.
It turns out that I’m happier with my body now than I was when I had less body fat. So what has changed? My attitude about my body. At the age of 40, I can finally stand in front of a mirror and look at my great-but-imperfect body and say without an ounce of a lie: “I like you just the way you are”.
Elsbeth Vaino is a personal trainer in Ottawa, Canada.
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