At a doctor’s appointment in my early 20s, I asked what a healthy weight goal would be because I was once again in the midst of trying to lose weight. The doctor said, “Anywhere is better than where you are right now.” I remember it so vividly because it angered me, yet simultaneously validated my desire to be smaller. I weighed around 175 pounds at the time. He added, “You could get to 140. You’d be pretty thin.” At 5’10”, I had weighed anywhere from 160 to 190 since my teens…140 wasn’t a weight I had seen in many years. I don't think that doctor had my health in mind when he mentioned that number.
Questions I've heard more than once: How do I shrink my belly? How do I get rid of arm “flab”? How do I get six pack abs? How do I get toned? How do I get smaller legs? These questions are similar and quite familiar to personal trainers. Of course the answer is: it depends! Many factors will come into it AND honestly, sometimes the answer is...You don’t! You focus on other things instead. For the most part, you likely have a pretty good idea of what you need to do and may have attempted and even achieved your desired results previously …but it’s not that simple, right? I’m not gonna lay out a weight loss or six pack abs plan for you here. But I will present a few important areas of consideration. Before you lift a weight, break a sweat, or modify your caloric intake in an effort to change a specific body part, consider the following questions.
Why do you want to change that particular body part?
In order to sustain the effort needed to make these types of changes, it’s important to have a strong and defined why. Sometimes when we delve into the desire for change, we discover it is based on a previous negative experience, comparing our bodies to others or the bodies of our youth, or something deeper like improved health, self-confidence, strength or endurance. You may find that your desire isn't so much the arms or stomach or legs, it's what they represent to you.
Body image issues and negative focus on specific body parts is pretty much a universally-shared experience among women. It’s okay to seek change or "improvement" but at the same time it is necessary to practice self-acceptance, self-compassion, and the realization that perfect bodies, especially as seen on Instagram, don't exist.
We've seen a surge in body positivity and body acceptance in all forms of media. #bodypositive has over five million posts on Instagram. More brands are featuring women of varying sizes and shapes. Yet, the underlying message remains, especially in relation to the fitness industry, that to be considered fit/healthy, you must look a certain way. Most fitness programs aimed at women are linked to aesthetics. Get that beach body. Work for the perfect round butt. Develop goddess quads. Get rid of belly fat and sculpt your abs.
I don't have six pack abs and I don't want them. But I feel like I'm expected to.
Fitness goes beyond appearance. We know this. Yet, aesthetics is what large portions of the fitness industry use to drive sales. The hard, shiny bodies and exposed toned torsos are what is equated to being healthy and fit. It is what we are supposed to strive towards.
Let's say no. Leading a physically active lifestyle and engaging in a purposeful exercise program is about MORE IMPORTANT THINGS.
We exercise because:
Many other amazing mental, emotional, and physical benefits aren't listed here. Once I started exercising because of the way it makes me feel and the health benefits rather than chasing after specific body part shapes, I found it much easier to get moving. I stopped making as many excuses to skip planned exercise. As a result, my body did change and I ended up with some of those specific body part shapes after all.
So go for a walk. Dance. Lift weights. Do yoga. Move your body. Do it for yourself - not because you are trying to change to fit some sort of “ideal”. Create goals that work for you and your body. Your fitness journey will be much more pleasant if you do!