Of Leaning, Loving, and Loathing

Does this chick not have the best back/rear end ever? It’s an appropriate picture because today I’m talking about my bod. Let’s just be very very clear – this picture is NOT me. It’s Rachel Guy, who is clearly a very fit woman. Check her out (her website, not just her bangin’ bod below). This picture inspires me to do pull ups. And dye my hair blonde.

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Hammies! Look at those hammies!

Confession – this is a post I’ve been trying to articulate for a while, and a subject I’ve been thinking about for even longer. I’m about to give you a peek into the gerbil maze that is my mind, so bear with me.

I’ve written before about how in the end of 2012 I embarked on a leaning out journey that, while successful from a numbers perspective – dropped 7% body fat – was draining mentally and emotionally. I was so focused on getting lean that I was constantly criticizing my body. All I could see when I looked at myself in the mirror were love handles and cellulite. My mental state was not one of self-love and appreciation. It was one of constant criticism and emotional exhaustion.

My renewed focus on health has mitigated much of the criticism and focus on my body flaws, but it has also led to choices that have not kept me at the lean state I was. Can I just take a moment to complain about how my body has changed so much in my twenties? It has and it has for so many of my friends. I frequently notice how during and after college, guys get their “man body”. This is usually a good thing from my perspective; they fill out and look more muscular and masculine. All in all, it’s a good thing. For women however, we start carrying our weight in different places. All of a sudden things that were tight are not as tight. I look back with longing at my pictures from just a few years ago. I looked so good! And the real kicker is I never appreciated it then! Ugh. I’m sure there is a great biological reason for this body change, but I’m not a fan. Anyway, I don’t think about my body image all the time, but when I’m really honest with myself, I am not thrilled with it. No amount of focusing on sleep habits, Crossfit, and leafy greens can change the fact that I’m not 100% comfortable in my own skin.

The way I see it, there’s two things at play here. 1) loving what you’ve got and 2) getting what you love. This is where I went wrong the last time I tried to lean out – the  entire focus was on getting something I would love; a leaner physique. I put absolutely no emphasis on loving what I had or appreciating myself for the progress I was making.

Is it hypocritical to say “I love my body but I want to change it?”

The truth is, I don’t know.

I want to know if I can work towards a body I’m stoked about while still being grateful and proud of what I already have. Or do the two conflict too much? Can I work towards an aesthetic goal while still taking good care of myself emotionally? Or is this a trap I am falling into?

So here’s my plan to find out: I’m going to do another lean out experiment, but with a twist. This time around, I’m want to focus just as much on my mental state as my physical state. I’m want to lean out with self-love rather than self-loathing. I want to see if by the end I’m more able to see the progress in myself and be more confident, or if I am going to be unsatisfied and critical of myself no matter what.  The only way to find out is to try.

This is where I feel the need to defend myself. I know it might seem shallow and vain to want to look in the mirror and think “Damn, Gina! I look good!”  Maybe it is shallow and vain! I almost didn’t even post this because I’m afraid of people saying “Who cares what you look like! You’re healthy so just be satisfied! Don’t be a shallow psycho!” Then I fortuitously found this article from Marks Daily Apple that helped me a lot with this mental hurdle. I really respect Mark Sisson and I think his approach is totally reasonable. In the article he gives the health community permission to want to look good, and that a hot physique is not a shallow or vain objective. Thank you, Mark. Maybe he can just say that because not only is he in incredible health at 55+ years, but he also gives Channing Tatum’s abs a run for their money. Seriously:

You could melt grass fed butter on that torso.

Anyway, the article. It convinced me that you can have a balance between seeking health and vitality and a smokin’ bod.

I am going to Mexico with my boyfriend and some good friends on August 1 and is going to be my target date for hitting a body fat goal (which is still TBD). I am starting my leaning protocol with my trainer next week (!!!) but I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this for a while. The reason being that I had some prep work to do mentally. I needed to start controlling my internal dialogue and disciplining myself not to call out a flaw every time I look in the mirror. I had a great test of this over this past weekend…

I was in Vegas visiting my college girlfriends. It was such a great trip, but a good reminder of why I was kind of unhappy living there. The pressure! So much pressure. Pressure to look good, to drive a luxury car when you’re 25, to be tan and perfect all the time. It’s exhausting. Luckily I live in Colorado now where it’s acceptable to be bra-less and Birkenstock-clad all the time. Not that I am, but if I wanted to me it wouldn’t be too crazy. Anyway, I knew we’d be going to a pool during my stay. In case you haven’t been, let me tell you that pools in Vegas are not your ordinary neighborhood pools. There are no floaties, no Otter Pops. Pools on the strip are the daytime equivalent of night clubs complete with bars, cocktail waitresses, bottle service, DJ’s, and questionable activities in the bathroom. And most people get just as ready to go to the pool as they do to go to the club. Many chicks wear heels – I kid you not – heels to the pool. Every cocktail waitress is tiny, toned, and gorgeous. You have to audition to be a cocktail waitress, and they can fire you if you gain weight. True story. Before the big pool day I was paralyzed by my anxiety about revealing my white, post-hibernation bod. We just got a foot of snow in CO for crying out loud, so laying out and getting a base tan wasn’t an option. Also, as we’ve discussed, I’m not exactly at my smallest. The panic ensued.

Then, I told myself to stop. Just. Stop.

Who gives a s*** if I’m a not size 2 with a spray tan and pool heels? NO ONE. That’s who.

So I told myself to just get over it. Go to the pool, get my drink on, have a good time, don’t stress about it. And you know what? I did! I just had a great time, and I felt good about myself. I realized that I was pretty average sized among the crowd, and that not only does my body not at all matter in terms of how much fun I have, I don’t have anyone at a freaking Vegas pool to impress anyway. I want to look good for myself, and my man, and that’s about it. And he loves me no matter what sooo… I guess that leaves just me. I want to look good, and I want to look good for myself.

So that’s my plan for now. May will be about leaning out. But May is also about loving and appreciating myself, and not get caught in a vicious cycle of dissatisfaction. May is about doing both. 

Anyone have thoughts? Which camp do you fall into – do you just want to be healthy no matter the size that translates to, or do you want to be healthy and look good naked? Does Mark Sisson make you feel like an inferior specimen?

14 thoughts on “Of Leaning, Loving, and Loathing

  1. Who can honestly say they don’t care what they look like naked?

    That aside, I exercise to get strong and I eat what I eat to feel healthy. Everything else will take care of itself.

    I’m not jealous of Mark’s body, but I admire him, especially at that age, for his dedication to his health.

    I hear so many folks that age, parents and coworkers, who say they don’t have the energy to exercise and they don’t have time to eat right. What I think, and never say is, “If you ate right and exercised, you have more time and energy than you do now.”

    • You rock, Adam. And you’re totally right, it’s a positive feedback loop – eat better, exercise, feel better so you can eat even better, keep exercising, feel even better so you can…

  2. I always waiver in my “nekkid vanity”. One minute I just want to be healthy; then next I’m lamenting my muffin-top.

    My husband has an interesting perspective on self-love: if you truly love yourself, you won’t do things that hurt you. I show myself love by being active and eating food that makes me healthy. When I pound a bag of Oreos or skip a much-needed run, that is not a loving action to myself; that’s coming from someplace else – emotional instability, denial, rebellion – that is not a loving place.

    And I don’t envy Mark his abs; for me they’re inspirational. He worked long and hard to get where he’s at, and he wears it with such a relaxed and open attitude you just feel encouraged instead of dismayed.

    Great post! There’s so much here to think about.

    • Your husband is right on. I read this comment yesterday, and was totally inspired. Then I went home, was really craving sugar, and almost destroyed some leftover M&M Eggs left over from Easter (they are the devil). But I thought of this, and I didn’t. I thought “if I’m doing this I need to really do it – I love myself so eating fistfuls of M&M eggs is not how I’m going to show it!” Thanks for the great inspiration!

  3. I don’t know if I could live in Vegas! I would have a really hard time with that atmosphere. I can’t even wear heels much less run around the pool in them.

    I started reading a lot about health and nutrition about 6 years ago because I just wanted to look good. Pure vanity. My ideals have certainly changed since then and so has my vision of health. I’ve realized how important it is to have a healthy life, free of stress, good sleep, good relationships. These things can actually attribute to the health of our physical bodies.

    That being said, I still want to look good naked. I don’t know that I ever won’t. It’s a curse! Sometimes I wish I just didn’t care so that I wouldn’t stress about it. I think that recognizing the importance of accepting your body as you lean out is the most important thing to do. After all, what’s the point of having a nice bod if you don’t appreciate it?
    I look forward to more posts on this!

    • I know – I used to wear heels all the time (when living in Vegas, and even to the pool – wedges are the ticket) but now I RARELY wear them. Heels just such. And thanks for your support! You’re 100% right – what’s the point of having a rockin bod if you don’t love it!?

  4. Rock on sister. It is not bad to care about how you look – it is a primal and biological desire (mostly to attract a mate, but also to be seen as a strong leader of the pack). Even in business, scientific studies have found that attractive people are more successful. Like it or loathe it, appearance matters. The key is to embrace it in a healthy way, which it sounds like you are trying to do.

  5. I’ve always had some negative thoughts about my tummy, but getting strict with my diet has helped melt away some of the fat around my waist. It’s funny how eating healthier ultimately made me look better. It’s hard to stay consistent, but I know what works (aka the Whole30) so I know I can come back to it at any point. Although I am slightly scared wrapping up this April round… I don’t want to stuff myself with noncompliant food and booze and swell up!

  6. Pingback: 7 Months Paleo: Where’s your head at? | Primal Park Life

  7. I think everybody cares how they look naked. It’s nice to look in the mirror and not feel depressed. That doesn’t mean that I am a shallow person. I have given birth to 2 wonderful children, and I can see in the mirror that my body has changed. But It’s okay, I don’t mind. I like my body. It’s not perfect, but it has potensial;)

  8. So a girl gets engaged and she gives up on her “Year of Health”? What gives, Susie? Never too late to get back on track…

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