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Friday, October 17, 2014

The Paradoxical Lie Your Favorite Magazine Perpetuates

Self love vs self denial
I noticed immediately she spoke in fluffy, New Age-y aphorisms. “I love and accept my body no matter what,” my 20-something client told me about five minutes into our conversation, somewhat defensively. Every other sentence felt lifted from those self help-y Lululemon bags.
“That’s where I feel confused,” she finally said, in a rare, genuine, unscripted moment. “If I’m supposed to practice self-love, why do I feel like crap when I look at my body in the mirror? Why is it so hard to marry those two ideas?”
As she recounted a recent Saturday night date she almost canceled, I felt her confusion and wanted to give her a hug. I also wanted to give her a solid kick in the pants.
Women’s magazines flirt endlessly with
this paradox. Throughout you’ll find articles about how to love your body no matter what. Embrace your curves and enjoy your favorite foods with wild abandon, they loudly proclaim.
In these magazines you’ll find famous celebrities who weigh maybe 100 pounds wet engulfing bacon cheeseburgers and fries. See, they’re doing it and you can too, those photos shamelessly suggest.
Interspersed among the articles and pictures are ads that often feature waif-thin models in skinny jeans. The message becomes loud and clear: If you want a boyfriend (or girlfriend), if you want to be loved, if you want great sex, you better have a hot, lean, svelte body like yesterday.
Which shoots that whole “I love my body” stuff to shreds.  
The truth lies somewhere in between. “I love my body” and the endless clichés that follow it provide endless excuses for people to neglect caring for themselves and then lie that they’re totally cool being slightly overweight.
Except that, as my client discovered that miserable Saturday night, all those cute sayings go out the window when you have a big date who may – let’s keep it real here – see you naked or, at the very least, see you in a body-hugging sleeveless black dress that accentuates every curve.
No, come Saturday night you’re going to wish you’d eaten clean, exercised hard, supplemented smartly, and done your damnedest to care for your body. That’s self-love.
The good news is that you have plenty of those future Saturday nights, and your fate lies in your hands. You can become full of regret during those moments or you can look in the mirror and see a lean, muscular, proud-to-be-you body.
I’ve discussed TOFIs elsewhere. That thin-on-the-outside/ fat-on-the-inside body ideal can become unhealthy when women (and to a lesser extent, men) go on semi-starvation diets that gobble away what little muscle tone they have. Being skinny does not mean healthy.

Yet I also hear health experts claim you can be a little bit overweight and still be healthy. Well, yeah, to a degree. You could carry around 20 extra pounds and your blood work could come back just fine. Your doctor might dismiss you in glowing health. But does that mean you’re healthy?
Let’s say you carry an extra 10 or 20 pounds as fat, not muscle. That extra weight makes moving around more difficult. Smaller, stabilizing muscles are more difficult to stimulate, which can lead to feeling uncomfortable sitting or lying.
Now, I’m all about finding an excuse to get off your butt and move, but at some point you’ve got to rest, and rest should be restorative and comfortable. That discomfort could cut into your physiological repair and sleep, spiraling a vicious cycle of being tired and overeating the next day.
You also feel psychologically crummy. I’ll use myself here. Yes, even us health professionals get sloppy sometimes and put on an extra 10. When I do, I feel more sluggish, I don’t move as easily, I don’t like the way that muffin top starts to slouch over my jeans, and overall I feel less confident and sexy. I don’t feel like my usual strong, energetic self, and that becomes a huge hit to my esteem levels.
On the one hand, it might feel “okay” to put on an extra 10 pounds. Nobody much cares, and besides, life is too short to obsess over little things, right?
But you will always have that pesky voice in your head telling you to push harder, that you only have one life and one body so you better shine. Not perfect, but always giving your best. When you constantly give your best, you usually like the results.
You could surrender to the path of least resistance like so many people, or you could push a little harder. You could monitor your calories a little better, hire a trainer to mix up your workout, say no to that third glass of wine, and head out of that party early so you could get eight hours’ sleep. Hard as it may be, those little things make all the difference between okay and great.
Ultimately, the “I’m-OK-you’re-OK” body mentality becomes complacent. Life should provide constant challenges, and getting too comfortable provides a warm, fuzzy excuse to say “to hell with it” and go face down in the Krispy Kreme glazed donuts. You’re only human, you deserve a break today, you’ll start tomorrow, you know the spiel.        
Like any other aspect of life, I always have physique goals. They feel a little daunting, but I thrive on challenging myself to overcoming them. I’m never at my best than when I’m challenged, I break through, and I push myself again.
I want to be absolutely clear I’m not talking about orthorexia, or becoming militantly obsessive about every bite and extra pound you accrue. That kind of extreme thinking can lead to bulimia, anorexia, OCD, and weighing yourself every five minutes. Those behaviors are not healthy in the least little bit. I workout hard but also eat chocolate. I stay strict but perfection is never my goal.
At the same time, I refuse to subscribe to that politically correct, everyone-is-a-winner mentality that benefits no one. I see that attitude in schools today, where kids get trophies for everything and A’s are handed out like Pez dispensers. I also see it in women’s magazines where, God forbid, the author should imply anyone feel remotely bad about their bodies even as the ads paradoxically promote self-shame.
If God or nature made you skinny or big-boned, embrace that frame. If you’re sporting a gut and then claim to love yourself as you are, that’s self-denial. You’re only kidding yourself if you think that’s okay.
You’re also denying yourself the opportunity to feel light, lean, and healthy in your body. You’re holding yourself hostage in a broken body that slogs along while you pretend you don’t care, even though you know damn well you do.
Whether you’ve got 10 pounds or 100 pounds to lose, you’ve got the opportunity right now to ditch those excuses and become your very best self. You’ll have one of those Saturday nights in the future. How do you want to feel when you look in the mirror that evening?
One thing I’ve learned about winners is that they don’t have the time, but they make the time. They surrender that hour watching TV for a kick-ass workout. They drive past Starbucks and whip up a healthy protein shake for breakfast. Life doesn’t hand them anything. Instead, they create opportunities, find new challenges, and never settle for “just okay.” They love themselves most when they overcome obstacles and actively create the bodies they want. Only when you do that will you feel truly alive.

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Fitness expert and strength coach Jini Cicero, CSCS, teaches intermediate exercisers how to blast through plateaus to create incredible transformations. Are you ready to take your fitness to a whole new level?  Find out now!  Take Jini's "Are you Ready?" Quiz at© 2014 Jinifit, Inc.

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  1. THIS is why I have stopped subscribing to all women's magazines! Amen, sister!

    Nevermind the bullshit nutrition advice (so general...) and workouts I cannot do because of my limitations. I was done with this nonsense last year. Once they subscriptions came due, I let them lapse. Now I go in search of truth via all the amazing people in my life that I admire (like you!) who are doing it right and do not pretend that it takes anything less than hard work to get there.

    Good health, cannot, like many things, be sold as aspirational.

    Perspiration, not aspiration, is all that is going to get you there, along with proper nutrition and healthy habits. So sick of the "healthy dream." Is there such a thing? You can't think yourself thin or healthy, people. Put down your PSL and your Self Magazine and get to it!

    1. Thanks so much for the kind words. You are so right; you can't think yourself thin.