Written by Joe G. Santos
As we strive to live our soul's true purpose, we turn to the stars and the ethereal to find answers to the most abstract and challenging human existence inquiries. We spend a lot of time wondering and pondering solutions that we can occasionally find a lot closer to home than we think. As we seek to perfect our selves, one thing is essential to note: A clear mind needs a strong body. However, the word strong can mean many different things. The instinctual assumption would be that of an exuberant muscular body glistening in the sunlight. Yet, real strength is no mere aesthetic. A healthy body is durable and suitable for the needs of the soul that drives it around daily. Since different souls have different needs, then a strong body is relative to their usage. With the increased awareness of body image issues, several debates are challenging what it means to have a healthy body and a healthy relationship with it. Without oversimplifying the answer to these questions, can we ever agree on what it means to have a healthy body?
Many aspects of human living exist within a spectrum. Therefore whenever we debate on topics that vary significantly from individual to individual, understanding nuance is imperative. No one can ever argue that a balanced diet and regular exercise are wrong for anybody. Still, there needs to be a distinction when approaching physical practices for health versus aesthetic purposes. One would assume that you can tell how healthy a person is by looking at their physique. Yet, as attested by coach and nutritionist Eirik Garnas (MScN), bodybuilding is far from being the holy grail of human health. He states in his article "The Dangers of Bodybuilding":
"Chronic, heavy, high-volume bodybuilding-type training does not agree well with the evolved human biology. It has absolutely nothing in common with the physical activity routines that conditioned the human genome over millions of years of evolution."
Each individual has full ownership over their bodies, and therefore we should not invalidate the desire for a particular body shape. But focusing too much on cosmetics can cause severe health and mental issues, and as seen, goes directly against our body's natural evolution. Having a body that "looks good" but feels dysfunctional should not be the goal when striving for self-betterment. It is the same weight obsession that leads to extreme diets, questionable weight-loss and gain supplements, and the abuse of chemicals such as anabolic steroids. Additionally, the pursuit of beauty standard compliance drives many people to quantify their sense of self-worth through the obsession with size (big or small), which is known to trigger illnesses such as body dysphoria. When the body's appearance is given more importance than the way it feels, it becomes much easier to justify going through harmful, unpleasant, and extreme methods to reach your goals, healthy, or not. With that in mind, goal-setting lies at the core of many issues with body positivity and fitness.
Considering this, how do we ensure we set healthy goals for our fitness journey?
To get body image issues out of the fitness equation, we must first address our purpose in exercising and taking care of our bodies. As these vessels' owners, we must practice radical self-love to feel comfortable in our skin. Love takes work, but that does not mean that it is less enjoyable. We are more than capable of alchemizing an act (yoga, running, calisthenics,etc.) from something that causes us to look at all the "flaws" in our body, from something that brings to light and ensures everything functions correctly. With that, exercising and mindful dietary choices can go from feeling like a mission to essential body maintenance, not much different from brushing your teeth every day.
All it takes is a quick search on any social media platform on weight loss to see how big the focus is on numbers. Having a specific number of pounds you want to reach has incredible benefits in making tangible and easily expressible goals. Even so, that same number can also be the source of great stress. As suggested by studies published by the International Journal of Obesity 1 2, low life satisfaction can often be linked to a rapid increase or decrease in weight depending on the individual. Therefore the relationship with that number is just as meaningful as the work we are putting on achieving it. That being said, combating a problem with what might be part the cause of it is a questionable approach. When developing a fitness plan, you must be in touch with your motivations just as much as how the body feels. A holistic approach is always best, but is it possible to be satisfied with the way you look while seeking a healthier body? As we have explored, health has to do more with functionality than appearance, therefore aiming to be healthier is not universally correlated with seeking to be thinner or more muscular. After making these distinctions, fitness can be more welcoming to all body shapes and sizes.
Although there is apparent harm in obsessive monitoring, checking in with your body from time to time is not a bad practice. If quantifying your success can be a source of stress, all we have to do is replace the number-watching with something less anxiety-inducing—perhaps even anxiety-preventative.
Meditative body-scans are becoming increasingly popular. The practice consists of either sitting down or lying down, closing your eyes, and slowly moving your body's awareness from head to toe. This practice creates space for you to be more acquainted with your body, making you the judge of how optimal its performance has been and what areas you need to make adjustments. It may also bring up emotions and stress stored in different parts of your body to the surface, making it much easier to heal inside and out. You can even find sensations that you would want to bring-up on your next visit to your health practitioner. Furthermore, a study in the Annals of Behavioural Medicine also suggests that it may even help reduce blood pressure and decision making, as indicated by Science Direct.
In recent years, body-positive activists and social media commentators have also addressed dieting with increased criticism. This conversation brought awareness to many issues present in the billion-dollar weight management industry. However, dieting as an umbrella term should not be deemed evil solely for a few business people's greedy behaviors. As defined by the Oxford Dictionary, diet is "the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats." Thus, the general idea of diet as a set of restrictions one must implement in their eating habits is false or mislaid. Whether it is planned or not, we all diet, so why not do it consciously if there is no running away from it? As important as it is to break self-deprecating habits that attack our own identity, replacing them with healthier habits is just as important. An unoccupied mind can often revert to old patterns if you are not attentive. Although replacing certain eating habits may sound restrictive, it is entirely possible to eat everything you love, without the stress of having to say no to all your favourite meals. For example, if you love brownies, there is no need to replace it with a cauliflower plate. You can simply modify the recipe using more nutritiously dense ingredients such as nut-flours, coconut oil, honey, etc. However, a life without any sort of restrictions is unrealistic. It is not ideal a brownie every day, even if it is vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free, etc. Our ancestors had to hunt and gather food from all sorts of places in the past. Eating the same thing every day was never a realistic option, so our bodies have evolved to eat a wide array of foods. Moderation and variety are always crucial to ensure balance inside and out.
The first thing to consider while tweaking your diet is making sure your body is proficiently absorbing in all vital nutrients. With many alternative diet regimes being popularized and adhered to without nutritionists' assistance, nutrient deficiencies are not uncommon in many adults of all walks of life. Essential nutrients such as B12, Iron, Potassium, and Vitamin D are only a few of the most common nutritional deficiencies. You may consider visiting a naturopath or a nutritionist to perform all the tests needed to ensure that the food you eat is nourishing you appropriately. If you want to be well informed in your visit to a nutrition professional doing your research can be very beneficial. Spirit Science has a meticulously crafted documentary exploring how studies can directly link some of what we eat to some of the most common diseases of the 21st century, and how food can prevent these same ailments. The video offers a great starting point to your research, but as always: knowledge is power, so further personal research is highly encouraged.
Frequently an exercise routine is seen either as a chore or as a means to an end. It is all about working hard, so you can get the six-pack you have always wanted. That view makes it understandable why some people think working out and being body-positive cannot coexist. Additionally, by cohering to this approach, you are also looking for the day you have achieved the goal and no longer have to exercise. Moreover, these same practices may also induce unrealistic goals that lead to incredible frustration when not met (i.e., looking like Captain America or Wonder Woman in a month when you have never worked out once in your life). This is the reason why many people fail to follow through with their workout routines. The path to fitness is a life-long path, and instead of doing it because you have to, the best way of tackling this task is to find ways of making exercising a thing that you want to do because it is fun. Weigh-lifting and running are very beneficial and enjoyable for some people, but it is dull and uninspiring for others. There is no real answer to how to workout. The only way to know with certainty what works best for you is to try everything and see what feels the most exciting to you. Perhaps you could find a new hobby such as bouldering, HIIT training, playing a sport, or even taking a dance class.
Like we have explored, fitness is not only all about having muscles and a flat stomach. A healthy body comes from the effort of keeping things in balance. Over-worrying about your appearance is just as unhealthy as binge-eating, lethargy, and having an insubstantial diet. The real achievement that comes with fitness is to live a long life free of diseases that can be easily avoidable. Your fitness goals should revolve around what you can do, and not what you look. Thinking of fitness as a skill set will lead to greater inclusivity of body-types and a much sustainable way of gauging success and ensuring consistency in your practice. Still, health may start in the body, but the mind is just as important. The way we view ourselves and how comfortable we feel in our bodies is just as pivotal to your fitness journey. With that, let us propose that loving your body be a requirement for calling yourself fit. Let us bring love to our practice daily. Maybe we can even add a self-love ritual to our pre-workout routine. Name a thing you love about your body every day before your convention; it surely will make you feel healthier.
About the author: Joe G. Santos
Writer, Thinker, and Visionary. Through writing, I aim to clarify the most pressing questions about human behavior and world issues, pointing to practical resolutions in an entertaining and accessible manner. You can find my work and contact me at https://www.joegwriting.com/.
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