One of the common phrases I use as a health coach is “Healthy Looks Different On Everyone.” Today I want to take this a bit further and say that Healthy looks different for each of us through the many different stages and phases of our lives! What was healthy for us when we were starting college, with different responsibilities, different priorities, before kids, probably looked completely different from the healthy version of us now in a different phase of life. Yet it can be so hard not to compare ourselves to a certain standard we once had for ourselves. We are always changing and evolving. We are changing physically, mentally, hormonally, anatomically, as well as our environment and circumstances constantly changing as well. That’s the beauty of this life!
This blog post was inspired by this last week as I found myself moseying down the negative body image rabbit hole. If you’re working on HA recovery and weight gain, or find yourself comparing your body to an older version of you, or maybe you’re struggling with physical changes that come postpartum, this blog post is for you.
My husband and I are finally printing out pictures of all of our travels from the past 5 or so years. The common thread in all of these pictures is that I was in the depths of HA (hypothalamic amenorrhea) with a tight little 6 pack and carrying around 8-12% body fat. With each picture I scrolled through, the negative voice inside my head kept getting stronger and stronger. I found myself looking down at my current postpartum body feeling less worthy.
The funny thing is I’ve been feeling genuinely confident in my skin and at a great place with my body, until I saw these pictures and fell hard into the comparison trap! This was different than the comparison that comes from scrolling through instagram or going to the gym. This was comparison of my current self to a former me. A time when I looked “healthy & very fit” by our cultures standards, but was far from it on the inside. A time when my thoughts were heavily consumed by food and exercise. A time when I was more anxious and critical of myself and others. A time when my life basically revolved around what my next workout was going to be, how I was going to burn as many calories as possible in that workout, and always focused on how I could eat food that would fuel me but help me lose body fat at the same time.
I was so inspired this morning by the words of Chelsea Gross from the Nutrition-ish podcast. She explains that our relationship with our body should be treated just like any other relationship in life. If we recognize a toxic relationship, we need to break up with those habits and move on. It can be harder to move on when all we focus on is the picture perfect moments we miss from that relationship. We must be real with ourselves and be reminded of the toxic parts of the relationship. We may look at pictures and long for our flat stomach again, or to fit into a certain outfit like we used to, but are we blind to the reality of what was required of us to get there? Are we forgetting what our body has accomplished since then? And are we forgetting the fullness of our current life?
In order for most women to reach a certain leanness, there is always some amount of restriction involved. Relationships with food become skewed. There are sacrifices along the way that aren’t seen in the pictures. The reality is that this ideal weight or size that we strive for, is NOT where most of our bodies are designed to thrive at. It’s typically below our bodies set point where we have happy hormones, and an abundant life.
When working towards a certain leanness or body size, the obsession over food and exercise can take over our lives. Vacations bring anxiety, and eating anything outside of our control breeds fear. We completely lose our sex drive. Moments of life are missed out on. And in my case, can lead to the inability to get pregnant! When we’re stuck in this mindset, these things seem totally normal. Like being blinded by love. Often times it isn’t until we break free and see the light that we realize there is SO MUCH MORE to life.
Once we’ve had our reality check with the past, we must then focus on the positive that has come from this new stage of life and our changed body. I call it the Brittney 2.0 :).
My relationships are a million times better. There’s less tension in my marriage. I can focus on things other than food and exercise, like reading books, and walking (not running) on the beach! I can go on vacation without stressing about the food and gym situation. I have a baby boy who has brought more joy to my life than I could have ever imagined. I have a milk supply to provide for my baby. I have strength to hold him and play with him, without being completely EXHAUSTED from my own workouts. My hair is thicker, my skin is brighter. I’m less critical of myself and others. I’m really happy.
Throughout life we are going to go through many different seasons. We evolve and grow. Our ideas change, our perspectives shift. We are asked to carry heavier burdens during some, and lighter loads during others. Our physiology, anatomy, and hormones literally change throughout our lives. How can we expect our bodies to stay the way they were during a stage of life that was completely different from where we are now? As women especially, our bodies actually need more body fat during our child baring years! To hold ourselves to a standard we set for ourselves years ago, that was attributing to hormone imbalance and obviously not sustainable, is going to steal the joy right out of our lives. The sooner we embrace and love ourselves for who we are deep down underneath our surface layers, the sooner we can thrive at every single season of life we go through. The little moments in life become sweeter as we stop comparing ourselves to a former version of us, stop waiting to be happy when we reach a certain goal weight, and live at peace with our present self.
To be clear, I am not anti-weight loss. And I am not pro-weight gain. I am a big believer in rooting our confidence much deeper than our body. With that self loving and confidant foundation, we can maximize our health by accepting our genetic make up with our season of life, and create the healthiest version of ourselves from that space. It does no good for us to fight against the amazing body we’ve been given, and to live in denial of the changes we go through in life.
So to bring it all together, here are my tips to end comparison, and find peace with your body now, just the way it is today.
Recognize the root of these negative feelings. If you are feeling a little down about your body, or notice negative thoughts being triggered inside of you, ask yourself why. Where are these thoughts coming from. You may identify a trend of old pictures of yourself before recovery triggering these thoughts like I did. This realization is important for moving forward! Self awareness is crucial. Recognizing what triggers certain thoughts can help separate the passing thoughts from actual reality.
Take some time to remember the sacrifice, restriction, and obsessive habits associated with that version of you. Were you truly living your best life? Were you truly happier with your body at that time than you are now? Often times when we’re at our thinnest or “fittest”, we still have thoughts of not being good enough, and can always find some flaw to point out. This was definitely the case for me. I think more times than not we find that the grass really isn’t greener on the other side.
Take some time to notice all the positive things in your life now because of a more balanced approach to health. If you need some help with this I’m sure someone who is close to you, who has been by your side through it all, can reassure you that they love you just as much now, if not more than the previous version of you.
Notice things you like about your new body and tell yourself in the mirror. This sounds a little silly, but I think it’s a powerful practice! Maybe you love the shape of your eyebrows, or how your curves fit into a new dress just right. Don’t be shy, tell yourself how good you look! It may take practice, but try looking yourself in the eyes and actually accepting a compliment graciously. It’s a great skill to have.
Fuel that positive voice each and every morning. Start a morning routine that includes positive affirmations to yourself and you will be blown away with how overtime you will start speaking kinder to yourself and your self confidence will flourish.
The last couple years I’ve gone through a lot of changes, mentally, physically and emotionally. But what I’m learning more and more is that our standard of health and different bars we set for ourselves should adjust through out our life.
I’ve recently found freedom in letting go of this imaginary bar or standard of health and fitness that I’ve held myself to for years and realized that my life is different now and better in so many ways.
Why am I so passionate about this topic? Because I’ve been there. Because it breaks my heart that so many amazing women are brutally hard on themselves. Because I believe the more we can love and accept ourselves, the better we can love and accept others around us. Because we’ve been told lies most of our lives about what it means to be beautiful, sexy, and healthy, and it’s time to change that! There is not one perfect template for a healthy body. It will look different on everybody, and will change throughout the course of our lives as WE change. Accept it. Embrace it. And strive for the best version of YOU moving forward.