How To: Improve Your Body Image and Eating Habits
“Progress takes time”
"Love your body !!!"
“Okay, yeah that’s easy for you to say…”
Hi I’m impatient. *insert dad joke of “hi impatient, I’m dad”*
But really, I’m SO impatient. It drives me nuts sometimes. Like when I'm testing out a new recipe, I check on it to see how it's doing and poke it with a toothpick every 2 minutes instead of just letting it do it's thing and bake in peace. Grant has to like be the oven police and tell me to stay away LOL
Being impatient really stinks when it comes to body image and aesthetic goals. It's SO easy to think about the "ideal you" that you have imagined in your head and want to look that way now. Or to think about where you are now vs. where you want to be and think "gosh that's going to take FOR EV ER" (I hope you said that like Squints in the Sandlot)
Thinking that way can be really overwhelming. After we see how far we have to go, we think "how on earth am I going to get there???" I fell victim to that a LOT in college. Because even though we know progress takes time and won’t happen overnight (unfortunately), that doesn’t stop us from secretly hoping and wishing that it'd happen that quickly.
When I was competed, I REALLY wished progress materialized overnight. There was a pressure to look a certain way and a deadline to go along with that pressure. So that paired with my perfectionism? There was a fine line between healthy and obsessive, and boy did I dance on that line.
Especially when I'd look in the mirror and evaluate my body; pointing out what I wanted to change and my "weak spots" that I needed to work on. Those assessments intensified as the deadline crept closer.
Constructive criticism? Or destructive criticism?
What I thought was constructive criticism (which may have been at one point in time) became nothing but cold, hard criticism. I wasn't assessing myself, I was kidding myself by chalking it up to that. In reality I was insulting myself. Picking myself apart piece by piece. Looking for faults to find. Judging my body.
And that “constructive criticism” manifested into how I felt about myself away from the mirror.
I became more self-conscious. I started to compare myself to other women in public - how did I measure up against them?? Especially at the gym. Even on days when I felt good about my body, I found myself being envious of the way other women in the gym looked. I didn't consider if they were more seasoned, knowledgeable, or had more years of gym experience - all I saw was appearance. She looked better than me, more like my "ideal self" than I did. So much for don't judge a book by it's cover, right?
If I hit a PR (Personal Record) lifting, I’d be happy for a split second but then I wanted to do better, lift heavier, do more. More, more, more.
It was like nothing was ever good enough. In my eyes, I wasn’t good enough.
I admired my deep drive and motivation, but the grounds of those characteristics were shifting. My motives and rationale were straying. They were starting to stem from unhappiness within myself instead of a desire to get better and push myself to my limits. I was pushing myself to my limits for sure, but for the wrong reasons.
I believe a majority of that unhappiness came from constantly criticizing my body every opportunity I had to see my reflection - in store windows, mirrors, bathrooms, cars. And I knew I needed to put an end to that.
Criticism doesn't serve you
I knew I needed to focus on cultivating a more positive mental space for me. An uplifting mentality to grow and flourish rather than a disheartening, suppressive space. Looking in the mirror and thinking "ugh I want my legs to look better, why do my glutes grow SO SLOW, when will my stomach lean out, ew" wasn't encouraging or serving me in anyway.
It felt really weird and somewhat egotistical at first, but whenever I felt a critique coming, I'd actively try to turn it into a positive:
"I wish my legs looked better and more defined" I'd change it to "my legs look A LOT different than they used to, they've come a long way"
My shoulders need to be bigger -> I can DB press way more than I used to (then I'd chuckle thinking about the baby weights I used to lift when I thought I was super strong)
My butt is so. small. -> my butt has grown a lot, I went from a crepe butt to a solid pancake now
When will my stomach lean out -> my lower stomach is a lot leaner than it used to be, and look at those obliques!
My hamstrings and legs will never look like how I want them to -> my legs have a lot more shape and definition than they did last year, and my deadlift has gotten a lot stronger
And that really helped.
Complimenting instead of criticizing. Because I am e n o u g h.
It's so much easier to look at how far you have to go rather than how far you've come. But if you look at both? Acknowledge that you might not be where you want to be and yeah, there's parts of your body that you want to improve upon, but you've already made a lot of progress that you should be proud of! You don't need to stand there gushing over yourself, but you also don't need to be tearing yourself down.
So rather than instantly nit picking, try to point out something you like or appreciate about yourself instead.
Change vs. Improve
My diction in how I talked to myself started to change too. I went from pointing out parts that I wanted to change to recognizing areas that I want to improve on.
Change (when talking about our bodies) implies altering something entirely - an overhaul, a remodel, a complete 180. While improve indicates development, growth, building on something that's already there. It's like saying "I'm happy with and accepting of my body, but there's always room for progress and I want to make some."
It’s like going from scrolling through Instagram, seeing a picture, and thinking “ugh I wish I looked like that" or "why can't my butt and legs look like hers” to scrolling through, seeing that same picture, but thinking “wow, she looks really good, that makes me want to get better" or "I wonder what I could look like if I pushed myself a bit more on leg days"
It's going from yearning, envying, and comparing to using what you see as motivation, knowing you won't look like someone else no matter how hard you try but being happy and at peace with that (!!!), and wanting to be the best version of yourself.
Today, tomorrow, 2 years from now
Think about where you were 2 years ago - mentally, physically, emotionally. Now think about where you are now. You didn't jump from where you were then to where you are now instantaneously. It took time, small choices that turned into habits, trial and error, and persistence.
Now think about where you want to be 2 years from now.
Point A to Point B can seem like a lifetime away. Sometimes when I think about my vision and goals for the future, I start wondering how I'll get there and questioning if I can even get there, which just leaves me overwhelmed, confused, and discouraged.
Which is why taking it one day at a time is so important to me; spending more time in the present and less worrying about the future. I know that by focusing on the day at hand and trying my best each day - those small actions and results will accumulate over time and have a big impact. We can't control the future. Whether you're religious or not, trust that it'll all work out as it's meant to.
Years ago, I didn't have a healthy relationship with food like I do today. Between competing and criticizing myself, my relationship with food started to really suffer.
I struggled with binge eating for ~11 months.
Like I'm talking hiding in my closet in my dorm room with jars of peanut butter and hazelnut spread (don't judge me, it was a walk-in closet okayyyy). Eating my roommates food and rushing to Food Lion to replace it before they got home so they wouldn't notice. Waking up like clockwork around 1 or 2am to sneak into the kitchen and stuff my face.
Thankfully I was able to work past that and completely transform my mentality about food. But part of my problem with binge eating came from the extreme level of self-control I needed to exude as a competitor. If I had $1 for every time I said:
“No I can’t have that”
“No thank you, I’m not eating”
“Oh I already ate at home”
“No, I’m on prep”
“I ate a meal prepped meal”
“No, I can’t, I’m prepping”
To dinners, ice cream, less than healthy foods, social events involving food that I didn’t want to subject myself to - wow, I'd be like student loan debt? What's that??
Self-control is put on a pedestal
When someone can't lose weight or reach their goal, doesn't it come down to self-control? At least to a certain degree??
Not everyone can resist temptation, even if they do have clear, long-term goals and ambitions set. Passing on something that you want in the moment because in the long-run it might hinder you from reaching your goal isn't an easy feat! And you might feel proud of yourself for being able to do that, as you should!
But sometimes, that laser-like focus on long-term aspirations creates a set of blinders for the person saying no time and time again. The sense of accomplishment and pride that comes from keeping that goal in mind and saying no is addictive, all-consuming even.
It's becomes evident in every choice they make, the self-control and pride practically oozes from their pores as they repeatedly turn away from anything ~less than healthy~
And at the end of the day, they can sit back and relish in it; feeling proud, healthier, better even because of their elite level of self-control.
When I competed, I half-joked that I felt like the poster child for self-control, and I'm sure I'm not alone. Repeatedly turning your nose on all things "unhealthy" would leave anyone feeling a little high and mighty after a while.
It's easy for that pride to become prestigious and haughty; clouding our judgement as we believe we're doing something good for our health when in actuality, we're feeding into a toxic cycle. Because in the rare time when we don't or can't say no, we're overcome with failure and guilt. Which is why having an all or nothing mindset can actually be quite counterproductive.
What you need to ask yourself
So the *dark side* of self-control that's pretty hush-hush is that it can be smug, destructive, and restrictive.
It tip toes (and at times crosses) that fine line of saying no and restriction. Not enough leads to inconsistency, missed goals, and a lack of habits. But too much can lead to rigid, restrictive habits and an unhealthy relationship with food.
When I was overcoming binge eating and trying to find a balance between healthy food and treating myself, self-control was big but so was reflecting on WHY I wanted to eat something and questioning myself about it.
Let's say it's time to eat lunch, but I had something else on my mind. All I wanted to do was sit down with a jar of peanut butter, dip spoonful after spoonful into a bag of chocolate chips, and call it a day. But I knew I should be eating something more nutritious like gee I don't know, the food in the fridge that I had prepped.
Instead of diving fist deep into a jar of peanut butter, I'd stop and ask myself:
Why do I want the chocolate + PB when I know I should be eating an actual, wholesome meal?
Is it because giving into cravings is still a habit from binge eating that I need to shake?
Is it because I’m hungry for real food? Not snacks, but snacks just sound better?
Is it because I’m thirsty (cravings are often caused by dehydration), need to drink more water, and then reevaluate?
It is because grabbing the chocolate and PB seems more convenient than putting together a meal?
How am I going to feel if I eat the craving instead of what I know I should be eating?
Would doing so put me one step closer to or further from where I want to be?
Sometimes I'd go for the PB + chocolate combo.
Sometimes I'd choose the meal prep.
Sometimes I’d tell myself if I ate my meal and I was still r e a l l y craving the chocolate chips + PB after, then I’d have some. But more often than not and much to my surprise, I was full, satisfied, and wouldn't want anything else after my meal.
It was like by giving myself the opportunity to eat the PB + chocolate AFTER a wholesome meal, the restriction was gone. I knew I COULD have it if I wanted to. Eating the meal (AKA doing what my gut was telling me to do) eliminated the guilt I probably would’ve felt if I just gave into my craving right off the bat.
And I'd feel really proud of myself for making a conscious, well-thought out decision instead of an impulsive one.
Taking that approach - reflecting on the craving, questioning myself and getting to the ROOT of it, and giving myself the opportunity to have what I was craving helped me differentiate actual, legitimate cravings vs. cravings induced by hunger, old habits, or emotions
Questioning and reflecting on how I’m feeling helped (and still helps) me create a healthy, balance with food where I’m not immediately like “oh no, I’m craving sour gummy bears! I can’t and shouldn’t have that !!!!” and instead I’m able to think about what I want, figure out what's triggering the craving, and make a well-rounded choice that leaves me happy, satisfied, and most importantly - guilt-free!
Criticism is crafty; it can get harsh real quick. Be mindful of how you talk to yourself. Be kind and forgiving. Don't downplay anything or chalk it up to "constructive criticism" like I did - that was only making my body image worse.
Yes it's important to employ self-control, but not to the point that foods are starting to earn a "good" and "bad" label.
Try not to get so caught up in the bigger picture of where you want to be that you forget to live in the moment and enjoy each day that we're given.
Life isn't about how many times you can say ~no~ to pizza or ice cream. It's about learning when to say yes and when to say no in a balanced, healthy way.
Everyone's eating habits, background, and preferences are going to look different. But no matter the differences, there should be a common theme throughout - sustainability, genuine enjoyment, and a balanced, healthy relationship with food.