Our bodies don’t always have it easy. Life can throw our bodies curveballs including injury, illness, ailment and discomfort. Then on top of it, we can throw our bodies curveballs including moving our bodies far too much, not moving our bodies enough, not feeding ourselves properly and negative self-talk.
This time of year can be especially challenging, and a lot of negative feelings about body image can come creeping in. The temperatures are climbing, and unfortunately so are the pressures to inhabit a certain body type. A bikini body with toned arms, abs of steel and a perky, cellulite-free booty. Now, don’t get me wrong I’m not bikini body bashing. If wanting to feel confident on the beach is the motivation you need to get your workouts in or start eating a little better, then by all means. Do you boo. But when your self-worth gets wrapped into the process, it is time to slow down and re-assess.
I admit, the bikini body example is a little cliche. Sometimes, body image issues can stem from issues you wouldn’t expect. For me, some of my deepest body image struggles have stemmed from my job, and my feelings about my career path.
Body Image Root Cause
About a year after college, and one year into a job that I was less than happy about, I really started getting into my fitness routine. My morning workouts before work were what got me out of bed every morning and helped me cope with my anxiety I felt in social situations and at work. It was around this time I thought, “maybe I should become a trainer so I can help people feel better about themselves through fitness the way I do now.”
Famous last words.
In all transparency, I have never truly struggled with my weight. Sure, I went through phases in college where I went in a little too hard on the pizza and beer and got a little chubby. And about two years ago, I was pumping myself with so much fake protein that I packed on some extra weight that I wasn’t thrilled about, but I have never truly been overweight. When I first got into fitness and nutrition, it wasn’t necessarily to look better. It was to feel better. When I started in the “real world,” my daily grind made me feel useless, anxious and hopeless. Fitness helped me offset those feelings. I was completely addicted to the mental benefits. But when I decided to become a trainer, that all changed.
While I have never been overweight, I have never looked super “in-shape” either. I don’t look like an Instagram fitness girl. I don’t look like the Tone it Up girls. At the time, that is what success looked like. The differences in how my body looks when I work out regularly versus when I don’t are pretty minimal. That is just how my body is. But for someone who wanted to be taken seriously in a very vain and visual industry, I felt like my medium build and perpetual cellulite would stand in my way. Who would want to be trained by someone who looks well…normal?
[Tweet “Understanding negative body image”]
I spent so much time picking apart my body, that I discounted all of the time and effort I put in to actually training and teaching others. I studied my butt off for years and made a lot of sacrifices to become knowledgeable in the field. I had wonderful clients who I loved training, who trusted me and who I was able to help. But in my head, none of that mattered if I didn’t look the part.
Over the course of the next few years, these thoughts started spiraling out of control. I got into a nasty cycle of restricting and bingeing, while over-exercising even though I knew better. It was miserable. I wasn’t any closer to leaving my unfulfilling job or having my true “trainer” body. It was completely exhausting.
Understand and Overcome
Finally I had enough. I took a step back, and took a break from the gym environment because it triggered a lot of negative feelings for me. After two years of holding it all in, I finally opened up about how I was feeling and was able to start working through it all. I realize that at the root of it all, I felt lost. I didn’t feel like I had a sense of purpose, and it was easier to focus on myself physically than it was to figure out what I truly wanted out of life.
While I have come a long way, I won’t pretend like I have it all figured out. My relationship with my body has improved tremendously. The cycle of restricting, bingeing, then spending hours in the gym to “undo” it all hasn’t happened in nearly two years. On the career front, I’m still not where I want to be. But now I know that picking apart my body for what it looks like, when it has done so much for me over the past 26 years is not the answer.
If you can relate to any of these feelings, here are my best pieces of advice to get you through:
- Talk to someone. The times I struggled the most, were the times I spent 99.9% of my free time alone. At the time, I lived alone so my habits weren’t questioned by others because they didn’t see them. Talk to a counselor, mentor or someone non-judgemental who you truly trust about how you are feeling. Don’t keep it all in.
- Find the root cause. Ultimately, I was mistreating my body because I was unhappy with the career path I started on. This may not be the case for you, but doing some soul-searching to get to the root cause of why you are feeling negative towards your body is a huge step in treating yourself well.
- Focus on your mind and soul gains. I was so wrapped up in getting Insta-abs that I didn’t give myself credit for learning about how the body moves and works, and I also took for granted the great relationships I had built with my clients. Setting body image aside, what has captured your heart and mind? What aren’t you giving yourself credit for? Write it down and re-visit often.
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- Today I don’t have any questions, but would love to hear your thoughts.
Les is the founder of Balanced Black Girl and the host of the Balanced Black Girl Podcast. She’s a Certified Personal Trainer, Nutrition Coach, and natural beauty junkie who loves 90’s R&B, trying new skincare products, and creating recipes in the Instant Pot. She created Balanced Black Girl to provide content and experiences empowering women of color to live well.