The never-ending search for the perfect body – Let’s ditch this happiness zapping resolution in 2017!
So, it’s the 29th of December, that funny time between Christmas and New Year when you’re not really sure what you should be doing. Wishing the festive period, the parties and the eating would continue. And that the reality of January and the beginning of a New Year and all that entails – the dieting, the saving, the staying in, the starving, the quitting of smoking, sugar and any other drug that makes the world feel temporarily like a much better place – wasn’t looming in a couple of days.
I’m sitting here wondering how many pies exactly I ate over Christmas. Questioning if it’s ever going to be possible to lose the dress size(s) I’ve managed to put on over the past 12 months! Should I even bother I hear you say? If anything, 2016 has taught us that life is short, way too short! If I thought my days were numbered, would I be peeling veg and stir frying it in coconut oil? or would I find myself deep frying mars bars for breakfast?
It’s that eternal battle, ‘life is short therefore I will live every day as if it’s my last’ The problem with this philosophy for the majority of us (genetics aside) is that we end up facing either an expensive addiction, an expanding waistline, a dodgy ticker, general bad health, skint (as I’ve discovered this year!!) and the certainty that life will most probably be much shorter and more difficult than for those who dedicate their time to running up and down hills all day, lifting heavy weights in the gym, eating a balanced diet and making sure they get their 8 hours sleep and the right amount of vitamin C.
Some of you may think this is classic post-Christmas behaviour, thinking about the year gone by, the good, the bad and the ugly and what we’re going to do differently in the year to come. I guess it’s a good time for us to reflect on what we’ve achieved, to consider where we’d like to be this time next year and how we’re going to get there. However, I fear for many of us it’s a time when we yet again set unrealistic expectations of ourselves. We vow to make so many changes, cutting out almost anything and everything we believe will hinder our pursuit of the perfect body, the perfect life and therefore eternal happiness.
The perfect body??? What is it exactly??? Does it exist? The answer is of course no, there’s no such thing however over time the art world, the film, fashion and fitness industry and the media to name just a few have of course done their best to convince us otherwise and come January the first (or maybe the 2nd, once the hangovers subside) there will be people the world over planning their search for just that!
We live in a world where most of our achievements, feats and adventures are played out on social media!
One of the first things you’re told when you start a business – make sure you follow everyone and anything related to your industry! In short when I turn on my smart phone, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram I’m bombarded with motivational fitness quotes. People advising me to follow Tony Robbins (that slightly orange robotic looking life coach man with massive pecs) Pictures of people with round bottoms squatting almost twice their body weight and lots and lots of photos of people’s abs, six packs, eight packs, the flexing of biceps and the contracting of quad muscles, the list goes on!
As somebody who’s worked in the fitness industry for a few years now but as someone who herself really struggles to keep up with what I think society, the fashion industry and the media expects us (especially woman, but increasingly for men too) to look like, I’m torn on all of this! Is this what I should be working towards? Is this the message that we want to send to our children?
I’m a big believer in the fact that eating healthily, exercising, running, cycling, lifting weights, moving more, getting fresh air, not sitting at a desk all day and getting enough sleep is vital for our health. It’s vital to improve our strength, our cardiovascular fitness. Our body fat percentages will decrease, our sleeping patterns will improve as will our mental health. There aren’t really any negatives to exercising frequently and eating well.
This is something as a society we definitely need to improve. Levels of childhood obesity are off the scale. The number of people being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes has skyrocketed and according to a government agency eight out of ten people aged 40-60 are overweight, drink too much and get too little exercise. We need to do something. We definitely need to make changes to our lifestyles and we need to do it quickly if we are going to improve our overall health in any way. We need to get our children involved in sports or exercise of some kind from an early age. We also need to work on ways of keeping them interested throughout their teenage years and their twenties so that they continue this trend into adulthood.
There is however another problem facing our society and that’s unfortunately driven by social media, the media and the fashion industry. I sometimes wonder if the unrealistic and unachievable images portrayed in the media are counterproductive. Do they actually drive people away from pursuing a healthier lifestyle? If it’s genetically impossible to look like a fitness model, why bother?
The underwear company Victoria Secret for example ran an advertising campaign in 2014. They photographed eight models lined up in skimpy underwear and labelled it ‘the perfect body’ Thankfully three students started an online petition and they were quickly forced to change their terrible and potentially damaging marketing campaign!
It’s companies like these that are driving our influential young people to believe that there is such a thing as the ‘perfect body’. Something that for the majority of us is genetically impossible to achieve. No matter how much time I spend in the gym, no matter how long I cut out carbs and sugar, I will never be 6ft or a size zero and I wouldn’t want to be either.
I was fortunate enough to grow up in the 90s so my catalogue of mistakes has not been documented online. I grew up in an era of indie and grunge where wearing a bit of mascara and pink lip balm was considered ‘dressing up’!
Sadly, these days, life for our young people is very different and I can imagine the pressure to look a certain way is immense. If you do a search on Instagram – #perfectbody – there are over 2 and a half million posts!!! I’ve looked through quite a few and it’s sadly as expected – ‘perfectly’ bronzed and toned semi naked bodies, mainly young people, under 30s and many in their teens, some in gyms and others posing, a sad and strange mixture of vulnerability, inflated self-confidence, low self-esteem and desperate pleas for acceptance.
There has been a huge rise in young people both girls and boys suffering with eating disorders for which I am sure there are many reasons. However, the constant fat shaming of celebrities by gossip magazines and the overexposure to photos of extremely thin actors and fashion models online surely hasn’t helped. Manorexia is a word I’ve heard more and more in 2016 and the online pressure felt by young men to look a certain way has been well documented.
I do wonder if I’m guilty of this too? Am I leading people to believe that there’s a ‘perfect’ we should all prescribe too? I certainly hope not. I believe that there are so many people in the fitness world doing an amazing job of motivating people. Their changing people’s lives for the better and giving them immense confidence to get fit and healthy and stay that way. The coaches at the gym I go to are amazing at encouraging healthy living through good nutrition and hard work (thank you DC) There are also amazing campaigns like #thisgirlcan which I think have inspired so many people to get fit and active by using real people with realistic and achievable stories.
My personal reason for joining the fitness industry was to try and help others. I’d had a big transformation in my own life at the start of my 30s. I’d been desperately unhappy, I was working crazy hours and survived on bottles of wine, cans of coke, red bull, pies, crisps and very little sleep! I only moved quickly or at all if they were about to run out of sausage rolls on the 9:30am sandwich run.
I somehow got my act together. With the help of the most amazing friends I sorted myself out. Somehow a couple of years passed and I’d given up drinking, stopped smoking, started eating the occasional vegetable and piece of fruit and spent my time in the gym or out running rather than at parties or the pub.
I realised quickly that looking after yourself equalled better mental health, improved sleep and just generally more energy and lust to go out and get what you wanted from life. I wanted to help people to achieve this in the same way. Help improve their fitness levels, their health and their quality of life. It was as simple as that, it was never about abs and bulging thighs.
However, as time has passed I too have sometimes fallen for these ideals. I have convinced myself on several occasions that my body is not good enough. That I should be leaner, fitter, faster, stronger, smaller. I’ve spent hours and hours of my wasted time obsessing about the shape of my body. When I was at my leanest, fittest and probably healthiest a couple of years ago, I could still easily convince myself that I should be fitter, faster and somehow better???
It sounds like madness but I think we’re all guilty of it from time to time and I know it’s not making us any happier.
I don’t have my own children although I do have an 18-year-old niece, a 13-year-old step daughter and several younger nieces and nephews for which I fear the pressures to look a certain way will get much worse!
I try my best not to mention the F word in front of them. I try and talk positively about women of all shapes and sizes and I try and praise people based on their achievements rather than on their looks. However, I know I’ve probably failed at this on a few occasions.
During my time working as a trainer I’ve worked with many different people, all with different goals and ideas about why they wanted to make changes to their health and fitness. However, the majority have come to me with the main aim of weight loss. I hope I’ve been able to inspire some of them to make long term positive changes. The vast majority of people work so hard and they see so many benefits, better posture, better mobility, better moods, better sleep patterns, more energy, improved relationships – weight loss is often just an added bonus on this long list.
For many people the search for the perfect body continues. If I had a pound for every person I met that asked me how they’re going to achieve just that I would be spending Christmas on a mountain in Bhutan rather than in the council estate in Llanishen! I’ve learnt over the years that we are obsessed with our bodies, too fat, too thin, bigger boobs, smaller boobs, smaller bottom, bigger bottom, the list goes on!
So, what should we do in 2017? Should we be setting New Year’s resolutions? Well that depends, there’s nothing wrong with setting realistic, achievable goals and the start of a New Year is a good time to do it.
If you want to work towards getting those killer abs I’m not going to discourage you, you just need to be aware of the sacrifices you will need to make. What I often ask my clients is ‘what do you want your life to look like?’ or ‘What is most important to you?’ If its eating clean 90% of the time, training hard all week and sacrificing nights out and alcohol then go for it, this is probably something you can achieve. However, if you eat well during the week, workout a couple of times but want to enjoy a couple of glasses of wine, cake and lots of rest on the weekend then you may want to ask yourself if aiming for killer abs is going to make you happy?
So, what should we do if we want to improve our health and fitness in 2017? Have a look at your nutrition, eat real food! Try and cut out processed foods and cook everything from scratch where possible. Eat lots of protein (lean meats, fish, eggs), vegetables, some fruits, and eat good carbs after your workouts (rice, sweet potatoes, potatoes, oats)
Cut out sugar (this is the enemy not fat). Eat good fats like avocado and nuts (in moderation) and cut out trans fats (found in processed foods) Drink 3 litres of water a day and cut out alcohol as much as possible.
Try and follow these rules 80% of the time. I try and eat really well all week and then maybe have a day where I go out to eat, have a glass of wine, pudding etc… It’s real life and for most people it’s unrealistic to say we are never going to eat cake again! So, for a lot of people the 80/20 rule works really well.
As far as exercise goes, the more you move the better! I would recommend finding something you enjoy and doing it often. Yes, there are certain workouts that are more effective than others however if you don’t enjoy something you won’t do it. Certainly, give it a go, I’m a big believer in trying something new. Doing the couch to 5k may ignite a love for running you didn’t know you had. Walk or cycle to work if you can. Find a fitness class you enjoy and attend as often as possible. Try and find a good mix of some cardio, some strength and some mobility training, your body will thank you for it. Sign up for an event later in the year, a 10k run, an obstacle course, a triathlon for example, it’s great to have something to train for and sign your friends up too!
Personally, I will be working on my nutrition. The last 6 months has been a nutritional nightmare, I’ve been eating way too many processed foods, my sugar intake is off the scale and I haven’t eaten nearly enough vegetables. I’m going to use the New Year as a reason to get back on track. I’m really looking forward to having more energy for training and for life in general and to feeling so much healthier. When I eat well I feel good, it’s as simple as that.
However, I will be making a vow to be nice to myself and my body, I will rest when ill or injured and I will train well when I can.
I will not beet myself up if I miss a training session and I will use that energy to work on how best to fuel my next workout.
2016 has been a fairly shocking year, however you feel about the political events, there hasn’t been too much to celebrate and I feel we as humans need to be nicer to ourselves and each other in 2017.
So, if you’re looking for a New Year’s resolution let’s all make a pact to just be a bit nicer to ourselves, to each other and to our bodies. Eat real food, exercise when you can, do what you love and get plenty of rest and sleep (something I definitely need to work on) Let’s help each other out on the way to health and fitness. Go on a long walk with your friends, meet up on a Friday night and cook some deliciously nutritious meals. Make positive changes for you and your family. Do it so you can have a long, healthy and happy life together, so that you can run after your children and have the energy to enjoy it.
Don’t do it in the search for the perfect body, firstly there’s no such thing and secondly you will be eternally miserable, trust me, I’ve tried!