Seeing as I’ve been dying of the plague (aka the flu) this week, I’ve been sitting at home trolling the interwebs a lot more than usual, and have been spending time catching up on some of my favourite blogs. One of those blogs, The Hungry Runner Girl, wrote a recent post asking the question “do you work out because you love or hate your body?” A great question, actually, although I brushed it off at first.
Now, I generally have pretty high self-esteem. While I’ve never considered myself to be the prettiest girl in the room, I’ve always figured I must at least be one of the cooler ones. I have plenty of friends, I’ve never struggled to get a date, I keep myself in decent shape and don’t feel too shy in a bikini… So when I first read the question, I sort of shrugged it off. Pfft… Obviously I love my body.
Well, maybe… On second thought, I don’t know, let’s see… mayeb I need to dig a little deeper.
First of all, what does it even mean to love something? Like really love it, full-on acceptance, no questions asked? A lot of people, myself included, think of the word “love” as an action, or at least would agree that claiming to love something is generally backed up by action. You can’t just say it, you gotta show it! I do all kinds of things out of love for my husband that I wouldn’t do for anyone else. Is this also how I treat my body? Do I really treat it like I love it?
I think, while we’re considering this, we need to take a good honest look at what’s motivating our actions. Do I do come home and cook dinner after work because I want my husband to have a good meal at the end of the day? Or is it because if I cook dinner, that means I can stick him with the dishes? (That example is obviously ludicrous – Joe and I both know I’m a terrible cook.)
Now I’ll apply that same principle to the way I treat my body. Do I go to the gym and workout, or hit the road and log those miles, because I know it’s good for me? Yes, this is what my body needs right now, I’m going to do this because it is an investment in my health. I think that, a lot of the time, this really is the case. That is often the type of motivation that gets me off the couch and out the door. I really do think about wanting to increase my cardiovascular capacity. I think about the health benefits it will reap down the road if I develop good exercise habits now. But then, once I’m out there, when I really need to push myself to run that last mile or do that last set of squats… my self talk changes. I start to think about how this last mile will help me lose those last two pounds that I hate. Or how if I lift this little bit of extra weight, it’ll help me target my “problem areas”, which I hate.
And what about those times when the most loving thing you can do for your body is to rest? Or at least to take it easy? We live in a culture of no pain, no gain. People exercising themselves straight into the hospital, because they’re being told to push through the pain. That sounds like an abusive relationship to me, not a loving one. There are some days where you really do need to let yourself off the hook. Take a break. Calm down. If we really loved our bodies, we wouldn’t be thinking Oh no! If I miss this workout, my arm flab might come back!! Instead, we should be thinking I need to take care of myself today, and my body needs a break. I really love my body, so I’m going to take care of it. (For a really great article on this, go here)
Example: Me, today, struggling to get over the flu and get back into the gym. It’s easy for me to become discouraged and feel like all of the recent progress I’ve made at the gym is in jeopardy because I’ve missed so many workouts due to illness. But, If it were my best friend experiencing this, or my husband, or even one of my patients, I would tell them not to be discouraged. Do what is good for them. Stay home and rest, and their bodies will get back into shape when they’re ready. Why can’t I treat myself with this same kind of love?
Here’s a weird thought. What if I was ever given the opportunity to trade my husband in for a different guy? I’m 100% certain that I would be appalled by the idea. I don’t want another guy, I want to be married to my guy! I love him! Exactly as he is, and there’s no one else out there that could ever replace him! But if I imagine myself being given the opportunity to trade in my body for a different one… I’m honestly not so sure what I would do. I can come up with a list of my flaws fairly easily… given the chance, wouldn’t I be crazy not to trade this old bod’ in for an improved version? One that at least doesn’t have an appendectomy scar and love handles?
OK, if you’re all still with me, I’m sure you’re wondering so what? Exactly what does any of this mean for me and how will it change anything?
Well I think it means two things… For me, I think I need to start looking at my relationship with my body the way I’d look at any other relationship. I’m not talking about whether or not I love my intelligence, or my sense of humour, or any of the other things that make me who I am. I’m specifically talking about the type of person I am within my relationship with my body. Am I an asshole? Am I abusive? Or do I treat my body with the same love that I would treat anyone else that is dear to me?
Finally, I think it means I now have a strategy for how to approach my health. The way I eat, the way I sleep, the way I exercise… all of these things can be looked at through a lens of self-love. Is it loving for me to work overtime tonight and miss out on a good night’s sleep? If I really loved my body, wouldn’t I put a little extra care into preparing healthy food to eat? And finally, why am I really running this extra mile or doing this extra set of squats at the gym?
Because I really love my body, so I’m going to take care of it.