Okay, I've been wanting to dive into this topic for a while now. Body image is somewhat of a touchy topic, but it is an important one, especially for female athletes. Everyone has their own opinion and their own experiences of what does and doesn't work for them. I'm not a doctor, a psychologist, a dietician or nutritionist, or an expert by any means. So these are just my opinions and my thoughts on what does and doesn't work for me. I'm happy to hear feedback on your own views on the topic.
So, a little background before we dive into my "thoughts." I have always had an athletic body and I'm on the taller side. I didn't give much thought to what my body looked like, but rather to what my body could do. I had a healthy body image. Yes, I bemoaned my broad swimmer shoulders occasionally and I was pretty happy when I stopped swimming for a few years and they went away. Yes, I quit Crossfit, because I bulked up pretty quickly when lifting heavy (I didn't know much about nutrition and at that point was still eating like a swimmer). Yes, I loved the long, lean muscles that I developed in barre class when I finally got back into working out after being a couch potato for the first 2 years I lived in Ottawa. And I love my body now, because it is strong and I again feel like an athlete.
But I put on about 8-10 pounds during the off season through a combination of training less, not taking time to prep my meals, starting back up my daily coffee shop pastry habit, and drinking a few too many beers. Now that I'm dialing my training back in, I figured it was a good time to dial my nutrition back in as well. A few times though over the past month or so, I have had some pretty negative thoughts about my body. Like, really not nice thoughts. And sometimes, it can be hard to quiet those. This is a relatively new phenomenon for me. The first time I remember having a really negative thought about my body was during the Tone It Up Bikini Series two years ago. I started comparing myself to all these really lovely, motivating, kind, amazing women that I met through TIU. And what was a really positive experience turned into a negative one for about a week before I gave myself a kick in the butt and remembered that I love my body, because it is a magical, wonderful thing capable of incredible physical feats.
Comparison is the thief of joy.
I find, personally, that I get the most off track / down on myself / stressed / worried / etc. when I start to compare where I am to where others are. This goes for body image, as well as for pretty much every other aspect of life. It is so important to remember that we have to love ourselves and respect our own journey. We will never be someone else. We can't try to do what they did to get what they have. We have to remember that maybe on the exterior, their body and their life seems "perfect," but they may not love themselves, they may have their own struggles, they may have achieved their body through unhealthy means, etc. We can never know their full story. We all have different genetic makeups, different life experiences, and we have to respect what we are working with. When you compare yourself to someone else, you shortchange yourself. You steal joy away from yourself. Stop comparing your body or your life to those around you. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday. If you weren't the self you want to be yesterday, make a change. But make it for yourself and make it with loving intentions for yourself, not because you want to be or look like someone else. Be kind to yourself, because change takes time.
Love your body, and appreciate what it can do for you.
Our bodies are magical, beautiful things. And for that we should totally love our bodies. All the time. Not just when our body looks a certain way. If we want our bodies to perform, we have to appreciate them and treat them with love (training smart, resting and recovering, and fueling right).
But mostly love yourself.
A friend said to me last year that I looked amazing, so maybe it was time to work on more than my appearance. I took it a little personally that she thought I had spent too much time working on my external appearance and not enough on my internal self. It struck a chord, because I had actually been working really, really hard on feeling amazing too - on being happy, on loving myself, on respecting myself, on being confident, on taking care of my emotional and spiritual self. It doesn't really matter what you look like if your head isn't right. Your body also won't perform the way you want it to if you haven't figured out the mental side of performance. Loving yourself is a key piece of performing to your highest abilities. And what is important to remember is that the work never ends. Just like you have to keep eating right and keep training, you have to always keep working on your emotional and spiritual health.
My thoughts on "racing weight"There are a lot of websites, books, articles, and people out there that really like to talk about racing weight. Well, I imagine racing weight matters much more for runners than it does for triathletes. I don't really think weight matters as much as it is hyped up to matter. Rather than focusing on that number on the scale, try focusing again on what your body can do and on making gains in your performance, while fueling your body appropriately. Focusing on the number on the scale can lead us to do things that just aren't that healthy (cutting calories, restrictive diets, etc.) when we have a heavy training load (trust me, I've done those things... you end up exhausted and sick). Fueling your body with whole, nutrient dense foods, including protein, carbs and healthy fats is necessary. I believe if you focus on your training and fueling yourself for optimal performance, your weight will take care of itself. Don't have weight be the primary goal. Have performance as the primary goal!
Here are a few posts that discuss some of the issues above. I highly recommend TriMarni's blog. She has great perspective on these issues and is a registered dietician and 9 time Ironman (and Kona qualifier for 2015!).
These TriMarni posts. http://trimarni.blogspot.ca/2014/02/the-athletes-body-love-your-body-in.html and http://trimarni.blogspot.ca/2014/03/training-for-perfect-body-image.html
This post on how we are all different and what works for one person, may not work for someone else. http://betterbydrbrooke.com/ill-have-what-shes-having-is-not-a-great-fat-loss-plan/
This post on the "cost of getting lean" puts into perspective the opportunity costs of trying to be "lean" http://www.precisionnutrition.com/cost-of-getting-lean