Happy Body Image: Get up and move!

Question:  2 + 2 = ?
Question: What equals four?
The first question has one answer.  The second has infinite answers.  A co-worker brought that up several weeks ago, I can’t stop thinking about it as a way to turn a problem inside out to look at it a little differently.
It’s well documented that exercise helps weight loss.   A google search of “exercise weight loss” turns up 72,900,000 links.  Whew.  In fact, I think it is so well-documented that it turns people off exercise.   We know we “should” do it, and it brings out our ornery sides.  “Exercise is boring,”  “I know I should but I don’t want to,” “It’s been cold in the mornings lately, I want to snuggle.”   Besides, on those mornings you do get out and face the chill, no one tells you well done.  You come home to a quiet house of warm people tucked up into their beds.

The problem with viewing exercise solely as a means to weight-loss comes from this mentality.  It becomes an odious chore, another one of many things that “should” be done every day.  If you don’t lose weight dramatically or immediately, it’s easy to become de-motivated and feel worse than you did before you started exercising.   I don’t know about you, but I have enough “should” things on my to do list and I don’t need to feel bad about myself.

In my other posts on the subject, I suggested clearing your mind of toxic beauty advertising and eating beautiful food to feel beautiful.  These techniques help me feel good about myself; I can take positive actions to affect how I feel instead of passively feeling bad and placing blame on thinner people or the “media.”  I consider exercise to be in the same “positive action” category.

Just for a little while, forget that exercise will help you lose weight.  Forget 2+2.  Think about exercise, about moving your body.

Imagine running, running, your body feels light and strong, your breath comes in regular rhythm to your feet pounding the earth. With every step you might leap off the surface of the earth to join the clouds.

Imagine bracing your feet in a kayak, the blue sky above and the open ocean before you.  The smell of salt in your nostrils, your arms and shoulders and core working together like a machine to propel you toward your goal.  Your muscles burn but you keep going, your kayak slicing through the water.  Just to the left a sea turtle swims by, you can’t see another sign of life in any direction.

Imagine walking up a mountain track.   Sunlight filters through the canopy of green, specks of light freckle the forest floor.  The clean, damp, earthy air rises up around you, your lungs greedily gulp it down, the scent overpowers your senses.  The path becomes steeper, the forest shorter, the wind keener.   You scramble up a rock face, hand over hand, pacing yourself, willing your body to finish the climb.  And when you reach the top, the view…

Imagine the day you can do ten push-ups in a row when you never managed them before in your life.

Before Lila, I used to visit the gym intermittently, when I “felt fat.”  As soon as I lost a few pounds, I quit going.  That was my motivation.   When I had my little girl and faced a larger amount of weight to lose, I felt overwhelmed.   I went to the gym as often as I could, enjoying the fact that I could go to a class and safely leave my baby for an hour.   I picked up yoga and pilates again, and really took to Body Pump.  That’s a light weights class that burns fat and builds muscle, but not too much muscle.  Fantastic.

The problem: the weight so easily gained came off slooooooowlllly.  I took measurements and weighed myself every week.  Sometimes despite my best efforts, no change.

Several months after I started going to the gym, Husband and I took a trip to Tropical Far North Queensland.

Cape Tribulation, the end of the paved road for hundreds or possibly a thousand miles.  We launched sea-kayaks from this point.  No buildings, just militant greenies and ancient rain forest.  A small group of travelers paddled to a tiny deserted island a few miles out in the reef and camped for two days.  On the way back, everyone raced to the mainland.  My husband and I beat the pair of strapping young Frenchman, and the kayak with a strong young marine biologist, she was a local.  I was so proud of us!  Neck and neck and neck to the end, we beached our kayak first.
On the same trip, we took a 15 mile bike ride through the mountains (impossible for me to imagine a few months before), hiked every day, swam in the surf, and slept like the dead after lights out.  (At the time we were both battling sleeping issues, fresh air and exercise cured it after two days.)  This trip was a revelation for me- my whole life I thought I was “delicate” and could never accomplish those out-doorsy activities.  I found out I could kayak and hike and ride bikes.  Moreover, I discovered I could keep up with the strong people.  Ha!
That knowledge helped me make great leaps forward in how I felt about my body.  I felt good, I knew I was healthy and strong, I could keep up with anyone physically, and I slept well at night.  I kept up with my exercise after we came home, and I continued to feel good about being strong.  So good, I forgot to do my weekly measurement check / weigh in.  So good, I started making clothes to fit my body.
Was I the same exact size I had been before I had my daughter?  No.  I still had several stubborn inches on my waist and hips, 10 more pounds.
Strong, vital, healthy.  I decided I didn’t care what I looked like.  With that decision, the obnoxious phantom of size 2 me departed.
We take weekend trips to hike and climb mountains.  I don’t go to the gym any more, but I do walk and run and keep strong.  Lila and I go for long walks together, she’s very sturdy.  A few weeks ago we climbed Mt. Warning with her (she spent most of her time in the steel-framed back pack):
We had such a great time doing it, I’m glad we had the chance.  It’s great fun to be fit.
Perhaps gyms or kayaking isn’t your style.  I didn’t think it was, but I thoroughly enjoy it now.   The point is to move.  Find an activity to enjoy, something that makes you feel good and provides a way to move beyond your every day routine.  Begin small, build up.  Forgive yourself for lapsing.  Set mini fitness goals (this week I’ll manage 15 tricep push-ups at once, today I’ll walk for half an hour before dinner). You’ll feel great.  Where health goes, beauty must follow.
And let’s face it- when you can climb mountains, who cares if someone else thinks you’re fat?  You’ve seen the view from the top.

8 comments

  1. Come down to Byron Bay and do the lighthouse run. I do it 2 – 3 times a week and it is guaranteed to do keep your heart strong and the weight off! On Monday morning it was drizzly and no one else was out at 6am. In that time I saw a mother whale and two babies right in at the beach at Little Wategos. On the south side of the easterly finger I stopped and watched as hundreds and hundreds of dolphins leapt in the air. I've never seen so many dolphins at one time. After my run I felt fantastic! Never has exercise been more pleasurable!

  2. I love that area! When I go to visit Husband's family we often go down that way. I'd dearly love to be able to do it a few times a week. What an amazing experience, a great reason to get out of bed and be fit. Wow!

  3. Good post! Exercise is so important to well-being. For several years I struggled with depression, and went to the gym since it alleviated my depression. Exercise also produces natural endorphins and enkephalins. A few years ago going to the gym stopped working for me, so I took up martial arts and have been going to the dojo ever since. Other than learning self-defense and feeling more empowered and safe, martial arts has helped keep my depression in check. I go regularly now (at least 3x a week) and if I miss a day, I feel "off" or not right. That combined with getting enough sleep and eating well has helped me feel a lot better with myself. Janicehttp://www.meladori.com/shesinfashion

  4. Exercise has become just as important to me. While we were away on vacation, we walked & ran on the beach, did sun salutations in the sand and swam in the ocean.What a change from just a few years ago.Regular, vigorous exercise is so wonderful once you bring it into your life. But, you are right – it does take a while to turn that corner from "I should" to "I LOVE!" exercise.

  5. While I make an effort to stay active in my everyday life (e.g. not take the car unless absolutely necessary), "formal" exercise eludes me. I get bored, find it silly, am hopeless with ball games. I do feel that my body needs more exercise than it is given at the moment, though. My solution for the moment: I thought back to the only exercise I ever really enjoyed which was ballet, and signed up for an adult ballet class (after dancing for 10 years as a kid and taking a 20-year "break"!).

  6. I like this, the concept of just moving and not formally "exercising". You never think the little things, the half hour walk or the afternoon playing frisbee, will actually help. But sometimes I wonder if that isn't far more important than "going to the gym", for precisely the reasons you said. Excellent post!

  7. What a brilliant post, couldnt agree with you more!!! I stopped buying glossy magazines of any sort over two years ago, dont watch any “reality TV” and just don’t buy into the celebrity culture that the media are always portraying. It’s so much better to feel healthy and comfortable in your own skin, I wrote a post on the anti-aging culture recently too. What fantastic role models you both are for your little one!!! X

    • Thanks. It’s nice to find like-minded people. The last time I picked up a glossy was about 6months ago in the middle of an existential crisis… It actually snapped me out of it, because I saw how little the glossy-mag-celeb culture shoved down our throats has to offer. I love the blogs for this (and the many strong-minded women I know in real life)- inspiration and entertainment. :)


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