Most of my life, I exercised to lose weight or be thin. In my teens, I walked a fine line of an eating disorder, going days with very little food in an effort to lose weight. In my 20s I would go to a gym, participate in the step classes (yes, step classes, hello 1996!) for the sole purpose of burning calories, not to care for my heart or bones. I would watch what I ate for the sole purpose of avoiding gaining weight, not to fuel my body. Then, I started running again in my early 30s, not to lose weight, but to accomplish something new. I wanted to run 3 miles without stopping. And so I did, and haven’t stopped since.
Enter this podcast from Running Rogue, episode 134: Believe In Your Body. From the start, the discussion defines how running, or any physical activity you love, is different. It gives you goals that aren’t related to the scale. It forces you to look at your body for what it can do, not how it appears. Sometimes over the years, I have had body composition changes which were nice, although I realize now, not important to the sport of running. If you spectate a race, you see different body types all throughout the race, from the winners to the age group placers to the middle runners to the final finishers. All are doing amazing things with their bodies regardless of how many pounds are on the scale or how their clothes fit.
I have had conversations with friends over this more times than I can count. I have been back and forth with myself about how my body looks more than I care to admit. I struggle with this constantly. It has been discussed on a previous blog as well. Even worse, every time I race, I look at the race pictures and get annoyed when I see imperfections (in my own eyes). HOW crazy is that? It’s a marathon picture. First off, no one is attractive when your hair is sticking to your sweaty, red, salt-covered face! Why do I look at imperfections when I finish a marathon? Or a half/10K/obstacle/trail race? It is a struggle to constantly reframe all this, but body positivity is a topic that needs to be changed in our heads.
The podcast goes into:
-Why is weight a value that we tie up in our body image? Why is weight a value we tie up in our worth as a human being?
-How did your childhood experiences contribute to your body image as an adult?
-Why does the weight on the scale wrongly convince you that you can’t perform in a race?
-Where do body image issues interfere with other aspects of your life? Do you avoid social opportunities because of what you might need to wear?
-How do we move towards overcoming these insecurities?
One thought that stuck out at me in the podcast: Body image is a choice. You don’t have to love everything about your body to appreciate what you have and to fully love yourself. You don’t have to put so much energy into looking a certain way. Why is this so hard to accomplish? How do we separate those two things? We like to look our best, but your body’s value, power, and strength is not wrapped up in how it looks by society’s standards, or by our own faulty standards of fitness and beauty.
Another point made in the podcast: Judging our weight going into a race is destructive. I have a book called “Racing Weight.” The title alone doesn’t define its contents, but it sticks out at me as it sits on my shelf, right next to “Let Your Mind Run” or “My Life On the Run.” Fitness is determined by how fast or how strong or how long you can participate in an activity, not by the number on the scale, or how you look in your clothes. Your body may change based on what its needs are in your journey as a runner or an active person. Let it do what it needs to do. There are so many other data points to give you feedback on your fitness other than weight.
Obviously, these insecurities have been going on a long time, so it will take time to change. Changing this mindset will take practice and giving myself grace as I continue to try.