Love Your Body (blah blah blah)

April 29, 2010

After being told by my trainer that the most important part of getting in shape was learning to love your body every step of the way, I got in the car and angrily asked myself “I’m so sick of hearing this! What does that even mean?” It took a few weeks of wallowing in self-pity before a pinprick of clarity penetrated the fog of my frustration.

Before you skip over the “love the your body” paragraph, stop. I promise it’s not what you think.

Seriously, what does it mean to love your body? Is it just meaningless psycho-babble/after-school-special? Does it have to be? (ENTER paradigm shift).

If we ever actually said these words and meant them: “I love my body,” what would change about the way we treat it? What messages do our thoughts and actions send to our bodies right now?

The thing I have come to discover is that loving your body is just like loving anything else–it requires as much from you as any other relationship in your life. And what makes those other relationships work? Communication, selflessness, flexibility, time, trust, honesty, humor, forgiveness, and love. In fact, if you don’t work to cultivate a strong relationship between you and your body, you will continually feel disappointed, frustrated, betrayed, helpless, and trapped. (Maybe you already do?) Unlike other relationships, your body isn’t something you can walk away from when things head south. You and your body are “til death do us part”–inextricably linked.

Now, it may seem a little creepy to you that I keep referring you and your body as two distinct things, so I want to clarify what I mean. The mind-body connection is something that has been heavily researched across countless decades and disciplines and yet, despite a few small breakthroughs, mostly trandscends our understanding. I don’t claim to have solved the mystery, but I do know that the mind and the body are importantly connected. They are also importantly separate. They don’t always agree, they don’t always communicate and as they battle for control, your weight, diet, and motivation bounce around like a dysfunctional yo-yo.

To clarify this further, when I say “you” or “your mind,” what I’m referring to are the emotions, knowledge, beliefs, behaviors, and self-talk that you consciously control (even if they sometimes feel out of control). “You” controls the information that comes in to your brain, you control how that information is analyzed, you decide how to feel about it, or what to think about it, and your speech and behaviors are generally the result of that process.

When I say “your body,” I’m referring to your hormones, your metabolism, your bone structure, and all the intricate and beautifully created systems inside you that operate constantly and unconsciously. These internal systems operate consistently and react predictably. While your behaviors can influence the functioning of these systems, you do not have the ability to control how these systems are influenced by your behaviors or why

Here is a scenario that might help to illustrate this difference: if you’re in a good mood and someone at work pays you a compliment, saying “you look great today!” you might be thrilled. If you’re in a bad or insecure mood and someone says “you look great today!” you might think or say “What! Do I normally look like a total slob?” This is “you”–depending on the day or on your mood, you might have drastically different reactions in an identical situation. Your body doesn’t work like this! No matter what day it is, how happy you are, or whether it’s raining outside, drinking tons of water will still make you have to pee and if you’re allergic to peanuts, eating a snickers will still send you into anaphylactic shock. 

Now, wouldn’t it be just be easy if you and your body weren’t forced to deal with one another? Wouldn’t it be great if you could eat that donut without sending your blood sugar into a tailspin, and wouldn’t it be great if your sluggish metabolism didn’t make you feel tired and depressed (and want another donut)?

I went through a period of being really angry that I was forced to cohabitate with this body that I DID NOT get to choose!! I looked around and saw all these other great bodies that would be much easier and less stressful to deal with and I was wistfully jealous. In fact, I thought “maybe I can change my body to be more like that body, which is much, much better than this body that I have.”

Reality check! You can wish and long and hope and nag and mope for something better to come along, but your body is quite literally THE ONE. It’s the only one you get. If you want to live a happy life with your body, like I desperately did, you have to accept the fact that, though your body may not be perfect, it is perfect for you–which is exactly what God believed when he knit you together and gave you life.

Now, just because you accept your body as your body doesn’t mean there aren’t things about it that may need to change. Acceptance is not a free pass to stick with the status quo! You may need to change the foods you put into your body. You may need to start pointing a finger at the mirror inside your head instead of at your metabolism or your thighs. Agree to work together with your body through this process of change, and accept that there will be bumps in the road.

Together, you can get through it. I promise.

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