Week 13 – Strong not skinny

Strong not skinny has been my motto for a while now. You may have noticed that I made it my focus for a week during November as an attempt to reboot my eating habits and ramp up my fitness level. You may have also noticed that I used it as my focus for the first week of the new year for the very same reasons. You probably also noticed that I spent the entire month of December working out. I literally stopped only once to wrap some presents and chug a carton of eggnog. If you didn’t notice then I’m going to assume you swore off social media because I was pretty much fitness spamming everyone.

I’m a little late in getting this post up because it’s a complicated topic to write about. Primarily because there’s the way I want to feel about my body and the way I actually feel. And it changes all the time. It’s a very fluid situation with a lot of mixed emotions. I don’t think there’s a single woman reading this that doesn’t already know exactly what I’m talking about even though I haven’t gotten specific. Probably some men too. I can’t comment on how men feel about this because I’ve never been one. But I can tell you how I feel and what I’m learning in my quest for strong not skinny.

What I know

It’s really, really hard to be a woman and feel good about the way you look. From birth until death we are inundated with images of one kind of beautiful woman. We all know what a beautiful woman is supposed to look like because we see her all over the damn place.

She’s tall, but not too tall because she needs to be smaller than a man or else she’s not feminine.

She’s thin. For a while it was best to have protruding bones and appear perpetually hungry, but now that is gross, so she should be curvy but only in the places that are acceptable like her boobs and butt, and she should definitely not have cellulite.

She’s white. If she isn’t white, she should have similar features to a white woman and her skin shouldn’t be too dark.

She’s feminine and sexy and she’s definitely not assertive, funny, loud, or flawed.

She doesn’t exist.

Let’s take that enormous pile of Photoshopped images of non-existent women that we see every day and add to it the fact that women in TV and movies are disparately young. Let’s also add that it’s not uncommon to have a gray haired actor or middle-aged dad bod playing opposite a thin, twenty-something actress and we get the message loud and clear.

The message is that women are only good when they’re young, pretty, thin and in a supporting role. Ladies, once you hit 30 and put on a few extra pounds and wrinkles, please DISAPPEAR.

That’s why this is so complicated for me. It’s not just about how I feel about the way I look. It’s the insidious reasons why I am so conflicted about the way I look. It takes a whole lot of deprogramming to undo the messaging we are bombarded with from childhood. I’m an intelligent, adult woman who understands that what we’ve been sold is a seventeen ton mountain of bullshit and I still struggle with body image. It’s that pervasive in our culture and in our lives. Knowing is really only just the beginning of the battle.

Let’s zoom in from this big picture of real deal insanity to just one woman. Me. I was always fit and thin-ish growing up. I played sports year round and I ate Twinkies every damn day and I never thought much about losing weight as a teenager. I did criticize every single inch of my body as teenage girls nearly all women are prone to do. As I got older and less active, my weight crept up, little by little. Then came the pregnancies. And a surgery that left a a vertical scar on my belly from bra to bikini bottoms. Whatever chance I had of looking like “her”, that idealized, phony image of beauty that we all measure ourselves against, was gone. But let’s be honest, it was never a possibility to begin with. BECAUSE SHE DOESN’T EVEN EXIST!!!!

Sure, you may know someone that looks a lot like her, but that someone has their own struggles and issues and self-loathing. Having a body that is like “her” is not a cure all. You still have to like yourself and be grateful for the body you have.

For the past year and a half, I’ve slowly clawed my way out of rock bottom fitness and peak non-pregnancy weight. I spent a lot of time pretending not to care about my weight and thinking I was pretty damn accepting of my body. It turns out when you don’t take care of yourself and you aren’t making an effort, you don’t have much choice but to accept things. When you are working your ass off and struggling and not always seeing results, it’s a lot harder to be accepting and loving to yourself. I’ve lost weight and gained it back and then lost it again. I’ve tried all different kinds of workouts to find my groove. And I did it all in the name of being strong and healthy and being able to keep up with my kid. I told myself and everyone else that I wanted to feel better and I wanted my clothes to fit better, but deep down, I also really, really, really wanted to look like “her”. AND SHE DOESN’T EVEN EXIST! It’s madness really.

Even though I worked out every single day in December, I still gained 5 pounds. Because I ate everything. I literally said no to nothing. I had the exercise thing pretty down pat but my eating habits needed a major overhaul. And a realistic one at that. I couldn’t do something short term or quick fix. It had to be something that would work forever. Just the way I’ve incorporated exercise into my life.

What I’m doing now

Everyone has their own weaknesses when it comes to food. Mine, in no particular order, are junk food (processed food, fast food, anything with 30 ingredients I can’t pronounce that is really crunchy), booze (craft beer, good wine, cheap wine, dirty martinis, bourbon with one rock, margaritas…this is just the first page of the list), and sweetener (I like to add Splenda or Stevia to my cold brew). I also love cheese the most of anyone ever, but I refuse to put it on the bad list because I don’t believe it is. But I also love, love, love vegetables.

I decided that the best option for me was to cut out processed foods, mostly. Processed foods tend to have a lot of sugar and a bunch of stuff that isn’t what my body needs. I believe they are called empty calories. I figured if I started there, that would leave me with a lot healthier options. I also decided to stop adding sugar and sweetener to most things. And to lean toward lower calorie adult beverage options.

I’m only a few weeks in but I feel like this is really going to stick. I had two days of silently suffering and wishing for a box of crackers to crunch on but then the cravings passed. Also, I have no intention of being perfect with this endeavor. I’ve eaten out and ordered whatever the hell I wanted a few times. I’ve had a few double IPA’s in addition to my skinny cocktails. Because this is about finding a healthy solution that will work for my life. It’s a lot of planning and prep, but it’s getting easier and easier.

In 2 weeks, I’ve dropped 7 pounds and I feel really, really good. I’m also working out 5 days each week, which seems like a breeze after the 31 days 31 workouts challenge. While this is not a fitness blog, I’ll be posting details on Instagram and Facebook about what I’m eating that is awesome and some of the workouts I’m loving. If you have stuff you love to eat and workouts you love, please share them with me. I’m always looking for new inspiration. I’ll continue working toward my fitness and weight loss goals with a focus on good health and strength and complete and total appreciation for my body, scars and all. It’s the only one I’ve got. Now excuse me while I go drink some tea and eat these cashew butter and quinoa bars I made and wonder what the hell is happening to me.

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