“I used to focus so much on my weight and how I looked, rather than how I felt – and how much I could or could not do.”
As a personal trainer, I find that many of my female clients come to me with weight loss goals. Most of the time, this is reasonable – our culture isn’t programmed for leanness, and for many people, the structure that a professional provides can make a huge difference in attaining or maintaining a weight that is healthy for them as an individual.
In other words, I don’t judge weight-loss goals negatively, or think that wanting to improve body composition takes away something from women.
However, there is a crucial difference between focusing on:
- Finding a fit, healthy, and maintainable weight
- Building muscle and getting stronger and more “defined”
- Loving the way you look and feeling more confident
… And, on the other hand….
- Conforming to a culturally-prescribed definition of beauty
- Obsessing over “flaws” and “imperfections”
- Responding to pressure from Instagram and women’s magazines to “fix” yourself
Unfortunately, during stressful times, we can be more susceptible to subtle and damaging messaging, and become more fixated on body image issues. When our job is slowly dragging us down into a pit of despair, for example, it’s easier to obsess about the shape of our thighs than it is to fill out job applications.
But by changing the focus of fitness from “perfecting” our appearance to building strength and confidence, we find that the discipline that we develop in our fitness routine translates into other areas of life, making a positive difference outside the gym, too.
This is exactly what happened to my client, Hannah.
I started working with Hannah in-person in November 2017. In her own words, “I was in an awful spot in my life.”
Hannah came to me very concerned about her weight. But – as I always hope will happen – the more we worked together, the less important weight became, and the more we saw her whole life change.
At first it was just the exercise. She accomplished her first 5K, and I could see how amazing it felt. Then, she started casually powerlifting. But, as often happens with a rising demand for energy for exercise, she had to address her sleep issues and time management. Meanwhile, she was developing a consistent daily eating routine, cooking more, and packing her lunches. She even made friends at her gym, who she met on weekends for casual workouts! Then, I found out that she had made an investment in her self-care by adding therapy to her weekly routine. Next, to my utter delight, she started a charming food Instagram page called “Cooking Upside-Down,” where she shares recipes from her healthy lifestyle journey.
I remember that about 10 months into training, I felt that I saw her begin to stand taller and straighter. She smiled more readily, and it was like a light was shining steadily through her. She wasn’t just fitter – she seemed truly happier.
In fact, she gained so much control over her life that, in the end, she had to stop training for the wonderful reason that she was going back to school!
Hannah is a wonderful example of how skills learned in the gym translate into change outside the gym. It’s worth pointing out that – other than giving general tips about sleep and smart time management – I didn’t step into the role of life coach. Hannah made these changes herself, as she gained confidence in her abilities. A proper focus on fitness and health, instead of a powerless fixation on body image and perfection, created a cascade of positive change.
Physical strength creates mental strength.
The self-discipline to wake up early for a workout translates into the self-discipline to apply for a new job. The courage that comes from walking through the gym doors translates into the courage to schedule your first therapy appointment. The stamina that happens when you run your first 5K is the same stamina you need to push through the complicated process of going back to school.
I am so proud of Hannah, and will miss working with her. Here are her reflections on her journey:
In Her Own Words
On learning to love exercise…
“Before working with Rachel, exercise for me was a chore and not something I looked forward to doing daily. After working with Rachel, my viewpoint changed completely. I love working out now – it has become a part of my daily routine. It is a stress relief for me now, and I look forward to doing everyday.”
On obstacles to building routines…
“The biggest obstacles for me would be my family and work schedules. Sometimes I feel like I have too much to do – but then I remember that I need to come first in my life. If that means setting aside 30-60 minutes for exercise, that is OK!”
On staying consistent…
“My biggest ‘secret’ would be working out in the morning, even if it is just a walk. It helps me to focus on staying ‘healthy’ throughout the day. Starting my day with a positive attitude and health factor is probably my favorite thing to keep me on the healthy mindset track.”
On mind games… (the good kind)…
“Personally, I like to ‘beat’ myself. Whether that means beating my time spent on the stair master or going an extra mile either running or walking. I like to play games with myself to see how much I can actually push myself. A huge accomplishment for me was running my first 5K. Another accomplishment, though not as ‘big,’ would be going on the stair master for twenty-five minutes (I am not a fan of the stair master and used to only be able to stay on it for five minutes). Motivation is definitely a mind game you have to play with yourself and just say – you are winning this game!”
“I used to focus so much on my weight and how I looked, rather than how I felt – and how much I could or could not do. I now ‘measure’ myself by how I fit in my clothes, how much I can lift, how far I can run, and how much energy I have. Energy is a big part of being healthy, It is a true measurement of how far you have come in your exercise and health journey. I definitely still have my ‘off’ days, but I try really hard to remember where I started, and how far I have come.”
Advice for others…
“Do not think of it as a be-all-end-all to get ‘skinny’ – because it is not. Look at it instead as improving your overall health and wellness, and giving yourself the energy to do things that used to tire you out and get you winded. I look back and remember how much I hated the stair master and how I could only do it for five minutes. Now I look at myself going for five more, thinking, ‘That wasn’t bad at all – I could go for five more!!'”
“Confidence is the best thing you can give to yourself! I absolutely still struggle with confidence in myself at times, but I refuse to let it get the best of me. Exercising gives you power and control over physical things, but confidence gives you power and control over your mind. Having control over your mind opens up so many other things in your life.
“I was in an awful spot in my life, but it was just that – a spot. Working with Rachel helped me to move on from that time in my life and have an amazing and healthy viewpoint on food and exercise. It’s not about being the fittest or strongest person. It is about being the best version of you, while balancing your daily routines with the craziness that life throws at you.”
Smart words from Hannah!
Interested in getting started on your fitness goals, and seeing where that takes you? Get in touch!