In the past few years I have seen women who are pregnant or who have just had a baby eating and exercising like they are training for a bikini competition. I see women who are expecting be so hard on themselves for indulging in a treat that they punish themselves for an hour on the treadmill so they don’t gain too much pregnancy weight. I see those same women stressing over a few extra pounds on the scale at their prenatal visits. I hear from mothers daily who have just had a baby and are beating themselves up over just not being able to control what they eat, control how much they work out, control their bodies.
That is the common denominator in almost every single one of these situations. The illusion (yes, illusion, and I will explain soon) of control is responsible for massive amounts of anxiety because we are constantly chasing it, but never seem to really get our hands around it.
We try to control everything we eat. We try to control how much we exercise. We need to gain control so we can go to parties and have lunches with friends. We want to control our bodies and what we see in the mirror. We want to control the size of clothes we wear and how much weight we gain in our pregnancies.
The constant search for control creates an inner turmoil or anxiety. We want perfection from ourselves because it makes us feel that we have “gained control”. But, as you may have noticed in your own quest for perfection, the more we chase it, the more elusive it seems to be.
When we seek control, we start viewing everything in terms of black or white, good or bad. There’s no in between: just failure and success. The success feels so good because it makes us feel like we have found that control! We feel high on our amazing accomplishments, until we inevitably “fail” (because if control is only an illusion, then “failure” is inevitable) and our spirits are crushed.
You are unhappy with your body and how you look. You don’t want to feel like this, so you begin to take control by eliminating junk food, following a diet, and exercising. These actions are driven by feelings of “I have to eat this so I can look better” or “I have to workout so I don’t gain weight”. All meals on the plan are considered a success, proof of willpower – you might tell yourself something like “I was good today”. All workouts are also deemed a success. Other possible successes: the scale moving in the right direction, counted calories are within budget, macros hit for the day. Feels great, right?
Until you hit the inevitable bump because, well…life! That whole “control” thing goes out the window because (say it with me) it’s an illusion! Family comes in town for a visit, or you get sick, or injured, or change careers, or the baby stops sleeping, or you go on vacation, or have to go back to work, or a family member becomes ill, or one of the million other life challenges that exist is thrown your way. You eat a bagel instead of your normal vegetable omelet and feel like a failure. That failure feeling builds on itself until you’ve completely gone off rails. “I’ll start again Monday”, you tell yourself, because being in control all the time is exhausting and you just need a break from it. Inside, you’re thinking about how you just don’t have what it takes to succeed because this always happens. You just can’t eat those foods or give up sweets, and you just can’t make yourself exercise. You must have awful willpower, so really, why bother? Your self-esteem has taken a huge hit and now you feel worse than when you started.
You just can’t stay in CONTROL.
That is why I am telling you to just take control…..OUT OF THE EQUATION.
Control has no place in our lives when it comes to our bodies, our fitness, our health and our nutrition. Disordered eating makes its roots in control.
So what’s the alternative? Can you transform your body without obsessing over numbers? Absolutely.
1. I taught myself that my body is my vessel, but isn’t who I am.
This was not an overnight thing. It took months and months and months of practice, and it’s something I’m still working on to this day. I am not the number on the scale, I am not the muscles in my arms, I am not the wrinkles around my eyes or the height of my body or the time of my fastest 10K. Those are all just “stuff”, some more fun than others.
The body I live in is my vessel to get me through this life. Looking a certain way can be fun, but it isn’t even close to being everything. My body is one part of my experience in this life, and taking care of it will improve my quality of life. My body allows me to have the experiences that I want to have – having a baby, competing in triathlons, traveling, hiking, knowing what it feels like to be strong. When I started thinking of it this way, it made healthy eating and exercise easy, because those experiences that I want are directly affected by how I treat my body.
2. I stopped counting everything obsessively.
My weight, my calories, my dress size, my macros, my body fat percentage, my grams of sugar, my days without junk food, my workouts, my miles, my weight on the bar.
I have been obsessed with each and every one of these things. None of them are “bad” to count per se, it’s the obsession and the feelings of highs and lows when we hit them or don’t that creates an unhealthy mindset. I hop on the scale once every few months just to take a look. I know generally what my calories are for the day, but I don’t count them. I don’t do crazy things like wake up at 4am on a Saturday to get in miles missed during the week like I used to. These things are all on a super low frequency in my life, and it has freed me up to focus on more important things.
3. I stopped taking my aesthetics so seriously.
When you stop taking how you look so seriously, everything will change. You can laugh it off when your pants get a little tight, and just calmly and without emotion make the necessary adjustments to get back to where you want to be (or you decide it’s ok the way it is). Rather than a changing body becoming a full-blown emotional event, it just becomes a series of decisions that you need to make (should I buy bigger clothes, or add in another workout? What can I live with?). Rather than fall into a tailspin, you explore the situation much like a scientist would explore the findings to an experiment.
No meltdowns, no tears. Just rational decisions.
4. I explored the root of my need for control.
When I kept asking myself “Why?” It looked something like this:
- Why do I want to lose weight and get in shape? Because I want to look better.
- Why do I want to look better? Because I want to fit in and not stick out.
- Why do I want to fit in? Because I am afraid of rejection.
Once you get to the part where the fear comes in, that is where the real work is. Fear is a HUGE negative motivator and it drives us to do pretty crazy things. When I got down to the fear of rejection, I could really explore why I felt that way and see that no one who mattered in my life was actually going to reject me because of how I looked. Making that connection was really important. Once I did that, I could find a better why: because my body is my vessel to get me through life, and I want to feel good every single day, so I take care of it.
Taking care of myself was hard at first, but once I started working from that mentality and basing all of my daily decisions on what was best for me, the fitness and nutrition that had for so long been so hard to stick with became second-nature. When life happened, like in our control scenario above, instead of asking “Why am I such a failure?” I would ask “What can I do to get myself through this in a healthy way?” The answers to that question always led me down the path that also led me to my best body. Because when you take care of your body, it WILL take care of you.
If you’ve been struggling with eating and weight loss and exercising, bouncing from diet plan to diet plan but nothing ever really working out permanently, you have probably had an underlying feeling that *something* was missing. The message you might have received is that the problem is YOU, but then why do so many of us struggle? I truly believe it’s because these diet plans and trainers miss the biggest piece of the puzzle – the control mindset. Tackling the way you think about things WILL be the missing piece for you, and if you recognize yourself in this post, I challenge you to let body transformation go for long enough to work on this mentality. It’s like laying the foundation for a strong and sturdy home, without it everything will just keep falling apart.
ACTION: This week, get to the root of your why. Start with why you *think* you want to lose weight, or limit your pregnancy weight gain, or transform your body – whatever it is you’re struggling with and is giving you frustration. Keep asking why until you find the underlying fear, and then ask yourself – will controlling my body actually take care/eliminate/fix of the thing that I am afraid of? Journal these thoughts and read them daily until it really sinks in.