Strong Is the New Skinny, Period

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(Photo: Nike)

Ever found yourself feeling chained to the “dreadmill” at the gym, sluggishly logging mile after mile but feeling worse with every stride? Or starting your low-fat, low-calorie diet Monday morning only to be starving, irritable and on the verge of a major binge session by the end of the day? Or what about longingly pinning photos of Victoria’s Secret Angels on a late night Pinterest bender and going to bed cursing your hips and thighs?

All the while chanting in your head: Must. Look. Like. Candace. Swanepoel.

Realistic? No. Healthy? Definitely not. The quickest route to driving yourself insane while driving yourself face first into the sleeve of Oreos and then into a downward spiral of body shaming? Absolutely.

We get totally bogged down by body image issues. We put entirely too much emphasis on being skinny when instead our focus should be on being healthy and strong. And there’s nothing healthy about deprivation, obsession and straight up torturing ourselves.

Let's take a minute to discuss how amazing our bodies are. We have alluring curves; we are soft and we smell good (well, better than our husbands at least); we grow other human beings inside our own bodies (then kindly escort them out when they’ve overstayed their welcome); we have boobs - great boobs if we do say so ourselves - and said boobs even make their own food to keep tiny humans alive! On top of all of that, statistically we live longer than men. How in the world can we have a clean conscience knowing we insult our incredibly beautiful and resilient vessels on a daily basis?

The definition of sexy isn't skinny. Someone who is naturally thin can, of course, be sexy, but sexy is also strength, power, speed, agility, poise and confidence. Sexy is beating your personal record for squat presses. Sexy is mastering a yoga pose you couldn’t do a month ago. Sexy is the amazing feeling you get after a long sunrise hike when you've breathed deeply and you’re sweaty and happy. And as for "nothing tastes as good as skinny feels," we’re pretty sure chocolate cake tastes good every once in a while and we can’t imagine anything trumping that – not even size 00 jeans.

When trying to make the mental switch from skinny to strong, use these steps as your guide. 

Reassess Your Goals
Those stick-thin models you see gracing the pages of magazines? They make a living looking like that, as in someone actually pays them an incredible sum of money to work out most of the day and stick to a strict food regimen. Their job is to fit a largely unrealistic ideal to make clothes look amazing, and they do a ridiculously good job at it.

As for your job? Maybe your job is to be a counselor helping people struggling with depression, or an entrepreneurial leader, or a super mom raising three kind, respectful children in a crazy world while simultaneously running a household. So give yourself a little mercy and give your body a little grace; the day someone pays us millions to eat lettuce at every meal, we might reconsider.

Don’t Torture Yourself With Cardio
When we begin to focus on skinny instead of strong, we're more likely to enjoy exercise instead of looking at it as a an obligation. If you hate running, then stop running! Exercise shouldn't be a form of punishment. It can be incredibly therapeutic, uplifting and even used as a form of treatment for depression and anxiety. Focus on cardio activities that you enjoy and that bring you happiness: go on a walk with a friend you haven’t talked to in a while; take a jog in the park with your dog; hike a long trail with your husband early one Saturday morning or go on a bike ride with your kids.

Start Lifting
Penn State conducted a now well known study observing dieters who did cardio versus dieters who did cardio plus weight training -- the results showed that the lifters lost six more pounds of fat than those who didn’t lift. We’re tired of the old adage that weight lifting makes women big and bulky, because weight lifting actually helps you burn more calories even while sitting on the couch. Metabolism increases after cardiovascular exercise only lasts 30 to 60 minutes, whereas post weight training metabolism increases up to 48 hours. Plus, it's amazing to feel your muscles getting stronger every day and see your body getting tone and chiseled in places you never knew possible. 

Watch Your Words
For those of us with children, even very young ones, we need to be vigilant about the words that come out of our mouths. Kids are much more perceptive and intuitive than we give them credit for, and if you have an unhealthy relationship with your own body they will soon pick up on that. The most heartbreaking thought to any mother would be that her pure-hearted, precious daughter, or son, might grow up to hate her own body and continue the cycle of body image agony we ourselves have experienced for so long.

Be intentional with your words and mindful of the message you send; instead of making mindless comments about gaining a pound or two or lamenting the fact that your jeans might be a little tighter these days, focus on celebrating your body every single day. 

Eat Real, Whole Foods
By now you probably know we shouldn’t be afraid of fat. Research has shown the benefits of incorporating healthy fats into our diets – think coconut oil, nuts and avocado. Instead of focusing on starving ourselves to be skinny, we should be filling up on real, whole foods in their most natural state, like fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, nuts and seeds. You’ll get much more satisfaction from smaller portions of smart, whole foods instead of having to eat larger amounts of processed foods with empty calories, resulting in a healthier body and happier mood.