They say “Love your body.” But what if you don’t (yet)?

Despite an overly vain fitness industry, we are starting to see a small subset of voices like my own spreading the positive message of “love your body” no matter your shape or size.  It’s a great message with great intentions.  But what if you don’t (love your body)? Unfortunately for people with body image issues (which is many of us), it’s not something we can just “do.”  If it were that easy, we wouldn’t have these issues to begin with.  So the question is, how do you go about learning to love your body for what it is?

Some of you might be thinking “well, it’s pretty easy for someone with six pack abs, perfectly sculpted shoulders, arms, legs and glutes- features which most “fitness icons” portray- to be promoting this message, of course they love their bodies!” Perhaps, but believe it or not even those “perfect bodies” have many of the same insecurities we all experience. But regardless, what about the rest of us?  

Let me first tell you where I’m coming from so you can understand why I’m using the phrase “the rest of us” (because yes, I’m including myself).

I am a “pro fitness competitor” (albeit retired– for now) but realistically, I have been single digit body fat percentage lean.  I’ve been one of those “fitness icons” (so to speak). 

But right now I’m about 150lbs at 5’5 (I don’t actually weigh myself so I’m not sure of the exact number, but it’s around there).  My contest weight was about 130lbs (plus or minus water)- so I’m a good 20lbs heavier. My waist is probably about 28-29 inches.  I have far from what would be considered the ideal female hour glass shape.  In fact, I think my hips and waist are about the same, measured straight across.  I naturally carry my fat in my midsection, contributing to my “larger (by fitness industry standards) waistline,” and I’ll only ever have abs if I’m in contest shape.  I am FAR from “fitness icon perfect.” But you know what, that’s OK.  I’m not trying to be perfect. Because I’m happy with myself.  And regardless of any changes to my body in the future- leaner, heavier, whatever- I’ll still feel the same way.

 It hasn’t always been that way and in fact, it took me a very long time to get here.  But I believe it’s possible for everyone to come to a sense of peace with the body they are blessed with.

So how did I get here? What do you do if you know you want to get healthy and you know it’s time to start treating your body right, but you still struggle with body image? Can you improve your health and even your overall body composition (if you wanted to) all while still learning to fully embrace and love the body you have?

The answer is yes.

But it’s not as easy as so many people make it sound.  It’s a process. It takes a lot of hard work and consistency to CHANGE YOUR THINKING. But the end result is more powerful than any diet or workout you’ll ever do.

Here are some strategies that can help.

First things first, come to grips with the fact that NO ONE IS “PERFECT.”  You are not perfect, you will never be perfect, because we are not meant to be perfect.  In fact there’s no such thing as “perfect.”  That’s what makes each of us beautiful and unique.  Focus your mind on learning to love yourself for the person you are and what you can do.  Your worth DOES NOT come from what your body looks like. Period. End of story.  

Ok so now that we got that cleared up, here are a few more tips to keep in mind-

1.  When it comes to workouts, focus on function rather than a specific look.  It’s an unfortunate fact that, no matter how much work we put in, many of us just don’t have the genetics for that “ideal” physique.  So stop killing yourself trying to attain it, and stop beating yourself up for not looking like someone whose entire livelihood is devoted to his/her physique. 

Instead, focus on the amazing things your body is capable of.  Set performance and strength goals rather than “looks” goals.  Embrace how awesome it is to be able to lift more weight, or run faster, or master a new yoga pose.  And give yourself credit for making progress in these areas, regardless of what the scale or tape measure says.

2.  As I alluded to above, stop comparing yourself to the fitness icons.  Understand that for the majority of these people, their body is their livelihood.  Many are personal trainers or fitness models and their businesses are built based on their bodies.  Not to mention, they are able to spend a lot more time in the gym than most of us with jobs outside of the fitness industry.  I know I can speak for myself when I say competing got a whole lot harder after I finished school and jumped into a job that had nothing to do with fitness.  And this is not to say there is anything wrong with the fitness icons working in the business.  All I’m saying is FOCUS ON YOU, and what’s realistic for YOU to accomplish, within the realm of your own time constraints and personal responsibilities. 

3.  When it comes to nutrition, focus on health, not weight loss.  Shift your mindset toward eating healthy foods for the benefits they bring to your body, not for the amount of fat they may or may not help you lose.  Work on eating a variety of fresh foods and a balance of all the nutrients.  Treat your body well by fueling it with as much good stuff as you can.

4.  Try using positive affirmations to reinforce your belief in yourself.  Positive affirmations are simple phrases you can repeat over and over to yourself, that help you to “convince” your mind of what you want it to believe.  Try not to use any negative words.  For example, instead of saying “I will NOT say negative things about myself,” try saying “I WILL only speak of myself in a positive manner.” By using positive affirmations everyday you can help increase positive self image, even if you didn’t believe it at first (“fake it til you make it”). And you can google “positive affirmations” and find tons of examples.

5. Believe in your ability to make positive changes, even if they are small, and give yourself credit for any step in the right direction, no matter how large or small.  Focus on behavioral changes, not measured “number” outcomes (ie your weight).  The more capable and successful you feel in your ability to make positive changes, the better you will begin to feel about your own body.

6. Focus on other fulfilling aspects of your life that have nothing to do with how you look.  Friends, family, church, work, other hobbies, volunteering, teaching– find the bigger purpose in your life.  Because the truth is there is SO MUCH MORE to life than what your body looks like. And if your biggest focus in life is how your body looks, you’re truly missing out on all the joys life has to offer.

This totally sounds cliche, but remember, this is the only body you get.  You are unique.  You cannot have anyone else’s body, and no one else can have yours.  Do your best to treat your body with kindness and respect.  Be grateful for the body you have and what it can do .  Believe in yourself, stay positive and consistent, and follow the tips above, and you will be on your way to a better body image and a happier outlook, no matter your size or shape.

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How to Build a Basic Meal Plan (in 8 somewhat simple steps)

Many of you may be wanting to develop a more structured eating plan, but perhaps for whatever reason, are not ready to hire someone else to do it. If that’s the case, follow these 8 steps to put together your own plan!

Step 1-
Determine your goal. Is your goal for muscle gain? Is your goal for fat loss? Is your goal for maintenance/healthy nutrition? Whatever it may be, your nutrition plan needs to start with a goal in mind.

Step 2-
Determine a calorie level appropriate for your goal. There are a lot of websites that will calculate an estimated BMR (basal metabolic rate) to which you can adjust based on your activity level and goal (most of the website tools can do this as well). If you don’t want to use one of those tools, the simplest way to begin is to multiply your body weight by a factor of 10-15.
Typically, I would start with calories of ~12x body weight for fat loss and ~ 15 x body weights for muscle gain. These numbers can then be adjusted based on your progress.
For example, for a 150lb female looking for fat loss, I would start at about 1800 calories per day (150lbs x 12). This is not an exact science, and as mentioned, you can make adjustments as you go along.
**If you are much heavier than your target weight (50+ pounds), you may need to use a weight closer to your target weight for these calculations

Step 3-
Make a list of healthy foods you enjoy, group them into categories based on their main macronutrient composition.
For example, I like chicken, turkey, steak, sweet potato, rice, oatmeal, peanut butter and avocados. So I would list:
Proteins: Chicken, turkey, etc.
Carbs: sweet potato, brown rice, etc.
Fats: avocado, peanut butter, etc.
Now many of these foods will, of course, contain more than one macronutrient, but most foods can be categorized by the macronutrient they are mainly composed of.

Step 4-
Determine how many meals you would like to eat per day (that’s an easy step, no further explanation needed).

Step 5-
Determine the proportion of calories you would like to come from each macronutrient group. I feel the best place to start is around 1g of protein per pound of body weight (*again, use a weight closer to your target weight if you are 50+ lbs overweight).
Multiple the protein grams by 4 (4 calories per gram of protein) to get the calories you will be consuming from protein. This will roughly give you 25-35% of your calories from protein. The rest will come from carbohydrates and fats. Typically fats can comprise ~25-35% of your total calories. And then carbs would make up the rest.

OK, so that was a little confusing, but take a look at the example here and it should help to clarify:
150 lb female looking for fat loss.
Total calories = 12x bodyweight (150lbs)= 1800 kcals
Total protein= 1x body weight = 150 grams
150grams of protein x 4 calories per gram= 600 calories from protein
1800 total calories x .25 (25%) = 450 calories from fats
450 calories divided by 9 (9 calories per gram of fat) = 50 grams per day
1800 total calories – 600 calories from protein – 450 calories from fat = 750 calories left (these will then come from carbohydrates)
750 calories from carbs divided by 4 (4 calories per gram of carbohydrate) = 188g carb
So, our meal plan for a 150 lb female looking for fat loss would have
~1800 calories, 150g Protein, 188g Carbs, 50g Fat
I promise you, if you just work through the numbers, its not as complicated as it looks!

Step 6-
Distribute the calories/macros amongst your meals. Try to evenly distribute protein amongst each meal (i.e. each meal should have an equivalent amount of protein). Typically, I like to include my carbs in breakfast, lunch and post-workout meals, but in theory, you could evenly spread them throughout all of your meals or even eat them in just the pre and post workout meals if you prefer. Similarly, fats can be divided into your non-carb meals, or evenly spaced throughout the day- however you prefer.

Step 7-
Start plugging foods from your list into the meal plan. Again, there are many websites available to give nutrition facts for most foods. Although this may seem tedious at first, if you eat similar things most days, it would not be too difficult to get a handle on the composition of those foods. I typically like to allow 1-3 options per meal—for example- 3.5oz of chicken or 1 scoop whey protein or 6 egg whites all have roughly the same amount of protein. You can use the same concept with carbs and fats.

Step 8
Monitor your progress and adjust accordingly. Whatever your goal is, you should give yourself a solid 2-4 weeks on any given meal plan and keep measure of your progress. Avoid adjusting things too soon just because, for example, you didn’t lose 2 lbs. the first week. Allow your body to settle in to the new meal plan and then make adjustments as needed. Usually this will lead to results with just a few small tweaks instead of a complete overhaul.

As you’re progressing, you can begin to manipulate both calorie levels and macronutrient levels depending on your goals. You can also make adjustments based on if/what you are training on any particular day.

As a side note- this is not an IIFYM plan, as I do not believe all calories are created equal, and thus I would encourage your food list to consist mostly of quality, nutritious, single (or very few) ingredient foods.