We have been sold a warped perception of beautiful and ugly. The media has created their own image and idea of what is perceived by a large population of people as ‘beautiful’ or ‘to die for’. Especially when it comes to women and how their bodies should look. The media would lead us to believe that ‘skinny’ is beautiful and feminine, whereas ‘strong’ is unattractive and masculine. Unfortunately, these outwards appearances don’t support our inward emotions. Skinny often leads to insecurities or uncomfortableness with our bodies, however, strong builds confidence and promotes self esteem.
#Fitspiration was a hashtag created with the desire to motivate people to exercise and eat in a more healthy way. Much like everything else the media gets its hands on, the hashtag took an unknowingly negative turn. A recent study found that nearly a fifth of female participants regularly posting and using the hashtag #Fitspiration suffered some form of either emotional distress due to compulsive exercise or disordered eating patterns. It is believed that the craze of dieting products, weird teas (let’s face it, stick to green/herbal tea, not a revamp #205 mega tea, ugh… yea is tea, keep it simple) and weight loss products have heavily impacted this degrading need to be the media’s version of ‘beautiful’.
Being strong is defined differently for each of us. For some, it’s deadlifting 3 times our own body weight (excessive I know, but you get the point) and for others it’s moving your own body weight (have you ever tried a muscle up or single leg squat? By far, some of the hardest things to do). So bare in mind, I’m not pushing for everyone to go and grab the heaviest weight and fling it around. Be your version of strong. Not everyone else’s.
So, after all my little rant, how can you make changes from being a skinny victim of the media to strong and confident?
Before we get started, TWO things to remember:
1. Lifting weights will not make you look masculine. Nor does the fact that you lift weights mean that you will magically grow overnight. You do not have to be a cardio bunny to look good. Nor do you have to lift HEAVY to feel strong.
2. Food is not enemy, your perception of it is the only thing holding you back! And definitely don’t bad mouth carbs, everyone is allowed them. If anything, they’ll make you look fuller as opposed to flat.
Where do you start in your journey of becoming strong and confident? Building muscle and forcing change. That means, quit focusing ALL your attention on cardio. Everyone has their thing and some people like to run or cycle (although, you don’t really know cycling until you’ve Psycle’d with @kayacansfield #TrueFitspiration). If it brings you inner peace, don’t stop it, but if the only reason you are running is because in your mind you’re thinking ‘I need to be smaller and skinnier’, is this really a healthy relationship? I only ask because I was once one of these girls. I was limiting my calorie intake and running until my legs couldn’t carry me anymore. Literally, to the point of which I passed out on the running machine from complete and utter exhaustion. Obviously, something had to change as laying in a ball at the bottom of the treadmill is not a pretty sight.
FORCE THE CHANGE – build some muscle! Start by using compound exercises such as military presses, squats, deadlifts, rows, bench presses. Keeping it simple is often the best way to start. If you’re unsure of form or what I’m even talking about, check out the Power Moves Fitness app for some tutorials. Each week you should either be looking to increase the weights on your exercises or the rep range.
Nothing screams ‘I FEEL STRONG’ more than bodyweight exercises such as dips, pull ups, push ups or chin ups! Nor does planking and being able to comfortably hold that position for 90-whole-seconds instead of that feeble 20 second attempt you saw the #Fitspiration girls attempting for their Insta-story. Moving your own weight can be exhilarating and empowering. Single leg squats and lunges also have their place! They may appear simple enough, but pushing your own bodyweight on a single leg whilst trying to keep your core tight and balanced is another matter.
I’m all for pushing yourself, but remember to ‘stimulate, don’t annihilate’. You can’t feel strong if you’ve used every single ounce of energy in the gym, every day of the week and end up out to dinner with friends with your face in a plateful of food. Don’t burn yourself out. There’s a happy balance there, trust me. Over the past 3-4 months, my training plan has been dropped down from 5 training days, to a 4 day a week programme. At first the thought of it was daunting, but actually, it’s been working just fine for me. I’m able to GO HARD but also balance the right amount of rest and social stimulation. If we take another look at the #Fitspiration study, it was found that many participants had an unhealthy relationship and excessive compulsive traits towards exercise. These traits are certain to build an unhealthy and unconfident inner self.
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE IN THE GYM EVERY DAY OF THE WEEK TO FEEL STRONG!
Eating is also a huge factor of feeling strong, so what exactly does healthy eating look like? It looks like anything that came out of the sea, the ground or walked the earth. May be the odd bird every now and again too! Whatever tickles your fancy really. But God did not create slimming shakes and diet teas on the seventh day! Stay well away. The more crap you put in your body, the crappier you will feel. The healthier you are and the healthier you eat, the quicker you will feel changes, growth and strength. Don’t deprive your body of what it needs and that’s fuel! If you want to be and feel strong, you need to give your body what it needs and that’s energy. Don’t be afraid to give yourself an extra meal on training days (not a cheat meal, a caveman meal aka non-processed).
The last important things to remember when becoming STRONG:
● Don’t do more than you can handle; push yourself, but to your limits, not everyone else’s.
● Don’t stress about the little things. Your mindset will make a huge impact on your physical and mental strength. Be positive!
● Conditioning; it makes a difference to your cardiovascular fitness levels and functionality. Try get some HIIT in your programme to increase your fitness levels. Nothing beats trying to outrun Satan, the neighbours dog.
● If you can, aim for 8-9 hours sleep. This isn’t possible for everyone and some function better on 6-7 hours sleep, but if you’re really pushing yourself, your body needs rest!
● Treat yourself to a massage every now and again. It’s good to reset the muscles and go back into training feeling refreshed. Alternatively, give the foam roller a go and work on some myofascial release work regularly.
After all, I eat healthy and have a non-restrictive diet, I don’t torture myself by refusing chocolate or alcohol (not that I drink much anyways), I’m a healthy weight and actually heavier than what most people think (a drunk guy that tried to physically pick me up said so, don’t ask!). I lift heavy at the gym and I am respected by even the male lifters for ‘pushing and pulling more than most the men’ and the only thing this unfeminine about me is probably my walk and my work cargo bottoms. Those factors have nothing to do with strength or muscles! I’m happy and confident with my body, more so than I’ve ever been in years.
So, what’s the verdict, skinny and hungry or strong and well fed?
Ferruggia, J. (2017). How to Build Muscle: A Complete Guide. Retrieved from: https://www.onnit.com/academy/how-to-build-muscle/
Holland, G. & Tiggemann, M. (2017). “Strong beats skinny every time”: Disordered eating and compulsive exercise in women who post fitspiration on Instagram. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 50 (1), 76-79.