This episode is for anyone and everyone who wants to rework their relationship with their body – maybe after years’ worth of body-shaming the skin you’re in.
Helen Phelan is a Health At Every Size aligned pilates instructor, intuitive eating coach, and Reiki practitioner, who works with women to heal their body image and find joy in movement and food. Her approach is creative, anti diet-culture, and designed to enhance your intuition to feel better on and off the mat. Helen is dedicated to improving the collective body image and diet culture issues within the wellness industry by proving that fitness can be good for both the body and soul. Her method is designed to elicit STRONG sensation to encourage improved body awareness and mindfulness while strengthening and mobilizing the body to unstick any energy we don’t need, and make room for feeling good.
In this episode we talk about HAES principles, the business of digital fitness, how to find a trainer/coach (and red flags to look for), body neutrality vs body positivity, thin privilege, how to cultivate body awareness, and more.
This episode is in support of NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association). NEDA supports individuals and families affected by eating disorders, and serves as a catalyst for prevention, cures and access to quality care. To get involved, learn more, or donate, visit nationaleatingdisorders.org
Jessica Rabbit once famously said, “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way.” Self-talk isn’t inherently good or bad, positive or negative – it’s all information. It’s how we view that self-talk that determines if it’s on Team Positive or Team Negative.
And for many of us, our self-appointed negative self-talk flares up the biggest when it comes to talking about our BODIES.
My thighs are _____.
My hips are _____.
My arms are _____.
My skin is _____.
Pick your body part and pick your adjective, and I’m sure you’ve got at least one area you tend to beat up and call mean names on the regular.
But just like our self-talk, none of our body parts are inherently good or bad – we just name them that way. And way too often, we lump them into the bad category instead of the good.
Seeing a reflection you’d prefer looked different, or noticing your clothes fit differently than usual, can instantly morph your response from neutral sensations to negatively charged emotions.
And what do we do when those emotions bubble up?
We distract ourselves and immediately blame our bodies for merely existing.
So often we don’t bat a lash at being mean to ourselves – not because we’re inadequate, but because we’re removed.
When we feel things we don’t want to feel, we try to distract ourselves. Scared? Procrastinate the day away. Uncomfortable? Check every app on your phone (twice). Angry? Play the blame game and point out everything wrong with someone else.
When we distract, we dissociate. But something else happens, too.
When we dissociate from whatever’s happening instead of facing it head-on, we don’t learn how to navigate the full spectrum of our human experience. And what’s more, we start to shut down OTHER sensations, too. We don’t just become removed from the things we don’t like, we start to numb out to the things we do, too, because what affects one aspect of our lives usually affects the rest of it, too. It’s no different with our bodies.
We detach, place blame, and dissociate – instead of trying to figure out where those pent-up emotions are actually coming from.
Just like Ghost Worries hijack your thoughts and make you forget the reality of your situation, body-related negative self-talk steals your sensations and makes you forget what your body actually feels like.
The pattern is simple, and mirrors the kinds of patterns we’re often prone to when a relationship on the rocks. See the thing. Notice the fault. Blame the Other. Withdraw attachment. Withdraw kindness. Withdraw touch.
But instead of the Other being a partner, the Other is our body.
Touch is vital. As U.C. Berkely explains, touch “activates feelings of reward and compassion. reinforces cooperation, and cultivates a sense of safety and trust.”
If you apply that logic to touch between two humans…it might behoove you to stop and consider if the same is true with self-inflicted touch.
The second you dissociate from the actual feel of your body, the second you start to dissociate from your body itself. And when you dissociate from your body for too long, you become afraid (or at least resentful) of it. This thing you call your body seems entirely out of your control.
Your skin becomes something to pick at and prod.
Your muscles become bulk.
Your rolls become flab.
Your fat becomes forbidden.
The only time you touch your body is when you’re zeroing in to fix something.
The solution is simple:
like Beyoncé and Nicki, you must literally start feeling yourself.
No, I don’t mean in the sexual sense (but hey, if you’d like to discuss that, listen to two episodes about sex education on the WANTcast hereor here). I mean actually TOUCH yourself.
Your arms. Your legs. Your stomach. Your hips.
Feel what your body feels like.
Sound awkward? It might be at first. But it’s a weird yet effective trick I always come back to when I’m really feeling low about my bod. And I find the longer I go without putting TOUCH into practice, the quicker I slip into old body-loathing tendencies and self-talk.
It takes a matter of minutes, doesn’t involve spending money, and doesn’t require you to recite a mantra or do anything too hippie-dippie. It’s as easy as applying lotion after you get out of the shower or giving yourself a mini massage. There is NOTHING fancy about this practice, but it’s powerful beyond belief.
Take the time to actually feel what your skin feels like in your hands, the way your muscles curve and your thighs dimple (yes, everyone’s do). Notice the micro-dips in your collarbone as you press in, or the soft area under your armpits that is so often shielded from the sun. Get curious about your lines and shapes – ALL of your lines and shapes.
How does this thing I call My Body fit together?
How does my back hold me upright?
How does the weight I put on my feet each day affect their sensitivity?
How does the constant texting and typing my hands do affect them from the inside out?
Touch is healing, and not just when it comes from another person. Touch can be healing in our relationship with our Self – an aspect of healing that is way too often overlooked.
If you want to take it up a notch, try using creams or oils with your favorite scents. Learn aboutacupressure points. Maybe even turn it into a journaling exercise by taking a 10-minute ‘touch break’ in your day to explore what the skin you’re in feels like and take notes. The best part is that you don’t need anything fancy to put thisself-love-building practice into place. When we can notice the way our skin feels, relieve a tight muscle, feel the way each part of our body miraculously fits together, we become a human to admire instead of a object to critique.
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Let this serve as your reminder that #wellness and #weightloss have nothing to do with each other. You can want (or in some doctor-advised cases, need) to lose weight, but weight is not an indication of overall WELLNESS.
Good news! Talking about diets is going out of style.
Not-good news!Dieting is being repackaged in empowering words and being called “wellness.”
It’s a classic wolf-in-sheeps’-clothing situation. Up until the early 2000s, being “on a diet” was a status symbol and a sign of virtuosity. Look at the willpower I have! Look how serious I am about losing weight! Dieting was the road to a healthier You, and a healthier You was a smaller You. A diet wasn’t just a way of eating – it was a specific thing you did, for a specific amount of time, to lose a specific amount of weight. Which, of course, became less and less specific the more you did it. If I could just lose 10 lbs, I’d be happier. If I’d just lose 5 lbs, I’d be happier. I’m not happier, I must need to lose more weight.
But now, talking about all-caps “A DIET” and all-caps “WEIGHT LOSS” like that isn’t cool anymore. It’s not a status symbol like it once was – it’s a sign of not being with-the-times or awake to cultural shifts.
So what words are being used instead?
Lifestyle. Wellness. Self-care.
Beware of diet culture in self-care clothing. Beware of weight loss in wellness language. If you’ve been told by a product, a person, or a brand you NEED said product, a person, or a brand in order to “be your best self,” it’s worth questioning. And while you’re at it, take a look at how that person or brand talks about weight loss, or if they even do at all. Do they glorify a thin ideal (which usually also includes privileged and white, which is a WHOLE other thing to unpack and I encourage all of us to mull over why this is)? Even if they try and convince you otherwise…does their language and their actions speak otherwise, over and over?
No, not every brand that talks about lifestyle, wellness, or “your best self” is just word-swapping for “diet” and “weight loss.” But enough are that it’s making a difference in the way diet culture functions.
Best Body Ever language isn’t dead. Heck, why do you think I titled this post the way I did? SEO analysis is real. People are searching. And so I wanted to sneak attack them. If you’re reading this because you were searching for the secrets to your Best Body…well, I am so glad you’re here.
What if each trick to achieving your most awesome self was simple, accessible, and realistic for the life you’re living at this very moment? What if the decisions you made, the ones that had nothing to do with calories or reps, were the decisions that actually helped you get that figure you covet? What if – just go with me on this one – your best body ever was actually the one you’re in now?
You’ve read about all the fitness trends and diet tricks. Here are seven other ways to get your best body ever:
GO ON AN UNFOLLOWING SPREE.
A wise anonymous person once said “Unfollow any account on Instagram that makes you feel like you need to be someone else.” Take a browse through your “Follow” list. Go to each individual account. Sit with it, and, Kondo-style, ask yourself: does this account spark JOY for me? Or is it so aspirational that it’s making me feel like who and where and how and what I am isn’t enough? When this account comes across my feed, is my first instinct to celebrate it, or criticize it? And then – yep – unfollow.
If it’s someone you can’t bear to Unfollow for whatever reason – say, they’re a friend of yours IRL or a family member – Mute their account (they won’t know, and you can always un-Mute them later). It’s okay. It’s an unhealthy relationship. Maybe even a toxic one. And just because it exists behind a screen doesn’t mean it’s less so.
How does this relate to anything physical? Our bodies carry the load of all our doubts and insecurities. And because those feelings are so heavy, we’ll look for a scapegoat to displace some of the weight. Our body is an easy target: We’re walking around with it, it’s tangible, it’s something concrete we can bash. But after unfollowing the accounts that make you question yourself – your beauty, your talents, your success, your worth – you might just realize your body is “Best” just the way it is.
And yes, that anonymous person said it on Instagram.
What is just as unhealthy as an unrelenting drive-thru habit? A person who is so consumed with nutritional perfection that it affects every single aspect of her life – personal, professional, spiritual. This is disorder territory, and it’s dangerous.
Even if you don’t go down the path of anorexia, orthorexia, exercise compulsion or the like, we tend to freak out if we make a “bad” food choice and use it as a way to berate ourselves. Un-perfecting yourself makes it a whole lot easier to get right back to your usual routine when you slip up and to avoid binging on what you’ve deemed “bad” when you’re stressed out, lonely – because it was never about perfection in the first place. You are not living in extreme black-and-whites, therefore the bigger picture is clear. And it’s positive. When you’re nice to your body, it relaxes and realizes it doesn’t need to be on the defense, armed for your next attack. And a relaxed body is a happy, healthy body.
DO IT FOR YOUR SKIN. OR NAILS. OR HAIR.
Fun fact: What helps one part of you helps all of you. Skin acting up? It might be time to cut back on processed sugar (my personal skin saboteur). Nails spotty? Ask your doctor if it could be a mineral deficiency or allergy. Turns out, damaged dermis, brittle nails, or less-than-luscious locks are usually the outward, obvious manifestations of an internal imbalance. Maybe you’re not taking in enough calcium, or maybe your excessive soy habit has gotten your hormones out of whack. Whatever it is, once you make a change, you’re likely to see results once you make changes. This can be a welcome confidence boost and help you stick with whatever healthy habit you’ve adopted – whether it’s a supplement routine or using more natural, hypoallergenic products. You get the picture.
SLEEP ON IT.
It’s a common health tip, getting your eight nightly hours. It keeps your metabolism in check, aids digestion, etc. But what’s more important is that eight (or seven, or nine, or whatever you personally need) hours keeps you sane, confident, and ready to conquer the world. When you feel good about the energy you’re putting forth daily, that confidence starts to radiate from the inside out.
GET PUMPED. Think about your workplace: If you have cool projects to work on, an inspiring culture and the role of your dreams, are you more likely to stick with your job or look elsewhere? No matter how hot the newest craze is, no matter how many friends you have at Pure Barre, no matter how many free passes or Groupons you’ve racked up, if you don’t like the type of workout you’re doing, you won’t see lasting results physically, mentally, or emotionally.
Why? Two things: stress and investment. Exercise gets your heart rate up, triggers your fight-or-flight reflexes, and is physically stressful enough as is. When you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, your mind actually adds to and sustains the stress by equating it with a chore. With no positivity to combat this pressure, your cortisol levels stay high and your body resists change. Moreover, when you’re not invested in what you’re doing, it’s a sure-fire recipe for burnout and you’re way less likely to stick with it, much less make it a part of your lifestyle.
THE RUB DOWN.
So often we don’t bat a lash at being mean to ourselves – not because we’re inadequate, but because we’re removed. Just like we’ve forgotten what food tastes like, we’ve forgotten what our bodies actually feel like. Take the time to practice self-massage (Massagetherapy.com offers some wonderful starting tips), or simply develop a habit of applying lotion or body oil to your skin before bed each night. When we can notice the way our skin feels, relieve a tight muscle, feel the way each part of our body miraculously fits together, we become creatures to admire instead of objects to critique.
When it comes to self-talk, have you ever heard the advice, “If you wouldn’t say it to a friend, don’t say it to yourself”? Turns out, this advice works in the positive direction as well. When we compliment others, whether it be on a new dress or on their killer smile, we are training our brains to speak kindly. And as with anything else, practice makes permanence.
When your mind practices the art of reassurance and positive reinforcement, its wires get untangled and positivity starts to become your own vernacular. Your “best body” becomes the one you are in now, because you realize that even on the gloomiest days there is something wonderful about it that keeps you shining. Maybe it’s your strong legs that can take a brisk walk down the block, or your skin that no matter how stressed you get always seems to bounce back to its radiant self after a little extra TLC. Maybe you’re feeling run-down today, but how about that time yesterday you felt like you could conquer the world (and then Mars to boot)? When you’re nice to others, you’re nice to yourself, and you will start making decisions from a place of self love instead of loathing.
Let these words serve as your reminder that #wellness and #weightloss have nothing to do with each other. You can want (or in some doctor-advised cases, need) to lose weight, but weight is not an indication of overall WELLNESS.
Your mindset. Your energy. Your stress levels. How you respond to challenges. Your self-image. Your community. Your relationship with adversity. Whether you’re proactive or reactive.
Your blood tests and BMI (an archaic + flawed way to determine health) can check out perfectly, but if your mind ain’t right, your wellness levels are on a downward spiral. Your weight could be your “ideal” weight (whatever that is) but if you’re treating yourself like crap to get there and chalking it up to “self-care” you’ve been sold, you’re not set up for long-term success.
To live well, REALLY live well, we need to look at all the wonderful information that’s at our fingertips right now, and take this opportunity to educate ourselves. Never before have we had this kind of information at our fingertips.. Let’s use it to our advantage. And then we need to listen to our bodies, open up our eyes, and take what works for us to fit our lifestyle.
Just because your meal is not food blogger material or the nutritional value of your one snack isn’t as “clean” as the trends say it “should” be or you missed a workout today or whatever it is that’s making you wonder if you’re “doing it right”…I promise, as long as you are making an informed decision based on who YOU are, not who the world is trying to convince you to be, you are doing more than okay.