To listen to your body, to really listen, you MUST interact with it first.
Whether you run or box or bike or bridge-pose, you must feel the way your body moves, and navigate it in space, over and over and over again.
You must take a step, then another, then another, then realize you’re walking. You must twist, you must bend, you must use the range of motion biology handed you and if you’re unable to you must simply breathe.
Feel the rise and fall of your chest, over and over. See how far it can expand and how it melts when you push the air out. Feel the wonder that is the jigsaw puzzle of your Personhood.
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To listen to your body, to TRULY listen, you must acknowledge its nuance. You must notice the way your joints glide, the way your shoulders tighten, the way you do that thing with your wrists every time you feel anxious. You must listen with your limbs, your lungs, your organs, your nails. You must listen with the things that cannot hear but can work together to decode the tiniest sighs of joy and biggest cries for help and all the other stuff in between.
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So no, you can’t learn to listen to your body by THINKING about how the plate you ate made you mentally feel. You can’t learn to listen to your body by THINKING about your perfect form or precise protocols or even by measuring the sweat pools under your gym machine of choice.
I’VE BEEN teaching group fitness classes for over a decade – way before it was trendy and cool, and definitely way before “fitpros” were the new It celebrities they are right now. This was back when people thought “spinning” classes meant twirling around in circles for 45 minutes, and when that one old friend of mine so casually commented, “You’re not planning on becoming the ‘exercise girl’ for the rest of your life, are you?”
The industry has changed a lot since I began, but the thing that’s remained at the core of fitness is that it’s rarely ever truly about the fitness part alone. What we do in the gym is practice for what we do out in the world – and fitness advice is life advice disguised in sweat and squat-jumps.
WHENEVER WE’RE working out, we’re shifted into a vulnerable state. Whether we’re doing vinyasas or vying for a new running PR, our breath deepens, our heart starts beating faster, and we’re thrust (or eased gently from a seated cross-legged position) into a state of self-imposed stress. And let me clarify: not all stress is ultimately BAD. It’s what we do within those moments of stress that stick with us. It’s the stress that gets us vulnerable, and the vulnerability that allows us to be open to shifting for better or worse in the long run.
And so if fitness advice is really life advice, then what we say (and how we say it) as leaders in that space matters. A lot.
Because what you hear is what you will internalize, and what you internalize will be the language you use out in the world to speak to others and yourself, way after you’ve gone on with your day.
NEGATIVE CUEING is a term used in fitness that generally describes any sort of phrasing that uses what you don’t want to happen as the main motivator. Think, “don’t arch your back.”
Negative cueing isn’t just saying “Don’t do X,” though. Negative cueing is anything that makes the person listening feel like who and how they are isn’t enough.
~ Negative cueing can look like…
It’ll be over soon(implying the current experience is worth skipping over)
I know you hate me right now(they probably don’t, but you just planted the seed that maybe they should)
Burn off that happy hour! (equates what you eat to how much you need to exercise, and that exercise should be food-motivated)
Ladies grab X weight, Men grab X weight(not everyone identifies as a “lady” or “man” and therefore you run the risk of people feeling left out – also this reinforces sexist assumptions; I know many women who can out-lift men ANY day)
You can do better than that!(um. maybe that IS their best??)
That’s not good enough, give more!(along the same lines; this might be their best work – but also shames the work they’re doing)
I know you want to fit into those new jeans / get that summer six-pack/ etc(implies everyone who works out is dissatisfied with how they look – and, moreover, probably should be)
Don’t give up(implies the person was going to give up at some point)
You know you can SMILE(omg please don’t force me to smile – give me something to smile about and I will)
I know you want to quit, but…(no, I actually did not, please don’t underestimate me)
Negative cueing can also look like self-deprecation in order to “connect.” Stuff like sharing with your clients/students/members how much you hate your thighs or how much you ate last night and need to “burn off.” Might feel cute or “down-to-earth” in the moment, but it’s reinforcing a dangerous epidemic we already fall prey to of bonding over negativity.
It doesn’t matter how “inspiring” you are or what cute tweetables you’ve got lined up to sprinkle throughout your class. If you’re not modeling self-acceptance, self-love, and what the journey TOWARD that actually looks like, your words are just words.
IF YOU’RE STILL reading this, are not a fitness professional, and wonder how or why this applies to you…think of all the times we cue negatively in our own lives. We do it to ourselves, and we do it to each other. We think we’re offering advice, being helpful, or inspiring someone else – but the hard truth is, it doesn’t matter how good your intentions are if your impact is creating a shame loop in someone else.
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Anyone can study the objective facts. Anyone can teach a class or train a client. Literally. Anyone. You can buy the course online. But the way you talk, act, and live is what actually makes a difference in someone’s life in the long run. For better or worse.
Here are some alternatives for the negative cueing above:
Instead of:It’ll be over soon! Try:Can you give your all to this moment?(implying the current experience is one worth having)
Instead of:I know you hate me right now… Try: I’m your biggest fan right now(lets them know you’re their ally)
Instead of:Burn off that happy hour! Try:Literally just not talking about food. Just…don’t do it.
Instead of:Ladies grab X weight, Men grab X weight. Try:Grab a weight that feels(insert a feeling or a number of reps you’d like them to perform with said weight, so they can gage what they need for themselves). If you don’t know what that is, call me over and I can help you figure it out.
Instead of:You can do better than that! Try: If you were to give your all, what would that look like? (ask a question and have them come up with the answer themselves!)
Instead of: That’s not good enough, give more! Try:Can you maintain your work…or even surprise yourself by giving just a little more?(emphasizes the work they’re in as good enough, while giving an option to go farther if they can)
Instead of: I know you want to fit into those new jeans / get that summer six-pack/ etc. Try:How do you want to feel after this workout is over?(redirects focus to a feeling instead of a look)
Instead of:Don’t give up. Try:Keep going, you’ve got this.
Instead of:You know you can SMILE… Try:Not telling people how to react or emote – everyone processes their emotions differently.
Instead of: I know you want to quit, but… Try:You’re doing so great. (simple as that!)
NOT SURE if your cueing is negative or not? Find a mentor. Ask them to come take your class and keep their ears open for anything that could be improved upon. Not a fitness professional but want to monitor the negative cueing in your own life? Dedicate a week to hyper self-awareness. Maybe even tell a close friend, coworker, roommate, or partner that you want their help in calling out your language.
Oh…and as for that friend who asked if I was going to be “the exercise girl” for the rest of my life? That comment that made me doubt my path, my abilities, and my legitimacy as a professional adult trying to find her way in the world?
I sure hope so.
I sure hope that, in some capacity, I am up on that podium, all mic’d up, with my words out there in the open for everyone to hear. And if not, I hope I’m going to classes, keeping sweat dates with myself, or lacing up my shoes for a long run. Because what we do in the gym is just practice for what we do in life – and I want all the practice I can get.
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If you’re listening to this because you were searching for the secrets to your Best Body Ever…well, I’m so glad you’re here. Although, this might not be what you were expecting…
In this episode, we’ll break down the dangers of diet culture and weight loss disguised as “wellness” and “self-care” – plus how to keep your eyes open and know the difference between true wellness-focused brands and the ones that are just disguising the D-word.
Still wondering how to get your Best Body Ever? I’ve got some tips and tricks for that, too. And they’re ones you probably don’t hear very often…because this is the WANTcast, after all.
Like this episode? Take a screenshot + share on social, leave a review on iTunes, share it on Facebook, tweet it out on Twitter, or post it onInstagram. Be sure to use the hashtags #WANTcast and #womenagainstnegativetalk!
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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.
It’s Friday, and it’s time for some THINKING OUT LOUD. If you’re new here, our THINKING OUT LOUD WANTcast episodes are very loosely structured solo episides of me riffing off of whatever thoughts are on my mind lately.
– The difference between following inspiration and following an aesthetic
– Being a tourist in your own city and what kinds of life lessons that brings up
– Being a good person vs making sure a lot of people THINK you’re a good person
– Body pride + mental well-being
…and SO much more.
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WHEN I WAS 12, I read the book The Giver by Lois Lowry. A sort of Brave New World for the tween set, it’s about a confined society in which everything is Just So all the time. It’s a society that’s been converted to “sameness” – a plan that has eradicated pain and strife. Everyone is identical. No one feels. No one judges. No one’s flawed. No experience, no emotion, no hunger for life. Just…predictability.
I think that most of my classmates empathized with the times the main character, Jonas, felt weird for being different (how much more tweeny can you get?). I, however, empathized with how angry Jonah felt when he started to see – really see – how phoney Sameness really was.
Perfection is a hoax. The allure of being perfect is the greatest con, the greatest scheme ever devised. Forget about the Photoshop, the glossy pages, the television even. Perfection is a stagnant ideal and a consummation of all we find unsatisfactory. It’s an artifice to fool ourselves into believing that there’s an excuse or that we’re failing. That is perfect, They are perfect is internalized and morphs into This is not perfect. I am not perfect. Perfection is conditional love. It’s an invisible benchmark and a thick glass ceiling. It’s the expectation and the idealization of the absolutely monotonous. It’s a lonely, one-dimensional load of crap we think we need in order to feel special.
Perfection is a pile of you-know-what from both ends of the spectrum; doesn’t matter how you look at it. We live in a world where the sweetest apples are discarded for a touch of brown, where we inject plastic into the lines we’ve earned from reading novels late into the night, where we over-sterilize and under-appreciate.
And then there are the people who seem to be constantly extolled for their beauty, their wisdom, or their achievements. Their existence is idolized, their lives an exercise in perfection maintenance. And that…that is a huge burden to carry, too. It’s immense, unreasonable pressure to stay at a certain age, look, job and caliber indefinitely. Because what if – no, when – we don’t? What happens when we falter – or maybe just aren’t astonishingly mind-blowing every single second?
Will we still be loved?
The word “perfect” has haunted me my entire life. When I was in middle school, I would be called perfect as a taunt. I didn’t have braces. I liked to color-coordinate. I got good grades. My awkward stage was mild. Sounds great, huh? Yeah. Not really. I felt detached and alone. I felt I could not be myself; God forbid I spoke out of turn or mismatched a sock. Just like Jonas in The Giver, I saw how fabricated the idea of perfection was, but didn’t know how to convince people otherwise. There was an immense discomfort in knowing I was looked at as someone who had everything together, and that that was both desired AND detested. Trying to convince people I wasn’t always backfired, since perfection was so ingrained in my identity to others. It was weird for me to be perfect but wrong for me to be flawed.
But the most uncomfortable thing for me was that my biggest taunts were also my highest praise. I was told I was pretty, I was told I was smart, I was told I was sweet, and I was told I was talented. I wasn’t ever forced to be those things – no stage parents in my household – but it was obvious the value they had. Plus, the alternative was scary. When you grow up in a culture that puts people down for fun and thrives off ofcasual negativity to get through the day, how does anything but perfect seem like a viable option? There was currency in perfection…as well as immunity. I felt that.
Balance was virtually impossible.
How was it that the very thing I equated with love and worth from my family and mentors was the thing I equated with loneliness and weirdness when it came to my friends and peers?
Some would have rebelled. But no – I didn’t want to rebel. I just wanted to relate. So I downplayed my assets and kept them locked away. At the root of it, I feared loss. I wanted to guarantee love, but at the same time wanted to be the full range of myself – which included the dark and messy parts. Please let me be normal, I’d silently beg. Do not love me for my light, because it sometimes gets dark in here and I can’t bear the loss when you realize that.
What was the most interesting is when I started to focus on feeling special instead of focusing on the whether or not others THOUGHT I was special. I let my guard down in front of people. I took myself very seriously but took the world a whole lot less so. I cried over boys and told people who hurt me the way that I felt. I opened up about being melancholy for what seemed like no reason and realized there were way more people like me than there were not. My dark and messy wasn’t all so dark and messy after all. I was just, asGlennon Doyle says, “a feely person in a messy world.” I began to realize that only I could determine my value, and only I could know what was my rightest right. I stopped using the word “perfect” to describe people and things and started to call them “perfect-for-me.” I stopped feeding off “perfect” and living on purpose.
I am wary of perfection. The ones who make it their life’s mission to be perfect, I’m onto them. There is something deeper there, there is something hiding and some voice inside that once told them that the only way to be is to be flawless. Because big voices and unique souls and feely people are risky to a messy world that likes to put things in cramped little boxes that are easy to define and file away. Nothing is intriguing when you fit into Sameness.
Whenever I see these people, I want to take them aside and hug them and tell them just to Be. Just BE. Be on purpose. Be a contradiction. Be extreme! Whatever you are and whoever you are, be extremely YOU. At the end of the day, what else is there left? The people who know how to live are absolutely flawless in their quirks and extremes. They’re certainly not afraid to mismatch their socks or disagree with the world.
The idea that perfection gets you a prize is a big fat lie, and the thing is that we ALL KNOW IT deep down. Because those beautiful on-purpose souls, who are extremely and unquestionably themselves, those are the people we’re all ultimately drawn to in the long run. Not the ones who homogenize their lives to be Just So. Because this is not sameness. This is life. In all its extremities and nuances.
What makes you special isn’t someone else’s declaration that you’re special. What makes you special are the exact things that end up making you feel as if you’re living with the entirety of yourself. Find those tiny details and idiosyncrasies that make you you, and use them to support and enhance the extreme You-ness of the way you Be. It isn’t about “perfection” or “flawed” or whatever’s the opposite. It’s about being unquestionably yourself.
Forget about the Sameness, forget about utopia. There is no better person to be, no better place to live, than Oh-So-On-Purpose.
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