This is going to get a little bit personal. First, I’m going to start by providing the two articles that inspired this post. 10 Fitness Model Confessions from Bodybuilding.com and What’s Beautiful? from my friend Electra at the Vanilla Bean Lean blog. I think they are both great reads and give a very honest look at what it takes to achieve an extreme physique and the dark hole that the pursuit of physical perfection to lead you to.
It’s pretty common to see “fitspiration” or “fitspo” posts all over the web. People collect pictures of other people’s bodies, often times competitors, fitness models, etc., and keep them around their bathroom, bedroom, fridge, or wherever in order to motivate themselves to achieve their goals (usually to look like their fitspos). I used to do this too, especially when I was getting ready for my competition, to help me keep my end goal in mind. I’ve come to see things a little bit differently though.
I’ve come to realize that using photos of fitness models to help me stay on track is actually quite detrimental. First, as Vince Del Monte pointed out in his article, most fitness models don’t look “shoot ready” year round. They hardcore diet down, get spray tanned, and dehydrate to peak for a shoot. The way they look on that day and in those shots is not a look they maintain for long periods of time. The things that people will put themselves through in order to peak for an event, whether it’s a shoot or a competition, is not what most people would consider healthy. Eating in a huge caloric deficit, taking diuretics and cutting water intake, taking fat burners, excessive overtraining – definitely not the hallmarks of a balanced, healthy lifestyle. Secondly, with all of the digital editing and airbrushing, the physique in the photos may not even represent what they really looked like on that day. Are there people out there who maintain ripped muscular physiques year-round? Yes, there are some, but for most people, that’s not realistic. I don’t want my fitness inspiration to be how one person’s body looked for one hour on one day of the year after airbrushing. It’s not realistic.
Furthermore, being skinny/lean does not necessarily equal health and happiness. Electra courageously shared her own experiences in the pursuit of what she thought was health and fitness, and I’ve gone through something similar. In high school, I was dancing competitively and started to become interested in weight training and nutrition. I started lifting weights and eating what I thought was healthy. “Healthy” back then meant almost all carbs – I remember I ate a lot of soup and cereal and made pitas with all veggies and fat free salad dressing. I ate some protein and almost no fat. I logged everything I ate (usually around 1200 calories per day) and would work out almost every day, even doing cardio and/or weights for an hour after school when I had 3 hours of dance classes that night. I weighed about 99 lbs my senior year of high school.
That same period of time marks one of the darkest periods of my life. I went through some very painful experiences, including breaking up with my first boyfriend, losing my best friend, and watching my parents’ marriage fall apart with my dad moving out of the house and leaving my mom devastated. I was incredibly depressed. Although at the time I applauded myself for my discipline with eating “healthy” and working out, in hindsight I realize it was a coping mechanism to help me feel I had some kind of control in a terrible situation in which everything was changing. And I wasn’t healthy or happy. I was underweight, over-exercising, and under-eating. Once I moved out and went to college, I went back to a healthy weight and found better balance when it came to eating and working out. For a long time, I lamented the fact that I no longer had the “discipline” I had in high school, and it’s only in the past couple of years that I have recognized it for what it really was – disordered eating in response to situational stressors. I clearly remember getting on the scale at one point, and it said I weighed 96 lbs. I wasn’t happy with that. I remember thinking, “Maybe only a pound or two more, then I’ll be happy.”
Thankfully, I am much happier and more balanced today. But I guard myself closely – I know I have perfectionistic traits that can get out of hand. I don’t ever want to become that preoccupied with losing weight or what my body looks like again because I know it is a slippery slope for me. I am fortunate that that period of my life did not spiral into something much more serious or long-term.
So, if fitness models aren’t my “fitspiration,” what is? The best version of myself. The best version of me isn’t necessarily 8% bodyfat with a six pack – it’s someone who is strong, happy, and balanced. That means I am eating enough to fuel and recover from my workouts so I can get stronger and faster. It means I am eating to nourish my body, not to cope with stress or negative feelings. It means I can go out with friends or enjoy a family meal, and I can take a rest day from the gym without feeling guilty. I am someone who makes healthy choices and works out because of self-love, not self-hate.