The dark side of fitness


Recently I had a conversation with my therapist about body image issues and what he told me really struck me as important to share.

He mentioned that he has loads of clients that are Crossfit athletes that they ALL suffer from body image problems and anxiety/depression/serious issues with their physical bodies. I was floored by this. In particular, he gave an example of a woman who had lost tons of weight, dropped numerous clothing sizes, had a loving husband and two kids, and was now a trainer at a Crossfit gym. But she hated herself because she wasn’t as thin and ripped as the owner of the gym (who has a completely different body type than her). It sounds crazy but I totally related to her! I have a self-defeating habit of comparing myself to others. I can never win because there will always be someone better than me, and frankly the obsession with making myself smaller and beating myself up for a little bit of fat puffing out over my bra is ridiculous, pointless, silly, and terribly mean. My body is extraordinarily healthy. I have no major health issues, I’ve birthed 5 babies naturally, done 3 Ironmans and a few ultra-marathons, I’m attractive to my husband, and I feel good most of the time.

Yet the horrible things I say to myself because I’m currently wearing a size 6 instead of a 4, the horrible things I say to myself knowing that if I just showed more discipline with the my diet I would be a 4 again, the horrible self-consciousness I feel every day about how I look, the daily debate about whether I am fat or not, is all there and is all a major preoccupation that gets in the way of gratitude and enjoyment of what I have. It’s a moral weakness to be so self-obsessed, which is of course another mean thing I say to myself.

That conversation with my therapist was a wake-up call for me. There are a LOT of people out there suffering with these issues. It’s a secret epidemic of the fitness industry that nobody is talking about. It’s made worse by image-driven social media where the people with the genetic gifts are held up as the ideal, where those who are naturally muscular and thin are just assumed to be harder workers or more dedicated than us.

You know what? Being in the best shape of your life is a temporary condition! It is not something that can last forever unless you dedicate your entire life to it. And that life is boring. It’s boring to devote that much energy to how you look and how strong you are. It takes away from growing yourself in other ways. Sure, discipline and motivation are great. But devotion to physicality isn’t worthy of as much attention as it’s given.  And it’s got that horrible side effect of making people miserable.

What I see over and over is that people (including myself) always compare themselves to how they were when they were in the best shape of their life. Nothing but that brief time of physical perfection will ever be good enough. I know I’ve often set out to lose some weight and set my goal weight where it was when I was in the best shape of my life. But that’s totally unrealistic if I’m not in the mindset to make my life about nothing but getting in the best shape of my life again. If I want to have flexibility, be pleasant to be around, not waste time logging food and examining everything I put in my mouth, and devote more energy to other aspects of personal growth, then I shouldn’t be setting a goal that doesn’t allow for those things.

Additionally, I really believe there is a connection between dieting and depression. My last two depression cycles occurred while I was actively watching what I ate in order to lose weight. It’s very unclear to me if this is a physical issue with the diet (ketogenic) or a mental issue that is triggered by the focus on losing weight. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that the correlation exists and it’s not just me. This needs to be talked about. People need to understand that body transformation projects come with risks. It can be a vulnerable time for many of us but since we don’t talk about this we all suffer alone and think it’s just us.

Please remember this the next time you set out to lose weight or get back to a previous ideal version of yourself. The best work you can do on your physical self is to remember that the only true transformation comes when you are 100% comfortable with being the size you are right now for the rest of your life. When you have accepted yourself just as you are and don’t feel the need to change, then things shift and you may find change occurring naturally. Messing around with change before that acceptance is a recipe for disaster and can make you worse off than when you started. Let’s get to a place where taking care of yourself means more than just looking good.