Body image vs healthy body

I have joined a clothing redesign course this Spring. I went to the first session this week, together with five other women and our teacher. The goal of the course is to acquire some basic knowledge about different kinds of fabrics, how they are produced, and the impact they have on the environment as well as to acquire basic skills to adjust or recycle garments to create something new.

As we set to work on our garments, I noticed that most of the other women in the course, at some point, made negative comments about their bodies. Mostly because they felt they ‘needed’ to lose some weight. I was surprised by this since most of the women in the course are either my age or older. Beautiful women, all different with different backgrounds, professions, and skills. I couldn’t help but feel sad, that still at our age, women struggle to accept their bodies and the conversations often lead to the ‘need’ to go on a diet.

Coincidentally, my youngest daughter (12 years), told me this week that she wants to start taking better care of her body. I did my first diet when I was around 14 years old, and from there, I spent most of my teenage years feeling bad about my body and trying different ways to lose weight. When I first came to Europe, I was 160cm tall and weighing 45 kilos, and I still felt that I was fat. Besides the unnecessary pressure I put on my body during those years, I regret having spent so much energy and time worrying about how I looked instead of enjoying my years in high school. Therefore, I want to do what I can to help my daughters (and son) develop a healthy relationship with their bodies. So my youngest and I engaged in a conversation about what is a healthy body instead of what is a nice body. Is being slim the same as being fit? Why do I eat like I do? How can my daughter create good habits? Why should she?

As an adult, and after many years of loathing my body, I have come to some sort of stability. It always makes me laugh when people comment on my body and tell me that I am so slim. Often insinuating that that is just how I am. If they only knew how many years I spent going up and down in weight. What I have learned during these years of struggle is:

  1. To accept my body as it is with it’s strengths and weaknesses and treat it accordingly. Work with it and not against it.
  2. Phisical activity doesn’t need to be synonym with running a marathon, joining a gym or sweating for two hours each day. Any phisical activity is better than none. It is all about creating habits. I use each given opportunity to move: take the stairs, walk or ride my bike to work, choose a bus stop that is a ten or fifteen minutes walk from my home/destination, go for a short run when I have time. Maybe most importantly, find ways to move that are simple and make me happy, and try to move away from the presure of moving to change your body. Move more and see how your body and mind benefit from it. Energy levels incereas, sleep quality improves, and the mind can also feel lighter. One constant in my life is my asana practice. It is very rare that one day passes by without me doing at least 10 minutes of asana. I have learned to listen to my body and move accordingly. I have also learned to balance between poses and movements for strength and those for flexibility. I keep my practice very simple. I see it as maintenance work to stay in contact with my body, and keep it stable and mobile at the same time.
  3. Have a conscious relationship with food. Choose more of the food that makes me feel good throughout the day, and less of the food that gives me immediate pleasure but empty calories. I know that a diet rich in fiber, fruits, nuts and vegetables is what my body likes, so I eat accordingly, but I do not deprive myself of anything. I just try to control my impulse to indulge. If I have a piece of chocolate with my evening tea, I do not eat in addition a brownie before I go to bed. I try to find a balance. Since I love good food, I do not put just anything in my mouth to fill my belly or my emotional void. I make conscious choices, but I try to be flexible and whenever I get out of balance, I just tell myself, “tomorrow, I’ll make better choices”, and I do.
  4. Avoid throwing myself at every single new advice from “experts”. I do enquirer a bit and like to read and listen to different views when it comes to diet and exercise, but I have stoped believing that there is one miracle diet out there. The best is to listen to my body and stick to habits that are sustainable for my lifestyle.

If you have kids, try to have open conversations about habits and explore what is good for a healthy body and mind. If you struggle with your own self-image, start by being kind with yourself. Be thankful for your body that allows you to take part in life, praise it for its strengths and have realistic goals to work on its weaknesses. Think more about health and life quality than the set of esthetic standards from society.

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