by Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD
Wishing for the Perfect Body?
Too many runners spend too much time complaining about their bodies:
I feel too fat.
I’m too thin
I want a six-pack ab.
I hate my spare tire.
Obviously, you will perform better if your body is the correct size for your sport—not too fat, not too skinny. If you have excess flab to lose, yes, you will run faster if you are lighter. If you are scrawny, yes, you will be more powerful if you can build some muscle. Agreed.
The target audience for this article is the many runners who already have an excellent body yet spend too much time wishing for the perfect body. The perfect body is illusive and nearly impossible to attain—at least without tireless effort. However, being satisfied with an excellent body is an attainable goal. An excellent body might be a tiny bit less muscular than desired, or have a tiny bit more body fat than you want, but it is good enough.
Do you see what I see?
Rather than listen to your own self-criticisms, pay attention to what others say about your body—such as You look great! or Do you really think you have fat to lose? Quite possibly, your teammates are telling the truth when they question your desire to lose (sparse) body fat or compliment you on your muscles. Rather than disregarding their comments, file them away on two mental shelves labeled Compliments and Criticisms. Pay attention to what accumulates over time. You might discover you are the only person who notices your body’s “flaws.”
You only see what you see (not what others see) and your eyes have been tainted since childhood. That is, if you were a husky kid, you may still see yourself as being too fat. On the other hand, if you were a scrawny kid, you may still see yourself as being too skinny, even though your body now has mature muscles.
Fat is not a feeling
If you are feeling too fat or too thin, please note that fat and thin are not feelings. (You do not feel blue-eyed or freckled, do you?). More likely, you are feeling anxious, imperfect, inadequate, and out-of-control. Feeling too fat (or too thin) can easily distract you from what’s really going on: you don’t feel good enough about yourself—a common issue among athletes, including those new to a team or school. For example, if you are now a freshman on a D-1 university track team (and no longer the star of your high school team), you can easily feel inadequate, anxious, and not good enough. Those feelings are worthy of being addressed with a counselor who can help you rediscover that you and your body are, indeed, fine the way you are.
Making Peace with your body
If you are discontent with your current physique, please try to be a bit more compassionate towards your body and appreciate all the good things it does for you. It lets you be a strong runner, a caring teammate, and a trusted friend. Those are meaningful qualities, and far more valuable than your wish for a perfect body.
Rather than take the outside-in approach to resolving your discontentment—if I can change my body on the outside by losing fat (or by building muscle), I will be a better, happier person—take the inside-out approach, and be grateful for your athletic skills, as well as your friends who love you for who you are, not for what you look like. Recognize that no weight will ever be good enough to do the enormous job of making you happy. Happiness comes from feeling loved, accepted, and appreciated— not from a number on the scale.
I encourage you to be curious about where you got the messages that something is wrong with your body. Did the messages come from the media in our weight-obsessed world? Or from a loving parent who put you on a diet at age 12 and said something like “If only you'd lose a few pounds...”? You likely translated that comment to mean “I'm not good enough the way I am” and your self-esteem took a downward spiral…
Weight issues are rarely about weight. They tend to be about feeling inadequate and imperfect. Hence, parents and coaches, be careful about what you say!
What to do
How can you, a discontent runner, feel better about your body? One tactic is to stop comparing yourself to your peers. To compare is to despair. Rather, pretend you live on a fantasy island where you and your body are excellent the way you are. Take note: As a human, you will never have a perfect body, so the next best option is to enjoy having an excellent body—or, at least, a body that is good enough the way it is.
If you leave your island and start comparing yourself to your peers, take notice: Do you end up being too fat, too slow, too ugly, too dumb? Do you ever let your body (and yourself) be better than others? Doubtful.
To reframe your thinking, stay on your fantasy island and practice referring to yourself as a Gorgeous Goddess or Handsome Hulk. With time, you can change the way you see yourself and come to believe that you and your body are, indeed, good enough the way you are.
Life is more enjoyable when you can love your body, appreciate all that it does for you, and stop hating it for what it is not. Spending too much time wishing for a perfect body comes with a high price. You’ll enjoy better quality of life by being grateful for all you have.
For more information on how to find peace with your body, take a look at www.EDCatalogue.com. This online bookstore offers positive messages of hope.
Nancy Clark MS, RD counsels both casual and competitive athletes in the Boston area (Newton; 617-795-1875). Her best-selling Sports Nutrition Guidebook, and food guides for runners and marathoners are available at www.nancyclarkrd.com. See www.NutritionSportsExerciseCEUs.com for information about online and live workshops.