I'm going to get serious here today, well you know as serious as I am capable of getting. Have you ever borrowed someone's car? You go to the grocery store, park it, do your shopping, come out, and then you're trying to find your car and you can't. It's not because you don't remember where you parked, or because you were in the grocery store for 47 days, or because it was stolen, but because you're not looking for your friends car, you're looking for your car. When you finally remember that you didn't drive your 1997 Honda Accord to Shop Rite, but your BFF's 2014 Chevy Volt, you laugh to yourself and go along your merry way.
In the same way, when we change our bodies, either by losing weight, gaining muscle, or both, we sometimes keep expecting to see our old 1997 Honda in the parking lot instead of a shiny new Chevy. You've made a change, and when you look in the mirror, or clothes on the rack at the store, you are not used to your new body, but instead the body you were comfortable with for so long. Even when weight loss or muscle gain takes place over time, there is a tendency for individuals to see ourselves as our previous body. Either the "Skinny," "Fat," "Lean" or "Weak" person that we no longer are. It is the image that is being held in our minds of what we expect to see when we look in the mirror. We have not fully committed the new us to our mental imagery of what we look like in our minds.
Body image is a huge factor in our overall mental and physical health. One of the main issues many men and women have is that even though they are a nice shiny car, they see themselves as a beater car that wouldn't even make it around the block twice. And while I'm trying to be serious here, that sounds like a sexual innuendo, which is also going to segue into the sexual innuendo I actually was planning to make. When we look good, and feel good, we tend to give that off to people, people can sense confidence and respond to it. Sometimes it doesn't matter if you are a 1997 Honda with multi-color doors and half a fender. If the car knows it's worth and can say, "Yeah, I need some work, maybe a paint job, but I've done a hell of a job, look at me, it's 2014 and my engines still purring like a kitten, plus I get great mileage," then, he's going to get a lot more rides then the brand new Chevy, pouting in the parking lot thinking, "Well I'm only a Volt, not a Camaro."
Whether you can bench press an army tank, or you've lost 15 pounds, your body is subjective to your own biases and criticisms. Many times, we like our old Honda, we are comfortable with it. We know how to handle it, how long we have when the tank says empty until it is actually empty, if it really can fit between those two school buses. It's been with us for so many years. We really do love it. But when we compare it to all the other cars on the road, we get a little insecure, "I can never pick my date up in this car, she'll think I'm poor." "My car is rounded and all the newer cars are more squared, everyone can tell it's old." But there really is nothing wrong with your car in your mind, other then it's just not as good as everyone else's car. When we view our bodies in comparison to others, we will probably never be happy with it. We will always be able to find someone who can bench press an Army tank WITH 5 soldiers on it. Someone with an 8 pack, someone who is a size zero but still has boobs, someone with a nicer ass, someone who lost weight more quickly, someone with no cellulite, someone with bigger muscles... the list goes on and on. Chances are, that person is sitting around looking at someone else's body that they wish they had. It really is a never ending cycle, the important part is to appreciate and love yourself every step of the way.
As I mentioned, the hardest part about really appreciating our hard work, is our own inability to see it. It's like, you just got a new paint job for the Honda, but all you can focus on is the small ding in the door you couldn't afford to get removed yet. Everyone else may be saying, "The car looks great," and you may respond, "well yeah but there is still a dent in the door, I don't know when I'll be able to get that out." Does this sound familiar? "Oh you look great, what have you been doing?" "Oh well I started lifting but I still don't think my biceps are where they should be yet." "Well I'm on this diet and exercise plan, but I still have to lose 20 pounds."
It is important to restructure your mind, to teach it what the new you actually looks like, and to also help you appreciate your hard work and your new body, even if it's still a work in progress. Here are five-small steps you can begin taking immediately to help yourself appreciate all of your hard work, and see your new and changing self.
1. Set small goals and really celebrate them.
... maybe not with cake, but with other rewards. A dollar every 5 times you make it to the gym, a new shirt every time you stay on your plan for a month.
If you can do something physically you couldn't do before, or if you fit into a size you never dreamed possible, that is not something to just brush off. You accomplished that. You personally fed yourself, worked out, put in the time and the work. You struggled. You sacrificed. So when you reach small mile stones, celebrate them! It will help you keep track of the small changes along a larger journey, that way, it doesn't feel like one day you just woke up and everything was different. You can look back and say "Oh I remember when I had a goodbye party for my size 12 pants!"
2.Try on old clothes that used to fit.
Many of us, as we gain, or lose weight, will hold onto old items. Above I mentioned having a goodbye party for your bigger (or smaller clothes if gaining mass and muscle is your goal). This is actually a legitimate idea. When we hold onto older clothes we are giving ourselves permission to fit back into them, "Well I lost 20 pounds but I'll keep these pants just in case I need them." Have some good friends over and try on clothes ask their opinion, are they too big? Do you look like you could be homeless? Donate them.
Have a nice big Goodwill donation party. Anything that is still too small that you've been holding on to as a goal to fit into, keep that and try it on again next month. Watch yourself start to fit back into these old clothes; it will help you appreciate your changing body. If you never had a smaller (or bigger!) body, buy an item from goodwill that is a full size different from where you are now. Try it on weekly and watch how your body fits it differently. Having this constant visual will allow your mind to process your changing body, while at the same time help you to appreciate your work.
3. Take progress pictures
It's the same idea as trying on your old clothes, but this is a visual that you will have to hold on and to look at. You can compare these pictures side by side. Look at your transformation. Take it in. You can see that even if you didn't lose weight, your body looks different, many times as we workout we may be losing fat but not weight, pictures are the perfect way to see changes in our body that are not showing up on the scale.
4. Try on (and even buy!) new clothes
If you don't want to spend money on a bunch of new clothes before you reach your goal, that is understandable, however, chances are you will need new clothes. The better you look, the better you feel. If you are now a size 8 and you're rocking size 16 pants with a belt and your dads sweater, you aren't going to feel like the sexy beast you are. Buy a few essential items from lower cost stores like Old Navy or H&M until you feel you're at a size that that you can commit to a full wardrobe. If you don't want to do that, at least regularly go try on clothes to see how things fit and what size you would be if you were going to buy clothes. It helps to have a number to hold onto, "Oh I used to need a 14 here and now I am a 10." If you keep putting on your 14's, then you don't realize that you are a 10, but close to an 8. You might not see how much progress you are making because you still see yourself as a size 14.
5. Allow people to compliment you
It can be very hard to let others acknowledge our appearance. This seems odd, right? Here we are hanging out putting all of this work in, trying to be that guy at the gym, or that girl on Instagram, but when any of our work is acknowledged, we freeze. When someone compliments you, it may be your natural instinct to deflect this. However, try this. Just say thank you. "You look great." "Thank you." If that person says more, then maybe you will say more, however, usually there is no need. For many of us that have a hard time receiving compliments, it has to do with our difficulty accepting that we have anything to do with what is being complimented, or that what we have done is not good enough. When it comes to your progress, maybe there is a certain feeling of self consciousness, but remember, you did all of this work, embrace yourself, and let others tell you they notice. Thank them for noticing, and then pat yourself on the back, because they are saying, "Hey I notice you put in a lot of work and it's paying off, good job!" And, why wouldn't you want to take credit for that and allow someone to acknowledge it?
The real take home message of this whole post, is that for some of us, whatever fitness journey we are on, may come with difficulty acknowledging and accepting our changes. The problem with this, is that if you keep expecting to see a beat up old Honda in your parking space, eventually you will see a beat up old Honda in your parking space. If you've worked hard and you fixed up that Accord, got her shiny and looking new, treat her like the dime she is. I'm not saying be that asshole who parks on a diagonal or anything, but respect the changes, don't park her near the cart corral. In the same way, buy the new jeans, get rid of the old ones, tell yourself you look great, don't worry about what isn't perfect, just focus on doing your best, and when others acknowledge your work, let them! And for all of you who feel that my blog is more relatable for females, I just made the perfect automobile analogy so I think we can acknowledge my personal growth there. Thanks in advance. I'll be looking forward to your praise.