There’s a dangerous movement happening in the fitness industry that is starting to take health away from fitness. Fitness has become the pursuit of solely physical goals and health is determined by one’s ability to fit into a predetermined mould. Images of what is healthy often depict extreme body types, that while may represent a discipline to a specific way of life, do not always represent health. It has become acceptable, and even encouraged to “motivate” other’s into a fitter lifestyle by tearing them down. We ask others what their excuse is. We accuse them of being lazy, we accuse them of being unmotivated, and we accuse them of being jealous. Fitness has become the pursuit of physical goals at the detriment of mental health.
The proliferation of images of near naked fitness models as the motivation for the average women has created a state of unrealistic goals. Suddenly otherwise healthy women that do not have defined muscles, or visible six packs are considered unhealthy. Pregnant bodies are used as “before” photos as if pregnancy represents the height of physical demise. Many women pursue physical fitness goals in the hopes of achieving that elusive six-pack (I have been one of them) and despite improvement in their physiology remain disappointed when that “perfect” stomach isn’t achieved. I’ll tell you something about a six pack; it has absolutely nothing to do with good health! It has everything to do with the timing of your macro-nutrients, the frequency of your meals, the sensitivity of your stomach to certain foods, the composition of your body, the water in your body, and the time in which your photograph your stomach. Yet the six-pack has become synonymous with good health.
Health is about moderation. So much of the messaging we get these days encourages people to go to the extreme. “Train insane or remain the same”. What does that even mean? According to Einstein the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Many people do train insane and that is why they remain the same, but if you want to improve your health you have to train smart.
Fitness has become the promotion of extreme lifestyles rather than of moderation and of balance. Certain foods are clean and other foods are dirty. Certain foods are to be regretted and other foods are super. Certain bodies are to be praised and others bodies condemned.
I’ve been part of postpartum fitness groups were discussions centered more on how to get rid of stretch marks, how to improve loose skin, how to pay for breast implants postpartum, or whether to get a tummy tuck, than on the mental challenges of new mothers and the tools in which to use to overcome your struggles. Women are encouraged to make only physical fitness goals and focus their efforts on fitting into the current in fashion body type. Any mother that chooses to focus on their mental growth or is unable to funnel their emotional needs into physical goals is accused of being weak, lazy or full of excuses. Fitness motivation is not about overcoming but about achieving, and it’s become very clear that what we need to achieve is a body that is desirable to the masses.
In my struggles to overcome postpartum depression I discovered that a healthy lifestyle starts from within. Anyone can follow a plan. The physical action of following a fitness plan is not hard, but the mental challenge of motivating yourself and remaining committed to a discipline is much harder. In speaking to women, especially mothers, I am discovering that many people do not embark on a fitness routine because they don’t believe that they can. They don’t believe they have the time to exercise, they don’t believe they have the ability to change their body, they don’t believe they have the willpower for moderation; they don’t believe they have the strength to remain focused. The challenge of fitness is not a generation of people that are lazy; it’s a generation of people that have lost hope. The challenge of the fitness industry is to return hope to the masses, and not to condemn them.
Depression is a disease and it infiltrates every part of our society, but while many fitness images and spokespeople focus on the rise of chronic disease and obesity, there is less focus on the reasons behind this increase. In an increasingly disconnected world people often lack the positive social interactions they need for spiritual and mental growth so they search for other ways to fill the void.
The power of a fit lifestyle is good health. Good health is about having a sound mind as well as a functioning body. Part of achieving good mental health is setting realistic goals and having realistic standards. While 90% of women have stretchmarks it is considered by many women to be a scurvy on their bodies. The norm or standard according to media images has become for postpartum women to have no postpartum marks. While many postpartum women and those who experience extreme weight loss have excess skin, it has been the norm of the fitness industry for all bodies to be tight and without give.
Good health is not and should never be about achieving a perfect body. There is no perfect body and to hold unto the belief that such a thing exists is to lie to yourself and set yourself up for failure. If we can understand that our bodies are made of skin and bone, and not plastic and wax we can find so much freedom. Your body tells a story and that is not a story that you should be ashamed of. Your body is not who you are, and it is important not to base your self-worth on your physical appearance. But your body is a vessel for your spirit, and for that reason it deserves to be cared for.
Jeanne Calment, who lived to be 122 years old, was known to have smoked cigarettes occasionally, drank port wine and ate chocolate. When she was asked the secret to her longevity she replied “Always keep your smile. That’s how I explain my long life”. Falling to the many pitfalls of the health and beauty industry can harm your mental health by encouraging extreme approaches to unrealistic body types. It is the pressure and the feeling of not measuring up that destroys a person’s happiness, and self-worth. Forget about the memes and focus on getting to a place where your mind is clear and your body feels good. That body may manifest in a million different ways but as long as it works and you are able to embrace it; that is health. Don’t let this industry steal your smile because if it does your efforts have been futile.