Looking Good Naked

j0423115At this time of  year, fitness centers typically experience an increase in membership.  If you belong to a club or gym you might find that for the next eight weeks it will be tough to find an open treadmill or elliptical trainer. It seems looking good naked is on everyone’s mind after the holidays.

There is another excellent post over at Big Little Wolf’s Daily Plate of Crazy about physical appearance vs. feeling good. She brings up a number of great talking points on the topic of body image issues, being a slave to the scale and our self-esteem and how it connects to our physical appearance.  We often say that our self concept shouldn’t be based on how we look but, for so many of us, it is.  I maintain that for many of us, how we look matters a great deal because how we care for our bodies is often indicative of deeper feelings we have toward ourselves and our value as individuals.  If we want that to change then how we go about changing our physical appearance is the first step in beginning to care about and for ourselves.

Lose the Scale

j0422209Being an ex-competitive swimmer, swim coach and cyclist, and also and ex-aerobics and fitness trainer, I know how ineffective the scale is and how it can really work against one’s efforts at getting healthy. One’s weight can fluctuate a pound or two every day and even more for some women, depending on the time of the month.  In addition, if you are enslaved to the number on the scale, but you are truly about percent body fat rather than weight you might get to a place in your fitness regimen where you actually begin to gain weight while continuing to lose inches.  Those who absolutely use the scale as the sole measuring device in their quest to look good naked run the risk of ignoring some better health indicators. They can become easily discouraged and frustrated.  This is counterproductive to the person who really has the goal in mind of becoming a healthier, more physically fit individual.

Percent of Body Fat is A Better Indicator of Fitness

I prefer to consider percent body fat or Body Mass Index  and inches lost when I work on improving my fitness level (because muscle weighs more than fat and building muscle eats fat).  One can be a size 3 and still be very fat.  I don’t want that for me.  I want the toned look and you can’t get that by merely losing weight on a scale you must transfer fat to muscle somehow.  If you are seriously overweight or out of shape or have never really done any serious training, please do two things:

First, get a physical and a physician’s okay before you begin any exercise program.  Even if you are relatively good health, this is always a smart move. 

Second, seriously consider investing in a personal trainer who will meet with you for an hour once ever two weeks for, at least, the first eight weeks of your program.  Even two sessions with a personal trainer can be incredibly valuable in helping you jumpstart your motivation and your journey back to fitness.

Toward A Healthier Lifestyle…A Personal Journey

While I know a great deal about the right things to do and the right ways to think about my body, its appearance and its health, I like many, many others have become negligent over the last decade. Sure there have been periods of good fitness, but I haven’t really stuck with them.  Of course, I have to cut myself some slack.  I’ve endured a pretty volatile decade personally, have been homeless and battled an emotionally abusive ex.  When survival is priority one, looking good naked gets much lower priority.  Even so, I’ve let go of some really great eating habits, stopped the consistent exercise and weight training program I had going and simply shifted my fitness priorities to the bottom of the list.  I don’t look horrible, but I really don’t look my best.  More importantly and more significantly I don’t feel my best. I find that it is when I don’t feel my best that I am most prone to worrying about my appearance, suffering a loss of confidence and self-esteem and I’m especially prone to really stupid questions like “How hot am I, really?”  I hate being in that place mentally and physically. 

j0402353Big Little Wolf’s post, my own personal journey to date, and experiences like these are crystallizing for me a sense of direction as I consider my own health and levels of fitness.  Note that I did not say weight loss program.  Because for me, though weight loss will inevitably be an outcome I hope to accomplish,, I am not venturing down this road with that goal in mind. In my post, two days ago, I spoke of moving toward a healthier lifestyle.  It’s true, I want to look good naked because that mirror in my bathroom is not exactly gentle in revealing the truth about my physical appearance, but I most certainly and more importantly want to feel good all of the time, not just naked.  I don’t just want to get smaller, I want to get better.  And better, might not necessarily weigh that much less, but it will look better naked.  It will walk further and faster.  It will not get winded. And, since I am the one looking at myself in the mirror, groaning daily with disappointment in myself about the extra pounds I’ve packed on and the muscle tone I’ve lost, and feeling disappointed with what I see (because the disappointment represents not beauty or lack thereof, but a deeper sense of loss) then looking good naked becomes important to no one…else…but me.  I’m the only one that matters.  It is indeed a deeply personal journey, but one with very visible results.

Getting Comfortable

But there is something even more significant at play here for me.  It is that idea of feeling comfortable in my own skin.  It is that idea that it is what it is and it is the best I can do so who cares what anyone else thinks.  Now, realistically I know, I should feel this way no matter what I weigh or what my muscle tone is, but the reality is, this is not the case for me.  Because the big reality is this, how we feel inside our own skin is largely determined by our fitness levels.  Our fitness levels often determine whether or not we look and perform at optimum levels.  All of those things conspire to impact our self image and our confidence in our abilities in other areas. True, self acceptance no matter what, is important.  I’m not suggesting we all have to be stellar examples of fitness and brawn, but when our ability to function at our best each day is implicated, then I suggest that’s the time to really rethink our health and our habits.  Feeling comfortable in our own skin is more about doing the best we can with what we’ve got under the circumstances and I, for one, am not doing the best I can right now.  Not even close.  This bothers me.  It bothers me enough to make a change.  For me, it’s what 2010 is going to be about.

Starting Measurements…The First Steps

j0321131 So, yes, yesterday, I pulled out the tape measure, hopped on the scale and took the front-back-side before pictures in my bikini.  Not because I intend to obsess over every little thing I eat or don’t eat.  Not because I intend to go on a crash starvation diet or crazy workout plan to burn that fat fast.  I’m smarter than that.  And, though I know my body will quickly respond to increased exercise and improved diet due to its past fitness, the reason I am doing it is not to get skinny…it is to change my lifestyle. It is to change my thinking.  It is to become comfortable in my own skin. Taking the measurements now, before I’ve really begun will help me gauge my progress and will motivate me to keep going.  It gives me a starting point.

Fitness is About Character Development and Personal Growth

While this is about looking good naked on one level, it is also about so much more than looking good naked because whenever one begins a journey of this nature there are mental challenges that must be faced and obstacles that must be overcome.  I’d like to suggest that the journey toward improved health for me will be less a journey of fitness than a supreme course in character development.  I will need to test my commitment.  I will be forced to persevere.  I will need to focus and stay focused and that, because I am so easily distracted, will be challenge enough. I will need to flex and adapt to a schedule that changes dramatically twice a year while still keeping up my regimen of good eating and daily activity.  I will need to make some hard choices that won’t be pleasant or instantaneously gratifying (like that second glass of wine or that extra helping of pasta or saying no when I’m just not hungry) if I am to move myself into a place that bodes well for the health and longevity of this physical thing I call my body, not to mention the mind and spirit that it contains.  It won’t “feel” good sometimes at first, at others it will feel better than anything.  It will require me to flex my discipline muscles, tone my determination, and exercise my mental fortitude and push my commitment to my own improvement to the limits. j0402666

But that’s the cost for every one who would accomplish anything of value. 

The Wild Mind

Success is often not a matter of talent, but a matter of tenacity.”  ~Nathaniel Bronner Jr.

How am I going to live today in order to create the tomorrow I’m committed to?  ~Anthony Robbins

Toward A New Year of Healthy Living

New Year’s Day, 2010

photo by nkzs Yesterday’s post spoke about thinking more thematically about New Year’s Resolutions.  To follow up on that, I feel I must give some more concrete examples of really what I mean. To that end, I have only one New Year’s Resolution. More aptly put, I believe this is a New Year’s theme that I hope characterize my year and the years to come. That theme is Healthy Living or Health. 

You see, I could do what I did last year and talk about all the things I want to do, as though life were some sort of checklist to be completed before the end of it. As a product of the American baby boomer culture, I’ve seen life this way more often than not.  I’d make my list, work frantically to accomplish it, come very close (or maybe not at all) and feel miserably unsuccessful or ineffective if I didn’t complete the list. I was what I could accomplish. 

List Fail

The problem with this thinking, at least for me, is that the list can never be completed because something is always being added to it.  You check off one item only to put another objective in its place.  What’s the sense of accomplishment in that?  How does this manner of operating lead to peace and contentment?  Even if you do accomplish something, the effect or result is only temporary, unless the item stays on the list and then, if you think according to the list, even if you’ve made progress, the danger of perceiving that you haven’t completed anything or not as much as you would have hoped exists. Lists are about completion not progress.  I want to focus on progress, process and becoming.

Really, what I am talking about here with this whole New Year’s Theme thing is not giving myself more stuff to do (and more reasons to be disappointed if I fail) but instead I’m dealing with effecting lasting change in my life.  There are areas I am not content with and I need to change.

Time for Change

Perhaps an example from my own life might serve to provide greater understanding of what I’m really driving at here.  Several years ago, nearly a year, maybe almost two before my divorce even started beginning, things (as things in a failing marriage will tend to be) became very chaotic and conflicted.  I was unhappy, he was unhappy, the kids were caught in the middle of that and dealing with the magnitude of kids that we had (11 in our blended situation), tensions were running at an all time high.  We’d been separated and back together more times than I care to consider, and I was at the point where I knew that something had to change.  I was afraid of what that might mean, but I knew I could not continue in the present situation any longer.  My health was failing rapidly and it was only a matter of time before  I experienced a serious and major collapse.

j0386273 I really had to take some time and think about what it was I wanted.  Now, I didn’t take the attitude of it’s all about me.  I took the perspective that I needed to take care of me so that I could take care of those who depend and rely on me.  In that case, my children, my support network, my community in a larger context, but admittedly I wasn’t thinking on that grand a scale back then.  I was simply in survival mode thinking about what was going to be best for my children and I in the short run, but also in the long run.  If you’ve ever been in this place you know what a difficult task that can be.  How do you think about making monumental decisions that will be right for the immediate future and still be the right ones, down the road a piece?  There are ways of doing this, I’ve since learned, but at that time I was floundering around in a state of hopelessness, fear and anxiety. 

Respect and Survival

As I sat there in a school presentation where the speaker was talking about dealing with children respectfully and building a climate of respect in schools and in homes, everything crystallized for me. It all came together for me, not as a list of things I needed to do in a sequential order, but rather as a frame of mind I needed to adopt; as a way of being I needed to pursue.  It became clear to me, in seconds, that what was lacking on so many levels and in so many areas in my life was, quit simply, respect.  I wasn’t being treated respectfully, nor was I extending it to others in most areas of my life. Not only that, material possession, symbolic of someone’s effort, time, life and money were being treated disrespectfully, the world around us was not being treated with any measure of respect either by any of us. This is not how I wanted to live, nor was it the environment I wanted my children to grow up in learning that this manner of living was an accepted option. 

With the theme being respect, I was then able to clearly see that in the current situation I was going to be crippled if not completely detained in my pursuit of a respectful home atmosphere and lifestyle.  I was then able to make the hard and frightening decisions with confidence and assurance that I needed to make at that time to ensure for me and my children a life that involved treating each other with greater respect and infusing our home with respect.  Three years after that day, I can look back and say it was the right way to look at things and, though we haven’t perfectly arrived, because we continue to learn more each day about areas where we can demonstrate greater respect to each other and because, quite frankly old ways of being die hard sometimes, we are in a much better place than we’ve ever been. We would not be here now if I hadn’t taken the necessary steps to start the process.  I couldn’t have taken the necessary steps if I had focused on what I should or shouldn’t do.  Focusing on what I wanted my children and I to be and experience made it possible for me to figure out the rest.

Healthy Living

 j0442586 It seems I’ve come to another place where a theme is stepping up to the forefront and demanding attention.  In the last three years, several themes have developed. First, was the theme of Respect.  The next theme that characterized the first year after the divorce till now was Survival.  The next theme which I believe to be developing in my life is that of Healthy Living or maybe just Health.  It is a theme that encompasses not just the idea of physical fitness and healthy eating, but also the areas of spiritual health, intellectual health (sustenance and growth) and relational health.

These “themes” I am talking of, if that is even an appropriate terminology, are not something I adopt, carry around with me for a while and then discard because they no longer suit the situation.  If you could think of building an onion from the inside out a layer at a time, you might come closer to how this all works for me.  As each theme develops in my life, it becomes part of me with following themes overlaying themselves on pre-existing themes.

So, since the title of this post is about a healthy new year and since I did mention it earlier on in this now rather lengthy post, I suppose I should discuss it just a bit.  Healthier Living, as a theme in my life, for this year, or for whatever amount of time it decides to be the forerunning focus, will help me make decisions daily regarding my time, my activities, my decisions, my focus.  Instead of creating a list that I may or may not accomplish, depending upon my motivation level or my feelings, I will instead operate from the place of asking myself, “Is this the healthiest thing for me right now?”  Or I might consider, “Is this particular choice going to move me closer to the healthy, whole life I see for my children and myself?”  The particular questions help me sort the myriad choices I face each day in order to more closely align my life with the healthful vision I see of myself and for myself and my family (because I don’t just simply think of myself, ever, in isolation; what I choose impacts and affects many others whether I recognize it or not).  So, in brief then, the theme works to direct my efforts, focus my energy and determine my choices.  I am no longer burdened by a list that can never be accomplished. I am simply, moment by moment becoming healthier and these moments will, undoubtedly stack up and create a year that is much healthier than years previous.

j0433106 Enthusiasm, Hope, Confidence, Optimism

Approaching life this way has, over the last three years, been very effective for me in implementing significant and incredibly positive change in my life over a relatively short period of time.  This approach might not work for everyone, but I’ve found it to be incredibly effective for me in determining where to focus my energy, how to prioritize all the conflicting demands that bombard me daily as a single mom, and in helping me keep at it even when things become discouraging and disappointing as they likely will. It is an approach which instead of frustrating and defeating me, fills me with optimism, confidence, enthusiasm and hope. Since I’ve heard those are some of the key ingredients for someone in good mental health, I guess that’s not a bad place to start.