Have you ever been frustrated with your body for not cooperating with your most disciplined attempts to get into shape? Do you feel like you are fighting an uphill battle with your body?
Back in my “obsessed” days, I desperately wanted a runner’s physique. I assumed that if I ran A LOT, I would naturally acquire it. It was all I could think about, and I punished my body for years in an attempt to get there.
On one particular trip to my running store to buy new shoes, the salesperson made a remark about my “strong muscular legs” and how I was a “body-builder type.” All I heard in that moment was that I did not have the coveted runner’s physique that I had been beating myself up to achieve. Instant deflation. I was a runner, darnit! What did he say about my legs? Why can’t my legs be small runner’s twigs? That’s it! I’m not buying anything from this guy…wait, those shoes are SUPER CUTE and comfy…must have them!
I was stuck in a rut of focusing on the negative –what I wasn’t– instead of embracing the positive: what I could do, my strengths and gifts, and my uniqueness. I interpreted the salesperson’s casual compliment as a value statement, and it didn’t align with what I valued at that time in my life (a certain look).
Months later, as I worked through my body image issues, I often reflected on this event. It had been flagged in my psyche as a game-changer because it forced me to examine my priorities and self-image. It was time to unpack this.
Here is what I had to understand in order to move forward:
Whether we like it or not, genetics dictates how our bodies respond to exercise. We can help it along with a clean diet and the best blend of cardio and strength training for our unique metabolism, but the rest is up to Mother Nature. My genetics make it easy to build muscle, but no matter how hard I try, I will never be a thin runner-gazelle-type.
I was trying to override my unique design in order to attain “perfection,” and I saw my body as the obstacle, rather than an instrument, to my “success.” I treated it as the enemy, and at times actually hated my body for not delivering the results that I desperately wanted.
Ready to make a change, I intentionally chose to work with my body rather than against it. I began to respect it as a gift and left no room for feelings of self-hatred. I tapped into my genetics by lifting weights more often, focusing on building overall strength, and challenging myself with balance exercises – an entirely different level of strength training. This refreshing new mindset made exercise more fun and celebratory, rather than a punishment. I was experiencing success in a brand-new way!
I wasn’t finished yet. I had to address my habit of comparing myself to others, which resulted in my unrealistic body image expectations. Many of us are guilty of comparison, and we tend to go a step further by measuring our worst, most hidden faults against the polished and edited triumphs that others put forward. This is never helpful, but I regularly fell into this trap.
This story of comparison in the Bible gave me much-needed perspective. In John 21: 20-22, there is a conversation between the resurrected Jesus and Peter: Jesus said, (I’m paraphrasing) “Peter, you are going to be crucified one day, but follow me.” Peter responded, “Well, what will happen to John?” Jesus said, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”
Peter was comparing himself to John, and the dose of truth was that Peter’s purpose was independent of John’s. Unique. God-given. Jesus told Peter not to lose sight of his own unique story and to stay the course. Essentially, he needed to stop comparing his life path to John’s and get busy working on his own journey.
Are we any different? I wasn’t. I was looking at others around me, comparing their talents, abilities, success, “perfection” in appearance, and it kept me from embracing my God-given gifts and His plan for my life. Comparison had hindered me more than I realized. This is what I learned: The more time we spend comparing ourselves to others or focusing on what we aren’t, the less energy we have to embrace our unique strengths and purpose in life.
In the end, I realized that my body was never the enemy…it was actually comparison! Time-wasting, life-distracting, joy-stealing comparison.
Is this you? What can you do today to shift your focus off of others and onto your own unique strengths and purpose?