From the time we are born we are indoctrinated into a diet culture that places value on being a certain size, weight, and shape over actual health.
As blogger Lauren Strapagiel argues “People are reduced to body parts that need to be “fixed” rather than whole, beautiful people. Food is turned into a collection of calories to largely be avoided. And exercise becomes a tool to try to achieve an often unattainable body type rather than something joyful or empowering.”
Just think of the messages we receive about how we need to go on a particular program or diet to be bikini ready in six weeks, like it isn’t possible to enjoy the summer if we aren’t a size 0 with rock hard abs.
It’s time for us ladies to ditch the diet culture and the impossible pursuit for the “perfect body” and pursue a life of health and wellbeing that comes in all shapes and sizes!
Focus on Health, Not Weight
Please know this: Skinny does not equate to health and happiness! I learned this the hard way growing up thinking that any dissatisfaction with my appearance could be solved by going on a diet. I skipped meals, deprived myself of essential nutrients because I was told certain food groups were bad and became bulimic by the time I started college. I was “skinny,” but I was neither healthy nor happy. Sadly, I see this same pattern of yo-yo dieting and eating disorders playing out in the lives of millions of women because society has told us our body size is the be all to end all.
Our focus must be on healthy behaviors like nutrition and exercise that improve our health and quality of life. Weight loss may end up being a side result of eating healthier and moving more, but even if you don’t lose that much weight or none at all, research shows that you can still reap health benefits. And focusing on exercising for health, rather than to lose pounds, keeps you from getting discouraged and quitting when the scale doesn’t move.
Health Benefits of Exercise
The health benefits of exercise are numerous.
- Builds and maintains healthy muscle and bone. We naturally start losing both muscle mass and bone density around age 30. With exercise, we can train the muscle fibers responsible for strength and power and improve bone density that lowers our risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis.
- Reduces our risk of heart disease. Exercise helps to strengthen our heart (which is a muscle) and improve circulation. This helps lower our risk for high cholesterol, coronary artery disease, and heart attack. It also lowers blood pressure and triglyceride levels.
- Lowers blood sugar levels and helps insulin work better. A lack of exercise means that your muscle cells don’t use insulin as much, making your body less responsive to the hormone and your risk for type 2 diabetes higher.
- Reduces the risk of some cancers including colon, breast, uterine, and lung cancers.
- Improves mood. Exercise helps to release those feel-good hormones serotonin and norepinephrine that help relieve feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress.
- Improves brain health and memory. Exercise increases our heart rate, which promotes the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. The parts of the brain that control thinking and memory have greater volume in people who exercise versus those who don’t.
- Increases energy levels. This is true even in people with persistent fatigue (CFS) and those suffering from serious illnesses, such as cancer, HIV, and multiple sclerosis.
- Improves relaxation and sleep quality. Exercise may even reduce the risk of developing sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome.
- Improves our immune system. Our bodies fight off bacteria and viruses through the work of white blood cells transported in our blood. Exercise helps to improve our circulation, meaning our white blood cells and antibodies can reach the site of infection faster.
- Can reduce pain. Exercise releases endorphins which reduce the perception of pain.
To reap the above health benefits just start moving and be consistent!
- Find a form of cardio you enjoy. Aim for a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity. Moderate activity feels somewhat hard. Your breathing quickens but you are not out of breath. You can carry on a conversation but can’t sing. Vigorous activity is challenging. Your breathing is deep and rapid and you can’t say more than a few words without pausing for breath.
- Prioritize strength training. Focus on strength training for all major muscle groups at least twice a week. To get stronger you progress the movements by either increasing the number of sets, reps, or weight. It is advised to seek out the help of a certified personal trainer if you are uncertain about how to get started safely.
The moment you stop allowing our diet culture to define your worth as a woman, is when you finally become empowered to live life on your own terms without the need for external validation! You pursue a life of health and fitness to become the best possible YOU. And, if that best new version of yourself is a healthy size 14 or 16, then go ahead and put on that bikini this summer and celebrate!