It’s there first thing in the morning as you step into the shower. It nags at you while you’re getting dressed. It haunts you while you eat. It consumes you at the gym. “It” is negative self-talk. You know, that voice inside your head that continually tells you that you’re not good enough, thin enough, disciplined enough or fit enough.
It is a tragic truth that many of us—yes, even me, and I’m a boxing coach—spend much of our lives struggling to find peace with our appearances. But, it turns out, it’s more than just a sad fact. A negative body image can hold us back from accomplishing our fitness goals. Here’s how a bad body image could be sabotaging your weight loss plan.
You stress about your body (and other things)
Hating how you look in your clothes is stressful. Beating yourself up over that cookie you ate is stressful. Not seeing the scale move…stressful. For Toronto-based executive weight loss coach Adele Tevlin, this can be a major roadblock for her clients. “Stress reduction is key when talking about weight loss,” she explains. Stressing out causes an overload of the hormone called cortisol, which causes our metabolism to slow down, our cravings to increase and our bodies to store more fat. Tevlin continues: “Cortisol is the hormone that tells us that food is not available, so the body holds onto body fat in fear of starvation. It’s very hard to lose weight when cortisol production is high.”
Reducing the stress surrounding weight loss is no easy feat. One philosophy that I find helps with my personal training clients is to take it one day, one meal, one workout at a time. So you had an extra glass of wine last night? So what. Take a deep breath, get back on track and acknowledge the good decisions you make moving forward. Another trick is to make a list of the qualities you love about yourself. For me, I’m proud of my strong arms that have been gradually sculpted by my boxing regimen. When I’m feeling down about the extra cushioning around my waist, I choose to admire them instead. It changes the inner conversation from something negative into something positive.
You deprive yourself
A common misconception in the world of dieting is: less food equals more weight loss. What’s wrong with this? According to Tevlin, a lot. “When we skip meals or eat a low-calorie diet, it reinforces that food is scarce and the body starts storing fat. It will down-regulate your metabolism and make fat burning almost impossible.” Skipping out at mealtime can also result in hunger pangs so strong that they eventually force eat everything in sight. It’s a lot more effective, and far less traumatizing, for the mind and body to allow ourselves to eat what we want, in controlled moderation and mindfulness. For her clients, Tevlin encourages the 80/20 rule. This means, 80 per cent of the time you eat clean and carefully, and 20 per cent of the time you allow yourself to indulge, guilt-free.
You punish yourself
Another symptom of the all-consuming body hate is self-punishment. You feel like you ate too much at dinner so you head to the gym to pay for your “sins.” While it’s hard to find anything wrong with a good sweat session, when it’s used as punishment it can breed feelings of resentment and negativity toward exercising. We can all agree that the more fun and enjoyable a workout is, the more likely we are to stick with it. Spending your time at the gym consumed with guilt is certainly not the breeding ground for a sustainable fitness plan. Instead of using exercise as a weapon against yourself, start seeing it as a tool to protect and better yourself. “Exercise should be done for the love of it, for stress release, for the endorphins and for you overall heart health,” says Tevlin. Remind yourself that working out helps you feel good, reduces stress, and contributes to happier and healthier lives. From my experience, no matter how down and out my clients are when they arrive, no one ever leaves the gym feeling worse than when they came in.
You compare yourself to others
Whether it’s the girl in your boot camp who does push-ups from her toes, the coworker who lost more weight than you on a juice cleanse, or that girl on Instagram who always looks perfectly put-together, there are so many people we compare ourselves to. Somehow, their accomplishments end up feeling like our failures, which can lead to a downward spiral of self-doubt and it can force us to give up. This is known as “the comparison bias,” which according to Tevlin, can be detrimental to our wellness journeys. “The comparison bias is very common and a really negative cycle to fall into. Because every human being is biochemically unique, it means that no two people will react to the same workout, diet, stress, or lifestyle the same way,” she says. This means that perhaps push-up girl might have a naturally stronger upper body, but she can’t squat the same amount as you. Turn the focus inward and celebrate your personal victories. You did two more push-ups this week than last—amazing! You drank more water today—win!
Have you ever felt so bad about yourself that you simply gave up? Self-conscious in your gym tights among all the supremely fit people in that boxing class? Well, might as well pack it in before you even begin, right? Wrong. Believe it or not, this is a very common headspace for those looking to get healthy. I see this mentality at the gym all the time: I demonstrate a challenging exercise and the first thing my client says is, “I can’t do that.” My response: “Have you ever tried? I think you can.” Guess what? Nine times out of 10, they nail it on the first try. We’re constantly underestimating our abilities and shying away from challenges instead of jumping off the cliff and believing ourselves. Do for yourself what I do for my clients: Force yourself to step outside your comfort zone and have a little faith. You’re better, stronger, smarter and more resilient than you think. If you fail or fall off the wagon, remind yourself that tomorrow’s a new day—another day to prove yourself wrong and make even the slightest positive change.
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