We all talk about positive self-image, especially for people who are not of a healthy weight (either overweight or underweight), but in this blog I want to address self-image as it relates to going to the gym when you’re on your way to achieving the coveted “ideal weight.”
Somehow we believe that on the journey to “hotness,” you magically become confident and have a positive self-image while you start to get “toned” or eventually, when you’re ripped. But that doesn’t always happen. I’ve always been skinny and had a healthy weight, however the ideal male body by society’s standards is muscled, and much bigger than I am. About 6 months ago, I decided to start going to the gym pretty regularly. I don’t know what changed, maybe it was the fact that I put it on my vision board, or that this time, above all else, I truly made the gym an uncompromising priority. I’ve made similar resolutions in past years, and stuck with it for a while before falling of the wagon, but this its the longest and most consistent I’ve been with my gym schedule. What’s great is that I’m noticing results, and so are my friends. Granted I’m still skinny and have a ways to go before my ideal weight, but I feel great after I work out, and am looking good too!
So what’s the problem? I’ve noticed that as I focus and narrow in on my goal weight more and more, I start to specify and ruminate over what exactly it is that I want: bigger pecs, definable abs, bigger biceps, bigger triceps, etc. It’s natural. You want to define all the variables and dimensions of your goal. As I was going through with this, I noticed some negative self-talk starting to creep up after the workouts: judging my biceps too small, or the improvement in my pecs not big enough. I was on the journey to my goal weight, and in a sense, picking myself a part as I was progressing. Ironic, isn’t it?
I know I’m not alone. Rarely do we talk about coming to terms with a positive self-image while you’re ON the journey to your goal weight. It’s a bit of cognitive dissonance at first. I’ve written about this before in terms of meditation: on one hand you’re supposed to strive for the best, and ask for what you want, but on the other, meditation teaches you to be at peace with what you have in the moment. How can you be simultaneously satisfied and unsatisfied at the same time?! This is where the self-image complex starts – as you focus in on how you want to change your body with your new found dedication to the gym, you start to (by default) become unsatisfied with your current body state. It’s this “by default,” this… auto-pilot of sorts that is the problem.
For me, I have to be prudent and aware enough to not allow negative self-talk to play on repeat. Why? When you think something negatively about yourself enough (regardless of if you actually believe it or not), your subconscious mind will start to believe it. If you don’t believe me, just note how often you have a crappy day in the winter time when you wake up with repeating negative thoughts like “Another cloudy day,” “I hate winter,” or “I hate it when it’s cloudy like today”.
This doesn’t mean you have to pretend to like a cloudy day or put on a FAKE smile and not address your current emotional state. It’s just about re-framing that thought. Instead of saying “ugh, another cloudy day,” saying “It’s a cloudy day, but I’m open to the possibility of it being a happy and productive day,” can really change your outlook and frame of mind. It allows you to disassociate the relationship that you create by default, of cloudy = unhappy. Who said that had to be the case? You can be in love, get a promotion, and feel accomplished ALL in cloudy weather! It’s like saying on a beautiful summer day, “What an awful day, there are insects in the grass.” Well of course there are insects in the grass, but you rarely pay attention to that – you pay attention to the fact that you got to sunbathe or play frisbee outside!
Similarly, I’ve found I have to monitor my self-talk. I can still reach for the stars in terms of achieving my goal weight, BUT being at peace with the current state of my body means being okay that in this particular moment, this is how it looks. It’s not so bad right now It’s mobile, it’s defined, it’s more “toned” than before, and though I’m striving for more – I am at peace with my body in the present moment.
Dr. Rahim Kanji is a Naturopathic Doctor practicing in Toronto, Canada. He has a passion for evidence-based natural medicine, specifically empowering his patients to make nutritional changes which create dramatic impacts to their health. For more information, visit his website at www.rahimkanjind.com.