What's Your Ideal Beach Body?
Summer body, beach body, summer slim down; whatever you call it, summer is the time most of us feel the pressure to lose weight in order to look “bikini ready” whatever that is supposed to mean. For many people, this means their ideal beach body… a.k.a the smallest, leanest version of themselves. To do this, they set diet and exercise goals in place in order to obtain that ideal look. Well for me, even though in years past this has described my goals for summer that’s not the goal for this summer or even past year, it’s actually kind of the opposite. Not because it was the easier thing to do for me, but because for my physical and mental health I literally had to make a change. I had to reframe my thoughts around what I thought my ideal body was in response to my own body’s cry for help....
If you’ve read my bio on my “about me” page, you’ll know that I’ve struggled with an eating disorder since I was 14. Although, I have progressed leaps and bounds, I still struggle with feeling the need to exercise every day, restrict my food intake, weigh X number of pounds. I’ve made slow changes to how I exercise and allowing myself to eat what I want, but the thought of gaining weight was one I just couldn’t fully release. This was my thought process until the May of last year. I had just run my first half marathon and was about to graduate college. After graduation I was headed for a 7-day cruise and was eating pretty strictly in preparation for the trip. Only eating the “healthiest things”; fruits, vegetables, meats, protein shakes/bars. This diet on top of running tons of mileage to train for my half marathon, and even some resistance training too. Just a week or so before graduation, I went to a health shop in Knoxville to measure my weight measurements with the store’s state of the art body analyzer equipment. It measured weight, body fat %, muscle distribution; all things I secretly was striving to have at the very lowest. My hyper-health focused mind was very interested to see what my numbers were.
The result? My numbers were great. Well “great” to my very, very warped brain, but in reality very low. Specifically, my body fat %. So low that the woman providing the body analysis test, advised me to gain body fat and weight. I won’t say my exact numbers, but essential body fat (meaning the % of fat that is essential to sustaining life) for woman is 10%-12% and I was below that. The advised minimum body fat % for women is 15%, that’s because as women we need more body fat than men in order to carry children. So in simpler terms, if you’re below 15% you most likely can’t carry a child. That’s because your body doesn’t sense that you are properly nourished enough to sustain a pregnancy. Not to mention, being below that body fat % brings a ton of health complications as a woman. All of which I had and would experience for years to come.
But I didn’t look super-shredded like I assumed someone would be with this low amount of body fat.
My weight wasn’t alarming low. In fact, it was still within the normal ranges for my height.
So I wasn’t alarmed until I started researching and experiencing first-hand the complications of being “too fit”.
The complications the fitness and health icons and bikini models don’t tell you...
They don’t tell you that you’ll constantly be cold, like shivering in the middle of summer kind of cold because your body can’t thermoregulate itself without essential body fat.
They don’t tell you about the constant hunger you feel or the fear of going out to eat without knowing the exact nutritional information that restaurant has.
They don’t tell you that your body shuts down it’s reproductive systems.
They don’t tell you that exercising too much can cause your hormone levels to plummet which can cause you to possibly become pre-menopausal in your 20s and 30s.
All things I was starting to experience. All things that if I would have known at the start of my “health journey”, would probably have made me change my philosophies around fitness and nutrition a lot sooner.
So I decided to make a change. Because I had to make a change. A change that meant weight gain. That meant exercising less and doing exercises more in line with how I felt, not just how hard I can push myself all the time. For taking rest days more frequently. For eating more of whatever I was craving when I wanted. For eating dessert every night. For slowly releasing what I’ve thought were “good foods” and “bad foods”. For feeling lazy sometimes and being okay with it.
It wasn’t easy. Actually, it was really hard. It was scary. It was uncomfortable.
And honestly, It’s still scary at times. It’s still uncomfortable at times… but I can truly say I’ve never felt freer in my entire life. Never. Freer to eat what my body needs and how much it needs. To exercise 30 minutes when I use to for an hour or two and be okay with it. I haven’t been perfect at it and somedays I revert back to my restrictive habits, but overall, I’ve released a lot of my excessive- health ways.
The result? Yes, I’ve gained weight. About 10-15 lbs. actually. Yes, I’ve gained body fat. About 5% more.
I’d love to tell you that I look in the mirror every day and love what I see or that I feel totally comfortable in this slightly cushier body, but some days I still don’t. But a lot of days I do and that numbers growing everyday!
But I have to remember that it’s not about my vanity. It’s about treating this body, this hand-crafted masterpiece, this temple to my Savior’s spirit- with the respect and kindness it deserves. It’s about taking care of what is most important- my health. I'm focused on myself less, which in turn results in focusing on my appearance less.
It’s important every day for me to remember that, Health is so much more than a physical appearance. A message I want everyone to adopt.
Health looks different on everyone. It’s not the leanest, skinniest, fittest version of you. It definitely wasn’t the healthiest for me. It’s the weight and lifestyle that is maintainable for YOU.
Gaining weight was/is what's healthiest for me right now, slowing down is what's healthiest for me. I’m not constantly freezing anymore; my hormone levels are almost completely back in check, to go out to eat with friends freely without a second thought! I have so much more mental space to live freely!! To focus on others around me, rather than my “health”.
The true test of navigating this new version of myself was going to the beach this past week. Being in a bikini all week, seeing other girls that were much thinner than I, being with extended family who haven’t seen me since I’ve gained weight.
And you know what? No one noticed ANY difference. And if anything, I felt less self-conscience, less hyper-focused on looking skinny, and had a much, much overall better time. I’m happier here. I’m proud of this body. It’s been through a lot and I’m proud to finally be treating it with the respect it deserves. Not restricting it and over-working it.
I can confidently say this is my ideal beach body.
You know why? Because I was able to not focus on myself as much and on having fun in the ocean and eating good food with extended family I don’t see much. I was able to walk down the beach without a constant worry of what others thought. I still had insecure moments, of course! But ironically, I had less insecure moments and thoughts in this “less fit’ body than I ever did 15 pounds leaner.
I think insecurity is part of the life, but it’s what you decide to do with those insecure thoughts that create either a positive or negative reaction. You have the choice.
So here’s to embracing health! Whatever that looks like. Whatever body that produces. Here’s to continuously bettering myself- physically, mentally, and spiritually. Here’s to grace when I revert back to my old ways. Here’s to enjoying the process and the beautifully imperfect parts.
I hope if this resonated with you in anyway, that you embrace health too. Not skinny. Not lean. Healthy. Embrace the body you are in and treat it with kindness and respect. In words and action. Nourish yourself with good, wholesome foods in satisfying amounts. Rest days and good, sweaty gym sessions. Self-care and hard work.
And when you are living this balanced way, in a way that’s nourishing to your body and soul- whatever body you end up in, that’s the best body for you in that moment. Whether that’s summer or winter, bikini season or Christmas season.
The body you end up in is your ideal (beach) body. Embrace it.