Why You’ll Never Get the “Body Of Your Dreams”
The Evolution of Perception
As a health professional, I have the privilege of seeing women transform throughout their individual fitness journeys. While some of these changes are external, many of the shifts happen in the realm of mentality just as much as, if not more than, physique and appearance.
In fact, my ultimate goal is that my clients begin thinking, talking, and feeling differently about food, exercise, and body image. Even though a client may begin training in pursuit of what they perceive to be the perfect body, there is often a deeper, seismic movement that takes place in mindset.
I call this “the evolution of perception” – when you take balanced and purposeful action and get closer to your goals, your goals change… and you begin to see yourself differently.
Experiencing this shift in perception becomes a beautiful cycle of moving towards health goals, but also revising and restructuring those goals as you approach them.
In other words, you do change, but your ideas about your goals change as well. You can’t help it. As your body, mind, and spirit become healthier, you naturally reach out for better and better versions of your own story.
I want to be clear that I am not anti-goal-achievement. In fact, I think that action is essential for the shift to happen, because self-acceptance often occurs in tandem with positive improvements to lifestyle, health, and physique.
An important step in embracing a healthy lifestyle is to be open to a natural evolution of your ideas, beliefs, and practices around fitness and nutrition. You need room for your goals and needs to shift and change throughout your life cycle, and building that flexibility allows you to act freely – and effectively – from a place of self-acceptance.
How do I get Jennifer Aniston’s body?
I am in many closed women’s groups on Facebook about fitness and nutrition (in addition to the ones that I run), and there is often a common theme to the “lay” posts that I see:
How do I get Viola Davis’s arms?
How do I get Gwen Stefani’s abs?
How do I get Carrie Underwood’s legs?
How do I get Scarlett Johansson’s curves?
Having a role model is a great idea to motivate healthy weight loss (providing that the appearance of your role model is even close to what you already look like or have the genetic potential to look like). But here is the “evolution of perception” phenomenon that I experience with most of my clients:
Improved body image often follows some kind of active attempt at weight loss or physique transformation.
…But it’s not because of the physical changes. It’s because of the habit changes that you employ, which radically improve your lifestyle and well-being, as well as increase your feelings of self-efficacy.
If you develop a solid, balanced plan of training and nutrition, you can pursue the goal of looking like your role model and achieve amazing results both externally and internally. The best part is that even if you don’t end up looking like that person, you will feel a lot better about yourself because of your new habits. You may not have the abs of Gwen Stefani, but you may have muscle definition that you never had before, plus stronger legs, a more stable core, improved movement, and better endurance capabilities. Plus, you may discover that you have your own features that are stellar and unique to you, like great arms or calves. That’s an incredible accomplishment and process of self-discovery, and it feels really, really good.
When it comes to self-acceptance discussion, I don’t think we should downplay how important action is.
Taking the right steps to develop effective, healthy, realistic habits will catapult you into feeling much better about yourself and your body almost immediately, and while the physical results may take time, the mental, emotional, and spiritual effects of exercise begin to transform you almost overnight. We can’t sit around and wait for self-acceptance to show up. The first step is action.
We all become happier when we take the actions to achieve our goals, and – in the process – cultivate the habits that allow us to stay in the flow.
Here’s the fun part: we don’t even have to get all the way to the physique goal. My experience is that getting even 50% closer often makes people very, very happy.
My favorite example is cellulite. I have written about this before, but when I start working with a new client, I know that “I just want to tone up and get healthier,” for most women is actually a secret code for: “Please help me get rid of my cellulite.”
Cellulite is a tough one. For most women who have it, it’s genetic, and its appearance can be improved but its presence cannot be completely erased. I am not a gigantic fan of the in-your-face-love-your-cellulite model of body positivity. I have it myself, and I have to be honest, it’s not my best feature (I’m not planning to feature it prominently in my next photoshoot, for example). But it is part of me that, while not my favorite feature, is also not a big deal, just like my sliiiiiightly crooked teeth that normally look fine but appear horrifyingly snaggled only in certain lighting.
But women spend absurd amounts of money on creams, procedures, and equipment to banish the appearance of cellulite from their legs. Some women also research exercises that will help them get rid of their exercises (by the way, I’m sorry to report that there is no specific “move” that will “target” your stubborn cellulite). The problem is that most women feel bad about the appearance of their thighs, but never do anything that could actually make a difference.
However, the real (and free) secret of dealing with your cellulite is that if you don’t focus on it, and simply focus on your overall fitness instead, you will experience “the evolution of perception” and your cellulite will look better but won’t be a big deal to you.
Once you have trained smart enough for a sufficiently long period of time (and have shifted the way that you eat to improve the quality of your life and your performance), your cellulite does indeed look better. But, more importantly, it also recedes in significance in your mind. In other words, if you are focusing on adding 10 more pounds to your deadlift or finishing a half marathon with a new personal record, you are not so concerned about your cellulite. You are concerned about doing stuff.
I have never completely eradicated cellulite through diet and exercise – and believe me, I have chased that goal! But when I am in peak physical condition – eating healthfully, exercising regularly, performing athletically – my cellulite bothers me 1%. Whereas, when I am inactive, my cellulite weighs heavily on my body image.
But most women never get to the actual step of really, really focusing on their overall health, fitness, and nutrition. They over-focus on the parts of themselves that they hate, try to find direct solutions for those “problems,” and never take the actions that would be effective.
Self-Love in Action
Self-love and self-acceptance do not just spontaneously show up.
Self-love is action.
And when you take action, things do get better.
Your body image will become healthier and healthier right along with your body. It’s not mutually exclusive.
Feeling Better From the Inside Out
When my client experiences that important shift in perception, I feel truly successful as a personal trainer and nutrition specialist.
Not when she gets flat abs.
Not when she hits her weight loss goal.
Not when she achieves a new personal best in weight training.
Not when she runs a half marathon.
Yes, all of these are incredibly worthy goals and can help someone feel better about themselves and more comfortable in their bodies. I am always proud of my clients, and I am especially happy for them when they experience the joy and pride of accomplishing a new and ambitious goal.
But I feel truly accomplished in my work when a client reaches the point of independently refining her relationship to health, wellness, and body image. It’s not just the aesthetics that are changing – she actually feels better about herself from the inside out and is more grounded in both her inherent value and her ability to change.
What you’ll discover is that you’re happier with your own body than you ever thought possible.