Don't Blame Genetics For Your Body
In my last blog, among other things, I problematized the '30 Day squat challenge'. In retrospect, although I stand behind my arguments, I wish instead of simply being critical, I had argued the same points by quoting a writer's work that I admire. It is often too easy, and not constructive, to simply tear an opinion apart. I would rather try to live my life acknowledging both the positives and negatives of any situation, theory or decision, learning from what I perceive as negative or destructive, and then focusing my energy on reproducing the positive.
To counteract my past negativity, in this blog I draw on Molly Galbraith's blog, "Is being really lean really worth it?".
I have never met Galbraith, but her content jives with many of my beliefs about health and wellness. In "Is being really lean really worth it?", Galbraith explores how health should be understand as an intersection of how you look, how you feel, your nutrition and exercise habits, your lifestyle and your genetics. Health should not be understood as simply your weight on the scale.
Every individual, depending on their age, gender, exercise history and genetics will respond to exercise differently. Genetics, although by no means 'destiny', do predispose us to react to exercise in specific ways. Two women might both be able to get down to 110 pounds, but the first might be able to do so and still have occasional treats. The second might have to deprive herself of everything, and may even lose her period, to maintain that weight. The second woman may be happier, and ultimately healthier, five pounds heavier.
Don't misunderstand me -- I am not advocating (and I don't believe Galbraith would either) that you use "genetics" as an excuse for unhealthy behavior. Genetics predisposes you to react to food, exercise and your environment in a certain way, but it does not produce a finite conclusion. To quote my dad, it is up to you to take your genetics and hit a home run.
You can hit this metaphorical home run by how you exercise and eat, as well as by how you frame your life experiences. To continue with this cheesy sports metaphor, hit a mental home run, not just a physical one, by being positive and not comparing yourself to others. Constantly comparing and criticizing your body often just causes frustration, anxiety and guilt. These emotions can produce the opposite end result then intended. For example, some clients tell me they can't go to the gym until they become more fit, as they don't want people witnessing how unfit they are. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy! You won't become more fit unless you move. Stop comparing yourself to other people, or to your 'ideal' version of yourself. Just move.
Find the positive in the fact that you can move, versus fixating on the friend you don't look like, or the body shape you realistically won't create. Appreciate that you can be active and exercise, and that you do have access to healthy food, versus fixating on the things that you perceive you are denying yourself. For example, I often want to keep sleeping when my alarm goes off. To convince myself to get out of bed and get on my bike I remind myself that I am lucky to have a racing bike and to be healthy enough to be able to ride it, and that training will make me feel great. I focus on the positive aspects of training, versus dwelling on the negative fact that cycling will mean I don't sleep in.
Over the years I have noticed that many of us, myself included, fall into the trap of being annoyed or rebellious towards things that are considered healthy. Sometimes, when we are given a "healthy versus unhealthy" option, such as "fruit or ice cream", the situation makes us revert back (often unconsciously) to a childhood feeling of someone telling us how we "should" behave. We all sometimes metaphorically stomp our feet at authority, say 'screw it' and eat the ice cream. Asserting control becomes connected to having that extra glass of wine, or sleeping in.
I believe a positive mindset has helped me move away from this almost adolescent anger towards adopting a healthy lifestyle. I have learned to find the positive aspects of deciding to (80 per cent of the time) make the healthier life choice.
The main takeaways of this blog are:
1. Check out Galbraith's blog, and
2. Instead of focusing on what you are not doing or eating, appreciate what you can do and what you can eat.
3. Genetics may predispose your body to aesthetically react in a certain way to exercise (for example, you may develop muscle more or less easily then your gym buddy), but regardless of how you aesthetically react to exercise, moving will make you feel better. The worse you feel before your workout, the more important it is for you to exercise since if you are feeling crappy your mood has huge room for improvement.