You know all those women’s health magazines, the ones telling you how to “eat healthy,” “get six-pack abs,” and “lose 10 lbs in 7 days!”? The Pinterest boards titled “#fitspiration” and “fitness motivation”? Just Google “fitspo,” and you’ll see what I mean: “Suck it up, and one day you won’t have to suck it in.” “This month’s choices are next month’s body.” Or the worst of the bunch, “What have you done to earn this today?”…plastered on top of an image of eight-pack abs.
For years I strove to achieve that “perfect” body, at least from what the media told me was “perfect.” My idea of how to be healthy and fit was built from the bottom up by the female physiques featured in popular publications, on social media outlets, and my peers, who were fed the same conventional BS. When this wasn’t enough, I supplemented the advice with conventional, mainstream “knowledge” — you know, the kind that says you should eat a 1,200-calorie daily diet if you want to “look good,” even as a competitive athlete.
Here’s the thing about magazines and the media. Their goal is to sell you something you don’t have, otherwise they wouldn’t make any money, right? So they give you something that is totally unattainable by most people, and they try to give you “shortcut ways” of how to achieve “the perfect body.” But you know what? A lot of what the media tells you can wreck your health and body image, like it did for me.
Here are some lies that I wish I hadn’t listened to. I hope you can learn to pay less attention to what the media says and focus instead on your own body, and, most importantly, on maintaining a healthy attitude.
Lie #1: Eat less and exercise more.
Obsessed with achieving my goals, I over exercised, slept very little, and subsisted on an extremely low-fat, low-carbohydrate diet. My behavior never struck me as abnormal — so many of the people I encountered in college, in the corporate “real” world, and at home were obsessed with the media image and advice of trying to “get in shape.” What the media never told me, though, was that when a woman eats a very low-carb and low-fat diet for a long period of time (read: too low calorie, regardless of what fad diet she’s following) her body thinks it’s in starvation mode. As a result, her body becomes constantly stressed, not knowing when it’s going to get enough food, her hormones get all out of whack, and her system starts holding on to any body fat she’s trying to lose, whether she could use to lose it or not. Even if she initially loses weight going low carb, progress will eventually stall, and then she’ll most likely gain it all back, plus a handful of extra pounds.
Lie #2: Eat low-carb and low-fat to lose weight.
While the magazines may have glossed over the dangers of skipping carbohydrates, they fully covered the dogma that “fat makes you fat.” Even when I started eating Paleo, I realized I was afraid — no — I was terrified of eating even healthy fats and carbohydrates. When roasting vegetables or dressing a salad, I would only use a teaspoon or two of oil, fearing that more would cause weight gain.
Eventually, through careful research (not from magazines!), I slowly came to realize that fat wasn’t going to make me fat at all — it would actually help me burn fat. I gradually incorporated more and more healthy fats like avocados, coconut oil, olive oil, and fattier cuts of meat into my diet, which my beaten up stomach, thyroid, and hormones welcomed with abandon.
But carbohydrates were another big, scary issue for me, just as they are for so many people. Even when I was training for my half marathon and eating more sweet potatoes, plantains, and winter squash than I ever had in my life, I was only “allowing” these carbs, because I was exercising enough to burn them off. When I finally got off the media bandwagon, I realized that adding carbohydrates back into my diet actually fueled my activity levels, and helped my weight remain stable. I was shocked to find that adding more carbohydrates to my diet was such a cure-all, especially after I’d been told for so long to avoid them or I’d get fat.
Lie #3: Weight training makes women bulky…
…just as much as endless hours of cardio and ab exercises will help you get skinny and fit. This is exactly what I did, and what I saw almost every single one of my peers doing both in and out of college. WRONG. You know what lifting weights does? It increases your lean muscle mass. Which makes you burn fat, be strong, and feel awesome. You know when weight training can make you “bulky”? If you’re on steroids. Women don’t have enough testosterone to “get bulky” like most guys. Sure, you burn calories while you’re doing cardio, but too much cardio can also make you lose muscle mass. With weight training, you burn calories during the workout, and as your muscles get stronger, you burn more calories even when you’re not working out.
Lie #4. Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.
This literally makes me cringe every time I hear or see it. To me, it’s also known as a recipe for developing disordered eating patterns, as you excessively restrict your diet to only foods that you think will make you “skinny.” If being skinny means having no muscle, no energy, low hormones and no menstrual cycle, combined with lots of bland salads and tasteless proteins, that sounds like the worst thing in the world to me. I know, because I’ve been there. You know what tastes better than “skinny feels”? Real, flavorful, nourishing food that makes you feel amazing, strong, and healthy. It’s better to not have the kind of mentality that keeps you trapped in restrictions and rules. When you think like this, you are more likely to fall off the wagon into a binge if you have a tiny piece of chocolate.
Life’s too short to eat boring, tasteless food, and live with rigid diet rules all the time.
Lie #5: Don’t eat after 7 pm if you want to lose weight.
This is a common piece of advice in health magazines that I used to religiously follow when I was at the peak of my disordered eating days. I would work out for hours, eat the smallest dinner I could muster, and then count down the hours on the clock until I could go to bed, refusing to eat anything until breakfast the next day. I vividly remember my stomach growling while I would lay in bed, but I wouldn’t “allow” myself to eat anything until the next morning so I could reach my weight loss goal. Remember how I mentioned doing chronic cardio can make you lose muscle mass? So can starving your muscles by not eating enough, especially after workouts. Which is exactly what happened to me.
Lie #6: You can always push harder.
If you read my adrenal fatigue story, you know that restricting my food, over-exercising, and totally stressing myself out about achieving a “perfect physique” literally ran me into the ground with adrenal exhaustion. I realize now that we have to respect and listen to our bodies, and give ourselves rest days. So this doesn’t involve pushing yourself, day after day, until you just can’t push yourself anymore. You need to learn to work with your body, not against it, to be the healthiest and happiest you can be.
In short: if you want to lose weight the extremely unhealthy way, lose your menstrual cycle, mess up your hormones, disrupt your metabolism, totally destroy your body image and any hope of maintaining a healthy relationship with food and your body, go right ahead and follow the media’s advice.
As for me, I’m following my body’s advice. After years of struggling, I am finally healthier, happier, less stressed, have much more energy, and live a much more balanced life — all by making the simple change of listening to what my body really needed to heal itself. And guess what? The secret to being happy and feeling great in your own skin doesn’t involve any “advice” from mainstream media. Since I stopped focusing on the media and started listening to my body’s core wants and needs, I’ve never felt better and more free of restrictions. I’m working out less and eating more, and my hormones and metabolism are finally back on track. Now, I have a much healthier relationship with food and my body And I don’t feel so exhausted that I can’t get out of bed anymore. In fact, I’m actually stronger than I was before, even after I had to take a break from training for six months. It’s because I’m finally treating my body well.
Remember, no one knows your body better than you, and no one lives in your body other than you. So don’t let some magazine cover tell you how you “should” look, eat, exercise, or anything. Only you are in charge of your body and your life!
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Note: PLEASE consult with your doctor before making any changes to your diet or medications. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only, and is not to be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.