Enjoy Living in Your Own Body

This article was first published in The Hindu on Aug 12, 2012.

Enjoy Living in Your Own BodyAre you training for yourself, or the society at large? Accept yourself, says DR. SHEELA NAMBIAR.

So this lady says, “The thing is: I am scared weight training will make me muscular. I don’t want to become muscular. My friends tell me women shouldn’t look muscular.”I have heard this so often that, in the initial stages, this attitude is the rule rather than the exception. The concept of building muscle is almost alien.

Two things need to be noted at this point: We NEED to build muscle effectively (and burn fat to change the shape and composition of our bodies) for better functionality, to improve fitness.

It is not easy to become “muscular”, as the lady put it. That takes a lot of very serious training. You also can control what you “become”; it does not have to control you!

I understand what she means however. Aesthetically, most Indians prefer a curvaceous figure. Too much muscle definition (which is essentially achieved when the fat percentage is very low), especially in women, is not always approved of or thought of as appealing. It’s a cultural thing.

Here the question arises: whom are you training for? Yourself or the society at large?

You decide your body type
You have to decide what you want to look like and how much effort you are willing to invest to achieve those results. Don’t let anyone tell you what “looks” better. That is for you to decide. Appearances are after all external perception of the physical form. One may “look” slim and svelte, even shapely, but may not necessarily be fit in the real sense.

On the other side, I know many women who believe that the toned defined look is the ideal body shape. So who decided that the toned “gym” body is the most appealing? Once again this is only a perception.

The way you look has to be a personal preference. After understanding the benefits of being fit, exercising regularly and eating healthy for the most part, you have to decide what you want to look like. Do you want a more toned body with less body fat percentage? Are you comfortable with a more curvaceous body type? These should be your decisions, based on what you are comfortable with.

Improve quality of life
Often, it is hard to maintain that svelte body with an ‘excellent’ fat percentage and clear muscle definition. It takes very hard work and a continuous dedication to a rigorous diet. Not everyone can or, for that matter, wants to live an extremely strict and disciplined lifestyle all the time. Most people want to be able to indulge once in a while.

This is obviously acceptable unless the “once a while” becomes “ever so often”! Problems arise when there is a consistently unhealthy approach to life. Indulgences in food and alcohol every day, lack of regular exercise and sedentary living will have serious repercussions in terms of health, and not just the appearance of the body.

Decide what you want to do, not because someone else thinks so. It is not always possible to achieve perceived ‘perfection’; neither should it be necessary. What is more important is to improve fitness and quality of life.

Acceptance of your body should be priority. After all, it has served you well this far. Statements like “I hate my fat thighs” don’t serve any purpose. What is important is to accept and respect your body and treat it well by nourishing it with the right foods, exercising regularly to stimulate and energise it, and work towards improving it inside out.

Lifestyle and profession determine how much time and effort you can spend in a gym. Stressing about time you don’t have is pointless. Not all of us have the luxury of being able to spend two productive hours in the gym every day. Often it is a stolen 30-minute run on the treadmill, a quick total-body routine or 20-minute High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). But that’s life. If you have a full-time job, kids, husband and other responsibilities you sometimes have to work around them. I still think one can manage to include a good workout in one’s day. It all depends on priorities and willingness to perhaps sacrifice something else for a good workout.

Once you decide what you want from your exercise routine, have it designed for your unique needs and time available. If you have only 40 minutes a day, you can still get a good workout. You have to first determine how best to utilise those 40 minutes and delegate your cardio, strength and stretches accordingly.

Best version of yourself

One lady told me she was so impressed with another client’s results that she now wanted to look like her. Why would you want to look like somebody else? Why not try and be the BEST VERSION OF YOURSELF that you can possibly be? Why aspire for those Photoshop-edited models on magazine covers or movie stars whose profession demands a certain look?

There comes a time in your life when you are actually ‘happy’ with your ‘weight and body’. This does not mean that you stop working out and improving on it but that you are genuinely proud of and respect your body for what it has done for you and the way it has served you all these years.

Don’t indulge in self-deprecating statements like “I hate my hips”, or, “I wish I had a flat stomach”, or “I wish I was size ….”. Instead work towards a better self while still respecting and taking care of your body. This is a time to celebrate because now it means you can actually enjoy living in your own body.

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