Have you been seeing as many "before and after" photos on social media as I have lately? They seem to be splashed everywhere, with every smiling photo subject crediting his or her success to the latest seemingly awesome workout craze.
It's impossible to escape what's happening, and it's amazing. After all, as a nutritionist, I love when large groups of people feel motivated to get off their tushies and move in a way that makes them feel strong, fit, healthy, and empowered.
But at the same time, there's also a potential problem: These "perfect beach body" photos can breed a sense of inadequacy and failure in those who don’t have the long, lean body type.
I get it: At five feet tall, I’m short. There is no gap between my thighs, and there never has been. I have some extra softness at the hips and maybe the waist, too, depending on how tightly you hug me. And I'm OK with that. That's just me—or at least it’s just the "me" on the surface.
Weight is a tricky issue when it comes to health. Skinny does not equal healthy, but weight seems to be what drives most of our health-related decisions—whether to exercise, whether to order a salad, whether to celebrate with a piece of chocolate cake. The thing is, when we feel well and when we are truly happy from way deep inside, our weight becomes less of an issue.
I was once super-skinny. It was 10 years ago, and I’d managed to drop 20 pounds in one month. How? I had Crohn’s disease. I was so sick, I could rarely leave my apartment. At the time my hair was also falling out, my nails wouldn’t grow, and my skin seemed transparent in its lackluster paleness.
And then I regained my health. I began reversing the disease, and the weight came back. My bottom was fuller, my face rounder, my cheeks were rosy, my normally thick hair grew back. It felt amazing to feel amazing. I realized all of this mattered so much more than the size of my jeans.
Here's what else I did to finally discover self-acceptance and release my desire for the "perfect" sculpted beach body:
1. I stopped comparing before and after photos.
With any workout or diet success story, you’ll see a split screen of the before and after photos. The before photo is the "ugly" version that no one is supposed to care about, except as a measure of comparison to how much more beautiful and better the "after" is.
I have a lot of photos of myself from different times in my life. Photos from when I was suffering from a debilitating disease and could barely eat or move, from before my husband and I bought our first home, from before my first book was released. Photos from after I got married, from after I started my business, from after my dad beat cancer, from after I healed from an incurable condition.
We all have before and after photos. We move through life in the same body, but it will change as we pick up and drop off experiences. Comparing those photos to one another shows me that my life keeps evolving and changing. That's it. It doesn’t mean that I looked better at one time or worse during another.
2. I accept that my body will change over time.
Over the years, I’ve been figuring out what diet and lifestyle works best for me. I’ve played around with culinary nutrition and used a variety of foods, herbs, and lifestyle practices to support my health.
Through it all, I’ve accepted that my body will change in the way that it needs to change so I can feel well. My body shape, weight, skin, hair, nails, teeth, and more all externally reflect the evolution of wellness that has happened inside of me.
And as I continue to mature, have children, and get older, my body will adapt accordingly. This is fantastic—that is what our bodies are supposed to do! Once I embraced this concept, I became much happier with the way I looked every single day.
3. I track my success by how comfortable I feel in my own skin.
Our reflection in the mirror is only a superficial measure of who we are.
Instead, we can track our progress by the thoughts we have when we wake up in the morning and the ones that accompany us to sleep at night. We can assess our lives by the conversations we have, the meals we make for ourselves, the books we read, the places we go, and the people we meet.
We can evaluate our physical health not only by how our jeans fit but also by how well we're digesting our food, how deeply we're sleeping, and how filled with love and laughter our life is.
These are the elements that infuse us with the internal beauty that allows us to glow on the outside, too.
4. I appreciate everything I had to go through in life to get where I am now.
Life is packed with hundreds of awesome, challenging, rewarding, exciting, mundane, and unknown adventures. The collection of experiences we have is what makes us beautiful and powerful and inspiring, not the swell of our biceps or having a six-pack.
I practice gratitude every day and am thankful for everything that has happened in my life up to this point. No judgment, no regrets.
Consider this: Rather than comparing the "before" or wishing for the "after," believe that the best, in fact, is right now. Being present for the process is where the real magic lies.