Women all over are currently celebrating Women’s Health Week – a time dedicated to refocusing one’s energy toward living a healthy lifestyle. What some of us (even my former self) fail to realize is that health is more than what meets the eye; In other words, a healthy lifestyle is one that includes harmony on the inside as well as outside.
After struggling in the past with body image, I’ve learned and stood by the idea that healthy living encompasses all parts of our being: body, mind, and soul. So similarly to how I share my knowledge and passion for health and fitness with you if I could go back in time and teach my younger self about healthy living and body confidence, here’s what I would share with her:
1) Be mentally fit
Mental fitness is equally as important as physical fitness because your body acts in accordance with your mental and emotional state. When you experience bouts of psychological turmoil (stress, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, etc.), you might feel less inclined to take care of your health – like a lack of motivation to exercise or eat nutritious foods. So to keep your body healthy, you must keep your mind healthy as well.
Your lifestyle can have a profound impact on your ability to achieve mental and physical harmony. For starters, our body needs both an adequate amount of sleep (at least 7 hours) as well as high-quality sleep. Otherwise, poor sleep quality or lack of sleep causes our body to release more of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol can cause insulin levels to increase and blood sugar levels to decrease, so we are left craving foods high in sugar or fat.
An excellent method to combat stress and help you sleep better is through yoga. The National Sleep Foundation asserts that “When people who have insomnia perform yoga daily, they sleep for longer, fall asleep faster, and return to sleep more quickly if they wake up in the middle of the night.” Be aware, however, of what types of yoga you practice and how close to your bedtime, you practice them. Stimulating yoga (like hot yoga) would not be as conducive to sleeping as restorative yoga (like hatha) which focuses on body relaxation.
2) No two bodies are the same
It’s so easy to become discouraged when we see others losing weight or toning up faster than us, even when we give our diet and workouts 110%. But we must remember that there are other factors which contribute to individual body shapes and sizes, like genetics and hormones.
Suppose that you know a girl who can eat her weight in bread and not gain a single pound. While on the other hand, it feels like if you merely look at a crumb, you gain ten pounds. Before you beat yourself up for it, consider what could be going inside each of your bodies:
For instance, our thyroid hormones affect our metabolism – the chemical process in our body that breaks down food for energy. Someone with an overactive thyroid (known as hyperthyroidism) has excess thyroid hormones that trigger the body’s metabolism to speed up, making it difficult for the body to store fat. On the contrary, someone with an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) is likely to have difficulty burning fat.
You should also consider imbalances in sex hormones. Hormonal birth controls, in particular, contain the hormones estrogen and progestin. So naturally, when you begin taking birth control, these hormone levels in your body rise. High estrogen levels can cause fluid retention, which means the weight you might gain after starting birth control could just water, not fat. Remember, neither a scale nor the human eye can discern the hormonal changes occurring in each of our bodies, so be gentle with yourself.”
3) Don’t cheat your body
Show your body some love by fueling it the right way. There are so many dietary options for healthy weight management, but starvation and fad diets are not one of them. You can try a hormone-balancing diet which is low in sugar, but rich in fiber and healthy fats if hormone-induced weight gain is concerning you. Just don’t restrict yourself of the calories or nutrients that your body is asking you for.
In fact, stop calorie counting. Food isn’t compromised of calories alone; macronutrients (i.e., proteins, carbohydrates, and fats) make up calories. So 200 calories of chocolate don’t equal 200 calories of broccoli. This is because that chocolate bar is providing you with 200 calories of sugar, and not the vitamins and minerals you need to feel good. Not to mention the chocolate bar won’t keep you full like nutrient-dense foods will.
Don’t forget that you need different macros based on what you are looking to achieve, whether it’s fat loss, muscle gain, or increased strength. Check out this beginner’s guide to tracking macros for an excellent place to start.
P.S. It’s perfectly okay to indulge in that chocolate now and then!
4) Love yourself
You can eat all the veggies you need, but being healthy doesn’t count unless you’re happy too. Building confidence and improving your health go hand in hand. Happiness is an inside job, making it crucial to love yourself and the life you live. If you don’t want to go to the gym, you don’t have to. There are so many ways to be physically active outside or at home!
If models in magazines and social media are making you doubt yourself or think that you’re inadequate, then cancel your subscriptions and delete those apps off your phone. After all, former president Theodore Roosevelt once said: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” And he was right because when we compare ourselves to others, we’re telling ourselves that we’re either better or worse off than them. Everyone is on a different path, which is why it’s so important to focus on your own and stop wasting time not loving yourself (flaws and all).