I've been thinking a lot lately about the question of whether I exercise because I want to change my body. And if I do, then is that necessarily a bad thing?
When we hosted a body image class at the studio last year we all took an eating disorder quiz. The quiz assessed, among other things, the quality of our relationships with food and exercise.
The question, "Do you exercise to change your body?", was on that quiz. And I took a LONG time to answer it. It's actually an example of the very reason why I HATE these kinds of quizzes. It assumes that we live in a world of black and white when there's actually so much gray. The possible answers were "yes" and "no". There wasn't a, "yes, but..." option. The truth is that there are reasons for answering that question in the affirmative that don't indicate that anything is wrong with your relationship with exercise.
Because the thing is, I do exercise with the intention of changing my body. I absolutely do. But by changing, I mean making it stronger. I mean seeing new muscles become visible, and already visible ones become bigger and more defined.
It's fun for me to see and feel new muscles. It's fun to see the shape they take when they appear. It's fun to watch my body change in response to my workouts. But I know that how much of that change I see and feel depends upon lots of other factors, some of which are under my control and others less so. For example, how much I'm sleeping, my stress level, what I'm eating, my age and my unique genetic make-up, all influence how my body responds to exercise.
We talk a lot on this blog about all of the reasons to exercise that have nothing to do with what you weigh, or what dress size you wear, or how your body looks. Your body is valuable and worthy of love and care at every possible shape and size. We say these things because we firmly believe them to be true. But we also don't want to send the message that accepting your body as it is--that loving yourself now--is at odds with wanting to change it in any way.
It's really not. You can love yourself as you are today, and still want to be healthier. In fact, wanting the best for your body is an act of love. They aren't mutually exclusive.
I guess the issue I have with the question that started this post is that it doesn't go far enough. It doesn't recognize some really important distinctions. There's exercising with the intention of forcing your body into a specific weight or dress size, or using exercise as a punishment for something you ate or the number you saw on the scale that morning. That's exercising to change your body. Then there's exercising to become stronger or healthier. That's exercising to change your body too, but it's a completely different application of change.
Not sure whether this is something any of you have thought about with respect to your own relationship with exercise, but usually if something like this is rattling around in my brain I find it's rattling around in someone else's.
Hope you all are well and warm. As I write this, everything outside my house is covered in six inches of snow. It's so pretty!