Having Expectations for Your Body, and How To See Beyond Them

**Written on June 25th, 2017**
Recovery is a lifelong process. This is a reminder I always offer, but one that I’ve only recently TRULY allowed to resonate with me. I’ve been leading a normal, healthy life for over two years now. I’m beyond the stages of recovery. However, throughout the duration of these two glorious years, I’ve always focused on my body’s appearance to an extent.
Only a short while ago was I able to uncover the underlying drive behind my body discomfort. My lifestyle has been through drastic changes; coming out of a rigid, heightened meal plan with no movement to reintroducing exercise to my regimen. This took place the summer going into my senior year. Then during my senior school year, I was working most of the week and had more rest days than I did days in the gym. The summer before college was the same in terms of work, but now I had time to workout most days before my shift. Once I left for school, I was walking ten times the amount I ever had at home. I lived off campus this past year, and was in the city walking around on my days off. I was extremely active. Now I’m home for the summer, and working out most days, but barely walking at all. My point is that my lifestyle has seen all different patterns in recent years, and I’ve always (ignorantly) connected these patterns to my body’s appearance.
For example, if I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror, I’d dismiss it as “I’m not walking as much, things will regulate soon”. I guess this is a healthier alternative than jumping to restricting and overexercising. I spent four years of my life implementing this approach, so I know for a fact it’s deadly. Plus, being so far into health and happiness, all past behaviors are simply unappealing to me at this point. I can confidently say that restricting my intake is something I will avoid at all possible costs.
But dismissing my body issues and coming up with excuses that weren’t even valid isn’t healthy either. Yes, it keeps my physical health at bay. But what about mentally? I was just playing mind games. I was refusing to accept my body because I was EXPECTING it to be something else, and pathetically believed that my body would obey such expectations.
Here’s what body expectations looked like in my life: I’m very open about details about my body issues. For me, you probably already know, my midsection always gave me anxiety. I was never lean, with a toned stomach or small waist. I’m built more like a little boy than anything else, and my gut tends to stick out. From the side, I find I’m not lean like so many people I see. This is where expectations came in. When I was extremely active at school, I found that I was most at peace with my midsection. (Keep in mind this was not over exercising, it was simply the conditions of my situation. I was also eating a lot more at school to account for this). So when I returned home and my lifestyle took a turn, I began to notice these changes being projected onto my midsection. Once again, I found myself “puffy”, “swollen”, and “constantly bloated-looking”. For the first month or so, I was lying to myself.  I was telling myself that I know my body is capable of looking better, that it will get there if I just change some things around. This was because I EXPECTED it to look a certain way.
Holding onto expectations for your body is holding you back. If you’re engaging in certain lifestyle habits because you EXPECT them to translate into the body you want, your drive is in the wrong place. I’ll be the first person to admit that I began a higher fat lower (but not low…pasta please??) carb intake in hopes of changing my body. It sounds pathetic and petty but it’s true. When nothing changed, I flip flopped and hoped for results. This left me the same as well. I got so frustrated that I just decided to ditch all regimens and eat how the hell I wanted. And because I wasn’t obsessing over the details of my intake for my appearance’s sake, I began to pay attention to my body less and less.
Every Sunday is my rest day, and I sleep until 12 (at the earliest…). After an unintentional long fast and a lot of sleep, I tend to wake up feeling “lean”. I used to always wake up, change into my bra and underwear, and stagger over to the body mirror and just take in my reflection. I would spend about ten minutes admiring how lean and empty I was. But I’m proud to say I can’t even remember the last time I engaged in this activity. Seriously, it’s probably been 3 months? But on this Sunday morning, I woke up and got dressed with no body mirror to intervene. I came downstairs, made breakfast, and then out of nowhere realized this feat. Then I kept thinking about it; I hadn’t picked my body apart in weeks. I hadn’t given it much thought.
I feel so liberated. Upon analyzing why this shift took place, I traced it all back to body expectations. Once I stopped expecting my body to react to lifestyle habits, to change in response to how I was trying to manipulate it, I was able to find body acceptance. My life has been so damn GOOD lately. I’ve been getting super creative in the kitchen because I have the entire culinary world at my fingertips. I no longer have to use this specific product or that one or exclude ingredients because they don’t align with my new “lifestyle”. I’ve been so social, grabbing meals out with friends and going to parties without worrying about if I can get a “low-carb” meal there. My digestion isn’t giving me the trouble it used to, and I attribute this to the lack of stress surrounding my body and intake.
Is my body where I want it to be? Here’s my answer to that: if my body is allowing me to live my best life, then that’s where I want it to be. Am I “lean” like I used to so desperately obsess over? Nope! But here’s the thing. I realized that nobody FREAKING CARES. I go swimming with my friends and to the beach and I don’t self-detonate because I’m not a little bit leaner. My life doesn’t fall apart if I’m a few pounds more than I expect to be. I’m not a failure because of what I look like. I can’t spend my entire life focused on making changes solely for the purpose of manipulating my body. It becomes exhausting.
Letting go of body expectations is a matter of acknowledging that they’re there. Identify them. And then tell them to screw off. Because in all honesty, the expectations are irrational. Find your best life and let your body look the way it needs to in order to live this way. Not the opposite. Don’t go shaping your life around how it will make your body look. Don’t expect certain diets or exercise routines or whatnot to give you the body you’re after. I’m not saying that changing these things won’t change your body, because they can and everybody is different. What I’m saying is not to execute these changes BECAUSE you expect these changes. Make choices because your heart and your soul are in it. Life is trial and error. See what works for you. But don’t expect. Accept your body where it is and recognize that the life you lead in is better when the body’s appearance is an afterthought.
Sending love!!