As a dance teacher, yoga instructor, and fitness professional, I recognize that there are a lot of people feeding off my example. As a former/recovering self-proclaimed exercise addict, calorie counter, and negative self-talker, I know how crazy and even miserable those patterns can make you. For this reason, I feel the need to administer a little tough love this Valentine’s Day. Today, I am openly calling myself out (and maybe you too?) on the toxic habits that actually sabotage our ability to be happy and healthy. I realize that at times I may come across as a bit of a #realfood and fitness fanatic, but I’m working on approaching these things from a healthier state of mind. I hope that in the name of self-love, V-day, and chocolate covered kale chips (yes these are a real thing) that you too will take the time to reconsider your relationships with food, your workouts, and your body. Here are my 6 favorite tough love truths that challenge everything we’ve ever been taught about how to get fit and be healthy:
- You don’t have to do burpees to “burn off” that heart shaped box of chocolates. You can’t out exercise a nutritionally poor diet, nor should you have to. Never again will I “work out for cupcakes”, as I used to proudly proclaim. And actually, we are doing planks in dance class today so that you can improve your placement for ballet, not so you can work on your 6-pack. (how old are you anyway, 6?). As teaching artists, we need to stop it with the food and body shaming. If you want to get dessert on your Valentine’s Day date or order one of those heart shaped deep dish pizzas, go for it. But I will not be giving you a guilt trip about it when you come to my Yoga Sculpt class the next morning. You should never approach your workout from a place of punishment. Do your pushups to build yourself up instead of tear yourself down. Just like smiling, it makes them way more fun, I promise.
- At some point you will have to eat, so you might as well make it something that will do your body good. I cringe when I overhear my teenage dance students saying things like “diet starts tomorrow” or “I’ll just burn it off later” as they proceed to eat a brownie the size of their head. Those little hundred calorie packs of tiny crackers aren’t much better. I should know. In college, I would subsist on “healthy snacks” like Diet Dr. Pepper, Special K bars, and tiny portable cans of broth that were labeled as “soup”. That could only go on for so long before I would cave and eat half a pizza and a whole pint of Ben & Jerry’s. No wonder I was usually tired, stressed, sick, and burnt out. Do yourself a favor and skip the middle man. Eat a huge salad. A bowl of cherries. Guacamole. Shrimp cocktail. A steak. A whole head of cauliflower for all I care. And if you are gonna have a cookie, make it a really delicious one. Preferably baked by someone’s mother. I’m not advocating that you drown your sorrows in an entire jar of raw organic almond butter. What I am suggesting, is that much of the time, those moments when we “fall off the wagon” are actually our body’s natural response to deprivation. When you eat enough to fuel your life, honor your cravings, and eat things that your body recognizes as food, you start to naturally recognize your own hunger and fullness signals. You are nourished and your body can use those nutrients to do stuff like grow your nails, repair broken bones, run a half marathon, conquer that crazy arm balance in yoga class, and dance all night (in a classroom or on the dance floor). Diets don’t work. Stop depriving yourself.
- Get some sleep! There is nothing worse for your metabolism than waking up after 5 hours of sleep to go work out. This one took me a long time to wrap my head around. I didn’t actually believe it until I tried it myself. Sleep so underrated. When you get a good night’s sleep, your body is in an anabolic state, or a state or rebuilding. When you hit the pillow, your body repairs your muscles, builds up your immune system, and regulates your hormones. Two major players are leptin (tells your brain that you are full) and ghrelin (tells your brain that you are hungry). When you are sleep deprived you end up with too little leptin and too much ghrelin. This is why you usually crave sugar and carbohydrates when you haven’t had much sleep. Do yourself a favor and get some zzz’s. Your muscles will be less sore in the morning and you’ll be less likely to get knocked out by the flu for a week. I am all for 6am BootCamp workouts, but not if you have to skimp on sleep to get there.
- Throw away your scale. Better yet, return it to a certain store that sells housewares for your bedroom and bathroom. The one that happens to have a very loose return policy. They will probably let you return it without a receipt a year later. They may even let you exchange it for a muffin pan, which you can use to make delicious, protein packed frittata muffins for breakfast. Everybody wins. Heck, even glutenberry bacon muffins with MSG streusel would be better than the obsession and self-doubt that the scale can cause. Your weight is the least accurate measure of a healthy body composition. Why? Muscle weighs more than fat and takes up far less space. That truth aside, the scale does NOT measure your worth as a human.
- You are allowed to take a day off. I knowwwww. I still have a hard time with this one too. I am one of those weird people who actually enjoys doing burpees, and I thrive off that daily hit of endorphins. Whether working out is a way of life or a necessary evil for you, I am hereby giving you permission to take a guilt-free rest day. If you are itching for something active, go for a short walk or doing some light stretching. In my 20’s I was that crazy workout lady too. I used to go for a run or to the gym early in the morning, maybe some yoga, and then take multiple dance classes in the same day. Sound familiar? I wasn’t in any better shape for it. Why? Overtraining. When you overdo it with working out for an extended period of time, not only do you increase your risk of injury, but your cortisol (stress hormone) levels rise. This can lead to increased insulin, which reduces fat burning and increases fat storage. That is why the same person you see at the gym every day never seems to lose weight, despite jogging on the treadmill for over an hour. If you really want to decrease your body fat, do some high intensity interval training a few days a week, lift heavy-ish weights (maybe I’ll blog about this concept soon), supplement with restorative activities like yoga, and spend the time you saved enjoying your life. I speak from personal experience when I say that your jeans will still fit if you skip a week of traditional cardio to explore and roam through the streets of Europe. It will also be ok if you miss a workout or two in favor of Sunday brunch or a little weekend retail therapy.
- Ditch the fat talk. Seriously stop it. Nobody really wants to hear about your “fat day”, particularly if you are actually a thin or medium sized person. Not only that, but our culture’s “fatphobia” is the very thing that is trapping so many of us in the diet cycle. I’m not saying that you have to be happy with your physical appearance at all times, but complaining about it isn’t going to make it better. It’s hard enough to quiet that little voice of negativity in your head, let alone when you give it the power to be heard by the world. When somebody gives you a compliment, take it, and say thank you. Don’t push it aside with some kind of bashful comment about how horizontal stripes look on your thighs. And if you wouldn’t say it to your sister or best friend’s face, don’t talk that way about yourself. Your words and thoughts are powerful tools. When you say mean things about yourself, you start to let those ideas dominate your thoughts and believe them. To quote a very wise but unknown person: “I am…two of the most powerful words, for what your put after them shapes your reality.”
I hope this little dose of tough love is a chance to reconsider the way you approach your health and fitness goals. (Sorry not sorry for the photo tease, my mom actually baked these beauties and I couldn’t resist. 🙂 ) Yes, broccoli is good for you, but you should still go ahead and taste the cookies. You don’t have to go the the gym because of it, but when you do go, make the most of your workout and try to choose activities you enjoy. Scales are the least useful of all the kitchen and bathroom appliances. Tell that nagging critic in your head to shove it, and if that doesn’t work just go to bed and try again tomorrow. I am not claiming to have all the answers, but I do know that a lot of these ideas can be game changers when it comes to being more loving towards yourself. <3