With the rise in popularity of leading a healthy lifestyle there are more and more people representing the health and fitness community on social media and television. Along with this comes a certain stereotype of what ‘healthy people’ look like. These individuals usually have a slim and toned physique, clear and glowing skin, smooth shiny hair and perfect teeth. They also workout intensely several times a week as well as eat a 100% whole foods diet 365 days a year. Pretty much the ‘perfect’ person according to modern societies standards.
Growing up in the age of social media I have always felt pressure to look like these individuals. I can remember from a young age being embarrassed of my body and making up excuses to skip swimming lessons to avoid wearing a swimming suit in public. Of course this was also a time where the sales of junk and processed foods were at an all-time high and there were countless brands whose marketing was aimed at children. These foods were much more appealing to me and as much as my parents tried to get me to eat my veggies, I simply refused. I’m sure this story is relatable for the majority of you reading this post.
Since beginning to eat healthier and exercise more almost four years ago my physical appearance has changed drastically many times. I have been overweight, underweight and normal according to my BMI. I’ve had periods of bad acne, clear skin and blemished skin. I’ve had a higher body fat percentage, a low body fat percentage and a muscular physique.
I’ve also followed certain diets, some by choice and some by medical advice. Low-carb, low-fat, vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free, sugar-free etc. I’ve tried long-distance running, weight lifting, walking, spinning and a mixture of all.
So which of these combinations made me perfect? The answer is none of them.
The media has turned health into something very complicated where we must follow rules and fall into a certain category in order to be healthy. Gone are the days when we could consider ourselves healthy if we ate a balanced diet and exercised a few times a week. We can’t eat a salad without assumptions being made that we are on a diet. God forbid we go to the gym without the intention of losing weight. If we gain a few pounds people assume that we’ve lost the run of ourselves and have suddenly turned to eating takeaway food seven days a week.
There is so much pressure being placed on people who present themselves as being healthy that many people are scared of even trying to change their habits for fear they will ‘fail’. Why can’t people eat salads and workout without being expected to look a certain way?
Many people go to the gym once and are scared off as they see people lifting heavy weights and high intensity sweaty sessions. It is perfectly acceptable to go for a long walk, a hike with friends or a cycle around the town as your daily exercise but we feel immense pressure to work harder.
It’s very hard to scroll through Instagram or Facebook without comparing yourself to the images of those showing off their bodies whilst lying on a beach in Bali. This has a major impact on the mental health of all age groups as we ask ourselves why we don’t look like that way. My journey started as one in which the aim was to lose weight and that was easy to achieve when I refrained from following crash diets and simply made healthier choices. This also made it easier to maintain a healthy weight rather than fluctuating.
But what about those who need to gain weight? This concept is so frowned upon in society that we feel as though we shouldn’t do it. I couldn’t help but feel judged when I returned to a healthy weight after being underweight for so long.
There have been times that I have regretted sharing my health journey online all because it has lead to feeling pressure to look and act a certain way. I feel guilty if I am seen enjoying a glass of wine with my dinner or skipping the gym to spend the day shopping. If my skin is breaking out people assume that I’m not eating well and If I don’t have abs they think that I don’t workout.
I want to tell you that you DON’T have to look like the people you see in the magazines. You DON’T have to cut the things you love out of your diet. You DON’T have to lose weight to be happy. And you absolutely DO NOT need to please other people.
A healthy lifestyle is about treating your body and your mind well. It’s about falling in love with cooking and experimenting with whole foods and different flavours. It’s about finding a way to be active that you love. It is most certainly not about having a flat stomach and toned legs. Don’t let people’s judgement get to you because at the end of the day it’s how you feel about yourself that truly matters.
Until next time,