Several years back, I worked with a client who was struggling to fit in fitness. She was definitely struggling with self-care, and she was struggling overwhelmingly with balance. On top of all of this, she was struggling with body image and confidence too.
This client is a mom of three, each of those incredible kiddos with their unique challenges. (I got to know them well being in their home twice a week, believe me.) She manages the household and has a partner who travels for work constantly, so she’s doing that alone a lot of the time. Oh, also, she has a troubled relationship with her mom, as well as a tight knit, but somewhat dramatic extended family (can I get an amen here?), which always seems to complicate things at the exact worst times.
Um, welcome to some version of all our lives, right?
When we started working together, it was with the goal of losing weight. She was fairly recently post-partum and was focused on her pre-baby body. She spent a lot of time focusing on “used to” – I used to be this weight, I used to wear these clothes or that bikini and feel great, that kind of stuff. And with those feelings, she often used a lot of negative language toward herself – I’m gross, what’s wrong with me, I’m so fat.
These kinds of thoughts and feelings and behaviors – in case you aren’t clear on what the phrase can encompass, or whether it applies to you – are body image related issues. And they’re exactly what we’re taking on in Fitness Unraveled.
As the months went on, I listened, and we talked. You might expect that our work during sessions consisted of some working out, sure, but mostly of mindset-based conversation, me asking questions and coaching, always encouraging her to think in different ways, with different perspectives, entertaining different ideas.
This is a savvy woman, and all along, she had an idea that she was being much harder on herself than she needed to be. She knew that there were things she was harping on that really just did not matter in the grand scheme of her life, and she wanted to do better for herself, and also, for her two daughters. It was a challenge to set a positive example for them, but she understood how important it was.
In our exploration of the struggles she was feeling, and how we might start to tackle them, I learned enough to suspect that her familial influences were heavy. She had many female family members, extended family, in-laws, and friends, who placed a huge focus on getting smaller, losing weight, looking a certain way, and they talked about it at every gathering, without fail. I had an inkling it was influencing how she was thinking of herself way more than she knew.
So, I asked her to pay attention at the next get together. Just to notice. Notice when someone made a comment about their own body, notice when they made a comment about hers or someone else’s. Notice if or when it was negative, or positive.
Turns out, it was having a huge impact on her psyche and perspective. The next time we met, she was incredulous, “Oh my gosh! It was everyone! The whole time! As soon as we walked in the door!” She was completely overwhelmed. She hadn’t noticed previously just how much it was happening, let alone how much it was affecting her.
And then, the most curious thing happened – once she saw, she couldn’t unsee. She had gained awareness, and there’s no going back from that. It changes everything.
So, we built on that awareness – I asked her to become aware of how she was or wasn’t engaging, whether she was making choices that supported her values or not, and what she was choosing. She came back after her next interaction feeling different, and resolved, having realized she was choosing to participate in the fray far more often than she would like to.
We discussed her available options in these stressful situations – from continuing to participate, to interrupting, asking to change the subject, forcefully changing the subject, telling them it made her uncomfortable, walking away. It’s always going to be more effective to think about this stuff ahead of time, to know your personal boundaries and available options in dealing with enforcing them.
Now, every time she got together with these women in her life, she understood:
- Exactly what was going on.
- That she didn’t have to partake.
- That she could make a choice to advocate for herself in ways that made her more comfortable.
- Or at the very least, that she didn’t have to take it home with her. She didn’t have to let it crush her and her own body image. What’s theirs is theirs.
We built strategies around this challenge. It turned into an active practice. And that got easier and easier every time.
Proof in the pudding: if you feel like you’ll never be able to crawl out of that web, you’re wrong.
This same client emailed me just a couple weeks ago with an update. Here’s what she shared:
“I feel like I finally have a good array of tools in my mental toolbox to deal much more gracefully with the ups and downs of life. And I absolutely credit you with a huge amount of that growth, particularly in the area of body image. Over the course of the time that we worked together, you opened my eyes to so many patterns that I was completely unaware of and patterns that, if I was aware of them, I didn’t know how to unlearn and discontinue them.
I really cannot thank you enough for that. You have truly changed my life in a majorly positive way. And, of course, it is all still a process. I hope that no one will ever again hear me speaking about my body or anyone else’s in the way that I used to. And the great thing is, I don’t even really think that way anymore.
At first, it was just a matter of keeping the ugly thought in as opposed to blurting it out. Now, thoughts like that are sort of like a butterfly…they fly in quickly, I notice, then watch them fly out. I definitely don’t let them linger or land as they would have previously. AND IT FEELS GREAT!!!!!!!!! Huge email hugs coming at you right now! :)”
This client went through the Fitness Unraveled framework. It worked. It changed her life.
Yes, it is, indeed, a continual process, but this program equipped her with the tools to work through it with much less frustration and negativity – forever. These tools have served her for more than five years! Now it’s barely a conscious practice, and more a part of who she is and how she lives. How incredible is that?!?
This is just one example of how powerful this program really is. If that kind of shift isn’t a compelling result or takeaway or deliverable or whatever you want to call it, I’m not sure what is.
I’m so incredibly proud of this woman, and I’m going to be so proud of you too. I can’t wait for your email update in five years 🙂