Summer is just around the corner. A time of sunny days, ocean fun, and barbecues. And a time when women are inundated with tips on how to get a “summer body”. Whether it appears as headlines on magazine covers, posts on your FaceBook feed, or even used as a motivator by your fitness instructor, the message that you should be working to attain some kind of aesthetic goal for your body is all around. But should you pay attention to any of this? Or, should you instead be committed and focused all year long on developing a “life body”?
Getting a summer body implies reaching an aesthetic ideal which few, if any, will ever achieve. It predisposes you to aim for perfection, a notoriously impossible goal. As Brene Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W. writes in The Gifts of Imperfection (2010), “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best…Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because there is no such thing as perfect”. Aiming to get a summer body is therefore setting you up for failure.
The summer body goal is also a short-term and fast-fix approach. When all you want is to look good on the beach, there isn’t much motivation to stick to healthy behaviors once the beach season is over. Overindulging in fried foods and sweets becomes easy in the middle of winter when the need to look good in a bathing suit is still months away. It can also lead to quick fixes such as drastic calorie cutting or fad diets to get the desired results in time for summer. As stated on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website (n.d), “If you lose weight quickly, you’ll lose muscle, bone and water. You also will be more likely to regain the pounds quickly afterwards.” Again, searching for a beach body only sets you up to fail.
One great antidote to the tyranny of the summer body is running. As runners of all levels know, running improves mental and physical well being. Not much boosts mood and life outlook better then a good run. It is a revelation to start seeing exercise and healthier eating not as a way to try to force your body into some kind of mold, but because it makes you feel good. Lunges and eating better become less about punishment and more about getting up the hills faster and conquering more miles. As a runner, you start to look at the positive instead of the negative; the things you have to gain in life instead of those you have to lose. Of course you will have moments of self-criticism, but focusing instead on how much further or faster you can run – versus how much weight you want to lose – helps you get back on a more positive track.
Working for a life body takes you to that sweet spot where you focus on where you are and not on where you “should” be. It shows you that there is not some perfect body type you need to attain, but that your strength and confidence is what makes you interesting. A life body attitude gives you the chance to take care of yourself in a positive and loving way. It gives you time to listen and learn from your body because you aren’t trying to twist it into some particular shape, but instead trying to get it to perform at its best and healthiest. When you fall off the wagon and eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s you’ll feel bad, and your run the next day will certainly suffer, but you’ll be more inclined to learn from that feeling instead of just beating yourself up. You’ll get right back out there for another run.
Aiming for a life body makes you healthier, fitter, stronger, more positive, and more empowered. You focus on making choices that increase what you can do and what you can accomplish; why would you want to trade that for a swimsuit body outlook? The next time you are in a class and the fitness instructor tells you to work hard for a summer body, how will you respond? How about a, “No thank you, I am working hard for my life body. I have trails to run.”