It’s the time of year that so many people around the world set health and fitness intentions, and this year that’s on my mind too. Now that the holidays are over and I’ll have a bit more time, I’ve decided to make a goal for the coming months: to strengthen my abs.
I’ve set a zillion resolutions like this over a decade of dieting: thinner thighs, flatter stomach, smaller pants, less less less.
But this one is different — it must be different. I may be recovered from my eating disorder, but I’m still prone to body dissatisfaction. I’m still vulnerable to the fairy tale that a smaller body = a happier life.
Any time I think about exercising a little more or eating a little differently, I need to do an honest and thorough check-in with myself to make sure I’m not falling prey to the messages of diet culture. And abs are a particularly fraught topic — it is truly impossible to find a simple ab workout without wading through an ocean of body-shaming B.S.
It’s so ridiculous when you think about it: Abdominal muscles have been completely co-opted by diet culture! We’re so programmed to equate abs with appearance that we forget that first and foremost, core strength is crucial to a strong, healthy body.
I have to consciously remind myself that my core is mine and mine alone. It is the central force of my body’s ability to move and do things. This isn’t about wearing a smaller size or having a six-pack, or whatever the “New Year, New You” marketing wants to sell me. I just want to work on my core because when I lift up my baby, I feel my back engaging instead. He’s only getting bigger and heavier, and I’m worried about setting myself up for real back issues. Physically and mentally, I know that’s not great for my day-to-day life or long-term health.
That’s what I’m thinking about this new year, and maybe you have something similar in mind to kick off 2019. But it’s so important to remember: Even if you have pure intentions but you’re a little vague on the details, the diet culture vultures will to swoop in and fill in the blanks:
Here’s a new diet that sounds complex and science-y that will absolutely be different from all the others that have failed before!
Here’s a cleanse that will provide the sense of accomplishment that eludes you at work!
Here’s a workout plan that will magically win back your ex — you’re a bad match and always have been, but hey, it’s easier than learning to be alone!
If you’re setting intentions this year, try to be intentional. If you think “I want to get healthy,” dig deeper into that impulse. Do you mean “I want to get healthy to lower my cholesterol”? Or “I want to get healthy to manipulate my body into a different shape, size, or weight”?
When you say, “I want to get in shape” do you mean “I want to get in shape so I won’t be out of breath walking up the stairs”? Or do you really mean “I want to get in shape so I can buy clothes in a smaller, and therefore superior, size”?
The better you know yourself, the less power diet culture will have over your choices. With time and self-reflection and brutal honesty, it will become clear that a diet can’t and won’t magically change your life. But banishing diets will free up the time and energy to think about other stuff and build the life you’re dreaming of. It takes real work and there’s no magic bullet, but the results are so much more lasting than the latest diet trend.
Here’s to a delicious and diet-free 2019, and as always, thank you so much for reading here.
p.s. Exercise has never come easy to me, and I often need inspiration to get moving. In case you find yourself in a similar frame of mind, here are a few of my favorite body-positive reasons to exercise: