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When Fitness Goals Hurt More Than Help

Marie Osborne

When Fitness Goals Hurt More Than Help

Several years ago, I lost a significant amount of weight. I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror, so I did something about it. I spent the better part of a year methodically and consistently working to lose over 60 pounds. (Imagine dramatic before and after picture here)

Then, a couple years later, after the birth of my son, I found myself having gained half the weight back. I didn’t like how clothes fit or how I looked in pictures, and that “gross” feeling propelled me to lose over 30 pounds, and, once again, get back to my pre-pregnancy weight.

But…

Even at my thinnest, I never felt completely confident and comfortable in my own skin. I bought into the hype and set the wrong goals based on false images and faulty measuring sticks. And I bet I’m not alone.

What are your “trouble zones?” Too much arm jiggle? Muffin top? Lower belly pooch? Do you long for leaner thighs, a tighter tush, flatter abs?

Have no fear! Magazine racks and websites are littered with tips and tricks to achieve these desired results. Complete with svelte starlets bearing their midriffs and touting their flat belly secrets, or dramatic photos highlighting depressed befores and delighted afters, promising “you can have THIS bikini body TOO” by summer.

Do these sorts of goals, and their associated images, do more harm than good? Why is the fitness conversation, even among Christians, so focused on molding our bodies toward some described or pictured ideal?

Get Arms, Legs, Abs like THIS! (Insert image of the leading lady of your choice)

Flat Belly FAST! (Next to a washboard midriff)

Drop TWO Dress Sizes in TWO weeks! (Look at her hold out the waist of those large pants!)

Tight Tush, Lean Thighs, and Flat Abs! (Highlighting the most picturesque body parts you could ever imagine)

Tank Top Arms and Shoulders! (Showing a sleek, bronzed upper body)

Bikini Body by Summer! (Smiling, joyful bikini clad model)

Titles and images like these populate far too much of our “fitness” culture, and it seeped into my psyche as I struggled to drop my unwanted pounds and reshape my body into a more desirable image.

But when does “getting in shape” become something I worship, so focused on achieving specific visual results that I’m never truly content with my appearance, never able to be grateful for the body God has given me?

Exercise is fantastic for our health, but nowhere in the titles listed above is “health” even mentioned. Only external appearance. Look this way. Mold your body to fit this image. No mention of how to have the heart health and cholesterol level of a teenager or the strength and flexibility of an athlete. How do you look in a bikini? That is what’s most important.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look our best. And of course, working out produces positive changes in appearance, but all too often our goals are based entirely on changing our looks. There is no room for acceptance or gratitude for the body we have been given, only dissatisfaction and the importance of changing our appearance to fit a mold.

At my thinnest and fittest, I never had the aspirational “Arms like THIS!” or “Lean thighs” or “Flat Abs” that grace so many magazine covers. I’ve come to realize that much of my discomfort resided in the impact of these words and images. I never measured my success by my effort or by my improved health; I was measuring it by my appearance, and my description still didn’t match the ideals of tight, lean, and flat. And though I enjoyed the compliments I got from friends, telling me, “You look great!” I wish our conversation had celebrated the strides I made in athletic ability rather than just a more appealing exterior.

Too much “fit-spiration” is geared toward external improvement, not internal life change. This approach treats health and increased physical ability as just a potential byproduct of trying to make my body LOOK better through exercise. But shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t I be exercising and eating right to improve my health and obediently, gratefully take care of the body I was given? Looking better just happens to be a bonus.

It’s the same old game, the same battle against temptation I fight in my Christian character. Am I going to focus all my efforts toward looking like I have it all together on the outside, or am I going to commit to real life change, even if those are the changes no one else notices?

Am I more concerned with a dramatic before and after picture or am I dedicated to caring for and appreciating the body I was given?

Reducing cholesterol and blood pressure. Strengthening my heart and lungs. Maintaining flexibility and muscle strength. Increasing my endurance so I can perform better and participate longer in physical activities with family and friends. These goals may not be coupled with sensational, sexy images, but they are essential for health and longevity.

I still struggle (sometimes daily) against the desire to be flat, tight, and lean. I struggle against the belief that skinny = happy. I struggle against the subtle message that until I look like the woman on the fitness website or magazine, I should either dislike my appearance or keep till I resemble “the ideal.”

Well, here I am, after pregnancy #2, gearing up to get healthy again.

This time around, I’m determined to remain grateful for my body and smile at my reflection throughout the weight loss process. I’m fighting the good fight to measure my success NOT JUST by the change in my appearance but rather MORE IMPORTANTLY by the improvement in my health and increase in my abilities. Because after all, what is all this diet and exercise supposed to be for? Shouldn’t I be working toward spending many healthier, active years finding my worth in Christ? Not many more summers finding my worth in my bikini body.

I’ve carefully cleaned out my Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest feeds, unfollowing items that may cause me to stumble in this area. I’ve begun following uplifting fitness blogs like Peak313 and carefully choosing the fitness sites I save in my Pin boards. I pray that this time, as I shed these extra pounds, I can maintain healthy fitness goals and a positive self-image, and not allow the good of exercise and physical activity to be corrupted by obsession with physical perfection. I pray I can continue to feel beautiful as I build strength, and that I choose to seek after better health (both physically and spiritually), not looking hot. After all, no matter how hard I work for washboard abs… “beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” (Pr. 31:30).

Marie Osborne is a wife, mama, and blogger who loves Jesus & large non-fat lattes. You can find Marie on her blog encouraging, challenging, and laughing… under a pile of diapers.  

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