"If you’re into health and fitness, then why don’t you have abs?"

Oh my god Em, you cant just ask people why they don’t have abs! (I really hope you all got that joke, or this could be awkward). Yet I ask myself this question on a regular basis. I will make no secret of the fact that a six pack is something I would love to possess. Like sports cars, jewellery, and designer handbags, it’s become somewhat of a status symbol in the health and fitness community. I have a friend who has River Island bags but desperately wants a Louis Vuitton; I have a toned stomach, but want my abs to pop. It indicates to the entire world (well, when you wear a crop top) the extent of your dedication, hard work, and self-discipline. Or does it? And why the hell do I need the rest of the world to know about my dedication, hard work, and self discipline?

Here is the danger of my constantly reaching for a six pack: I forget what I already have. I forget that I’ve toned up my legs and arms and butt beyond recognition. More importantly, I forget the actions I can now perform that allow me to have made those changes: I’ve increased the weight I can lift, my stamina has improved, I can now do a chaturanga, I can do a handful of press ups at one time, I have nearly completed the 30 days of yoga challenge, I can complete a spinning class dripping in sweat but feeling less like I’m about to pass out. And even if those abdominal muscles aren’t popping out left right and centre, I have one powerful, Pilates formed core. Although abs may indicate hours spent honing your body to something the Ancient Greeks would have loved to replicate in marble, I put effort into my body too. I workout 5-6 days per week, for 30 minutes or more, I walk pretty much everywhere, I eat a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and 90% cooked completely from scratch.

One thing that prevents me from forming said six pack is probably my refusal to throw myself into it completely. I have a personality that becomes obsessive regarding my body pretty easily. As a result, I refuse to follow a certain diet (be it paleo, clean, raw till 4), or certain instagram accounts posting “fitspo” that seems more like it promotes torture. I am all for challenging yourself, pushing yourself to achieve new things- but some of the things I see have the same vein as “thinspo”. Here’s my point: health and fitness is a mental thing as well. Is it healthy to worry about missing a workout, or dwelling on something you ate two days ago that “wasn’t clean”/”didn’t fit my macros”? No. It isn’t. Is it something I struggle with? Yes, it is. Recently I went on a day trip that involved getting up at 6am, following a waitressing trial shift that ended at 10:30pm the previous evening, and then arriving home at 11pm. I arrived home at 11pm post day trip too. I didn’t workout that day. I spend most of the day trying to prevent my mind whining about how I could have gotten up at 5am, or even workout when I got in. I ate ice cream, and my mind just went “Well, now we’re f***ked.”. It didn’t help that Magnums don’t taste as good as they used to. But guess what? One day doesn’t make that much of a difference. And I had the best day. It was worth the not working out. Which brings me to this…

Health and fitness should be enjoyable. I enjoy working out. Pilates makes me feel beautiful, lifting my dumbbells makes me feel strong, yoga makes me feel chilled out, I will never stop hating many forms of cardio- but I feel like I’ve achieved something when I complete it. If I was spending 2 hours in a gym in search of a particular physique, would I still enjoy working out? No. If I was pushing myself to the point of exhaustion? No. I adore my veggies, nut butters, fish, and salads- but never eating brownies, burgers, or sweet potato fries? Always trying to eat “perfectly”? That’s no life. Some days I might need a lie in, or want to sing along to Hairspray from my couch wrapped in a blanket, or to eat a brownie, or maybe I want to party until 4am. Some days I really feel the fitness vibe, I’m awake at 6:30am buzzing to workout, and I desperately want a salad with mackerel and sweet potato and freshly grilled veggies. Health and fitness should contribute towards happiness, not be a stumbling block. An article that really helped me to understand this was one by Nia Shanks, which talks about letting go of perfection and finding a grey area with regards to binge eating. You can read it here: http://www.niashanks.com/20-tips-binge-eating/. She introduced me to the Voltaire quote that has become one of my favourites: “Perfect is the enemy of good”. I am a perfectionist: it allows me to excel in academic practices, and to keep my room tidy. It can also be a pain in the arse when it comes to health and fitness.

So, your health and fitness journey should be just that: a journey. It should be about becoming happy with yourself and in your own skin and life. Yes, push yourself, and yes, do work towards being healthy. BUT! Don’t tie your happiness to a certain appearance orientated goal, because I can guarantee that once you reach it that goal will shift. Think of your health as a mental, emotional, and physical thing, and try not to sacrifice one for another. I can be way too hard on myself regarding my physical health, and can neglect giving my body a much needed break- but am gradually coming around to focusing on how fitness makes me feel. Maybe one day I will have a six pack, but right now I’m aiming to achieve actions, such as being able to perform a crow pose, and not a certain aesthetic- e.g. the toned arms and abs that come with a crow pose. Because being able to balance on my hands, hovering with my feet up next to my elbows, is a way cooler party trick than pulling up my top to reveal abs…

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