Compatible: Can I accept my body and still want to change it?

Sometimes it's good to go back and re-read old posts. I wrote this post two years ago, right around eight months postpartum with my son Jack. At the time I had lost most of the baby weight but wanted to ditch the rest. But felt conflicted, as you'll read. I'm feeling the same conflict now: I've lost most of the baby weight, but would like to ditch the rest. I know that it will come off naturally when I start to run more (I'm just running twice a week now), but there's part of me that doesn't want to wait. And that part of me thought that counting calories last week would be a "good way to gauge where I'm at." I used to count calories religiously, it was consuming and became obsessive. When I started to eat intuitively over six years ago all of that changed and I naturally arrived at a weight I'd always been striving for. So you'd think that years later I would have learned that going back to counting calories as a method to lose the baby weight is futile. And as I could have predicted my foray in to counting calories last week lead not to a jump start in weight loss, but to weight gain. Then I came across this old post and the timing couldn't have been more perfect. I needed a little bit of my own advice; to be reminded of the wisdom I've gained from past experiences. I'm headed into this week with a new perspective and a little bit more patience to allow my body to do what it needs to do. -Sarah

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Last night I was trying to explain to Sophia the word "compatible." I tried to condense the meaning into three-year old speak: "compatible means they work together," I said. It was all in reference to our iPod dock and which iPhones and iPods could or could not be charged on said dock. Our conversation came to an end but I kept thinking about this idea of compatibility in regards to two, seemingly conflicting ideas that have batting around my head lately: can I accept my body and still want to change it? Are those two sentiments compatible? 

For the most part I have come to a place of acceptance and contentment with the body that I have, if I had not I'd still be bent over a toilet bowl after every meal. I used to loath my body, consumed by the thought of changing it through drastic measures: purging. Now my body, my weight and appearance, is an afterthought taking a backseat to life and all its joys and responsibilities.

But last week I came face to face with the fact that the body I feel content with on a daily basis is not the body I see in my race photos. In my mind I feel strong and lean: my arms can hoist small children high above my body, my legs can run fast around a track or pound out mile after mile on a country road, my belly has been expanded to house small babies and then I've given birth to those babies. But when I look at the photos from my last race (the race where I ditched my shirt and hat and ran in only a sports bra. gasp!)  my critical eyes see a body that looks soft and weak: arms with no visible evidence of muscle, a soft belly that jiggles with every step, thick legs with the dimples of cellulite, a stride that makes me look more like a lumbering elephant than a bounding gazelle.  I'd dwell on these thoughts for a moment, dismiss them with a quick thought of acceptance for my body and then carry on with my day.

Last week I had nothing but critique for my body as pictured in these photos. Not the feeling I had on race day. On race day I felt confident and strong, proud of my body even.

Last week I had nothing but critique for my body as pictured in these photos. Not the feeling I had on race day. On race day I felt confident and strong, proud of my body even.

But dismissing these critical thoughts and simply telling myself that my body is acceptable as it is, or by reading the encouraging comments at the end of my post that "you are beautiful," has not brought lasting resolution. There is a tension here between these two ideas: between the idea of being content and of wanting to change, and tension always pushes towards resolution. But does resolution mean choosing one or the other?

It seems to me that these two ideas are in a dynamic relationship. Contentment is not a destination at which we can arrive, it is an active endeavor and requires vigilance, it means weeding through thoughts of discontent and deciding which ones are constructive and which are destructive. And discontent is not definitively negative, a certain level of discontent can be healthy. Critically thinking about the way that live can yield growth.

I thought of it in terms of my three-year old daughter Sophia. We unconditionally accept and love who she is, but there are moments when we do not accept or condone her behavior and we seek to change it. It is not one of the other, it is dynamic, fluid constantly changing and evolving.  So it is with our relationship with our bodies: there must be over arching acceptance and a vigilance for contentment, but there can also be a desire to change.

When I think about the critical voices that picked apart my appearance in my race photos it is clear to me that those are destructive voices. They come from a place of insecurity, brought on by exposure to images of women who have what I think will make me happy: muscular arms, hard abs, lean legs. Those feelings of insecurity undermine my contentment and ultimately my happiness. But there can be constructive discontent, like the discontent I feel with my 5K PR because I know that with proper training and coaching I am capable of running much faster. Or the discontent I feel at the end of the week when I know I didn't do as much  core work as a should have, not because I want a six pack but because I know that a strong core will protect my body from injury and allow me to keep running hard. The discontent that pushes us to excellence, to work at whatever you do with all our heart, that is the discontent that is healthy.

I would not necessarily say that we want to find a balance between these two things, because I think finding a balance implies that they are of equal value at all times. No, there are times when being content must outweigh our desire to change. And there are times when we set aside our contentedness to push ourselves that much further. Do they work together? Maybe? I'm not sure. It seems the idea of accepting my body and wanting to change it is a dynamic, fluid relationship. One which I have not mastered...but I hope to some day.

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What do you think? Are you content with your body? How do you silence those (destructive) critical voices? What critical voices are healthy? How do you differentiate between the two?


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