As my girls get older, they are coming home with all kinds of ideas about how to get a six pack, why thigh gaps are important, and how to not eat “bad” things and exercise their way into the “perfect” body.
As a personal trainer, and someone who has struggled with an eating disorder, this makes me absolutely insane. First of all, my girls are beautiful, healthy and in great shape. They are both athletes and are both great at what they do. But this kind of stuff gets under my skin because of the way it cheapens the human body and undervalues the qualities I pray my girls are developing (you know, a God-centered heart, kindness, love towards others, creativity, a good work ethic, ambition, just a few minor character details)!
I know the barrage my girls face every day. As moms we face it to. I also know that the idea of having the perfect body can easily become an all consuming quest. But I don’t want my girls to fall prey to that type of thinking. I want them to understand the incredible ways our bodies were made to move. I want them to know that God created the perfect fuel for those bodies to run well. But, this means I need to do a lot of battling. Battling what they hear and see every day from their friends, tv shows, magazines, and social media.
These are things I do battle over:
Food is fuel. It is not bad, or good, or fattening or healthy. It is fuel.
God designed food to give our bodies the nutrients they need to function well. Food is our energy source. In our home, we don’t choose foods based on what will make us fat, or what will do the least damage to our waistline . When one of my girls asks, “is this food fattening?”, I launch into a bit of a lecture. There are no bad foods. There are some foods that fuel our bodies better than others. There are foods that taste good, but give our bodies nothing, or very little, to use. So, when this question comes up, I have the girls think about what they will be doing (do they have a practice or game the next day, did they just have PE, are they getting over being sick, are they hanging out with friends). Based on that, I ask them to think about what their body needs most. If they have a practice or game, have been really active that day or have been sick, I ask, “does your body need that bag of chips or might it benefit from an apple and peanut butter?” If they are having friends over for a pool party, and everyone is bringing treats, then I tell them to have at it, even if people call those foods “fattening”. I want them to focus on spending time with their friends, and not worry too much about what they are eating. As we talk about food this way, they are learning how to listen to their bodies, and what it feels like to have fuelled their bodies well. This is helping them to make better decisions about giving their bodies what they need, and I am slowly seeing that it is taking some of the stress around “bad” foods, away.
Exercise is not a punishment.
Exercise is a wonderful gift! Our bodies are made to do unbelievable things. Exercise is related to workplace success, increased energy, improved moods and better sleep. The benefits of exercise are far greater than a toned body. Exercise is not what you have to do because you ate “badly”. Exercise is what you get to do to strengthen your body to go out and live life more fully. Lots of the teen girls I work with want to know the one exercise that will get them the abs or thighs they want. When they ask me that, I battle. Exercise isn’t about abs, it is about all of those other things. And yes, consistent exercise will absolutely get you toned, but for teen girls, I don’t want that to be their focus. I want my girls, and their friends to think about all of the fun things a stronger body will enable them to do; serve the volleyball better, swim faster, last longer on the soccer field at lunch, go for long walks at the mall…you know, the important things to a teenage girl!
I battle the idea that there is a perfect body type, and remind my girls that God creates every human in his image and delights in what He sees.
I battle the words, “I hate my ______” (insert random body part. I have heard calves, arms, cheeks…it’s ridiculous). This one is hard to battle, so I usually ask why. Why do they hate that about them self and what would make them happy. Then I talk about whether or not that would really make them happy. This one is tough. But I battle it the best I can.
I battle lots of things I hear my girls and their friends say, but I need to battle all of those things in my own mind as well. Because if I am honest, I want abs, and toned thighs, and have lots of things about me that at one point, I have probably said I’ve hated. So, my first step in battling what my girls and their friends think, is to battle what I think. But, this is a battle worth fighting.
I want them to grow up differently than I did. I want them to love exercise, and use it as a daily stress reliever, not stress inducer. I want them to enjoy food, and use it well! I want them to be confident in how God has made them. I want them to go out and live lives of service, love and grace. I want the world to look at them and see more than a thigh gap and abs. I want the world to look at my girls and their lives and see the grace of God through Jesus. And, I want the same for me.
So, I will battle!