Making Peace with Your Body

The Moving Target of Self-Love

One of the “tricks” of leading a long-term, healthy lifestyle is getting your mindset as balanced as your body.

As a fairly-lean, athletic woman, I have a secret for people who aspire to get in better shape:

If you take care of your body, it is an act of love for your body. You decide to love your body, through action. Feelings of self-love, of looking in the mirror and thinking, “Yeah, who’s that foxy lady???” will follow action.

However, if you wait to “love” your body as a spontaneous feeling, it will never happen. Why? The closer you get to the “perfect” body, the further away the “perfect” body seems. Your standards raise along with your progress, and it becomes a frustrating moving target.

Does this mean you shouldn’t aspire to be leaner, to be fitter, to be faster, to be more athletic?

Of course not.

But… and this is a big “but…”

You must decide to love your body through self-caring action, and you must make peace with your results before they even happen.

The Paradox of the Perfect Body

What’s another one of my trainer secrets?

My clients with the commercially “best” bodies – the ones who look like traditional models or who can rock a bikini in a way that would make many women jealous – are sometimes (very often, actually) my least confident, least secure clients. They are the ones that won’t wear a bikini, or obsess about cellulite. That extra 1% of fitness is incredibly elusive.

It is an odd phenomenon that your standard for aesthetics climbs as your fitness improves. If you are purely motivated by aesthetics, and do not have at least some component of a desire for performance, speed, strength, pain relief, or another non-aesthetic goal, then you should buckle up for a very bumpy road of disappointment.

If you think a certain aesthetic goal will make you happy, let me give you a preview of the path:

  • Once you lose 20 pounds, you’ll want to get rid of your love handles.
  • Once you get rid of your love handles, you’ll want a flatter stomach.
  • Once you have a flatter stomach, you’ll want muscle tone. 
  • Once you have muscle tone, you’ll want a six-pack. 
  • Once you have a six-pack, you will decide that somehow your thighs or your arms are not up to snuff.

It really… never… stops…

You can always look better, somehow. And the standard of perfection keeps getting further and further away, juuuuuuuust… beyond… reach.

I know this because I have experienced it myself, and I have seen clients go through this process.

It is why it is essential that – in addition to aesthetics (because I don’t think it’s helpful to pretend that aesthetics is not a factor) – you must have performance goals.

How to Make Peace with Your Body

Performance goals save the day.

What do I mean by performance? Here are a few examples:

  • Squatting or deadlifting your bodyweight or more
  • Running a new race, or running a familiar race faster 
  • Mastering pull-ups and chin-ups and push-ups 
  • Getting rid of any nagging pains you may have
  • Habit-based goals like doing a workout a certain number of times per week 

Living pain-free, being capable of lifting/pulling/pushing your own bodyweight, moving faster, having a healthier heart, and being able to push yourself harder and longer are all skills that have the potential to both extend and enhance your life – both in longevity and in quality.

The irony is that there is an aesthetic payoff for building your fitness goals around these baselines. Getting stronger, getting faster, and moving better will all likely yield body composition changes that are incredibly elusive if you chase them all-out, but can be familiar friends if you just allow them in.

Action is Key

The magical mindset shift is moving your intention from approval to action.

When you chase aesthetic goals with a one-track mind, your gauge of success could be how you feel about yourself on any given day. Unfortunately, this can be incredibly random – despite our best power-of-positive-thinking efforts, we don’t always feel great about ourselves. Variables from hormones to a bad meal to a friend’s comment to fluid retention can all impact the way we feel about our bodies. Even worse, the way we feel can impact the way we act. When we feel bad about ourselves, we typically don’t take measured and sober action to make ourselves feel better. We often either overeat (self-soothe) or go into an over-exercising and under-eating frenzy that is an unrealistic, random, and unsustainable plan.

However, when you incorporate aesthetic goals into a well-balanced, structured, organized plan of attack on performance goals, you will instead: 

  • Have measurable and observable markers of progress
  • Be more accepting of both good days and bad days
  • Feel proud of what your body can do
  • Improve your actual markers of health
  • Increase the likelihood of continued fitness as you mature/age

While there are a myriad of other benefits, the key is to demote the factor of “how I feel about my body” or “what the scale says” from being the primary marker of progress to being only one part of the process.

I’m not saying it will never play a role. Of course it will. We all want to look great.

But when you stop giving your feelings about your body so much power, and invest more energy into your routines and performance, it’s incredible how much better you will feel about yourself, almost right away.

Rachel Trotta

I am a Certified Personal Trainer, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Physique and Bodybuilding Specialist, and Women's Fitness Specialist. I live in New Jersey in the NYC metro area, and I coach clients online all over the world. As a trainer and health writer, my mission is to make healthy living sustainable for the average person. I’m also a wife, mom, nature lover, runner, avid cook, weightlifting aficionado, history nerd, travel addict, and obsessive podcast listener. Get in touch!

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