7/19/14

Body, show me what you can do!


If you want to feel inspired, motivated to work out and amazed by the human body, I recommend to watch Kacy Catanzaro do the incredible as she becomes the first women to make the finals in American Ninja Warrior. 

I am extremely passionate about helping athletes learn how to develop a healthy relationship with food and the body through my business but I am also no stranger to expressing my thoughts with the athlete's body, and concerns with body image and ultimately giving guidance to athletes on how to build a better body image.

So when something so amazing, related to the human body in motion, goes viral in the mainstream media, I love the opportunity to share my thoughts on a very important topic. 

Body Image

How do you see your body at rest and how to do you see your body in motion? As an athlete or fitness enthusiast, we must not forget that you are not an exerciser. You have goals for your body and ultimately, you have a training plan that allows you to make the necessary physiological gains necessary (along with proper recovery) to improve fitness by a specific deadline. 
For good reason, you likely have an intensified image of your body when it is in motion for at no other time during your day will you feel so close to your organs, brain, skin and body parts.

Body image is the way that you perceive your body and also how you assume others perceive you. For most age group athletes, there is great joy in having an "athlete" status - either in training or on race day. For athletes are dedicated, motivated and disciplined and they love challenges, overcoming obstacles and reaching personal goals. However,  for many, with this "athlete" status comes a deep pressure to "look" like an athlete. And in the quest to work hard (or earn) the image of the athlete that you feel is relative to an improvement in speed or power, it's extremely easy to develop negative thoughts about your body in motion and to want a different body composition.

Rather than being focused and aware of personal gains in fitness and attention on developing a fueling regime that meets your individual needs, a negative body image creates a dramatic shift of an individual focus to, instead, a focus of what everyone else is doing and what you are not. 

Although not every athlete will develop a classified eating disorder while changing the diet or exercise routine in order to change body image, I have discovered that many athletes create extremely unhealthy methods of eating and fueling the body (or lack of fueling) and exercising which consequently negatively affect performance. 

The tough issue for many is recognizing how a negative body image negatively affects performance and health. As a health and fitness professional, I have experience with athletes who carry a negative body image with them throughout the day and end up intentionally underfueling and perhaps overexercising all in the quests to achieve "ideal". 
I find that for many athletes, there is a greater chase for a body image than for performance and health gains. 

Strong is the new skinny

I am very happy to see that our society has shifted away from idolizing the size-0 "model" body as the norm for only 5% of our population naturally possess the body portrayed by the media (ex. magazines, clothing ads, TV shows, etc.). 

You may have noticed that "strong is the new skinny" is the new slogan that has taken over social media in many forms from motivation pictures, quotes and workouts. 

Not limited to women, our society is moving into a trend where we celebrate and marvel over bodies for what they can do instead of just looking a certain way. 

We awe over physical feats such as (but not limited to) grand cycling tours, the Ironman, ultra running, cross fit and now, Kacy in the Ninja Warrior (she inspired me to do 4 full unassisted pull-ups today - she rocks!). I am sure I am not alone that there are amazing athletes out there who are doing incredible things with their body....and perhaps you are one of them! 

We should not forget that those who are fighting cancer or an illness, balancing working life while having a family or individuals experiencing uncontrollable life changes should also be celebrated for what they are able to do with their bodies. Certainly, strong is not limited to individuals who sweat and cross finish lines but instead, for the many people who are not so lucky to have good health and freedom to train for and cross finish lines. 

So here we are in modern day when we are focused on the best way to fuel and train a body in motion instead of just obsessing about what size clothes we wear. This makes me happy as a sport RD and exercise physiologist. 

However, we slowly move away from the super-model body image which has been marketed as the ideal look for our society over the past decade or so, even though many of us know that it is not realistic or healthy to have very limited body fat, no curves or muscle tone but nevertheless, the pressure remained high from the media. We now have strong, muscular, extremely fit and toned athletes (of all fitness levels) as the new normal to motivate and inspire us to work hard in order to be strong.

For many athletes, however, this new fitness movement of clean eating, power and strength and ultra endurance may be no better than dieting to be "skinny."  For we are still a society that continues to obsess about health, food and the body. And the more we focus and obsess about it, it seems like the more unhealthy we become. 

Simply put, we have the message that strong is the new skinny and that is extremely motivating because we have permission from society (I know, very sad right?!) that we can have muscles and be sexy, beautiful and fit. 

But is this fit-focused movement really helping athletes create a healthier relationship with food and the body?

Sadly, I think this movement is making things worse. 

For now, instead of cutting out calories to lose weight to be thin (the old normal), athletes are making extreme dietary changes while training the body (up to 10-20+ hours per week) in hopes to get stronger and faster AND change body composition (the new normal). Athletes are overtrained, undernourished, sleep deprived and lacking proper tools to train smart and to build self-confidence as an athlete. 
Simply put, there are many athletes out there who look fit or are on a mission to be fit, but are extremely unhealthy.

Hopefully you now understand why I am so passionate about helping incredible athletes (of all fitness levels) learn how to fuel their bodies in motion. I find that so many athletes take extreme or destructive measures when it come to body composition changes or performance gains. I am not sure if this is because the athlete does not know the proper steps or if the athlete is following the advice (or rules) of some higher figure who feels that there is only the right way to reach health and fitness goals. And this needs to stop. I am tired of seeing athletes compromising their health and potential as a hard working athlete because of a body image goal.
Whereas you may feel you need to train more or train harder, I feel that a productive area that athletes can work on is learning how to have a healthier relationship with food and the body. 
What's the point of having a lean body if you can not do anything with it?

A strong body in motion

What does your body allow you to do? 
Cross finish lines, participate in a spin class, climb mountains on your bike, zumba for hours or keep up with your super energetic family?

Now ask yourself, if you are currently trying to become faster, lose weight, change body composition or reach a PR, what are you not able to do with your body because of the following:
-Low blood sugar
-Low energy
-Underfueling/overeating
-Guilty eating
-Restrictive eating
-Extreme fatigue
-Overtraining
-Body image critiquing/comparing
-Altered blood values
-Chronic sickness and/or fatigue
-On going injuries
-Burnout
-Depression
-Mood swings
-Exercise/food obsession
-Relying on energy boosters/pills to energize a tired/worn down body
-Food runs your life
-Missing a workout ruins your day
-Your eating and workout routine control your life

It is not uncommon for the athlete to experience a mix of symptoms that reflect improper fueling or haphazard training and instead of trying to gain fitness while training, the athlete actually ends up losing fitness, compromising health and often times, missing out on life. 


The amazing effort that was shown my Kacy on the American Ninja Warrior shows a strong body that can perform amazingly well. A body that is trained, fueled, healthy and fit. 

However, what works for Kacy may not work for everyone. Ande for most of us, we have our own goals of what we want to achieve with our bodies and perhaps it involves swimming, biking and/or running and not rope climbing or conquering the salmon ladder or the spider wall. 
And that's ok. As long as you have a goal that challenges you and makes you motivated to work hard every day, that's what is most important. 

Your training, eating and lifestyle routine should reflect your goals for it is your journey that you get to take your body and mind on every time you have an athletic commitment and a deadline. 

Rather than idolizing any one body type, it's time to start showing yourself what YOU can do with your trained and well fueled body. 

Your body has strengths and weaknesses and only you can make sure that you are fueling and training it appropriately so that you are enjoying life with your one and only body. 

It's not a complicated statement to understand but I realize for many who have yet to master a healthy relationship with food and the body, that it can be very difficult to change the mindset in a food and exercise obsessed athlete (regardless if the methods in place are actually working to improve performance). More often than not, I find that athletes are so rigid with the training and eating routine and are so scared of change that even the thought of changing what's not working keeps an athlete doing the same thing over and over and sometimes, hoping for different results but even being content if results don't come so long as training and the diet never have to change.

My ongoing message stays the same. 
If you do not have a healthy relationship with food and the body, you will find yourself undernourished and underfueled and eventually unmotivated and unhealthy.  This is no life to live, especially if you are taking time out of your life to train for a sporting event. 
A body that can not perform is absolutely not the state that you want your body to be in when you place intentional physiologically stress on your body because you have goals for your body which you want to meet by a definite deadline. 

If you are unable to address and change what is not working, then you need to find someone as soon as possible who is qualified to help you learn how to train and fuel in a way that is supportive of your health and fitness goals. We have far too many fit-looking motivational experts as well as opinionated athletes with loud voices who think they know what works for everyone, because it works for them. Therefore, athletes have endless material to use when it comes to modifying the diet for performance and body composition changes and sadly, this only confuses athletes as to what is the right individual approach for each human body. 

Be sure you work with a coach who has experience in tailoring training plans to your individual lifestyle needs and understands the human body in motion. Also be sure that you work with a registered dietitian who specializes in sport nutrition so that you are not taking short cuts or wasting time when it comes to your training and racing goals. 

Most top athletes know what works for their body. They recognize what sport nutrition is best tolerated and useful during training and the best foods to eat before and after workouts. Athletes who fuel properly for performance gains, instead of for a body image, do so because they love how great it feels to perform with a body that is not compromised.  They have focused not on what everyone else is doing but instead, through ongoing individual trial and error, they have figured out what works for them. (key word - patience). 

Athletes who are always on the search of something better, quicker and easier will constantly find themselves trying something new until it doesn't work anymore and then moving on to something else without ever spending time to consider what works best long term.
In my opinion, it is a waste of your time, money and energy as well as missing out on life if you spend your days always focusing on what others are doing instead of focusing on yourself. 

Love your body in motion

What a simple concept. 
If you nourish and fuel your body, you will love the results that come with a strong and healthy body. 

A body surviving on a restricted diet and hours and hours of weekly cardio is not what you should be celebrating when you idolize over fit bodies in pictures or what you should be aiming for. A fit body isn't always a fast, a lean body isn't always strong, a perfect looking body is not always healthy and a fit, lean, perfect body is not always happy in life. 

It's time that you create a strong and healthy body that will help you reach your health and fitness goals.

Your body is amazing and you do not always have to cross a finish line to show your inner strength. 
But if you are focusing on your body composition in hopes to improve performance and health, just be sure that you feel as healthy as you want to look. And in my belief, healthy comes in all types of body compositions, shapes and sizes and the bottom line is that a healthy athlete performs amazingly well. 

Eat well, train smart, recover hard and then show me (no, show YOU) what you can do with your amazing body.