9/29/14

Women's Fitness Summit - quick recap, beyond body image



The fitness and diet/nutrition industry (and the many books, products, foods and pills) is primarily marked toward women. There appears to be an ongoing pressure that women should achieve this ideal look or size according to the media. Although there are many mixed messages as to the image of a female, many women feel that if they do not look a certain way, she is lazy, doesn't take care of herself, ugly, fat, a failure and unhealthy. I realize that not everyone feels this way and certainly this sounds absolutely absurd to think that we (as women) would feel this enormous amount of pressure to look a certain way to improve our self-worth or to improve success....but sadly, body image is getting in the way of health, happiness, performance and quality of life.  And this is not limited to women. 

It seems as though so many athletes are always looking for the next best thing. The latest and greatest, the easiest, quickest and most simple method to improve health, body composition and performance/fitness. The problem with this approach is that there are so many pro-claimed "experts" out there that do not provide sound (and even healthy) advice and confuse the public when it comes to the most appropriate methods to help health and fitness focused individuals reach personal goals. 

We all know that we need to eat healthy and exercise to be healthy. But for many women (especially reading my blog right now), you are using your body for something more than "a look". I'm not quite sure why women need to post photos on social media holding up their shirts to show off their abs. What is the message behind this?  Surely, I hope, that women are working toward something more meaningful in life as to what they can do with their body (like crossing a finish line, being a good role model for children, reducing risk for disease, working hard for personal goals). 

I firmly believe that women athletes need to stop chasing an image but instead, recognize how to fuel and train the body in a way that is enhancing quality of life. Those exciting performance gains and a healthy change in body composition is merely an added bonus of taking great care of your health. 

What's interesting about body image is it's very subjective. A thought about one's appearance. The difference between athletes and non athletes is that athletes often have a different standard as to what their body should look like or perhaps once looked like when it performed the best. But many times, this image is often influenced by someone else's body, perhaps even someone who is fitter, faster or healthier. Certainly there is nothing wrong with feeling motivated to work hard for goals but when the approach to achieving the "ideal" image becomes to quick, restrictive, obsessive or extreme, that is when health and performance goals are going to be difficult to achieve. 

So many female athletes (and non athletes and males included) have this thought process when it comes to food and the body. As if a rule book is in place for every action and if a role is broken the immediate thought it "I know I shouldn't be doing this."
Who is watching you all the time that you feel this crazy amount of pressure that you "shouldn't be doing this?"

In our current world, female athletes are tearing down traditional gender stereotypes. More than ever before, we continually hear about female athletes doing incredible things with their bodies. And these things receive national attention!
It's hard to believe that at one time, our society thought that females should not play competitive sports and if they did, no one would watch them.
Glad those ancient times are a thing of the past!

The problem in today's society, however, is that many female athletes are so focused on being small and tiny that they lose strength, power and speed. Not to mention the unfortunate side effects of "shrinking" your image instead of strengthening your image......
Stress fractures, amennorhea, disordered eating, overexercising, orthorexia, an unhealthy relationship with food, forbidden food lists, hatred for the body.

An athlete that is so heavily focused on body image eventually carries around an exhausted body that is broken (in more ways than one) and can no longer serve them in life, let alone in sports. 
When was the last time you looked in the mirror and said
"Body...you ROCK! Thank you body for what you allow me to do!"?



This past weekend I had the honor of speaking at the Women's Fitness Summit along with several other ladies who are authorities in the health and fitness industry. I will be sharing the recap of my talk which was focused on mental toughness, body image, menstruation, daily nutrition and sport nutrition. I will also share a recap of the other presentations as well. 

The most beautiful thing about this event was that I was speaking to real women. Women of all shapes, sizes, background and passions. And let me tell you.....this was one STRONG group of women!!

Now, I think of myself as a strong athlete. My body is pretty incredible in that I have a strong heart and muscles that help to carry me 140.6 miles. But let me tell you...so many of these girls can lift some serious weights (probably more than I weigh!) and they train super hard to be the best they can be in the weight room, for no other reason than loving the idea that lifting weights is empowering! 
I was so inspired and motivated by the women at this event and although I won't be jumping into heavy lifting anytime soon, I appreciated that we all were united for one reason. 
We LOVE to use our bodies! 

It was extremely refreshing to learn new information at this event. We celebrated the role of carbohydrates in the athlete's diet, we learned about the importance of fueling the athlete's body, we recognized the importance of keeping the body in good health as an athlete, we talked about our periods (and I shared that I have had a regular menstrual cycle for the past 6 years, every month without any pills. Also that I started my menstrual cycle 2 days before I raced IMWI...ugh, thank you body for being so healthy :)
 And lastly, we shared a common interest all weekend in that we are just so tired and sick of society telling women what they should look like to be healthy, happy and to perform well. 

Isn't the basis of physiology that the body is going perform a certain way based on good fueling, good daily nutrition, good recovery, consistent training and good health? Is the look allowing you to succeed or is it is good practices that support intentional training stress? 

Isn't the goal of any female athlete (or male) to be able to perform to the best of your ability with a healthy body? What good is your body when it is underfueled, sick, weak, tired, emotionally drained, overtrained or injured? Do you want to celebrate your body image on social media in a picture or do you want to be out in the real world, doing incredible things with your body?

This will not be the first and only Women's Fitness Summit. 
Hopefully there will be branches of this summit, geared toward specific athletes and professionals. I would love to present my talk to female triathlete groups.
How special to think that we can have female experts in certain fields and they are the authorities on certain topics? In other words, just imagine how amazing it would be if you could reach out to professional women when you need trusted, safe and helpful advice that is 100% dedicated to helping you achieve your goals?
(Just want to give a little shout-out to all of my male coaching and nutrition athletes who respect my approach to training and nutrition.)

 And most importantly, don't you just want advice that keeps you healthy while performing well? No quick fixes or extreme approaches just the old fashioned sensible approach of work hard, focus on yourself, no excuses and never lose sight of your dreams.
Oh and methods that allow you to actually function well in society.

So I ask  you to do the following......
Ask yourself if your current diet is moving closer to your fitness goals?
Ask yourself if you are eating for fuel and for health?
Ask yourself if you are training so much, but not moving closer to your fitness goals?
Ask yourself if you are keeping your body in good health while training for an event?
Ask yourself if you are enjoying life with your current eating habits?
Ask yourself if you are enjoying life with your current training plan?

If yes, awesome. Keep inspiring others.
If not sure or no, search within yourself. You know you have some knowledge to make healthy choices. If you still feel stuck, consult a sport RD (or other professional) who can guide you in the right direction.

If only we could have women fitness events every week.
What an incredible world this would be!
If you are a female athlete, imagine surrounding yourself with strong, passionate, active, healthy women who love using their bodies for a goal MORE than moving their bodies for a look.

Let's stop the body bashing and body hating and let's celebrate the female athlete's body. It comes in all shapes and sizes and the only speed that matters is the pace that you choose to take to reach your goals and dreams. 

Celebrate what your body can do and never forget what your body has achieved in life. 

Thank you body.