8/3/18

Is your mind tricking you into feeling fat?


Have you ever noticed that on some days you feel healthy and strong and other days you feel fat? Interestingly, the feelings that you have toward your body may have very little to do with your actual body size. You may actually be at a very healthy weight, with a very healthy body composition, but feel "fat" and desire a change in body composition through dieting and/or exercise. 

When it comes to self-image (the mental image that you have for yourself), it can fluctuate a lot from day to day or even minute to minute. If you are having an awesome day or workout, your perception of your body may be really good. You don't worry about what you eat and you carry on with your day with positivity and confidence. But if you had a bad day or workout or someone said something to you that made you feel less worthy, your self-image may get stuck into a negative setting, which makes you feel fat. 

Sometimes your self-image can quickly change in an instant. For example, you may be feeling awesome, your day is going great and you feel good about your body but you browse through social media and see an athlete who looks leaner than you and your self-image suddenly shifts and suddenly feel fat and want to change how you look. You then start looking for quick or extreme methods to change how you look so that you can gain control over these uncomfortable feelings.

If only it was easy to be kind and compassionate about your body but that's incredibly hard for most people because it's quite normal and accepted to "body bash" on a daily basis. With so many messages telling you that you need to change the way that you look (ex. magazines, social media/bloggers, advertisements, TV, etc.), it's very easy to feel dissatisfied with your body image - making you feel fat.

For athletes (especially endurance athletes), it's hard to escape this idea of competitive leanness where it's assumed that the leaner you are, the more successful you will be in sport. Couple this with the need to wear revealing and tight performance-clothing, this can increase body consciousness and body dissatisfaction - which may eventually increase the risk of dieting and disordered eating. I've seen far too many athletes chase a lean image, only to end up with extreme fatigue, nutrient deficiencies, stress fractures and other serious health issues. 

When you have an "I feel fat" moment, it's important to get to the root of this misinterpreted feeling. Because it's OK to have body fat (and still succeed in sport, be happy and be healthy), it's important to consider the trigger for why you "feel fat."

What is truly going on that is making you "feel" this way about your body? Are you feeling unmotivated, stressed, depressed, anxious or out of control in certain areas of your life? Are you comparing yourself with a past version of yourself or to another athlete? Did you have a bad day/workout or are you just overall exhausted and tired?

Food is one of the easiest and most common ways for athletes (or for anyone) to gain a feeling of control. Using food for a sense of control is a common strategy to deal with stress, anxiety or low self-esteem or poor self-confidence. As an example, if you feel stressed because you can't stay consistent with your training or you feel upset that you had a bad workout or you feel pressure to look differently or you feel anxious about your upcoming race, you may also feel fat. Turning to food to gain control over your body may seem like the only logical solution to remove these uncomfortable emotions but it shouldn't be this way.

Because the mind has many ways of tricking you into feeling fat, believing these thoughts to be true may lead into unhealthy coping strategies such as underfueling, dieting, overexercising or disordered eating. As an athlete, you may feel constant pressure to look a certain way and regardless of how well your training is going or the health of your body. Your body may be strong and fine-tuned to perform, but something is making you feel otherwise about your body image. 

Recognizing that there is no perfect body image (or level of body fatness) that is required for athletic success in your sport, the way your body looks to perform at its best may not match up to the way you think you are supposed to look. And this is ok. 

It's time to crush those negative thoughts and recognize that your body fat is not the issue but rather, it's your own attitude toward your body. You have the choice to believe the thoughts telling you that you are "too fat" or you can refuse and reject those insults and negative thoughts to improve your body image and overall self-confidence. It's your decision what you choose to believe.

As an athlete, you put a lot of stress on your body to perform. Remove the added stress of feeling the need to look a certain way. Stop putting all your energy and focus on how you look. Despite what you believe, reducing body fat may not improve your happiness or performance. Once you begin to love what you see about yourself and stop wishing to change, you'll feel more adequate and comfortable in your skin. You'll then begin to make better choices with your lifestyle habits that will likely better help you succeed in sport and improve your overall healthy. Eat healthy, fuel smart and exercise (or train) because it makes you feel great physically and mentally. Focus on the internal benefits of a healthy lifestyle and as an athlete, take care of your body because you love it, you respect it and you want to be kind to it with good fuel and nutrients.