Be Ideal.

If you live in Columbus and have turned on the radio (specifically WNCI), you've probably heard commercials for that "Ideal Image" place that wants to freeze your fat and give you the perfect bikini line, and who knows what else they do.

Their tagline is "be ideal."

Ohhhh the word "ideal." This word is PACKED with all sorts of interesting stuff.

I began going to the gym in the seventh grade. Yes, as in I'd get on the elliptical and "work out" with the goal of burning calories. I wanted, no, I needed to have an "ideal body." Everyone around me (family, friends) was super skinny, it was the age of Nicole Ritchie and Paris Hilton, and basically every adult I knew was very vocally on a diet, or moaning about how they should be on one.

Meanwhile, I had a very average-sized body, not super skinny, not overweight, oh, but I had curves, as in boobs and a butt starting in sixth grade. To me, normal body weight plus big boobs and butt meant I was "big." I didn't look like the skinny girls around me who were praised for being "so tiny!" They had ideal bodies, I thought.

From then through my sophomore/junior year in college, to say I had a horrible relationship with food and exercise is an understatement. When I looked in the mirror, I always saw what was wrong. 

Yoga was the first thing to begin the transformation of my relationship with my body. I started my yoga practice my sophomore year in college.

But what really helped accelerate my shift was when I began studying health communication during my junior year in college. I had the most incredible professor, who is a friend still today. I had always been curious about how communication impacts health behavior and body image, and this was my chance to start studying it.

I knew that growing up, magazines and the media, and even just run of the mill "fat talk" at home or at school were at the root of my disordered relationship with my body. I wanted to dive deeper and uncover how these messages function. So I did. 

After graduating form Boston College, I went to Ohio State to do more. In my research, one of the theories I came across and used in my thesis was called Self-Discrepancy theory.

It gets super complex, but I'll just keep it simple here.

What it boils down to is our ideas of our "ought self" and our "ideal self" versus our "actual self."

  • Ought-self: who we think we should be based on others' opinions (or what we think others' opinions are).
  • Ideal-self: this is often rooted in our ought-self, but it is the standard we hold ourselves to, the person we want to be.
  • Actual-self: the person we actually are.

So, let's look at High School/Freshman Year College Julie:

My my ideal self was based upon my ought self. I thought I "ought" to have little to no body fat in order to be ideal (and especially to work in fitness). 

And when I looked at my actual self, I obviously fell short. Because, hi, having little to no body fat is a specific body type few people have and/or are capable of achieving. And, with my naturally curvy frame... being the kind of skinny I thought I should be was straight up IMPOSSIBLE. 

Therefore, there was this HUGE discrepancy between who I was and who I thought I should be.

Herein lies the issue: when our actual selves don't measure up to our ideal selves... and this often stems from the "ought self," which we form based on how we are influenced by all sorts of external factors, which for me meant: media, culture, fitness industry, childhood. 

Fast forward. Lots of self-reflection and personal growth on the whole diet and exercise front later,  I began to realize how for me, being healthy meant enjoying a cheese burger and a beer without guilt, without feeling like a bad person. I started to see that no matter how hard I tried, I would never have that zero-body-fat body, and even trying to achieve that would mean a life of social isolation and absolute misery, and honestly? Starvation. That was not a life I wanted to live. It was neither mentally, physically, or emotionally healthy.

I wanted to exercise to feel good, not to punish myself.

I wanted to eat healthy food to nourish and love myself.

I also wanted to eat pizza to nourish and love myself in a  whole different way.

It is only recently that I picked up a book on Intuitive Eating. I had seen some really awesome instagram and blog posts about Intuitive Eating by a local health coach, Simi Botic, and I always thought, damn this girl is totally aligned with my philosophy on health... which, honestly, I felt was rare. Very rare. Everyone else was on some cleanse, or praising "clean food" or something... eat this/not that... #bikinibody.

So I knew I had to check out intuitive eating. Low and behold I felt like I was reading my own journey in the book. Intuitive Eating is all about deeply getting to know your body, and learning to listen to your body and nourish it according to what you are craving, what will bring pleasure, what will fuel you best, without external rules or regulations. It uncovers how diets have destroyed all intuition we naturally have around food, and how diets have created this society of deprivation and binging cycles and ultimately, an all out war on food and our bodies.

My favorite part of the book was the chapter on respecting your body. One thing this chapter asks you to do is embrace your body AS IT IS. Not as it would be 10 pounds lighter, but to just completely and fully love your body right now. And to love your body for it's unique shape and to stop striving for some insane ideal that, quite frankly, probably is impossible to achieve! It asks you to see your body for what it is. Not for what you think it should be, or could be, or what you want it to be, but to embrace your body as it is.

Guess what? When I actually started to genuinely LOVE my body... I started treating it with love.

This was huge for me. This is what I've been working on all along. Embracing my curves, the fat on my belly, the cellulite on my butt. This is my body. I am strong, I am healthy, and it's never going to be that zero-fat body. And you know what? I love that. I love it! It's my body, it's uniquely my own, and I absolutely love all that it is capable of, and all that it has been through and will go through.

This ties so well into my nerdy theory on self-discrepancy. And here's the cool thing about self-discrepancy theory... sure, it uncovers why so many of us have disordered relationships with food and exercise... but it also shows the way out of this war... we just need to shift our ideal. We need to throw the "oughts," "shoulds," "coulds" out the window and define our own ideal.

Our thoughts create our reality. And guess what? We control our thoughts. We control our ideal. We can create any ideal self we want.

Once I shifted my ideal-self, my world changed and all of a sudden I was free from the war on food I had been in my entire life.

Powerful stuff.

So I ask you this...

Think about your "ideal-self." Then, take time, lots of time, a day, a week, a month, A YEAR... to reflect on why you hold this ideal, how did these beliefs form?

Then... I ask you to really challenge this ideal-self.  Is this truly your ideal-self? What would life look like if you achieved that ideal self? Will this ideal-self bring you happiness? Is it realistic?

Or... is there a different self... perhaps even the one you are right now... that is so much better than your 'old' ideal. Start to focus your energy on her. 

I'm excited to be working on something that will allow me to share my journey and my knowledge in a bigger way with you all... stay tuned for more on that in the coming months... I absolutely cannot wait to share it with you!