We often dream about getting the perfect body, sometimes doing outrageous things in the pursuit of it - Fad diets, infomercial gadgets sold by disturbingly enthusiastic people, exercise for hours on end. Yet, despite all of the hard work, we rarely achieve it. Witness this conversation I overhead at the gym between two women:
(As a tall, thin and glistening woman walked by) "Oh, look at her. She's so skinny. She probably hasn't eaten since the 80s."
"You know she's had work done — nobody could look that perfect without some help."
"Listen to you talk! I would kill for your thighs."
"Oh, please — look at these flabby things! And you're one to talk, Ms. Perfect Abs."
"Perfect? Maybe perfectly awful."
These women looked amazing but, like many of us, they were so focused on their imperfections, they weren't seeing what I was seeing.
Whether you're a man or a woman, chances are you don't have the perfect body. Chances are even greater that you've done things to get the perfect body - Leg lifts and crunches, hours on the treadmill and hundreds of salads — all the while hoping that you'll finally get rid of those love handles or those chunky thighs.
Unfortunately, all the exercise and dieting in the world may not be enough to achieve that perfection so many of us desire; we're still a product of our genes. The question then becomes, "How much can we really change and what do we do if we can't get that perfect body?"
How Much Can You Change Your Body?
We all approach our bodies differently. Some people scrutinize every detail to see what they have or haven't achieved. Others studiously avoid looking at themselves unless they absolutely have to. We see people at the gym or on the street and think, "Why can't I look like that?"
One reason is that many aspects of your body are determined by factors beyond your control, and that starts with your body type.
What's Your Body Type?
While we don't know the exact role genes play in what we can accomplish with our bodies, we do know that they determine basic body type. These body types have been broken down into three different categories:
- Endomorph - This body type tends to have a higher body fat, big bones and a slower metabolism. For that reason, it may be difficult to lose weight.
- Mesomorph - With this body type, a person is more muscular and may have an easier time losing fat and gaining muscle.
- Ectomorph - People with this body type tend to be lean and may even have trouble gaining weight due to a faster metabolism.
Most of us fall somewhere in between these different body types, which means that some of us will lose weight easily and quickly while others won't. There are also different body shapes: An apple shape is larger in the upper body, a pear shape is larger in the hips and thighs, an hourglass has a proportional upper and lower body with a smaller waist and an athletic shape is often thin without many curves. Depending on which shape you have, you'll likely have areas where you store excess fat, making those areas the toughest to change.
While we may think that the right combination of exercise and diet will give us the ideal body, we may be limited by our inherited body type.
So what does that mean for you? The truth is, no one can tell what you can or can't change about your body. You can lose or gain fat by burning more or less calories, and you can change the amount of muscle you have by lifting weights. You can control the calories you put in your body and the calories you expend with exercise and activity, but what you can't do is choose where you lose that fat or gain that muscle.
So what if you do everything right and you still have stubborn areas of fat you can't seem to get rid of? One option is, of course, plastic surgery, but I have a better idea: Instead of trying to change what may be out of reach, what if you changed your body image? What if you could forget about getting the perfect body and work on getting your perfect body? It all starts with learning to accept your body and working on some new goals for yourself.
Accepting Your Body
The idea of accepting your body just the way it is may seem completely foreign to you. In fact, it feels like the world around us is set on keeping us unhappy with our bodies. We constantly see ads, commercials and infomercials for diets, pills and gadgets to help us reshape every inch of our bodies. There are magazines with headlines promising solutions for everything from flabby abs to dimpled thighs. If you didn't know better, you'd think getting the perfect body is something we should all be working on day and night.
In addition, we may balk at the idea of body acceptance. If we accept our bodies, won't we become complacent? If we embrace our imperfections, won't we lose our motivation to exercise or eat right?
Actually, the opposite is true. Some studies have shown that a healthy body acceptance actually encourages us to exercise and eat right. The reason? People who are comfortable with their bodies emphasize function over appearance, so they eat more intuitively, eating foods that make them feel good when they're hungry. Meanwhile, people who diet because of body dissatisfaction are more likely to fail.
There are a number of ways to work on body acceptance, including learning how to be more aware of of your body. Exercise is also a great way to build confidence, get more connected and appreciate how strong you are. Learning how to shift your focus from the perfect body to a healthy body may mean setting new exercise goals. That's your first step toward body acceptance.