Controlling our bodies
To say we are living in strange times right now feels like an understatement. Many are confined to their homes, desperate to get out; others are out working, and praying they don’t get sick and infect their loved ones. Neither is better than the other. Everyone is doing the best they can, and that includes you. Incase no one’s told you lately, you are doing a good job!
I know many of us are feeling a loss of control right now. We can’t control this virus, we can’t control that schools are closed, we can’t control the fact that businesses are closed, we can’t control having to work from home, we can’t control our kids (I don’t have any but this is a common theme I’m hearing), we can’t control the weather, we can’t control who is abiding to social distancing and who isn’t, and we can’t control the lack of toilet paper in every store… you get it. There seems to be one thing we feel we can control in all this, and that is our bodies.
Lately I have seen a huge increase of people worried about what is going to happen to their bodies during this time. Memes are floating around social media about the ‘quarantine-15,’ diet advice is everywhere, people are asking (‘jokingly’) not to be judged for what their bodies look like after this, and there’s been an influx of workouts to stream for free.
Let me start by saying, there is nothing wrong with moving and nourishing our bodies! Both are important parts of life and can benefit us greatly physically and mentally. The trouble comes when these are being used as a means of control. It’s normal to want to control something, especially when all else feels so out of our control. But controlling our bodies isn’t the answer. It can be a good distraction, and even a good coping mechanism at times, but it’s not true control.
Despite what most of culture tells us, we have little control over the size and shape of our bodies. Similar to shoe size, height, and hair color, our weight is highly genetic. We each have a set point weight range of about 10-20 pounds, sometimes more, where our body naturally settles when we’re getting enough to eat and moving our bodies consistently. When we are under-nourishing and over-exercising, our weight may decrease, but for the overwhelming majority of us this is only temporary.
Our bodies are very smart; they know what a healthy weight range is for each of us individually, and will fight to stay within that range by doing the following.
- When the body senses we aren’t getting enough energy, it will slow down metabolism to compensate; it is trying to use as little energy as possible while still maintaining life.
- The body also increases hunger hormones so you seek out food, as it thinks there must be a famine since it’s not getting enough nourishment.
- It also makes energy-dense foods more appetizing, again, to get you to give it the energy it needs. If you have ever dieted or restricted certain foods or food groups and found yourself more sluggish, hungrier, and with increased cravings, this is what you’re experiencing. Often people chalk it up to a lack of ‘willpower,’ but really, it’s biology. Your body’s main job is to keep you alive and it is very good at it.
This is not meant to be discouraging, but rather to encourage you! If you have struggled to ‘control’ your weight (long-term) during this quarantine, or even before- it’s not your fault. Your body is functioning exactly as it is supposed to.
Contrary to popular belief, healthy bodies come in all sizes. We live in a world that tells us there is a right way and wrong way to have a body, and that thin or muscular are the only bodies that are healthy, when the truth is that God made us in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Look at the flowers, trees, birds, animals, bodies of water, stars, clouds, galaxies, all of creation! Within each of those groups, there is a great variety of shapes and sizes. Take dogs for example (everybody loves dogs, right?!). They come in so many different breeds, of all shapes and sizes, from the dainty chihuahua, to the majestic English mastiff, and everything in between. None is better than another; they are just made to look different than one another, and that’s awesome! How boring would it be if every dog looked exactly the same and was the same size? Thank God that’s not how He made them!
God loves variety. He is the great Creator, the greatest Artist of all time, and He designed each of us. In fact, we are His masterpieces; every one of us were fearfully and wonderfully made. He has never made a mistake; that includes the way He made our bodies. God created each of us to be different than any other. We are all unique, from our personalities, to our gifts and ministries, to the way we present physically. None is better than another.
There have been bodies of all sizes for all of creation. Even the Bible mentions bodies of different sizes from time to time. But it never elevates one over the other. It doesn’t say there is a ‘correct’ way to have a body. In fact, God makes it very clear that what truly matters is the heart:
1 Samuel 16:7 says “God doesn’t look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
God says He wants us to follow Him, wholeheartedly. That above all else we are to guard our heart because it is the wellspring of our lives; we speak out of the overflow of the heart. Out of the overflow of the love He gives each of us, He wants us to love Him and to love others as we love ourselves.
– How often are we prioritizing the external, trying to control our bodies, rather than looking inward and upward? When was the last time you checked in with yourself, gently asking how your heart is?
– How can we love others as we love ourselves, when we have a hard time loving ourselves because we are at war with our bodies?
– How can we love God when we think He made our bodies wrong?
I know this is probably a lot to think about, and I am not saying it’s easy to love our bodies in a world that’s constantly reminding us that there is only one body it accepts. Rather than love (for now), I would like to encourage you to accept your body, exactly as it is, right this moment. I know that this may seem like a bit of a stretch, and may even be exceedingly difficult to do, but I have some tips that may help.
1. Cultivate gratitude. Can you think of anything you are grateful for regarding your body? We can be grateful to God for creating us (in His image, I might add); the fact that we were created means that He has a great purpose for our lives.
- we can thank our brains for allowing us to think
- our mouths for helping us eat and taste
- our feet for allowing us to walk from place to place and to feel the grass between our toes
- our eyes allowing us to see the beauty of God’s creation
- our ears letting us hear laughter and music and thunderstorms
- our bodies for expanding and allowing new life to grow within us
- our noses for the gift of smelling freshly baked chocolate chip cookies
- our hearts for beating every single moment of our lives, keeping us alive
These are all privileges; not everyone carries each of these gifts. Shifting your mindset from one of discontent to one of gratitude is powerful! Give it a shot. Create your own list of why you are grateful for your body and remind yourself of it daily.
2. Exercise for joy.Rather than exercising to control or change your body, can you shift your focus to finding movement that feels joyful? How does your body enjoy moving? What feels good to you? Movement is a gift; it does not have to be a punishment! You do not have to exercise in order to ‘earn’ your food, of any sort, ever. If any form of movement doesn’t feel good in your body, I encourage you to consider whether or not you should continue on with it. There are infinite ways to move your body, so I have full faith you can find at least one that you truly enjoy! A few points to remember:
- Any kind of movement ‘counts’ as movement. I have seen too many posts saying things like the traditional ‘no pain, no gain,’ or that you have to exercise for at least ten minutes in order for it to count; don’t believe those lies! Any way you move your body, particularly when it makes you feel good, is good for you and most certainly ‘counts.’ (I’m not sure what we’re counting but you know what I mean… hopefully.)
- This can include things like gardening, walking your dog, stretching, cleaning your home, yoga, etc. It does not have to be intense; it just has to be for the right reason – joy.
3. Food. Who here is confused about what to eat? I know this whole quarantine situation has thrown a wrench into the way many of us eat on a regular basis, and I know that can be very stressful, again, when food is something we like to try to feel in control around. Here are some tips on how to feed yourself (and if applicable, your family) during this time:
- My first piece of advice is to try your best not to stress over your food. Chronic stress is far worse for our bodies than anything we eat. Instead, I encourage you to go back to the basics. Try to eat three meals a day. If you are hungry in between, or before bed, have a snack. If you have a hard time feeling your hunger, eating three meals a day on a consistent basis is a good way to start to normalize those hormones again.
- As far as what to eat, try to keep it simple. The three main nutrients our bodies need (macronutrients) are carbohydrate, fat, and protein; try to eat each of these 3 nutrients at meals, and 1-2 of them at snacks. Getting fiber is important as well, especially for digestive health; try to eat fiber at most meals. You can find fiber in whole grain foods like many cereals, pastas, and breads, as well as in fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
- As much as possible, eat foods you enjoy! Do not be afraid of eating foods often demonized by diet culture. It is ok to have dessert, it’s ok to have chips, it’s ok to eat sugar. None of these are as detrimental to your health as you have heard. Sure, they are not meant to be the main or only things we eat but, allowing them in your diet is better than restricting them. Who has ever sworn off sugar only to binge on it shortly after? That goes back to the body’s survival mechanism we talked about earlier. Food we restrict is always going to be more appealing. Instead, allowing these more ‘fun’ foods into our lives creates a better balance and takes away that ‘forbidden’ appeal.
4. Portions. Please know that the serving size listed on the box is a suggestion, not a rule. It is an estimate; we often need more food than suggested, and there is nothing wrong with that. The best gauge of portion size is your own hunger. Your body is smart, and if you let it, it will guide you in how much food you need each day. You do not have to track calories or macros or count out your almonds. Let your hunger be your guide. Trust your body. It has your best interest in mind.
From a food and body standpoint, the best thing we can do right now is cultivate gratitude for our bodies, feed ourselves enough food on a consistent basis, and move our bodies in ways we enjoy. If this seems like too much for right now, that’s ok too. Just try to care for yourself as best you can, and give yourself grace. Remember that in all things, God is in ultimate control. Let’s lean into Him in this time of uncertainty, and find rest in His arms.
This blog post was written by Melissa. She is a registered dietitian and owner of the private practice More to Life Nutrition Counseling. You can contact her at email@example.com or at her website moretoliferd.com