Hellooooooo. How's the day going? Hope you're having a wonderful one so far.
[This post dives into some fitness and body-related content, so if you know that it's not a comfortable topic for you, please meet me back here in tomorrow am! What we read can affect our minds and bodies, and it's up to us to surround ourselves with messaging that promotes a healthy and happy life. Just a head's up, and sending love and healing wishes to those who are experiencing body-related or eating disorders.]
This blog topic is something that I've thought of here and there over the years: while going through my weight loss journey, working as a fitness instructor and personal trainer, my postpartum return to fitness, and most recently, a medical hiatus from the fitness world. When I wrote this post, I got a few comments that got the wheels turning. I thought it would be good to turn this into a discussion and as always, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.
Isn't it ok to want to work out for health AND vanity reasons?
Do they have to be mutually exclusive?
Weight gain and fitness loss are common occurrences during any kind of break from working out. While I was on the mends from my surgeries, I focused on eating healthy foods that helped my body heal, but since my activity was level down, I had less of an appetite. Over the span of a few months, I could feel my energy level and strength declining. I'd received quite a few emails from readers in similar situations, and not one, but ALL of them wanted to know how to recover from an injury without gaining weight or dramatically losing their fitness levels. Before we discuss anything, I need to say that healing and recovery are the top priority. If you've read the blog for a while (thank you!!!), you already know my stance, but I think it's worth repeating: you should always, ALWAYS, prioritize recovery over anything else and know that the gym is waiting for you when you're in full health again. Now with that out there, I will say that the best thing you can do for your long-term fitness goals during this time is to continue with your good habits. Maybe that's nutrition, meditating, or whatever limited activity that is approved by a doctor. The worst thing you can do is think that since you can't go at your maximum fitness ability, you might as well abandon all other healthy habits. Hopefully, you're in a situation that's temporary, and you'll be back at it in no time. I had to remind myself often as I became less and less patient waiting to get back to my normal routine.
(So excited to be back taking and teaching my favorite classes!)
Back to the subject at hand — Over the years, I've seen a lot of uses for fitness for vanity purposes. Magazines and online articles capitalize on "Quick Guide to a Summer Bod," "Sexy Abs NOW" and "Lift that booty!"-esque posts, using images of fit women and often unattainable fitness ideals. (Also, while I'm soapboxing my little heart out: if you can dramatically change your figure in 7 days, you're doing it wrong. Slow and steady wins the race, friends. This way you will create habits that are easy to maintain over the long term, and are creating a lifestyle instead of a crash.) A "get fit quick" for vanity might not be the best idea.
I will say that vanity as a fitness goal is what brought a LOT clients when I first started personal training. I definitely had some women come in who wanted to reduce their knee pain, run faster, improve heart health, and get stronger. But more than anything, I had women come up to me and say, "Can you help my waist/hips/legs/butt look good?"
Here's why I think fitness for vanity has its… place:
- It can get the ball rolling. While many people have lightbulb moments related to health that inspire them to make positive changes, many people see something with their body they'd like to "fix" and it encourages them to hit the gym and/or change up eating habits. Because I want everyone to be healthy and happy, I don't care what gets people into the gym and eating more fruits, veggies, healthy fats, whole grains, and protein if they're doing it in a healthy way and enjoying the process. What motivates you may not be what motivates me, and that's totally cool.
- It can be a nudge to keep going. If someone is encouraged by noticing physical results or the fact that they fit better into their jeans and they start to do cardio or pay more attention to their eating habits, that's awesome! It may inspire them to keep going because they realize the extra benefits that come along besides said jeans, including but not limited to higher energy, clear skin, increased endurance, strength, and better sexy time.
Here's why I don't love fitness for vanity purposes:
- It doesn't paint a full picture of health. Even if you look good, you may not feel good on the inside. You can get a nice bod without having sustainable healthy habits. You could also look great, and be facing your own emotional or health struggles. I think that mental health is just as, if not more, important as physical health. There are more important things than visible abs. When you smile with your heart, it radiates in an entirely different way. Fitness and looking good are such a small piece of a huge puzzle.
- Comparison is the thief of joy. I think that using fitness for vanity or even the "Fitspo" type images flying all over social platforms inevitably lead to comparison. For some people, comparison is a healthy motivation driver. For others, it's absolutely crushing and can lead to a constant feeling of defeat or "never good enough." It's remaining cognizant of how these images and thoughts affect you. Personally, it doesn't really motivate me, but I do look at a girl in really good shape and appreciate the effort she made in taking care of herself. Make sure you're doing what provides you with the best source of positive motivation.
- It's not a long-term success model. While fitness for vanity can get you into the gym and changing eating habits, it probably won't last. You need to find something deeper for long-term motivation, especially since our bodies, abilities, and goals change over time. Sure, I like my jeans to fit, but the real, end goal is that I want to live a long and happy life. There are so many people in my life that I love, so it's important for me to take care of myself so I might get to enjoy time with them just a little bit more.
My thoughts in one sentence:
Fitness for vanity is good for initial motivation, but fitness for health is going to create sustainable habits for long-term success.
So tell me friends: do you use fitness for vanity purposes? What's your REAL end goal with your healthy habits? How does comparison affect (or not affect) you?
Can't wait to hear your thoughts.