What is body positivity? What does it mean to you? I’ve discussed this topic with a lot of people lately and there are many interesting points of view on the matter. One person I spoke with had the opinion that we should never talk about numbers again. This has also come up for other clients I work with. I applaud the idea of never wanting to look at weight or measurements and instead just focusing on how you feel in order to feel better in your body. I can see how that way of thinking can be helpful. You are not your numbers!* That said, I also see it another way. I view the value of numbers in association with body positivity differently. When the numbers can motivate and inspire you, use them. If they frustrate or upset you, forget them!
We can’t deny that numbers are there. A scale is there. In a cycle class a monitor is on your bike. You can measure your effort at the gym through numbers whether that be 10 push-ups or a 1 minute in plank. This is only a problem when you have a negative feeling or make an unhealthy choice because of any number. If you feel bad about yourself because you only did 8 out of 10, or 45 out of 60 seconds, the issue is likely the meaning you give those numbers. We assign a positive or negative relationship to that meaning. The numbers do not care if you can meet or beat them. Instead, I challenge you to use numbers for their purpose which is to measure your effort, strength, & progress. If we can use them for that reason and remove emotional attachment from the meaning, then we can use our numbers to help make decisions that push us past our limits and closer to our goals. On the flip side, if that doesn’t feel motivating or good in any way, then don’t pay attention to them at all (more on that later).
I teach a variety of cycling classes. In one class, we cover up our monitors and just focus on the experience and music. I decided I wanted to improve my effort and threshold on the bike, but rather than analyzing it through many metrics (especially since they’re covered up in this ride), I’d simply see how far I went at the end. I am often asked what someone’s power output should be or how many miles should someone be putting in. I cannot answer these questions because it’s completely relative and can depend on such a wide variety of variables. (i.e. what your activity was the previous day, how you slept the previous night, your nutrition, mental stress, etc. etc.)
For this example, let’s say I road 1.5 miles and it was a struggle. I set my goal to be 2 miles. I worked hard for weeks and achieved 1.75 and eventually sustained the 2 miles. One day I wasn’t feeling as energetic. I didn’t sleep much, felt stressed and my ride was 1.5 miles again. Instead of beating myself up or feeling upset, I felt proud! Something that was once a struggle is now my baseline on an off day. I looked at the number I started with and noticed how my hard work had changed its meaning. If cycling doesn’t resonate for you, you can apply this to the 60 or 90 second plank we hold in barre burn, or the 10+ push-ups, or the level of weight you use in Tabata, Metcon or your other HIIT training.
As mentioned, if you feel frustrated about your numbers whether it be because of your miles, something on the scale, or the dumbbell you choose, give yourself a break. Don’t even think about it for a while. Maybe a week, maybe a month, maybe a year, maybe forever if you find that measuring output is never motivating for you. How you feel about what you do and don’t do is much more important. Remember, there are so many variables that factor into why and how we can do what we do. At the end of the day, why do we want to do those things? Why do we want to achieve something?
Because of the way we expect it will make us feel.
Numbers are just a way to measure something. You are not your numbers. Sometimes the numbers might not change and there could still be significant progress in some other way. That should make you feel good as well. Success and goals should not be judged by the number but instead determined by the meaning of your goal to you and how you feel about your journey along the way.
So focus on the feeling. When it feels motivative or inspiring to you, use your numbers to help you improve. When it’s frustrating, forget it, just do the best you can and be proud of that!
*Thank you Petra Kolber for the inspiration of ‘You are not your numbers”