Not long ago, I was working with a personal training client and we were having a tough conversation about identity. (Yes, we often go deep in our coaching sessions!) We discussed how certain titles are easy to identify, like mom, wife, Christian, school volunteer, fitness enthusiast…these things are pretty much black and white. They’re all titles we wear that represent a role that we fill. Sure, we might have miniature debates about these aspects of our identity while they’re forming, but once they’re decided upon, the debate is over.
“Yep, I’m a mom. There’s really no question there.” However friends, there is usually another layer of our identity lurking under the surface that is harder to nail down and identify.
Food addict or just food lover?
Undisciplined or simply unmotivated?
People pleaser or reputation upholder?
Fitness enthusiast or driven by body image?
At the end of the conversation with my client, we concluded that she needed to cancel her gym membership to move forward and see any sort of progress. WHAT?! That makes no sense, Megan!
Hang tight…I’ll explain.
Do you ever feel like you’re on a rollercoaster of motivation, one month feeling totally into your fitness and nutrition, complete with charts, meal plans, workout journals, and the whole shebang? And then another month something happens, and you’ve somehow fallen out of sync?
There may be one ugly part of your identity that might be the reason for this: You may be body-image-driven, focusing too much on what others think of you. You workout and eat healthy to look good. You are driven by the number on the scale or your percentage of body fat. Your goal is to look good in your clothes and maybe even drop a couple sizes. This is running through your head during every workout and with every meal you create. This is especially running through your head when you don’t workout and you binge eat. This was certainly me too, you better believe it. I had no idea that all my choices were motivated from the outside…by what others thought of me. It was a dark, thick, murky chunk of my identity that was directing nearly everything.
But somewhere along the way, the Holy Spirit gently peeled back layers into my identity and showed me this. By His sweet loving desire to see me free, I’m recovering from this mindset. Over the years, I have been able to step down from trying to be something and portray a persona. I really don’t give a rip anymore what people think of my body, and that’s the honest truth.
However, the moment I step into a gym environment, I can feel it come flooding back…stroking my old identity. For some reason, a public gym is a trigger.
“Do these workout pants tighten up my tummy enough? I like this tank top…it falls just right and shows off my delts. But my shoes make my ankles look funny. I’m a trainer, so I better look good. Ok come on, Megan, impress!”
If one of your identities is being body-image-driven, this could be the single most important thing that is holding you back from making consistent progress.
If your fitness and nutrition choices are motivated by looking good, this will disintegrate very quickly. There is absolutely no longevity to this motivator. You will quickly realize that you’ll never measure up the way you’d like to, and you’ll feel like a failure over and over again. You will always be on a rollercoaster, having good months and bad months. What’s the answer? Get off the body image rollercoaster by first admitting to God that you have an issue with how people perceive you. Admit that you’re overly concerned with having a certain reputation. Admit that looking good is why you workout and pay attention to food!
Pray that God will work in your heart, and that He will gently transform and renew your method of thinking. “Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2) As He transforms and renews your mind, let Him show you how He sees the world, and how He sees you. Remember, “people look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
As God renews your mind and heart away from the thought patterns of our culture, you can slowly shift your fitness and nutrition focus toward performance instead. Constantly be asking yourself what your body can DO! What are your upper limits of fitness? How healthy can you possibly be?
For me, as my focus began to shift to performance instead of looks, (and it took some time, trust me), I noticed that I wanted to eat healthier because of how it made me feel!
I wanted to workout 5 days a week.
I wanted to push it hard, jump higher, do one more rep, lift heavier, and dig deeper because I wanted to know what it would feel like!
How would it feel to take this incredible body that God gave me and make it extremely strong and healthy?
Working out, eating healthy, and taking care of my body is no longer a miserable chore. It’s not about impressing anyone anymore. Being motivated and driven by my own body image is simply no longer one of my identities. How liberating!
This is a game changer, friends.
So, the answer for my friend and client who was coming face to face with a lurking, ugly identity was to cancel her gym membership. Working out at the gym was toxic for her, just as it was for me. She had to be somebody when she was there and portray herself in a certain way, which was completely distracting and discouraging.
She’s going to train at home now where she can wear whatever she wants, have her hair in complete disarray and absolutely kill it during her workouts with nobody watching. Except her audience of One. And let me tell you, this is what it’s all about.
Megan Dahlman is a Strength & Conditioning Coach and a Nutrition Coach, and has spent years training and coaching women. She founded Strong Mommas (www.strong-mommas.com), a website fully catered toward moms where she provides workout and nutrition guidance, and a complete online coaching program that helps women become truly healthy and strong, not just skinny and sexy. Megan lives in Oregon City with her husband, two little boys, horse and dog. You can follow her on Facebook @strongmommas and Instagram @strong_mommas.