To the ladies (and gents) out there trying to get a “summer body”

It’s SWEATING SEASON.

Boston is finally starting to heat up and I am looooooving it. As if I don’t go through laundry quickly enough, I am wearing multiple outfits a day now to accommodate my perpetual sweatiness. Actually, I am perpetually sweaty no matter what season it is, but now it’s profuse perpetual sweatiness.

Not that you care.

Someone on Instagram asked me last week to talk about my fitness journey a little bit, to which I agreed. I have talked about it a few times here on the blog, but I am always happy to share my story (which is ever evolving anyway) with any new friends (hi!).

For those who are returning readers (ily) familiar with my fitness journey, perhaps you can appreciate this post’s current perspective, which is in light of “summer body” season.

I made a little collage comparing pre-college and graduate school Alison. This will serve as a bit of context for the rest of my story.

D i s c l a i m e r: Please understand that every BODY is so uniquely different. There are some of you who currently look more like “pre-college” Alison who are perfectly healthy (i.e., no disordered thoughts around food or exercise, regular menstrual cycle, happy gal). There are some of you who look more like “grad school” Alison but may struggle with disordered eating and exercise, etc. And then there’s every type of body in between and beyond. Please do your best to know thyself. ♥︎

I won’t dive too deeply into how my fitness journey started, because I recently wrote a post about how it started very humbly with a Beyonce dance video and 15 minutes per day on the elliptical. Essentially, I am a naturally lazy person who was motivated to start working out by the will to lose weight in my high school years.

My story follows a relatively common narrative seen in many young women’s lives. She starts having an obsessive eating/exercise disorder because of sports or an innocent (or not) desire to get “toned”/less fat/whatever ➔ she has a deeply cutting revelation of her health state and embarks a long but beautiful push-pull journey of recovering (e.g., needing to take breaks from intense exercise in order to get menstrual cycle back) ➔ sometimes revisits old habits in times of stress and insecurity ➔ overall remains 99.9% recovered.

In no way do I mean to minimize anyone’s unique story, nor my own, but I am simplifying the narrative as a testament to how easy and common it is to fall into the trap of disordered eating and exercise.

(Here is a post about when I felt I truly stopped becoming obsessed with exercise and here is a peek into my undergrad workout routine, which is kind of similar to my routine now, except I am currently more lax.)

In all transparency, I do still go through phases during which I struggle with my body image and wonder if X, Y, or Z will help me feel better about myself. I attribute this to being a human who uses social media. However, fitness has slowly but surely become something that is first and foremost FOR function, mental health, and happiness. It is NOT FOR (or I avoid at all costs to make it for) a certain physique, weight, or “summer body.”

Back to the photo above. I had ripped abs in high school. You could perhaps say I had a nice “summer body.” True, I did a lot of core work, but the main reason my abs were so prominent is that I had very little body fat due to restriction of calories and overexercising.

I was chronically tired and unhappy.

I would like to draw your attention to my wrists in the first photo. I have genetically tiny wrists in the first place, but at that time, even I would think they were on the brink of snapping at some point. I don’t look incredibly unhealthy in the rest of the photo; some would say I look great. I remember people commenting on how fit and strong I looked (again, just because you could SEE my abs). But recalling how skeletal my hands looked, and, above all, recalling how unhappy I felt within, I know now that no external appearance made summer any better for me.

My workouts at that point had to make me want to die or else it wasn’t really worth it. I must admit that I did grow a lot in my general fitness and strength this time, because I pushed myself more than I ever did in my life (remember, I am a naturally lazy person). However, I could only improve to a certain point. There was very little rest and very little fuel to keep me going.

Refer to some of the above posts if you are interested in the interim between pre-college Alison and grad school (current) Alison. It’s been a long journey!

As the photo caption says, I have since gained 40-45 lbs in both fat and muscle (and maybe bone honestly; I was a late bloomer). You can no longer see a 6-pack. Who knows what you can even see; I don’t like posting my midriff on social media now (for modesty reasons, not due to any sort of shame for what my abs do or do not look like).

I am a pear-shaped, lower-body-heavy person who is consequently challenged by any sort of leg raise exercise. People (usually older Asian folks) have commented on how large and bulky I look. I have also gained weight pretty much every single year since I entered college (although my weight is probably at its happy point currently).

However, I am stronger, faster, happier, and healthier than I was in the first two photos, and I genuinely look forward to working out. And this freedom and joy in moving my body is worth so much more than a photo of ripped abs could ever capture.

Regarding my current fitness routine, quarantine has of course made me get creative. But even if the gyms were available, I like to think that my routine and mindset would be the same. 9/10 times I make up my workout the day of, and I frequently modify the workout as I’m doing it, whether it’s too easy or too difficult.

I could not report to you the number of workouts I do every week, because I don’t log them or premeditate the number (although I have been posting some of my workouts on my Instagram story recently to share ideas, so I guess you can check there to approximate).

I have learned a lot from physical therapy school, which helps me to think about different muscle groups and exercises that are for far more than an aesthetic.

I also have come to appreciate intentionality during workouts (thanks to the knowledge of some cool women like Natacha Oceane and Tanya Poppett). In other words, whatever you are doing, do. it. well. If it’s supposed to be explosive, explode for every rep. If it’s supposed to be slow and controlled working every tiny muscle you never knew you had, then do that. If you’re stretching, focus continually on the positioning of your joints. Adjust the reps and time as needed to make it quality > quantity. With this change, every movement session is an opportunity for improvement in fitness (note: not necessarily improvement in physique), because all my brain power is going into something particular, even if it is just the positioning of a stretch, for example.

More intention = better form = better motor patterns = better movement. And get sufficient rest in between! I guess this is how I always wished I approached fitness. If I could give advice to those trying to build up their fitness in a healthy way, this would be it.

So to all the ladies and gents out there tryin’ to get a summer body: I’m not here to tell you to stop your fitness or food regimen to get shredded for the summer. There are plenty of people who can do that happily and healthfully. I will just, as always, implore you to reflect honestly about the motivations, the goal, and how happy and healthy you are in the process.

A practical self-check is asking yourself how much time during the day you spend think about how you can achieve a certain physique goal. I can’t give you a certain percentage of the day, but if it’s “most of the day”, that could indicate the need for re-evaluation of your current habits.

You might not be “one of those people” who can get shredded without compromising mental/physical health. I am here to tell you that I understand the frustration of that deeply, and you are not alone. But the freeing happiness to which you are called is worth more than a “perfect” summer body.

My “summer bod” (whatever that means for 2020) is a short and stocky conglomerate of all the cells that are uniquely me. I’m enjoying fitness right now and I feel rested and well. I hope you feel rested and well, too. Ain’t no time for summer stressing.

(Disclaimer #2: All my recommendations are coming from my own anecdotal experience, as well as from others with whom I have spoken. However, I am not a medical doctor nor an eating disorder specialist. Please speak with other trusted healthcare professionals if you are seeking personalized help. As a resource, my friend Lauren Bickford, RD, aka the Food Fight RD, is a certified intuitive eating counselor.)

2 thoughts on “To the ladies (and gents) out there trying to get a “summer body”

  1. I read the title and KNEW this was gonna be a great one! Especially this gem: “But the freeing happiness to which you are called is worth more than a ‘perfect’ summer body.” AMEN, sister!! It reminded me of a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

    “To be free does not mean to be ~great~ in the world, to be free ~against~ our brothers and sisters, to be free ~against~ God; but it means to be free from ourselves, from our untruth, in which it seems as if I alone were there, as if I were the center of the world…to be free from the hatred with which I destroy God’s creation; to be free from myself in order to be free for others. God’s truth alone allows me to see others. It directs my attention, bent in on myself, to what is beyond and shows me the other person….God’s love frees us from ourselves to be free for others.”

    You’ve come so far in so many ways, and it makes me so happy to see 🙂 Take care, Alison!

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