“If what I’m doing and my body is changing the way one person thinks about what bodies can look like and what bodies can do, then I’m going to keep doing it—I don’t care what you think.” – Mirna Valerio, ultramarathoner and founder of Fat Girl Running.
When you picture a runner, you might think long legs, lithe arms, those killer abs breaking through marathon banners. And you’re right, a lot of runners do look that way. But the mistake we so often make is not all runners look that way. A runner looks like a person who is running. It sounds simple because it is. That’s really all it takes.
Mirna Valerio is an ultramarathoner, and her presence on the trails she covers tends to catch a few people off guard. Valerio is a Spanish teacher, blogger, choral director, runner, and is fat, a word she uses to describe herself. She challenges preconceived notions and stereotypes of what runners “should” look like, but more importantly she’s living a healthy lifestyle and having fun.
Of course, that doesn’t come easily. A lot of people assume she can’t actually be healthy and that a healthy body looks a very specific way. Frankly, it’s a shame people spend their time worrying about what her body looks like and not what she’s accomplished. She certainly isn’t wasting her time that way.
It’s easy to spend a lot of emotional energy worrying about your weight and comparing your body to others. You probably know you would never body shame another person, but that kindness extends to yourself as well. Not only is it unhelpful, body shaming yourself is actually counterproductive and unhealthy.
People with negative body image are more likely to be depressed, anxious, and even suicidal. When you’re stressed and/or depressed, you’re likely to have a harder time sleeping, increased fatigue, and a weakened immune system. These symptoms compound on top of one another, and it can be hard to break from the cycle of negative thinking.
Being obsessively preoccupied with healthy eating can lead to extreme dieting, yo-yo dieting, or following dieting trends that aren’t necessarily healthy at all. Putting your body through extreme eating habits that can dramatically fluctuate your weight puts you at a greater risk for coronary heart disease and cardiac arrest. Instead of temporary quick fixes to your diet, it is better to gradually adjust your eating and exercise habits for the long term.
So, aside from all of the real—and real scary—health issues that can present themselves when you body shame yourself, it mostly just isn’t a good mindset to be in. Yes, we live in a society that is hypercritical of women’s appearances, and it can be difficult to quiet your inner-critic. But it’s important to focus on what your body is able to do instead of how much space it’s taking up or what size pant you’re wearing. Frankly, there are a lot of things about your body that nothing, short of invasive plastic surgery, can really change all too much. So wouldn’t your time be better spent enjoying all your body is capable of instead of shaming it?
You can still have the positive mindset while making active changes that will lead to a healthier lifestyle. But instead of focusing on a number on the scale, consider these metrics to measure your journey towards a healthier life.
- Give yourself different number goals! Have a distance in mind that you want to run, or a specific number of minutes you want to spend swimming in the pool. Those achievements are much more in your control and reflect your effort and productivity.
- Concentrate on how eating healthy and exercising regularly will help better your posture, let you sleep better, and increase your overall energy throughout the day. Consider how great it feels to finish a run around the park, take a long walk with a friend, or play with your dog outside. Exercise increases your endorphins, and knowing your mood can be boosted by exercising is a great excuse to get off your butt. Have that be your motivation to hit the gym this week.
- There are many assessments other than weight loss that are more indicative of good health. An A1C test reflects your blood sugar levels, which can alert you to your risk of being pre-diabetic. A lipoprotein panel tests your cholesterol levels. Mindful eating and regular exercise can help lower higher levels of both blood sugar and cholesterol. Having a fuller understanding of your health and not just your size will allow you to make more informed decisions about your diet and habits.
When you treat yourself better, you’re going to see amazing results. Spin the conversation from weightloss to gaining a healthy lifestyle. Mirna Valerio, the ultramarathoner has gotten to travel all over the world to run incredible courses, hike beautiful trails, and even be on the cover of Women’s Running Magazine. She doesn’t have that slim Hollywood body so many people think they want. But if she was concerned about that, she’d be missing out on a lot of opportunities. Her desire to focus on her fitness and personal goals, not what others have to say about her body, is one of the healthiest lifestyle choices one could make. We think that’s pretty cool.