Behind the Fat & Muscle

Neghar Fonooni is a coach, a speaker and a writer, but she got my attention, because she is also a fitness model who decided to stop counting calories and obsessing about the scale. The result: she gained about 15 pounds and felt a lot happier:
In 2009 I was 120 pounds and 12 percent body fat. I was ripped out of my mind and also ACTUALLY out of my mind. I counted every last calorie and worked out about two hours per day. I was in an abusive relationship, lacked confidence, and only felt good about myself when I was lean. I weighed myself every single day and allowed that number to dictate how I felt about myself. – Neghar Fonooni
Today, Neghar exercises less and enjoys red wine and local cuisine when she travels. She describes herself as active and strong but no longer “ripped,” and she couldn’t care less. She now coaches other women towards self-love and authenticity. To paraphrase one of my favorite things she’s written: ‘Know how you get a bikini body? Take your body, and put a bikini on it. No diet necessary.
Neghar has been criticized for shaming the uber-fit by publicly describing how miserable she was back in 2009, but in response, she says she in no way means that every person with rippling muscles is unhappy; her point is 12 percent body fat does not necessarily equal happiness, and when she was in pursuit of ultimate lean-ness, she came at it from an unhealthy angle. Life must be balanced with physical, mental and emotional health all considered, and neither body type – the super-hard nor the softer – is better than the other.
I’m going to take this a step further and say you can’t look at someone and know whether or not they are happy (as in, happy with life in general. If you come upon a stranger screaming at a grocery store clerk, you can safely assume that, in the moment, that person is not happy.)
As soon as we can stop looking at people’s appearances and assuming they are healthy or unhealthy, happy or unhappy, we can begin to see people for what they are – whole, complex, dynamic systems. While generalizations and statistics can be useful when thinking about large groups, dealing with individuals requires the realization that no person fits neatly into one, limited category.
We all do it – make those assumptions based on looks the instant we meet a new person. The trick is not necessarily to berate yourself for those assumptions, but to check yourself. When you see a larger person and assume they don’t eat healthily or see a muscly person and assume they’re stupid or unhappy, give yourself some grace, and then gently remind yourself to suspend that judgment. And, if the opportunity and inclination arises, get to know that person better. You never know what hidden gems you’ll find under whatever their exterior happens to be.
I get weekly emails from Fonooni, and they always make me smile. You can visit her website  to read more about what she does and sign up.

Here’s Your Sign

Recently, I ran out of motivation. I’d think, “okay, it’s time to work out,” and my emotional response was, “blech. I’d rather go to the dentist” (which is saying a lot, because I have serious dental anxiety.) One of the most important lessons I’ve learned during my adult exercising years is this: when I consistently don’t want to work out, not because I’m tired or busy, but just because I don’t wanna, it’s time for a change.

Recently, several things have happened: my neighborhood fitness classes became unavailable, my yoga studio closed, and my knees started aching. These things coupled with the heat meant I did all of my summer workouts in my game room in front of the tv. I have an extensive exercise video library, so I was able to mix it up quite a bit, but by August, the idea of pushing play and listening to a recorded trainer’s voice was a serious buzz-kill.

“I know this feeling,” I thought. It’s time for something different, but what? I missed the social aspect and camaraderie of live group classes, and I missed being outside. So, I looked into Camp Gladiator, tried a barre class, discovered something called “PaddleFit,” and bought a Groupon for a Pilates studio. I also got myself a brand new pair of running shoes. Even with achy knees, I can do a short run once a week; running is good for my spirit. With new things to explore, I am enjoying my workouts again and have no problem motivating myself to do them each day.

Just now I was lifting weights in my game room – my own routine with a new, kick-ass playlist my husband made, not with a video – when I thought about how this applies, not only to exercise, but to just about everything. I can feel the need for change, in my workout, in my personal life, in my career. It’s a restlessness, a boredom that comes over me, but I always resist it at first. I am a creature of habit, and I have this subconscious idea in my head that if something works for me now, it should always work. And, if I admit it isn’t working anymore, it is and was the wrong thing, and I am wrong.

When I write it out, it sounds ridiculous; it is ridiculous, but it’s truly why I am so adverse to change. And, it’s not an attitude that has served me well; in fact, it has been the cause of a lot of stress – my unwillingness to change even though I am miserable in my current situation. The thing is, the right thing today can be the wrong thing tomorrow or in different circumstances. We have to be willing to continually re-evaluate our choices and change what we are doing if it no longer works for us. It doesn’t mean we were necessarily wrong when we made the choice in the first place. It just means we are dynamic people, who need different things at various points in our lives, or, hell, even in our days.

I know some people run at change like a labrador to people (or dogs or toys or water – labradors love everything enthusiastically.) But if you’re like me and sometimes resist that change that you know you need, show yourself some love. Leave behind that job, that workout, that friend that no longer serves and find something that does.

Out of the Closet

Recently, I went on an overnight trip to a bed and breakfast for a friend’s 40th birthday. I was hesitant to go, because I didn’t know most of the women attending, but a voice in my head said, “go. You might have fun,” so I did. In the past, I’ve “gotten through” situations like these – events where I didn’t know anyone. I’d make as much small-talk as I could stand, then hide in the bathroom until it was over, and I’d feel like I’d accomplished being social. It was more like checking a chore off the list than doing something fun. This time, though, I decided if I was going to make the effort to go, I was going to go mindfully. I was going to be open to the possibility of genuine connection with people, without developing unrealistic expectations to meet my new best friend at this out-of-town slumber party.

We had a blast. Everyone was so relieved to be away and with other women, despite the fact that many of us didn’t know each other, it was instantly comfortable. We talked about everything from recipes to fears we have for our children to vaginal rejuvenation, complete with photos (yes, of the vaginal rejuvenation.) We laughed a LOT, and we connected over the things we struggle with. In a move that shocked even us, some of us stayed up until 3am talking. None of it was small-talk; we even dabbled in politics. Then, we got to the big one: religion. I decided to go out on a limb, so I “came out” as an atheist.

People press all kinds of assumptions onto that word, but I am a literal atheist. Broken down, the word means, “a person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods.” I have a whole mess of “beliefs” (better defined as vague ideas or hypotheses loosely based on science) about universal energy, and I work towards living by Buddhist tenets, but I do not believe in a higher power. Because I am a 40-year-old while lady living in Texas, however, most people assume I’m some variety of Christian.

In the wee hours of the morning, after a fair amount of bonding and wine, I felt comfortable enough with these women to be upfront about my beliefs. The results were liberating. No one judged or argued; we had a discussion. I asked questions, they asked questions, and we shared our honest thoughts on religion. Everyone in the group truly sought to understand. It was a relief to be honest, and it felt something like a miracle not to be alienated, with my views so very different from the rest of the group. In fact, I felt more connected to them for having shared.

Here’s my conundrum: short of making myself a t-shirt that says, “kiss me, I’m atheist,” there’s no concise way to be “out” in my community. Every day, people speak to me about where God has placed them, how he has blessed them, and what his plans are for them. They say these things in casual conversation and underlying the comments, I can feel their assumption I share their beliefs. So, while I am not technically lying about what I believe, I am allowing them to assume something untrue  about me – something fundamental and important. It feels like living a lie at times. I want people to feel free to express their thoughts on God to me; it’s part of how we connect – sharing our core beliefs. But, I want to somehow address that underlying assumption in a gentle, friendly, sharing way, without getting up on a soap box about it. So……suggestions?