By Fitness Editor Paula Jager, CSCS
Incredibly sad but true.
Ninety percent of American teenage girls are not happy with their body image and feel pressured to change it. They are more obsessed than ever with losing weight and are convinced that being thin is the key to happiness and popularity. Many of them either starve themselves, go vegan, or refuse to eat in order to be thinner which threatens not only their health but their ability to have children in future years.
It’s not only teen girls that feel this way. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, 80% of women are also dissatisfied with their self image and almost half of women are on a diet any given day. No wonder over 10 million females and 1 million males suffer from bulimia, anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders.
This obsession with female body image has grown steadily since the 1960’s and it’s now reaching epidemic proportions filtering down to young girls. Parents (mothers especially) appear to be partly responsible for passing on their own insecurities along with the media and social pressures.
Most of them have feelings of inadequacy which leads to low self esteem. They feel inferior, insecure and anxious. Some build a faÃ§ade of capability but on the inside there is inner turmoil and struggle.
They often exercise compulsively in an attempt to lose weight and are obsessed with food (or lack thereof). They can’t really help the way they are–it’s how they function in life. They plod through marathon workouts avoiding anything that resembles a carb or fat, willing them to be stronger than the hunger that is taking over their body.
“Conventional Treatment” falls short of helping these people.
There is lots of sitting around on couches talking about “issues”, group therapies and high calorie unhealthy meals such as McDonalds, pizza and packaged and processed foods with very little physical activity.
How CrossFit Can Improve Body Image
While a strong support system is vital and talk therapy can be very beneficial, what needs to happen is a positive relationship with food and exercise. There are many modes of achieving this but physical activity and proper nutrition must be a part of it. I relate to personal experience best and am going to focus on CrossFit which has dramatically improved lives. Regardless of the method, it is about getting stronger from the inside out. Stronger and fitter to handle life–it’s ups and downs and whatever comes your way.
A feeling many people have is if you can get through a CrossFit WOD (workout of the day) you can do practically anything. Feeling that way is powerful and will carry over to other aspects of your life. The workouts force you to get out of your comfort zone; to stop the 2 — 6 hour workout madness. A conditioning workout can be done in 10-30 minutes and strength training the big lifts builds your body up not break it down. It promotes eating well and a lot in order to perform the workouts and your activities of daily living. It is not just something done inside a box (aka gym) but becomes a way of life. That way of life will not only make you physically stronger but stronger mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
CrossFit can be a form of recovery or salvation for many people.–you overcome the worst to become the best. While I have never had an eating disorder (other than eating too much at times) I can relate to being in a place in my life at one time or another that I didn’t want to be. If being honest most of us can also. This can bring you out of it.
It’s also finding proper balance and knowing when to rest. Rest days are necessary to get better and to recover not only from a workout or an eating disorder but any other affliction or addiction. But rest days must be learned. You can tell someone they need to rest but they have to see it for themselves.
The right nutrition is paramount in healing also; the right foods, multiple meals throughout the day, no measuring of exact amounts and listening to the body’s hunger/fullness cues as well as likes and dislikes.
What many women struggling with an eating disorder don’t realize is that you usually have to eat more to get in better shape. No extremes–not eating chocolate cake everyday but also realizing it is ok once in a while. Train hard; eat to fuel and when rest is needed take it.
I mentioned previously the importance of a strong support system. You are surrounded by “family” and friends in the CrossFit world–the community that is created becomes this support system. This brings out the honesty and integrity in people encouraging them to talk and share their fears and struggles while never being judged. It rechannels your mind in a positive way.
The combination of the proper exercise, nutrition and support will create confidence, improve self esteem and change the way women perceive themselves. As women develop this strength the world’s ideal of how a woman should look will begin to change–not waif like but healthy, strong and vibrant not only on the outside but on the inside.
Paula Jager CSCS and Level 1 CrossFit and CF Nutrition Certified is the owner of CrossFit Jaguar.
Her exercise and nutrition programs yield life changing results