Hello. I have a question regarding physical and mental health. Lately, I have been unhappy with my body, and I always tell myself, “I will get into shape when I get home!” But when I get home, I just give up. I just feel so … defeated right now. Do you happen to have a strategy to keep your mind focused on exercise, and how to keep a positive self image?
Cooper the Moth
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Thank you for your great question. This is a problem that many people — furry and non-furry alike — struggle with. Do I assume correctly the problem is that you feel you are overweight and that when you say "mental health" you simply mean getting in the right frame of mind to get in shape? It's really not a mental health issue, unless you're having a problem with self-esteem?
Let's start with basics. Our worries about how our bodies look are largely dependent on what we feel others think of us and what society dictates is the ideal body type. It also has to do with health, of course. So, the first question is, "Why do you wish to lose weight? Is it because people are body shaming you, or is it because you don't feel well and want to be healthier?" I know people who are perfectly thin, yet they tell me all the time that they are fat and feel like slobs. This is the result of family, peers, colleagues, and TV commercials shaming them. We also blame people for being overweight, but the food and restaurant industries in the USA conspire to fill us with fat and sugar. Most Americans also work at sedentary jobs, then they drive home and sit in front of the TV all night. This is all encouraged by our current society, which then blames YOU for being overweight. Doctors are often part of the problem when they insist on us adhering to the BMI (Body Mass Index) recommendations, which are often absurd and inaccurate. BMI standards vary from country to country and cannot measure the difference between fat and muscle weight.
The first step, then, toward having a positive body image is to ignore outside opinions of what your body should look like. Your first priority is to be healthy. That doesn't necessarily mean weighing 90 pounds. You can be beefy and healthy. Have you seen the men who are in those strongest men competitions? If you took their BMI measurements, it would say they were fat!
Okay, so you throw away outside opinion and just work on being healthy. Step one is to see your doctor and assess your current health. I have no idea if you have any medical conditions, but things like having a bad back or diabetes or circulation problems can and should influence your course of action in getting in shape.
Next, assess your dietary needs. If you're eating a lot of junk food and McDonald's, you need to quit that right now. Also, don't drink soda and don't eat processed foods. Eat fresh foods whenever possible. Just doing this will have an amazingly positive effect on your weight and health.
Finally, start an exercise regimen that suits your needs. You don't have to work out at a gym 12 hours a day and run marathons to be in shape. Start slow. Exercise just 10-15 minutes a day. EVERYone has at least 10 minutes to fit in some exercise. And exercise can include many things. Take a walk (walking a mile burns fat just as much as running a mile), ride a bike, play some basketball. Just get active. As long as you're moving, you're doing your body some good. Find a sport or other activity you enjoy and exercise will be fun and not seem like work at all. Remember, small. This will prevent you from feeling overwhelmed. I imagine that when you say you're going to go home and get in shape that you are thinking something like, "I'm going to go home and lift weights for an hour." Then, you get home and that goal just seems really intimidating and, let's face it, exhausting, so you go to the pantry and grab a sleeve of Pringles and watch TV instead. Inertia is a bitch.
So, there are my three pieces of advice: 1) stop listening to outside critics; 2) eat fresh foods; and 3) get active by doing fun stuff and/or taking small steps toward getting more active.
Hope that helps!
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