Summer in the Midwest can be a wondrous season full of county fairs and marshy lake trips with friends you’ve known since elementary school. It can also be a season of thick, humid air and mosquito-choked explorations made even more intolerable by sunburns and thigh chafe. As if that couldn’t get worse, summer also brings to life the paralyzing fear of being in a bathing suit in front of people.
Currently, I and many others are setting some sort of summer-body goal. We are filtering into gyms and pilates classes, trying new diets and counting calories, all with the hope that, come June, the protective layer of leggings and T-shirts can be shucked off with minimal psychological damage. However, all too often, these goals remain just goals and never really become a reality.
For this reason, I want to devote the last few weeks of my wellness column to the subtle tips and tricks that anyone with a goal can use to make their aspirations into realities.
When it comes to fitness goals, I think the first place people get off-track is when they make overly lofty goals that aren’t necessarily attainable. For example, saying “I am going to lose 20 pounds of fat in four weeks, and also tone up, and get a belly button piercing,” is fundamentally impossible. The sheer magnitude of a goal like that would be enough to shoot any fitness plan in the foot because the odds of seeing results on the timeline provided are simply non-existent.
The other problem with a big-game goal like that is that it’s frankly dangerous. When it comes to weight loss, don’t believe all of the fad-diet, weight-loss-pill jargon. “Torching belly fat” and “losing 30 pounds in two weeks” are simply dangerous marketing techniques. When it comes to weight loss, slow and steady wins the race. It also leaves your metabolism intact.
Losing a lot of weight in a short amount of time can severely damage a person’s metabolism because of the stress the sudden drop in weight puts on the body. It will always be better for a person to set a fitness goal with plenty of time in advance. That way, not only can the body steadily become accustomed to losing weight, but also the stress of trying to meet the quid pro quo in such a short amount of time no longer becomes an excuse to not try hard at the plan in the first place.
In all honesty, sometimes goals based on weight loss alone can be detrimental to people’s images of themselves and others. They place so much emphasis on body weight that it subconsciously equates desirability to the number on the scale.
If this is something you find yourself wrestling with, set a goal that is more nuanced. Instead of saying “I want to lose five pounds by June,” try saying something like “I want to run four miles without stopping by June,” or “I want to feel comfortable in a swimsuit by June.”
With this kind of approach, the goal is not solely oriented around the idea of weight loss; instead, it is about developing a healthy lifestyle. People are worth so much more than what the scale or tape measure tells them. It is healthy to make subtle and attainable goals for oneself, even when it comes to body image. However, if you find yourself frustrated with an inability to accomplish your goals, or with a negative self-image because of them, it might be advantageous to simply reconsider your approach.
Whether you plan to be at the lake with friends or avoiding the humidity from the comfort of air conditioning, take a moment to simply review the goals you have for yourself. Even if they have nothing to do with summer bodies and bikinis, all goals should be healthy opportunities for a person to grow, not reasons to damage a person’s self-image.