More and more recently, the phrase “Strong is the new skinny” has been circulating. At first, I liked it. Yes! A push for women to be muscular and strong, and not a focus on losing weight! Awesome! This is how we should all think! This is going to make us all feel great about ourselves! But as time has gone on, I’ve seen that phrase go two different ways.
The first path that phrase can take is a healthy one. I have many, many friends who love exercising. I know people who lift weights multiple times each week, who run marathons each month, who practice yoga on a daily basis. These people love to exercise, love how it makes them feel. And I am all for that. As a (related) sidenote, I highly recommend the book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John C. Ratey. It completely changed how I view exercise and enlightened me on the physiological, brain/body connection between exercise and various physical and mental disorders and syndromes.
The people who walk this path exercise for fun, for a hobby, and as an added bonus, it makes them feel strong. The people on this path tend to not run/lift/go to yoga because they feel lazy or worthless. They do those activities because they love them. They feel the pumping in their heart, they feel how capable their bodies are. These people might miss out or feel disappointed when they skip exercising because they are sick or injured or tired, but it doesn’t ruin them.
The second path the phrase can take is the one that is concerning. Sometimes we trick ourselves, convince ourselves what we want to believe. We tell ourselves, “I’m not focused on losing weight anymore! So I’m healthy!” And sometimes, that’s true. But sometimes? You’ve just swapped one addiction for another. Maybe once you spent hours at the gym trying to burn calories and lose pounds, and now you spend hours at the gym trying to gain muscle and get to a higher weight on the bench press. Yes, you can tell yourself that you’re “healthier” because this time you’ve eaten enough calories to sustain your workout, because you’re not trying to lose weight, because your heart isn’t as likely to stop. But the bottom line is that if you still have that underlying panicky feeling if you miss a workout, if you can’t run, if you can’t lift, if you can’t get stronger, it might still be the same issues morphed into another form, hidden behind a cute little, “strong is the new skinny” mask.
Exercise can be a fine line between healthy and obsessively unhealthy. And I think it’s a line we all struggle with to an extent – I certainly have questioned my motivations for going to the gym before. The way I try to think about it, is: are you are exercising (in any form) to make your body feel good, to feel your muscles contract, to feel the blood pump, to enjoy the endurance and strength? Or, are you exercising because if you don’t, you’ll be anxious, feel disgusted, feel weak, and just in general feel negative?
Again, like everything, generalizations don’t fully work, and I am certainly not claiming to have “figured it all out” or that everyone fits into one or the other group. Exercising a lot isn’t always a bad thing, exercising a little isn’t always a bad thing. Heavy lifting can be healthy or unhealthy, running miles each day can be positive or negative. It all has to do with each person’s individual situation; we know this. But I would encourage everyone (myself included, always) to examine their motivations for trying to be strong and fit. Because I am willing to bet that one or two people will realize it’s simply a set of addictions, of negative beliefs, of obsessions that have shifted form.
As always, I welcome thoughts, opinions, anecdotes, and stories – please share!