Winter Is Coming

Tracydowntown-20
Photo by Christine Scott Photography

There’s nothing better than an oversized sweater, crackling fire, and marshmallows drowning in hot cocoa when it starts to get cold.  This time of year is when my motivation for physical wellness starts to slip, but my mental wellness is at its peak.  Food, family, and festivities abound in the winter months.

But how do you make time for your physical body without compromising on all of the waistline destroying treats of the holiday season?


Get the people you love involved!  I signed my family up for 8am Christmas Eve yoga this past year, and though my brother wore his Christmas pajamas, we got in a pretty good workout before hunkering back down.  It’s hard to make time to workout when you picture the rest of your loved ones snuggling by the fireplace, so by all means, be the team motivator.  Motivating your loved ones will also motivate you!

Remind yourself that you won’t be nearly as jolly and bright if you come down with a winter bug, and exercise is a great way to boost your immune system!  If you feel a little stuffy, it’ll drain your head and clear your sinuses.  Just remember to wash your hands thoroughly to avoid catching any gym bugs.

Mix up your routineThe exercises you do when it’s warm out don’t have to be the same as those you do when it gets cold.  I’m always an advocate for a little variety because being stuck in a rut makes it hard for me to keep going.  Right now, I’m crazy about hot yoga!  I love that it’s warm, as well as how detoxed and stretched my muscles feel when I get done.

As part of your new routines, find workouts you can do at home.  I have a list of these for rainy days, or even lazy ones, when leaving my apartment after class feels out of the question.  A quick 30 minutes before you shower and start/end your day will make a huge difference.  You can add it to your list of accomplishments, and just like making your bed,  accomplishing this small goal will make a big difference in how you perceive yourself.


The earth will warm back up soon, and sweaters will be traded for swimsuits in the blink of an eye.  Make sure you’re treating all facets of your wellness so you can feel great with every seasonal change!  Stay warm, and as always, love the skin you’re in.

#APerfectFit

Love Your Reflection

Since I’m trying to re-establish blogging as part of my busy work week, I wanted to get back to the basics this week and remind myself why my work matters.  So let’s talk about the girl in the mirror and why we love her!

Worldwide, women are under pressure to meet beauty standards.  Those standards are different wherever you go, and even within a culture, everyone has an opinion.  That means you are never going to be everybody’s cup of tea.  No body meets every beauty standard.

So where should you be focusing your energy?

IMG_6800Instead of conforming to your society’s standards, take a look in the mirror and see what’s there.  Then, find a way to love what you see.

Easier said than done.  We all have our hangups – a freckle we can’t see past, a curve we wish would shrink.  You are your own worst critic, and that’s okay.  We all have the potential to make changes in our lives, and as long as those changes are healthy, it’s okay to make them.  Just make sure you make changes out of love for yourself, not out of pressure to conform.

So how do you love your imperfectly perfect self?  Here are a few exercises for those days when the girl in the mirror isn’t living up to the standards living within you:

(1) Take “time off”

Nobody has the energy to be “on” at all times, and time off is at the heart of my self-love practice.  Light a candle, power down your networking apps, and pour a glass of wine.  Sink into the tub or under the covers.  Open the book that’s been gathering dust on your nightstand or turn on a mindless flick.  Just be.

(2) Accomplish small goals

Every morning, I make my bed, and no matter what happens during the day, I have accomplished that one, very small, goal.  It sounds silly.  For me, it works.  No matter what else happens, I have done this one small thing for myself, and at the end of the day, I get to pull the covers back and escape.

(3) Quicken your heartbeat

Get a workout in!  The amazing thing about exercise is that it works if you’re tired or if you’re too hyped up to wind down.  A meaningless day that drains you of all energy or a strenuous day that wires you with stress can both be reversed with a little cardiovascular training.

(4) Phone a friend

Call someone who sees what you are having trouble seeing: you are amazing.  Let them remind you of all the good you bring to the world, the enrichment you give to their life.  We all need a hype man sometimes.  Embrace their compliments and love!IMG_6774

(5) Just dance

Okay, maybe don’t dance, but do something you love!  If you don’t have a hobby that you can’t talk about without smiling, it’s time to find one.  Find something that makes you feel good about yourself, that lets your talents shine.

Whatever you choose to do, make sure you are keeping the outside world quiet so you can clearly hear your own needs! 

How do you remind the girl in the mirror that she woke up flawless?

#APerfectFit

“What’s Your End Goal?”

Up until about a year ago, I thought I’d have an “Ah-hah!” moment when I became an adult and knew what I was doing with my life.  Then, I realized that becoming an adult is accepting that nobody knows what they’re doing, and becoming a responsible adult is just doing the best you can.  Fake it until you become it, as they say!

I have a simple short-term goal: receiving my MBA and finding a job to pay the bills.  My long-term goals are a little less quantifiable, though.  I want to find a fulfilling job; one that provides a two-way street allowing me to impact the world while developing me as a person.  I also want to inspire women to find love for themselves, which I believe starts with finding love for Jesus.  This blog is my meager attempt at building the foundations towards that goal.

But in all truth, there is no end goal for me.  I will die with goals I haven’t yet met, because as I reach one milestone, I set the next one.  That’s the burden of being a goal-oriented person.  Goals are always evolving, adapting to fit my capabilities and emotions.

If you aren’t sure what your purpose is and feel surrounded by people who seem to have it all together, you are not alone.  Just know that even when you feel purposeless, God has a reason you’re here.  He just doesn’t always make His reasons known.

So well-meaning people of the world, please stop inquiring as to my end goal.  There is no end goal.  There is a series of goals that will continue to evolve as I continue to grow.  We aren’t meant to know our end purpose, and it’s high time we stop trying.

#APerfectFit

What does “wellness” even mean?

My definition of wellness involves physical, mental, social and spiritual health.  I  place the most importance on spiritual health, but I try to tend to all 4 facets on a daily basis.  Some days, one area needs a little more attention than the others, and that area gets prioritized.  This encompassing definition of wellness means it’s perfectly healthy to skip a morning at the gym for a brunch with your girlfriends if you’re lacking in social health that week.  However, you have to be careful to prioritize in a way that maintains the quadrants equally, instead of focusing on your favorite each day.

What do I mean by that?  When I was competing in the pageant system, physical health fought to become my single definition of wellness.  I was surrounded by girls with phenomenal bodies, and I was going to stand on a stage next to them.  I didn’t skip workouts.  It didn’t matter if I hadn’t had a real conversation with my roommate in a week or given myself some time to rewind all month.  I focused all of my energy on that one aspect of health, and it resulted in neglect of the other areas.

When I graduated in December of 2016, I had a lot to think about.  One evaluation I made involved looking at my beliefs and how they were driving me.  This 4-dimensional model of wellness is something I’ve always stated was part of my belief system, but my actions hadn’t been adding up.  I realized I still believed it was the best model of wellness for my life, but I was letting the picture-perfect models of Instagram alter my reality.  I was prioritizing based on the mindset I ended up with after scrolling past perfect picture after perfect picture on social media.  I knew I had to make a change.

I took a serious look at my mental health and recognized how harshly I was evaluating my body.  My physical health was no longer about true health.  It had become more about being as toned as the (often edited) photos than about BMI and clean eating.  This twisted perception of physical health was certainly impacting my mental health.  It was also hurting my social health, as I couldn’t skip a day at the gym.

In my last post, I admitted my physique isn’t what it once was.  Despite a few new curves, my body is still strong and healthy, and now, I have a mindset of strength to match.  My social calendar is always open to new bookings, and I can truly say I am happier than ever.  All that despite facing a new challenge in my life.

Working part time while staying on top of my MBA coursework has simply been exhausting.  If I didn’t have amazing people in my life building me up, it probably wouldn’t be going as well as it is.  As disciplined as I try to be, I don’t have time to do everything I want to do.  I am slowly becoming proficient at prioritizing, but it’s a skill I’ll be working to improve for the rest of my life.

There are moments when I see a fat girl in the dressing room trying on clothes that are no longer the size 0 I once wore.  There are moments I want back the abs that generated buzz.  They are fleeting and becoming more infrequent with each passing week.  My investments in social activities have resulted in waves of love and support, and my mental health is doing much better focusing on my daily successes instead of my physical appearance.

It’s difficult to talk about appearances when everyone’s perception has been effected by numerous positive and negative events.  Your body is the vessel through which you can impact the world, and physically taking care of it is important.  But I encourage you to recognize how much more there is to health than weight.

Tonight is going to be a candlelit bathtub and wine kind of night for me.  What do you need to do tonight to be well?

#APerfectFit

Bikini Body

There’s this thing that girls do when they put on a swimsuit – they evaluate. I don’t care who you are or how much you love yourself, it is incredibly rare not to check the mirror before you hit the beach/pool. There’s nothing wrong with a little pride in your appearance. Ensuring the girls are looking good and a little “dang, girl, lookin’ fine” to yourself is great attitude prep for walking around in what is essentially underwear. The problem is when that one second glance turns into several slow minutes of serious evaluation.

I didn’t do that a year ago.  Between you and me, I am the “fattest” I’ve ever been in my life today.  I am also the happiest.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: healthy is physical, mental, social, and spiritual.  Physically I’m not my best me, but I’m doing better on the other three than I have in past memory.  But more about that some other time…

I didn’t evaluate myself in the mirror a year ago because there was no part of my physical body I was unaware of.  I knew I was toned; I knew what I’d worked out the day before and that day and would work on the next.  Now, it’s highly likely I skipped a couple workouts to get drinks with friends or even just because.  So when I put on a bikini, it’s unknown what’s going to be jiggly or the exact state of bloat I might be in.

My roommates and I will rush back in forth to each others’ rooms before a trip to the pool trying to determine what swim suit doesn’t make us look “fat”… and this is a problem.  Because none of us are by any means “fat”.  We are all at a healthy BMI, perhaps higher than it once was, but by no means overweight.  And this would be a problem even if we actually were overweight.

Evaluating your body is essential to knowing its current state.  It helps you know what you need – for some of us that’s a large meal and for others it’s a trip to the gym.  There are times when it’s essential to look at your body and see what’s there and figure it out, but when you just put on a swimsuit for a day of fun, it’s not the right time.  It’s time to get tanned and boozy by a body of water!

So the next time you put on a swimsuit, regardless of your BMI and what may or may not need work, get your priorities straight.  You’re putting it on to have a good time, not to work on any changes, so don’t evaluate.  Instead, remind yourself that you love yourself and if that doesn’t work, live by the “if you can’t tone it, tan it!” mantra.  Now go show off that bikini body!

Perfectly Imperfect 365 Days of the Year

An open letter to anyone who has ever felt like they were “not enough”:

My friend Courtney recently left for Swaziland to serve in the Peace Corps for 28 months.  It was a place I couldn’t locate on a map before April, but now I think of it often.  In the weeks before she left, we spoke about what would be different about this country from ours.  While we both believe that at the core people are people with similar desires and motives, an ability to be good and do good, we knew there would be cultural differences.  It was during one of these conversations that she asked if I’d ever heard of Perfect365.  I hadn’t, but I became immediately disgusted.

For those of you who don’t know, Perfect365 is an app that allows its user to enhance selfies to be, well, “perfect.”  You can slim your face, raise your cheek bones, and widen your eyes.  You can apply makeup – from foundation to eyeliner to mascara.  You can change your eye color.  You can create a new photo with startlingly white teeth and inappropriately smooth features that in no way resembles a human.

[Side note: I have done pageants, and I have professionally edited photographs of myself.  However, I love the face that looks back at me at 7am with bed head.  It’s ok to have professional photos and to look great in them.  It’s not ok to feel like every single photo you have ever posted needs to look like it was taken in a studio.]

This is what society has done to American adolescents, and even adults.  We have created such a desire for unachievable “beauty” that we need apps to photoshop our filtered Instagram selfies.  If that doesn’t make your heart ache for the 13 year old who sees her face in the mirror and can’t see her natural skin as beautiful, you might be part of the problem.

Just to put that in perspective, we are taking selfies with our smartphones, editing them into a stranger, and posting them on social media to be validated by our acquaintances double-tapping on the screen.  We are doing this while other people in our communities, our nations, our world are going hungry or cold or sick tonight without respite in their sights.

I am begging you to love yourself.  You should not rely on the likes you receive or the followers you have for validation.  You should not rely on makeup or photoshop to create a face you like.  You should not rely on the label of your clothes, the numbers on the scale, or even the grade on an exam to create a definition of you.  These things are superficial and fleeting, here today but maybe gone tomorrow.  They are part of the material world we live in, not part of what defines you.

God created you in His image, and He loves you for precisely who you are.  Physical faults you find looking at a mirror are irrelevant when you leave this world.  Your inner beauty is what God’s eyes see, and no mistake you have made is surprising or unforgivable to Him.  You are beautiful for the person that you are, so be a person you are proud of.

If nobody has every told you, let me be the first: you are beautiful.  There is nothing you need to do or say to be beautiful if you can find love for yourself that is not based on something material.  Do not let your hair, your weight, or your house be what makes you feel good.  Hair can fall out, pounds can add on, and that house can burn down.  If you define yourself in things of this world, your definition of self is fragile and so easily lost by a breeze of bad fate.

I have a sticky note that a (different) friend named Courtney placed on my bathroom mirror a year ago, and I read it every day to make sure I haven’t forgotten.

Sometimes people are beautiful not in looks, not in what they say, just in what they are.

If you are truly blessed, you will find someone on this earth who can celebrate you for exactly who you are, but more often than not, other people are going to tear you down.  They are going to find reasons you are not enough.  Some days you might even find reasons you are not enough.  For God, you will always be enough.

If Christianity is not your faith, this message should still resonate with you.  Build the foundations of your self-image and worth on solid ground.  For me, my faith is that rock, and it is what I turn to when I start to forget my worth.  For you, it can be something different, and that’s okay, too.  Just make sure it isn’t something you will lose when the tides in your life wax and wane.  I don’t think anybody gets to go through life without at least one high tide, and it’s hard to keep your head above water if you can’t love yourself.

We live in a world where, from a young age, we are competing to have followers.  We are counting the “likes” on our photos.  Thanks to Facebook, we can now count the “loves” “hahas” “wows” “sads” and “angrys” – as if we didn’t have enough to think about.  People clicking a button (approximately 0.05 seconds of their time) has become such an important source of validation that our own faces are no longer “enough” for our social media accounts.

It started with Photoshop.  I was probably in about 4th grade when I begged my parents for this software.  To what end did I need it?  Well, my friends had it, and they were able to crop themselves into photos with Hilary Duff.  This was important to me.  What I (and the many parents who relented to adding this software to the home computer) did not realize was that my friends were in training to slim their waist line, enhance their breast size, and spray tan themselves later in life.

Photoshop isn’t user-friendly, though.  At least, I have never been able to master it.  Know what’s super easy?  Perfect365 and other apps like it.  It identifies the face in any image uploaded to it and gives simple options for the user to pick from.  Having issues with your mouth?  There’s a mouth button.  Want to widen your smile?  Slide the bar to the right.  Want to whiten your teeth?  Slide that bar.

On the left, my face; on the right, Perfect365. Of course, you can use the app in less obvious ways, but for full effect, I used every enhancement option there was.

This is the reality of life in 2016, and it is nothing like the smiling faces of the Jetson family.  Society is pressuring us in so many ways and through so many outlets.  If you are struggling to feel good about yourself, there are a million places you can point fingers.  Peers, TV, magazine, Facebook, Instagram… Every advertisement wants you to buy a product so you can be more like the perfect actor in their ad.

Stop blaming others when you feel bad about yourself and look inward.  You are the only person responsible for making sure you know that you are enough just the way you are.  We can try to create more positivity for and about each other, but at the end of the day, you are in charge of how you feel.  If you can love yourself, you can take on anything this world can throw.  Just remember, the best is yet to come.

#APerfectFit

I challenged some friends to skip their makeup for a selfie and see their real skin’s beauty. Your turn!

Health Gains (not weight loss)

Today, I want to clear up a common misconception.  Weight loss is not the same thing as health gain.  By that, I mean that the number on the scale is not an indicator of health.  Weight does not equal health.  Got it?

I realize that sounds contrary to many of the public health messages you face every day.  Everyone wants to lose a pound, and we want a diet or workout plan to make us lose pounds quickly.  That simply isn’t the reality of becoming healthy.

One of the biggest difficulties I face with clients is having them stop focusing on weight loss as the index of how well they are doing.  In fact, nearly all of my clients start going up on the scale before they start going down, but if they stick to working out with me, they will find they are looking better in their clothes.  Why is that?

Muscle weighs more than fat.  It is a simple fact of life.  While my clients think they are after weight loss, they are actually after fat loss, and the two are entirely different.  To lose fat and to gain muscle is often to go up on the scale but down a pants size.

So laugh at the health slogans advertising for weight loss.  Eat well (something I’ll work on defining in other posts) and stay active.  Build muscle and burn fat.  Recognize that there are plenty of indicators of health like your BMI or even just the amount of energy you feel like you have throughout the day.

Weight is simply gravity holding you onto this planet.  It is pulling on your bones, muscles, and organs, too, not just your fat.  Re-focus your energy on what really matters: feeling great!  Your diet and exercise habits are important, but the number resulting from gravity’s force on you is not.

#APerfectFit

Do Not Disturb

Do you ever have a day where it seems like every person you’ve ever known needs something from you?  I’m talking about the kind of day where you are one vibration away from chucking your phone into the garbage and moving to a cabin in the woods.  The kind of day where every effort to respond to your Inbox is mocked by another incoming e-mail.  The kind of day where one more person saying your name just might result in you checking yourself into an asylum.

Modern technology is incredible.  With it, we can perform open heart surgery.  We can travel by air and visit anywhere on our planet with ease.  We can be present on a laptop screen from thousands of miles away at family events.  Those are the big things that we take fore-granted.  I didn’t even mention the modern convenience of indoor plumbing, light bulbs, and air conditioning.  We are surrounded by incredible feats of human kind every day, and it barely gives us pause.

As a result of us forgetting modern conveniences are not natural miracles but rather manmade creations, we seem overly zealous to use them.  There was a time when coming home from work meant just that.  Now, your boss and co-workers have access to you 24/7, and for some reason, it is rude to simply ignore them.  It’s unacceptable in our society to ignore a phone call and just be with the people you’re with.  We have created this expectation to be accessible to literally every person we’ve ever encountered, and we feel guilty not responding to a text message.

There are so many great things that have come from this technology.  Being able to send grandma a picture, monitoring our heart rates, and calling 911 in any emergency are a few examples.  At the same time, we need to stop and think.

I advocate for a healthy lifestyle, and it goes so much further than your protein intake and energy output.  It goes into your emotional and social well-being, too, and I firmly believe I am negatively impacted by technology every day.  In our society, it has become acceptable for people to send text messages at literally any time of day – even one in the morning.  I can literally not spend a night in my bed asleep without someone trying to reach me to tell me something.  My generation doesn’t see anything wrong with that, and therein lies the problem.

I cannot tell you the last time I just got to be by myself or just got to spend time with someone else.  Instead of getting to relax with my cat, I face constant incoming messages from every outlet.  Instead of spending an evening with my roommates, I spend an evening with them and their best friends and boyfriends and whoever else they happen to be texting.

I’m not innocent.  I do the same thing, but I’m trying to do better.

Here I am glued to my first smartphone, circa 2009 when Blackberry was the "it" thing.
Here I am glued to my first smartphone, circa 2009 when Blackberry was the “it” thing.

I don’t think our generation has realized this is a problem, but it’s time we start.  One of my professors told me recently that the thing she misses most about her early teaching days is the chatter in classrooms.  She admitted that at the time, it was always a little irritating to get everyone to hush so she could start to lecture, but she says she misses that now.  Instead of looking around at students becoming friends and sharing their weekend stories, she steps up to the lectern and observes a sea of cell phones.  Students speaking to the friends they have outside of the classroom and ignoring the human beings beside them.

At 21 years old, I am starting to teach myself that it’s okay for me to need time to be me.  It’s okay for me to ignore a call or text message and just be present in the moment, not engaged in a virtual conversation.  It’s okay to leave an e-mail unopened until morning.  I do not have to be accessible when I get home in the evening, and people need to start being okay with that.  When I get in bed at night, I have discovered a wonderful function called “do not disturb,” and I now use it without fail the minute I get under the covers.  Whatever your funny drunk story, your emergency, your need of me, it is just going to have to wait until an appropriate time in my life.

I will no longer be a slave to virtual communication, and I challenge you to do the same.  If you don’t set parameters in your own life, nobody else will.  You can control when you are available, and people will adjust accordingly.  Health and wellness go beyond BMI.  Evaluate your lifestyle today; there is always room for improvement.

#APerfectFit

Body “Shaming”

Shame (n): a feeling of guilt, regret, or sadness that you have because you know you have done something wrong (Merriam-Webster)

I recently read an article about the difference between fat-shaming and skinny-shaming.  Although I respect everyone’s opinion, I found myself completely bewildered by some of the statements it made.  The general idea was that fat-shaming remarks stick, whereas skinny-shaming remarks might hurt but will be forgotten.  I want to share my take on this whole idea of “shaming” someone for their body.

As defined by the dictionary, shame involves a feeling that you have personally done something wrong.  We shame each other for our physical bodies on a regular basis, and for some reason, society perpetuates the cycle.  If you wear plus sizes, you have done something wrong; if you wear a double-zero, you have done something wrong.  There is no way to win when we tell people their body is something they should literally feel shame over because shame implies you acted incorrectly.  That’s right, there was an action that you took that was wrong, and in this case, that “action” is your body.  Your very physical being is wrong.

Anyone with a little self-confidence can see that this is absolutely absurd.  You did nothing wrong by being born into the body you currently reside in.  You might have mistreated that body by feeding it fattening foods or neglecting to feed it entirely, but you did nothing wrong by residing in it.

The idea that fat-shaming sticks more than skinny-shaming is also obscene.  There are women struggling every single day to make themselves eat a meal, and those women are very often underweight.  Do you think they do that because society’s skinny-ideal did not stick with them?  No.  It’s exactly the opposite.

We can argue and debate whether fat-shaming or skinny-shaming is worse all day long, but that’s just silly.  Body-shaming is wrong.  Feeling sad or guilty or embarrassed because you woke up in your own skin this morning is wrong.  Let’s stop shaming each other, fat or skinny or in-between.  Do not look down on someone because they have a few extra pounds, and do not look down on someone because of a protruding collar bone.  Instead, lift those people up in prayer.

Do not be ashamed of your body.  Love it.  You will not take care of something you do not love, and by taking care of your body, you can make a difference in your own life.  Look in the mirror and accept that person.  Yes, you might could lose some weight, and yes, you might could gain some weight.  The truth of the matter is no two bodies are going to be alike, but a healthy body makes for a happy heart.  Do not feel ashamed of your body.  Feel proud.  It got you this far in life, and if you love and take care of it, just imagine where you will go.

#APerfectFit

The Skinny-Girl Effect

The following word is an insult that people regularly mistake as a compliment: Skinny.

I despise being called skinny.  As in, “Wow, Tracy, you are just so skinny!”  I hate it.  I understand that being thin is the new it-girl look, but I want absolutely no part in perpetuating that belief.

If anyone is to blame, it’s my parents.  Genetics made me “skinny” and despite my greatest efforts, I cannot seem to escape that label.  I have tried everything.  From chicken wings to chocolate cake, it seems no food is powerful enough to make people stop calling me skinny.  Or tiny.  Or any of the other “compliment” terms they use.

 

Fun fact: Pageant girls can polish off a pound of wings a piece.

I guess I have more than my stellar genes to blame.  I like to workout and eat healthy most days.  I do not like to do these things for the sake of my metabolism and waist line.  I like to do these things because they make me feel good.

Let me repeat:  I do not workout or eat my veggies to impress you.  I do it for me.  I do it for the endorphins, which relieve the stress of being alive.  I do it for the increased energy, which helps me survive long days.  I do it for myself, which means I get to have me-time with no intruding voices.

Stop doing harm to women by using “skinny” as a compliment.  Try “healthy” or “beautiful” or “intelligent” or “generous” or “loving” or “kind”.  Every woman is beautiful, so do not disservice us with words about our size.  Do not make those words mean beautiful.

Women are powerful.  We have the ability to influence what young girls perceive as attractive.  If we stand together, society cannot tear us down.  So the next time someone calls you “skinny”, do not smile and thank them and tell them about your juice diet.  Do not let them label you with a word that describes your shape.  You deserve more.  We all do.

Pick your compliments with care.  Use them to build each other up, not to create painful constructs of what the female body should be.  I challenge everyone to use a compliment today that goes beneath the skin and looks at the soul, the character, the drive of the person, not the weight, width, or mass.

We don’t have to let the media tell use how to look.  We can have a positive effect on the body image of others.  It starts with you and me, but we can change the world.

#APerfectFit