Summer is here again. Depending on where you live, summer is a season of wall-to-wall sunshine. Pearly white smiles surrounded by perfectly tanned faces. Bare bronzed arms, legs, and tight bellies. But it’s not a happy time for everyone. Are you ashamed of your body, afraid you don’t have a perfect summer body? Don’t be ashamed. Instead, lead the healthy crowd.
An estimated 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies, and many of them are willing to try almost anything to obtain their ideal body shape, a shape usually dictated by a celebrity. But because only 5% of women naturally possess this particular body type, it is difficult or impossible for most to achieve such an ideal.
Doesn’t it seem absurd, then, to let some celebrity who doesn’t know you — someone you’ll probably never meet — dictate the type of body you should have? Now that the summer season is upon us, isn’t it time to ask yourself this question: is the summer body always a bikini body? Isn’t the image of the “perfect” body somehow flawed, and isn’t it time we change this model to fit reality? Isn’t it time we dictate the perfect body type for ourselves, one that makes us happy for a change?
Why the traditional “summer body” should not be the goal
There are many reasons why the traditional “perfect” summer body should not be the model upon which you base your diet and exercise plan. Not only is it an unrealistic or impossible body type for many of us to achieve, but it can also be a physically and emotionally dangerous pursuit.
Here are 3 of the most common dangers you face if you choose to pursue the traditional summer body shape.
1. Eating disorders
Eating disorders are a group of related mental health conditions characterized by abnormal eating behaviors that negatively impact mental or physical health. Those who suffer from this condition are usually so preoccupied with food and weight concerns that they are unable to attend to other areas of their lives. An estimated 28.8 million Americans will experience an eating disorder at some point in their lives, according to the National Eating Disorders Association.
Though there is a heavy genetic component to most eating disorders, they can be triggered by crash dieting and by a heavy focus on appearance, particularly the perfection of appearance. The emphasis on imitating the body shape of the latest supermodel, then, can definitely trigger an eating disorder.
Eating disorders are not harmless. According to the Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, eating disorders have the highest death rate of any mental illness. Indeed, an eating disorder kills at least one person every 62 minutes.
There are many types of eating disorders, each with its own unique challenges and dangers.
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by a preoccupation with weight and food. There are several characteristics of anorexia, including an abnormally low body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight, and a distorted perception of weight. It is common for individuals with anorexia to put an extreme amount of effort into controlling their weight and shape, which tends to significantly interfere with their daily lives.
To stay as thin as possible, anorexics severely restrict their food intake. This eventually results in extremely low body weight for their height, stature, and age. Because they refuse to eat much food, they deprive their bodies of the nutrition they need to fuel essential functions. The resulting malnutrition not only can cause a cessation of the menstrual period but also increases the risk of heart attack and other diseases.
Approximately 6 out of every 1,000 people suffer from anorexia, some of which are famous. Celebrities who have struggled with anorexia include singers Lady Gaga and Demi Lovato; and actresses Lindsay Lohan, Jessica Alba, and Mary-Kate Olsen.
Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder in which a person eats large amounts of food at one time and then “purges” it by forced vomiting or using laxatives. They may also use intense exercise to get rid of the calories. Unlike anorexics, bulimics typically do not lose a great deal of weight. In fact, they can even be slightly overweight, so it is difficult to tell by their appearance that they have an eating disorder.
The binging and purging cycle is repeated many times, eventually causing many health problems. For instance, constant binging and purging damage the digestive system and all parts and organs involved with digestion. Acid reflux is a common symptom, as is eroded tooth enamel due to frequent vomiting.
Frequent purging also causes dehydration, disrupting the body’s electrolyte balance. This can lead to dangerous heart arrhythmias and heart attacks. It can even cause death.
Bulimics are usually ashamed of their binging and purging, generally hiding this behavior from others. This causes them to withdraw from friends and family. Like anorexia, there is a heavy genetic component to bulimia. However, experts believe bulimia is triggered by low self-esteem and extremely poor body image.
According to the Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, approximately 1.5% of American women suffer from this disorder during their lifetimes. Bulimia, too, has its share of famous patients. Celebrities who suffered from bulimia include the late Princess Diana, singer Paula Abdul, and actress Jane Fonda.
Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
A binge eating disorder (BED) is a condition in which an individual consumes an excessive amount of food in a short period of time, and they usually feel guilty and ashamed of themselves afterward. They may eat this food even if they are not hungry or even if they are full. Unlike bulimia, those who suffer from binge eating disorder do not try to get rid of these extra calories through forced vomiting, abuse of laxatives, or over-exercising.
Those with binge eating disorder may be normal weight, overweight, or even underweight. According to the Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, nearly 3% of Americans suffer from binge eating disorder during their lifetimes.
2. Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD)
Body dysmorphic disorder is a mental disorder in which the person has an obsessive idea that some part of their body is severely flawed and believes extreme measures are needed either to hide or to fix the perceived imperfection. According to the Mayo Clinic, the perceived flaw is either not noticed by others or they see it as very minor.
Those with BDD may seek repeated cosmetic surgery for the same “flaw.” They may feel relief immediately after surgery; however, the anxiety quickly returns, and they seek out other surgeries and other remedies for their “flaw.” They may also withdraw from their social circle, fearing this “flaw” is too ugly for them to be accepted by their friends and family.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, categorizes BDD as an obsessive-compulsive disorder. According to the International OCD Foundation, as many as 7.5 million people in the U.S. suffer from BDD. Though never confirmed, it is thought that the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, suffered from BDD.
Clinical depression, commonly known as major depressive disorder (MDD), is a mental disorder characterized by a persistently low or sad mood and a loss of interest in formerly pleasurable activities. Moreover, clinical depression can affect your sleep, appetite, and capacity to think rationally. The ultimate negative outcome of depression is suicide. As many as 75% of those who commit suicide are depressed. Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses in the United States.
What does this have to do with body image? Poor body image, such as that developed when you compare your summer body unfavorably to that of a celebrity, is known to cause various levels of depression.
What are you finding your role models for the perfect body?
These three dangers are unacceptable, especially considering where most of us get our idea of the perfect summer body. Where do you get your idea of the perfect body, the one you almost unconsciously model yourself after? If you’re like most people, you’ve probably used one of these sources:
Television: If you spend any time watching television, you must wonder how all the “perfect” people ended up in front of the camera. Perfect smiles. Perfect, pert little noses with perfect bodies. It’s enough to make you throw your carrot sticks at the TV screen!
Magazines: If television is bad, magazines are even worse. Sure, you’ll sometimes see little “slice-of-life” photo spreads, with kids sprawled on the couch playing video games and mom and dad picking up some of the toys scattered across the family room floor. But more often, you’ll see impossibly thin fashion models showcasing an amazing outfit you’d love to be able to wear. If only you had her figure. If ONLY…
Other Media Sources: You’ll find the same beautiful-type people with the perfect summer body on all other media sources. Billboards. The sides of city buses. In commercials. On movie screens. With so many perfect people peering out or down at you, it’s no wonder you compare your body unfavorably with theirs.
Is the perfect body in the media really perfect?
Which makes this next part even sadder. Would you believe that the perfect celebrity with a perfect body is not so perfect after all? It’s true. You see, photographers regularly airbrush their models to “perfection,” and cinematographers routinely use special lighting and camera tricks to make their actors and actresses look “perfect.”
So, unless you have your own photographer or cinematographer, you cannot hope to ever truly look like that perfect model or actress with that impossibly perfect summer body. Nor should you want to.
Because, you see, you are perfect just as you are.
What should the real standard be?
The real standard for the perfect summer body shouldn’t be the skeletal look sported by so many celebrities these days. Rather, it should be YOUR look. The perfect body should be:
- Vibrant Health
- Looking like a “real woman” rather than a Barbie doll fantasy that doesn’t really exist.
How to achieve a REAL, healthy physique
Regularly enjoying a nutritious diet, keeping physically active, and living a SANE lifestyle is the best way to achieve vibrant good health and achieve a summer body that is healthy and sustainable.
Let’s discuss them one by one.
Eating a SANE Diet
Eating a SANE diet involves regularly enjoying more whole foods and reducing or eliminating heavily processed foods. These foods heal your hormones, which lowers your setpoint weight. Your body will then regulate your weight around your setpoint weight. Once you lower your setpoint weight, your body will burn fat like a naturally thin person. No counting calories. No hunger. And no frustration.
Plus, SANE foods burn fat and build muscle, giving you a trim, healthy physique. The 4 main SANE food groups are as follows:
- Non-starchy vegetables: 10+ servings per day. Fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables (think salad veggies) at each meal. Non-starchy veggies create bulk in your stomach, filling you up fast and keeping you full longer.
- Nutrient-Dense Proteins: 3-5 servings per day, 30-50 grams per meal. Increasing your intake of nutrient-dense protein not only fills you up fast and keeps you full for a long time, but it also triggers muscle protein synthesis. This helps the growth, repair, and maintenance of the body’s muscle groups. You will develop lean muscle more quickly when you consume more protein. More muscle increases your metabolic rate, among other positive benefits.
- Whole-food fats: 3-6 servings per day. Be sure to eat whole foods and not simply oils. For instance, choose olives rather than olive oil. The whole food contains water, fiber, and protein lacking in the oil, which offers setpoint-lowering benefits. Whole-food fats are also filling, and when you eat them in place of starchy carbs and sugars, your body starts burning fat for fuel.
- Low-fructose fruits: 0-3 servings per day. Feel free to eat low-fructose fruits, which will mostly be citrus fruits and berries, as a tasty dessert or a between-meal snack.
Keep physically fit
Keeping physically fit is an important part of a SANE lifestyle, and it is one of the best ways to obtain your best body. It is important, however, that you perform the right types of exercise. Prolonged exercise that increases your heart rate also increases your levels of cortisol, which elevate your setpoint weight.
To avoid this adverse effect on your cortisol levels, opt for exercises that are not intensely performed for an extended period of time. Some of these exercises include:
- Tai Chi
- Slow Strength Training
- Eccentric Exercises
Note: In eccentric exercising, the emphasis is placed on the downward part of the movement. For instance, if you are performing squats, the squatting motion is the eccentric part of the movement. By performing the squat slowly and holding it at the bottom of the squat for a few seconds each time, you clear the setpoint-elevating hormonal clog. Though eccentric exercises are intense, they are performed for such a short period of time that they have just a slight effect on cortisol levels.
Reduce stress/get enough sleep.
Reducing stress and getting enough sleep are also crucial for keeping levels of the stress hormone cortisol in check. (Cortisol causes weight gain, particularly in the stomach area.) To obtain your best body, try to get at least 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. Also, take steps to de-stress regularly. Some great de-stressing activities include deep breathing exercises, meditation, and participating in a relaxing hobby.
If you follow these tips, your summer body will not only be the best in appearance, but it will also be a healthy one.
Next step: Get in shape with SANE
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