Health and Performance Over Aesthetics

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and this year’s focus is all about body image – how we think and feel about our bodies and how that impacts our mental wellbeing.

Last year the Mental Health Foundation found that 30% of all adults have felt so stressed by body image and appearance that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. That’s almost 1 in every 3 people!

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week we are going to be looking at different views on this complex subject.   We’ve got some amazing guest bloggers to help us see some different perspectives – because body image is all about perspective.  We will be looking at how body image can impact our health, both mental and physical whatever our age and whatever our gender.

Today’s blog takes us on a journey into the world of female body building with Sarah Matyjasik of SMPower.

After 10 busy years bringing up young children and running a successful business, my health and fitness was not its best.  I knew it was time for me to get fitter and ‘slimmer’ and so I woke up in the January of 2015 and set myself a big goal to inspire me to ‘get in shape’.

The goal I decided to act on was one I’d had in my late teens and had never achieved: to compete in bodybuilding in the figure fitness category, which meant standing on stage in a bikini doing a routine to showcase the work I’d done on improving and sculpting my body.

With a date in sight and an image in my mind of what the perfect physique looked like, I got focused.  I had to be super organised, ensuring my food was prepared in advance as I had to eat specific quantities and at specific times of day. I would train on average 8-10 times a week which increased nearer the show, this included weight training and some cardio sessions. It took huge commitment and a strong desire to achieve, not to mention a degree of single-minded focus!

In September of that same year, I stepped on my first stage and I loved the feeling.  My body was in the best physical shape it had been in for years and I felt proud of what I’d worked so hard to achieve. I competed over 3 years in competitions that took me to the British finals in each of the shows I did.

I got swept up in intensity of the industry and what was deemed the ‘norm’ and it took it’s toll on my body.  After each show I suffered with sudden and extreme weight gain, even though I was eating healthy foods my body’s metabolism had dropped in line with the drop-in calories and increased exercise.  My metabolism was shot, and my hormones were all over the place. I think it’s fair to say I wasn’t alone in thinking I felt ‘fat’ after a competition, even though I wasn’t it was because my new ‘norm’ was the stage condition I’d gotten used to in my mind and seeing in the mirror. It’s interesting how our mind can play tricks on how we look and feel distorting our reality.

Although I had lots of support from family and friends around me: they put up with my disciplined diet regime, my numerous gym sessions a week and the focussed attention on my goal which took me away from family time because there was simply not enough time to do everything. They were also concerned about me as I looked very different from how I’d looked earlier that year and they said things to me like: “you look so small”, “my arms wrap round you twice”, “you look anorexic”, “you look ill” or “you’re down to the bone”.

I didn’t believe them.  I felt absolutely fine and I knew my body was at its leanest.

My view or perspective of myself was completely blinkered.  I was merely looking in the mirror at my aesthetics and it looked good, so what was the problem?

The problem was that whilst my body looked good, it was no longer functioning like it used to.  My energy had dropped,  my skin looked tired, I had cravings for high energy foods (something I’d not really suffered with in the past even through pregnancy), I had more injuries that cropped up and on the whole, I now know my body was simply exhausted.

It was after the last show I competed in in 2017 that I realised I didn’t want to live in that way anymore.  My journey had taught me that my body image had been focused purely on aesthetics, with no respect for its other needs. I’d ‘woken’ up to the fact that actually it was more important to be healthy, fit and full of energy than lean and in a tight shape that was impossible to maintain without severely impacting my health, family and lifestyle.

This was the start of a huge journey and learning that has led to helping many clients with their own ‘body image’ and fitness expectations.

What is ‘body image’? I believe body image is what we make it and times have changed.  Gone are the cardio days where we’d sweat for hours every day to ‘lose weight’ and look thinner.  Now people want to train for strength and shape and not just a leaner thinner version of themselves.

There is lots of research that suggests that working our muscles with interval or weight training, which in turn increases our lean tissue, has a hugely beneficial impact on our metabolism and thus our composition.

When we talk about body composition, we’re not talking about weighing and measuring ourselves, we’re talking about what’s happening inside our body. In simple terms our composition is made up of lean tissue, fat and water so the higher our lean tissue the lower our fat tissue and the higher our fat tissue the lower our lean tissue. It makes sense that we eat and exercise in a way that increases our lean tissue keeping us healthier, fitter and stronger for exercise and an active lifestyle.

What I’ve found working with many clients over the years is…What we’re ‘thinking’ impacts the energy and the attitude we put into our ‘actions’ and so it’s crucial we let go of our ‘end outcome’ thoughts i.e.; the ‘ideal’ image we have of ourselves and focus on the strength, fitness and the changes in our body composition. When we keep focussed attention on all the wonderful things our body is doing to change, we stay in a positive mindset and thus intrinsically motivated to continue. This in turn impacts our mental health and wellness as we reduce stress and anxiety and increase our happy hormones.

Making healthy changes that are going to be long term, that you’re able to maintain and progress from, takes time for your body to adapt and sustain.

Fundamentally I’m sure you’ll agree what’s really important to all of us is getting, staying and living a healthy life, free from disorders and disease. This has a huge effect on our mental wellbeing and how we feel about ourselves, our ‘body image’ and in turn, our work benefits from a more productive, efficient and confident ‘you’.

About the Author: After 10 years in Commercial Recruitment and Operational Management, Sarah’s career led her into health and fitness when she had children and she took the opportunity to follow her real passion. Sarah has started, built and run a number of businesses as well as coaching and mentoring individuals and teams of people, both in business and in wellbeing.   She’s a qualified coach, nutrition advisor and personal trainer. Sarah has worked with dozens of successful professionals whose success has often come at a cost to their health and wellness, sometimes with significant impact on their relationships and their work or career.

Sarah now runs SMpower, a company which specialises in helping businesses and the people who work within them to improve their health and wellness and develop sustainable energy, so that they can work at their optimum and contribute the best of themselves to their life and work.

smpoweronline.com

 

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