The Myth of the Perfect Body

As I write this (two days before you read it), I just finished participating in a potluck at work. There was a lot of really tasty food and drink to be had, and even though I limited myself to one plate full (I resisted the temptation to go back for seconds), it was a very full plate. I am stuffed!

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I’ve spent this week monitoring my calories using an online application called MyFitnessPal. Monday was a real shocker, especially when I set my goal to lose a pound a week. On Tuesday I changed my goal to half a pound a week and it seemed more reasonable given my current diet. Actually, I’m not trying to lose weight this week, just get a handle on how many calories I eat, what they’re made of, and how they contribute to my current weight plateau.

But the potluck blew all that. Even if I eat nothing between now and dinner, I’m definitely going into the red calorie-wise. I’ve already gone way over the limit of sodium that I should have, according to the MyFitnessPal scale.

So what does all this mean in the greater scheme of things? Should I spend more time at the gym for the next few days? Should I feel guilty and punish myself for overindulgence? Or should I just accept that these little social events occur in all our lives from time to time, let this lead brick in my stomach digest, and move on?

No matter how much regret you may feel for any indiscretion, mistake, or problem you may have caused, you can’t travel even a few seconds into the past and change anything. What’s done is done. It’s what you do in the aftermath and how you choose to behave going forward that matters.

Some people feel like it’s too late to fix whatever they think is wrong, including an out-of-shape body. There’s this idea that if you are not already healthy and fit, that you shouldn’t start going to the gym, that all the already in shape and athletic people there will judge you. Even if they don’t say anything, when they look at you, then they must be “fat shaming” you in their thoughts.

I suppose that depends on the gym you go to.

I go to what I think of as a suburban gym. It services a population that lives near where the borders Boise, Eagle, and Meridian, Idaho meet…lots of housing tracts, lots of middle-class people.

Most of them don’t have perfect bodies. In fact, you’d be surprised who shows up at my gym at 5 o’clock on a weekday morning. We have our regulars (I’m one of them). I’d have to say that over half the people standing at the front door of the gym when the doors first open up are older than I am. Sure, there are a few younger men and women, and they look pretty fit, but most of us have what you’d call “ordinary bodies”.

Some people are downright overweight, and not by just a little.

The one person who has my overarching admiration is visually impaired. He comes with two women, one looks like his mother and the other could be his sister or wife. They’re at the gym when it opens every day, Monday through Friday, just like I am. All three of them perform a combination of cardio and resistance training. They workout for about an hour, just like me.

I’d have to say that just looking around the gym, almost no one has a perfect body. In fact, even those people who look like their bodies are perfect, if asked, would probably say they don’t have perfect bodies and that they have goals they’re shooting for.

If you aren’t going to a gym or otherwise participating in a group exercise program because you think only people with perfect bodies go to gyms, then you’re fooling yourself. It’s a myth. Maybe there’s a gym out there where only super-athletic people train, but that’s probably not most gyms.

ordinary people
Photo credit: ABC News

Prove it to yourself. Locate all the gyms within a five-mile radius of your home and visit each one. You can say you’re shopping around for a gym to join and have the manager give you a tour. In addition to checking out the equipment and services available, check out the people who are working out there. I’d be willing to bet that most of them look pretty ordinary.

Don’t let a myth or your own feelings of insecurity or intimidation keep you from starting an exercise program. You can’t uneat the piece of pizza or bowl of ice cream you had an hour ago, but you can choose what you’re going to do about it an hour from now.

People who go to gyms don’t have perfect bodies. You don’t have a perfect body now. Even if you achieve your goals at the gym a year from now, you still won’t have a perfect body. Perfection isn’t what we’re shooting for. We’re never going to become the Incredible Hulk. Even Lou Ferrigno doesn’t have the same body now that he had when he was in that TV show in the 1970s and ’80s (though he’s still a lot bigger than I am).

The goal isn’t perfection. The goal is better. The goal is to keep moving forward, to keep gaining, to keep achieving. As long as you’re still moving, there’s hope, there’s life, there’s a future.

Get moving. Get to the gym. Get better.

The past cannot be changed. The future is yet in your power.

Mary Pickford


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