How you can successfully turn body envy into action…
By K Scott-Dixon
Ah, That Girl. She’s got a defined waist, hair that looks styled even when it’s not, and a noticeable lack of kid throw-up on her sweater. After coaching thousands of clients, I can confidently say: Wanting to be That Girl can either propel you toward your goal…or completely paralyze you. Here’s what to do about it.
So there’s this woman. She’s awesome. Inspiring, even.
She looks fabulous, confident, and comfortable in her own skin. She’s into Pilates or running or Crossfit or kale juice or something else that keeps her full of energy.
She rocks Lululemon pants and skinny jeans. Yes, even after three angelic children.
She totally, completely has it all together. And she’s the number one request from women asking for help.
I want to be That Girl.
(Just a word of warning: Your desire to be That Girl can either propel you toward your goal… or completely paralyze you.)
We all know That Girl.
That Girl is a lawyer, or a neurosurgeon, or an international diplomat, or perhaps a stay-at-home mother. Whatever she does, she excels at it and is fulfilled.
You can find her on social media using hashtags like #honored and #grateful and #blessed — and she means it.
Oh, and she’s got those Michelle Obama arms too.
“Make me look like That Girl.”
When Precision Nutrition Coaching kicked off 15 years ago, That Girl was Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2.
These days, she’s Jessica Biel, Halle Berry, or Jennifer Aniston in the magazines.
And, on the home front, you might have seen That Girl at school drop-off, at the grocery store, or dominating the running trails.
(Of course, while she’s dropping off three well-groomed offspring, you’re shoving aside banana peels and empty soda cups to make room for your kid’s dog-hair-encrusted car seat. And you’re wearing your husband’s track pants with baby spit-up because they’re the only things that fit you right now.)
You can’t help but think…
Why does she have it all together, when I so clearly do not?
Actually, That Girl doesn’t have it all together. I know, because I coached her.
At a certain point, no matter who you are, coaching requires you to get a little bit honest and a little bit vulnerable. Yes, I’ve seen it all.
I’ve had women stand before me to get measurements taken, half-naked and feeling exposed in their underwear, without the soft lighting and baby oil used in photo shoots.
I’ve seen a lot of tears, even from the most rock-solid, wall-of-muscle types. (Think That Girl wouldn’t collapse into a ball of sobs on the floor of a public bathroom? Think again.)
I’ve heard it all. I’ve heard about the secret Oreo and Nutella binges, about the even-more-secret eating disorders, about the booze and the sneaky cigarettes and the injuries and the heartbreak and the crazy boss and the reasons why your mom always liked your sister best and why it feels like you can never measure up.
It doesn’t matter what size you are, whether you have abs, whether you know how to apply false eyelashes, or whether you’ve ever lifted a barbell in your life.
I’ve had your emotional throw-up all over me.
And it’s OK. It’s great, actually.
Really. You know why? Because…
You have to face reality before you can become That Girl.
It’s easy to believe that Everyone Else is doing so much better than you.
After all, everybody’s social media feed tells you something different. Between Instagram and the fitness magazines and the “best booty beach body bikini bonanza” campaigns, it can seems like Everyone Else can handle their lives.
Everyone Else is losing weight or gaining muscle or getting fitter so much faster and more effortlessly than you.
Everyone Else has their shit together. Everyone Else has everything you don’t.
It feels like you’re the only person in the world with your problems. That it’s much harder for you than for everyone else.
But the truth is:
There is no Everyone Else.
No one can escape the reality of family and deadlines and the thermodynamic laws that govern metabolism.
Not Jessica Biel, not anyone.
That Girl doesn’t exist the way you think she does.
We are all imperfect, wonderful, messy, very-much-human beings with hopes and fears and desires and neuroses and jobs and lives and kids and dogs or cats and family demands and toilets that need unclogging and lines-becoming-wrinkles and hangnails and alarms that go off too early and a love of chocolate-chip cookies… and all the rest of reality.
None of it gets easier with make-pretend.
It’s only once we’re able to be honest about what’s going on in their lives — to stop worrying about being the only person who isn’t fit enough, smart enough, together enough, getting enough things done in a day, a good enough mom / wife / worker, whatever — that we can start becoming our own versions of That Girl.
Want to know how it’s done? Check out these 6 steps.
Reconsider your expectations.
I have good news for you, and I have bad news.
The good news is, if you’re looking to get into reasonable, moderate shape — or even pretty good shape — you are completely capable of doing so.
You can regain control of your life and your habits. You can overcome emotional eating issues. You can take care of others while still taking care of yourself. In fact, you can even build a body that you love, and are proud of.
I know. I know. That body-love probably seems crazy and impossible right now. But with some small, consistent changes, and support, these things are totally doable.
On the other hand, getting cover-model lean and ripped (especially if you want it to happen overnight and especially if you want it to last longer than 24 hours) probably won’t be worth your while.
As we explored in our article The Cost of Getting Lean, getting into magazine-cover shape is intense. You have to give up a lot of your life to do this.
You eat out of Tupperware. You measure everything that goes into your mouth. Your entire routine revolves around eating (or not eating), working out, and sleeping so you have enough energy to work out again.
Sure, some people do this successfully. You could get Halle-Berry ripped if you literally had nothing else to prioritize in your life.
But here’s the secret: Those people you see in the magazines (the people you imagine are “Everybody Else”) are professionals who make their living that way. 99.99 percent of us are not those people.
Those pros only look like that for a few hours or days. They pour thousands of hours and dollars into the project of getting super lean and ripped. Which means that even the 0.01 percent still don’t look like that all the time.
Nor are their lives awesome. In fact, arguably, their lives are much less awesome than you think. They’re eating three ounces of plain cold chicken out of a Ziploc bag at a family barbecue before they go and do their second workout of the day.
- Getting into slightly better shape, or a slightly healthier routine, doesn’t take much effort. That may be what is realistic for most of us, right now.
- Getting into epic shape takes tremendous sacrifice… and kinda sucks. It probably isn’t worth it for most of us, right now.
- Getting into epic shape creates other problems. Because of the demands of their job, cover models are often less happy, healthy, and balanced than the average person. (If you’ve ever chased this dream, you may have discovered this firsthand in the form of workout injuries, anxiety and depression, disordered eating, hormonal disruption, social isolation, and a host of other problems.)
So if magazine covers are off the table at the moment, what can you do?
Find new ‘That Girl’ inspiration.
How about your kid’s preschool teacher? She’s on her feet all day, spends recess playing tag with 4-year-olds, and has patience and calm like you’ve never seen. How does she keep up her energy?
Or the mom on your block who always seems like she’s having fun playing with her kids, and not afraid to get goofy or messy or even a little scratched up in the process. Does she have any advice for you?
What about the seventy something who’s aging so gracefully? What has her daily routine looked like throughout the years?
Or consider your neighbor who’s so good at growing her own veggies — and always willing to share her sun-ripened tomatoes with you.
When our clients shift their perspective to “good enough”, “a little bit better”, or “just practicing”, their progress tends to pick up noticeably.
Why? They’re able to focus on something that actually works: small moments of health, fitness, and wellness that they can do…today.
Success is almost always built from putting small things on top of small things on top of small things… until they’re transformed into big things.
Learn to be OK with being “not OK”.
As PN coaches, much of work is actually helping our clients get a little more comfortable with discomfort.
When you’re a Precision Nutrition Coaching client you’ll hear phrases like:
- Step into the discomfort.
- Let things be a bit messy.
- You are human. You are normal. You are not a weirdo. You are not alone.
You also hear questions like:
- How might you make things a little bit simpler for yourself?
- What does it feel like to sit with the discomfort of change?
- How could you stretch yourself just a bit?
Life is never going to be completely OK, 100 percent of the time.
The trick is to learn how to be OK with that not-OKness. Work on making things a little bit better. And hey, have some fun while we’re down here in the muck.
Find your work-arounds.
It’s not all-or-nothing. If you can’t do an exercise or make the healthy dish you found on Pinterest, don’t let it be a reason to do nothing.
Find a work-around. Get help if you need it. Trust yourself to devise a system that works for you. For example…
If your knees aren’t as sturdy as they used to be, think about branching out from your usual running routine. Or ask a coach how an exercise can be modified.
If you don’t like cooking or working out alone, find someone else to do this with. Grab a friend for Sunday batch-cooking day, or check out a group class.
Having trouble “finding time” for things? Get out a calendar and start planning. Book appointments with yourself. Track your time so you spot inefficiencies. Set alarms and reminders, stick Post-it notes, do whatever it takes.
Everyone has to work at it, even That Girl. Especially at the beginning.
People hate the feeling of exercise when they’re out of shape. People suck when they start a new sport. No one is good at squats the first time.
That’s how I can tell who’s actually good at getting help. (Hint: It’s the folks who look like they’re actually good at things.)
Paradoxically, it’s not until we can accept how things are right now — including how lost, overwhelmed, and vulnerable we sometimes feel — that we can change.
Once we can accept things as they are, we become able to ask for help (and receive that help graciously). We can embrace and celebrate small improvements that add up over time. We can evolve past an “all-or-nothing” attitude, to see the tiny joys and achievements that are everywhere. We can pick ourselves up after we fall down, and have the courage to keep going.
The best part: The more we accept being not OK, the more life feels… well, a little more OK.
For certain symptoms, explore deeper.
It’s OK to not be OK. None of us are 100 percent OK. At the same time, sometimes things are really not-OK, including:
- chronic insomnia or poor quality sleep
- chronic pain or lack of mobility
- frequent injuries and/or illnesses
- chronic and debilitating depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns
- chronic social isolation and relationship difficulties
- chronic lethargy and lack of energy
- not menstruating (if you should be, i.e you’re not pregnant or post-menopause)
- feeling like you need alcohol or recreational drugs to function
- concerns with food, eating, and/or exercise that seem to be taking over your life and/or harming your health…
Sometimes, being in the depths of not-OK — maybe it’s triggered by a horrendously stressful situation at work, getting injured, or having lots of family obligations to fulfill — is the wake-up call we need to start working on being a little more OK.
Pay attention to your “dashboard indicator lights”.
Are your current struggles and imperfections more like garden-variety ups and downs? If they are, that’s just fine. It’s all part of being human.
On the other hand, if something feels really off, you might need a little extra help. You might talk to a trained coach, counsellor, or other health care professional.
Accept the struggle.
It’s not going anywhere. Grappling with pain — whether that’s actual pain and suffering, or just small daily annoyances — is part of being human.
As adults, we recognize life’s complexity and richness. Wanting to “be perfect” or “have it all” is not an adult wish. It’s a child wish: to have all the toys, all the time, even your sister’s.
Everyone has a struggle, even That Girl. You might just not see it.
- 48% of our female clients take prescription medication.
- Of those taking meds, 33% take antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication.
- 36% of our clients have injuries. And many struggle with chronic pain.
- 27% of our female clients are over 50. (Even if you’re healthy, aging brings its own challenges.)
In addition, many of our female clients struggle with a “let’s call it complicated” relationship with food.
Plus, they feel overdrawn. After work, family, and household responsibilities, they often don’t feel like they have much left over for themselves. And despite all their knowledge about food and fitness, they struggle to be consistent and take care of themselves the way they’d like.
Many of these challenges are invisible. You often can’t see pain or disability. You often can’t see psychological distress. Unless you see someone pop a pill, you don’t know what they’re taking.
And guess what — coaches struggle with the exact same things.
- We have injuries. Or had them. Or will have them.
- We’ve struggled with mental and emotional health sometimes. Or often.
- We’ve struggled with addictions — whether that’s to work, or exercise, or food, or alcohol, or anything else that someone could get hooked on.
- We’ve gained too much weight, or been scrawny, or gone weeks or months without working out.
- We’ve been the ones wearing the baby barf sweatpants.
No matter what the challenge is, at least a few of us have faced it.
And remember, That Girl, who looks so fit and healthy, may be in the middle of a long and difficult journey.
- Like the cancer survivors whom we coached through post-treatment rehab.
- Like people who are coming back from an injury or illness.
- Like people who just have so much on their metaphorical plate, and feel every emotion — stress, happiness, sadness, you name it — as hunger.
No matter how someone looks, you don’t know what it’s taken to get where they are today. We’re all out here in the field together. Trying our best under imperfect circumstances.
Accepting imperfection is your ticket to being your version of That Girl.
What to do next
Most women I’ve coached spend a lot of time thinking about That Girl. But instead of feeling inspired, they feel paralyzed. That’s when we focus on the following:
- Don’t get hung up on failures.
Most people who enroll in Precision Nutrition Coaching feel like they’ve “failed” at losing weight and getting in shape a bunch of times by the time they come to us.
For women, that leads to lots of negative feelings — especially shame and sadness.
But when I look at you, I don’t see a “failure”. I see hope, courage and persistence. Because after every time you’ve fallen off the wagon, even if you’ve fallen so hard that your head is still spinning, you get back up. You keep trying. You keep hoping.
I don’t see every time you ended a fitness program or a nutrition plan. I see every time you tried to start again.
Now that’s courage. So I don’t have to “inspire” or “motivate” you. Your hope springs eternal.
As a coach, my job is to help you start better, and keep going on the right path— a path that works for you, and your busy, messy, real, “imperfect” life.
And, at Precision Nutrition, we want to help you learn and discover what does work for you, so you can just keep on doing it, and enjoying it. Finding the right path for your unique needs is what will help you regain ownership over your body, your health, and your “That Girl-ness”.
- Think about what success looks like for you.
Instead of an imaginary, plastic, magazine-cover That Girl, imagine yourself… just a bit happier, more together, calmer, and getting things right.
Be specific. What is That Girl doing at 3pm on a Tuesday? What does she do, or think about, or remember, when she wakes up in the morning? What does she have for lunch?
How does she think about the world? What kinds of decisions does she make about her life? What kinds of adventures does she have, and what makes those possible?
Don’t box yourself in with a rigid, narrow ideal. Go big and zesty with your imagined future. That Girl is having a juicy life. How?
- Build workarounds / bridges on the path to That Girl.
OK, now, break that inspirational role model’s daily routine into very, very tiny pieces.
Maybe you imagined what she had for lunch. Now imagine her just opening the fridge. In that moment, what is she thinking? What is she doing? Start there, in that small moment.
Maybe you imagined what she did for her exercise, like hiking a gorgeous outdoor trail, or surfing, or tango dancing. Now imagine her just putting her hiking boots on, or stepping into the surf. In that moment, what is she thinking? How is she taking on this adventure? Start there, in that small moment.
Maybe your version of “surfing” today is dipping your toes in the local pool at the Y. Maybe your version of mountain climbing today is walking your aging pug up a stiff hill. Maybe your version of sexy tango today is wiggling your slightly arthritic hips to “Bootylicious” as you make dinner for the kids. Good enough. Now you’ve started.
Become an engineer of your life: Start with the outcome you want, and work backward. Break that outcome down into tinier and tinier pieces until you arrive at something you can do in the next five minutes to work towards that goal, and that life, and that ultimate adventure.
Take one small problem at a time — one barrier to eating well or working out, and play with different ways to solve it. How can you overcome that one obstacle today? Can you do it again tomorrow?
- Just start acting like That Girl.
Adopt her confidence. Assume you’re capable of the things she is. Strut a little when you walk. Cruise hiking boot websites and dream of mountains. Whisper to yourself that you, and not cruel fate, are the boss of your life.
Would That Girl do an extra rep or an extra 100 meters? Would That Girl sign up for a Zumba class even though she steps on her own feet? Would That Girl wear the crazy-colored workout tights that she loves, even though some jerk told her she had a big bum when she was 15?
How would That Girl kick the world in the ass today? And how can you at least start to pretend to do the same… until you practice so much, you forget that kicking the world in the ass wasn’t your natural habit?
No, you can’t lose 40 pounds or get ripped overnight. But if you just take on a few of That Girl’s habits, one at a time and little by little, you may eventually find yourself living a much more fabulous life in a much stronger, happier, healthier body.