Feel the Burn: The Idea of Changing Your Body -The Toast

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Previous installments of “Feel the Burn” can be found here.

I have another workout for you, but I thought it might be good to have a little more meta talk about our bodies, and get to that another day.

We have made the deliberate decision not to really talk about things like body image and weight on the site, because there’s already so much of it out there, and even when it’s well done, it just generally becomes either an echo chamber or bums people out, and we’re happy with that choice, but it’s also something I don’t want to completely ignore in our fitness coverage, because the universe is as it is.

It’s hard to separate the idea of gaining physical fitness from the idea of changing your body, and changing your body, or wanting to, is something that’s fucked a lot of us up. And as someone who is REALLY INTO physical fitness, I try to pay attention to that in myself. It’s very important for me to know what’s a good choice for me and what isn’t. Because we’re shooting video in the fall, I thought about leaning out a little more. You know, I’ve got these sick abs, I’ve worked hard for these sick abs, but like many people, and especially women, my sick abs are not always visible to the naked eye. And, because I know how my body works, I know that if I was really really really diligent and did some stuff and didn’t do other stuff, you could see my sick abs for a while, and I’d feel less dorky about doing planks on-camera. But I don’t think that would be a good idea for me, as a person, to do. I think I look good the way I am, and part of what I’m trying to achieve in this feature is the idea that having sick abs is a great goal, and you can rock out with that goal without necessarily having the accompanying goal of looking a certain way.

So, okay, great, yay for me, feminism, etc., but what is the precise thing that makes changing your body through the adding of muscle cool and awesome and right-on, while trying to change your body by removing fat is kind of a miserable hellscape? This is where “strong is the new skinny” starts to become grating. Is it all the same thing? Well, no. I don’t really think it is. Ideally, being strong is about functionally improving your body’s ability to do things, as opposed to being about BITCHING TRICEPS. And you’re trying to add something to your body, instead of trying to remove something. You can make a decent case for it, and that’s the way I try to think about it. But I don’t know, I’m not a wizard, this is not a clean line for me. It’s very easy for me to decide that the thing I think about a lot is really healthy and good and fine, as opposed to the things I try not to think about anymore, and hard to know if you don’t wind up just swapping obsessions.

For example: I’m working on a visual body goal right now. I want to get a bigger shoulder cap/deltoid thing. I have been staring at women who have this thing for MONTHS now, enviously, because I have to eat my fucking face off in protein to build larger muscles, and I think it looks gorgeous and sexy. I think it’s the sexiest thing in the world. And, whatever, to each their own, but I’m working on it and thinking about it and googling bodybuilder tips because those bitches know how to build delts, and getting a little fitspo about it, and it’s not doing any HARM, and blah blah blah, but I honestly cannot verbalize why this is so profoundly different from wanting to be skinnier. There are a billion awesome things I could do with better delts, like lifting Debra Winger up and carrying her away to a better life, and that’ll be fun for me, but I honestly just want them at this exact moment because I think they look good.

Here’s a good thing, though, and something that will ideally help you to have a better experience if you are on this strength-training journey with me: you cannot really build muscle in a caloric deficit. You can get strength gains, sure, but building muscle is something your body only wants to do if it’s getting enough food. I think a lot of women get frustrated when they start lifting weights because it feels shitty and they’re really hungry and it’s not getting easier, and OFTEN this is because we’ve really linked “diet and exercise” like they’re Fry and Laurie or some shit.

Let’s be clear: strength-training and eating well are best friends. Strength-training and deliberately eating fewer calories than your body needs are frenemies. This is why, if you know anyone whose actual job relies on having muscles (athletes, pro-bodybuilders, fighters, firepeople, whatever) you will notice that they may periodically attempt to shed body fat, but they NEVER do that when they’re actually putting on muscle (if they do, they call it “recomp,” and its existence is more controversial than that of the Loch Ness Monster.) Me? I think when you’re putting on muscle, you gotta feed yourself.

“Hey, body, here’s some extra chicken. Can you put that in my quads?”
“Sure, honey. Thanks. We needed that!”

It’s 5000% times easier to put on muscle while feeding yourself properly. You don’t have to eat Gummi bears, just lots of wonderful food. And that can be a hard thing to do. If you’re used to having some kind of internal calculator for the food you put in your mouth, whether it’s points or calories or carbs or what, deliberately eating a little more than you “need” can be hugely emotionally difficult.

So, you know, it’s your body, do what you want. But if you’re finding that you’ve got crummy nails or hair or you feel wilted by the end of your first month of strength training, you may have fallen victim to the idea that working out and eating LESS is the way to go. Let’s build those muscles. Let’s treat them right, with chicken and stuff. LENTILS, whatever. And it’s not like I’m telling you to eat more than you “need” 24/7, I’m telling you that when you are actively trying to build muscle, do not sabotage yourself by trying to operate in a caloric deficit.

I’m no better at being a functional and consistent person than anyone else is. I can help you become stronger, and I’d like to help you embrace that, if it’s your goal, but I can’t know if it’s a good goal for you or one that will put you in a shitty headspace and back into bad habits. Let’s just all try to be as self-aware as we can be during this process, feed our wonderful bodies, and maybe get sick abs, even if you can’t see them.

Okay, go do some pushups. I’ll post your new workout early next week, because we got all emo today.

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