If you could change one thing about your body, what would it be?
Some ‘thing’ in the back of your mind or head that you wish was different, and often times find yourself thinking:
“If only I was…(thinner, leaner, stronger, more toned, had straight hair, curly hair, etc.).
I call it the ‘dangling carrot’ syndrome: wanting something you don’t have.
And try as you might to tell yourself “don’t think about it” or “I am beautiful the way I am”, sometimes it’s tough to believe in your heart.
Not to mention the influx of outlying messages we get bombarded with on the daily, often challenging us to compare ourselves with others.
- You see an infomercial with Cindy Crawford and think, “Gosh she’s gorgeous…if only…”
- Or, the Tone It Up girls flash up on your newsfeed, and you too WANT a bikini body.
- Some chick on Instagram poses in her sports bra in the gym doing something amazing, and you wish for abs or arms like that.
- You’re in the dressing room at your favorite store, and some other girl looks so much cuter in that dress, or top, than you do…if only you were 5 lbs. lighter…
- One of your friends always seems to have it “all together”—great body, high metabolism, great job, thriving social life—you want what she haves…
For myself, for the longest time, my dangling carrot has been: Wanting to be a little bit ‘bigger.’
A little more “filled out”—not just bigger boobs, but “just 5-10 more lbs. on my frame.” Or “a little more muscle to be stronger.” Or “to fill out that dress or those pants a little bit better.”
All of which, ironically, is the complete opposite of what I wanted in my eating disorder days, when I wanted to be thinner—no matter the cost.
My own ‘dangling carrot’ is primarily self-driven, out of the desire to constantly ‘be better’—and alas, to my dismay, I am keenly aware of the harsh reality that, in this lifetime, for many of us, there will always be ‘something better’ to be, achieve, work towards, become.
I don’t disclose this dangling carrot with anyone lightly.
After all, we live in a culture where there is a hyper focus and awareness around the opposite: being ‘smaller,’ losing weight and body fat, diets and lipsuction.
However, I believe it is just the same as those who perhaps see themselves on this ‘opposite end of the spectrum’—those out there constantly living in that state of:
“When I lose X-amount of pounds, then _____” (I will be happy, complete, ok with myself, etc.)…
Or, “When I drop X-number of dress sizes, then ______” (I will feel good in my own skin, or I will be able to wear this pair of jeans, or I won’t feel so self-conscious in a bikini, etc.).
While they may think: “If only my problem was wanting to gain some weight…boy I’d have it easy!”
But in actuality…the ‘root’, the problem, the striving, the dissatisfaction is the exact same.
In essence, the bottom line is: We are never going to be fully satisfied with out own bodies or beauty.
Even if you do so happen to ‘achieve’ whatever body or beauty goal you have for yourself…beauty is fleeting, and say you: come off that diet, go on vacation, get super stressed, eat more for dinner than usual the night before, miss breakfast, etc…your weight, and perception of your body and beauty, are in constant motion—ever-changing.
In spite of the dissatisfaction, we CAN learn to embrace ourselves right where we are at, and make daily choices that embody the person—inside and out—whom we desire to be.
What is the ideal picture of a healthy YOU—inside and out?
I have found, the more I focus on self-care—physically, mentally, and emotionally—the more my greatest moments of health, and self-love come into play.
A couple key factors to check in with yourself about if you’ve ever found yourself struggling with a dangling carrot of any sort, particularly focused on your physical appearance:
- Am I nourishing my body well with wholesome foods and fuel that give it energy and life? (The foods that make your skin glow, your digestion feel great, give you the brain power you need to get through the day, etc.)
- Am I taking care of my body through moving it physically—and finding joy in that movement? Neither ‘punishing’ my body by beating it down in the gym or on the trail, nor not using my God-given limbs and heartbeat at all to exercise it?
- Am I doing things I love in my life—tapping into my passions and things that bring life to my heart and my soul?
- And, how can I practice the mentality of that girl I want to be—today—even if I don’t feel like her?
As cliché as these may sound—I find when I am connected most to self-care, the negative thoughts of any sort have less room to dominate.
Where’s your head at?
It’s NOT BAD to have goals that are physical or health-related.
But instead of beating yourself up for ‘not being there today, gosh darn it’—choose to daily and consistently make choices that genuinely build into a healthier and healthier version of you (notice, I did not say ‘thinner and thinner’, or even ‘bigger and bigger’).
As for the girls out there seeking some support in adding some healthy weight or muscle to their frame, there is not a ton of information out there! Google “women and weight gain”–and you will get the opposite results in fact! (Articles discussing how to deal with weight gain and LOSE it!).
Nonetheless, the struggle can be real. Embrace where you are at, make decisions as the girl you want to be, and keep your eyes on your goal.
Here are some tried and true tips and tricks I’ve found effective in doing so.
Ultimately, remember, every BODY is different, your body (or your weight) does not define YOU, and with a bit of trial and error (and consistency), you will reap the results.
THRIVE Tips for Healthy Weight Gain
- Take inventory:
Black-and-white facts don’t lie. Keep a 3-day food log of your normal intake as of now, along with your workout log, in order to get a baseline idea of what your body is really getting on a daily basis—and perhaps where there may be some room for improvement. I am not a big proponent of calorie counting, but it can be helpful to see where you sit calorically and macro-nutrient percentage wise in order to then adjust accordingly. Insanity is defined as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result”; So our goal is not to be insane. If you are not reaching your weight gain goals, take a look at what needs to change, or areas where you could stand to add a little more here or there.
- Change up your diet
Here’s where you put your desire to add some healthy weight and food journal into ACTION. You’ve evaluated your current diet; now begin to see and plan places where you can add to your diet…and slowly begin to incorporate more fuel to your intake. If you are not having success on the amount of food you are currently eating, then bumping it up will help. Baby steps—but moving forward. This could mean just a little bigger serving at breakfast, lunch and dinner, or adding one small snack to your daily intake. Eating ½ a banana with your breakfast? Go for a whole banana. One tablespoon of almond butter in a post-workout shake? Maybe try for 2. Anywhere you can add bigger portions to your meals, do it. A large sweet potato, instead of a medium. Two chicken breasts, instead of one. Extra, extra, extra. Gradually your plate grows a little bit bigger at each meal, without feeling like you are eating throughout the day. I personally hate counting calories, but if you aim to add 100-200 calories every couple days until you start seeing results, then you may stop spinning your wheels with insanity. Also, be sneaky smart. Sneak in those extra calories without having to necessarily add a whole other meal or two to your diet. For instance, an extra heaping scoop of almond butter or coconut oil in a protein shake you make already.
KISS means “keep it simple silly” (I don’t use the word ‘stupid’ as originally implied because that is some major negative self-talk!). Before you feel way in over your head (“I am never going to gain weight,” “I am never going to get stronger”, etc.), practice the power of POSITIVE THINKING. Tell yourself “I’ve got this.” Simply put, weight and numbers can always change. More quality fuel in=the results you want.
- Eat real food (meats, vegetables, healthy essential fats, some fruit, little starch, no sugar, lots of water)
You don’t need any fancy shakes, powders or packaged bars. Or have to fall into the false belief that you need to eat more pizza and ice cream (although the occasional of any one of these foods is not the end of the world either—we are not perfectionists here). Just eat real food—and more of it. The thing about eating real food for weight gain purposes in particular, is, since you are generally eating more (past fullness levels) than usual, your body is much more readily going to accept real foods from a digestion perspective than anything (i.e. a happy tummy=less indigestion, constipation, bloating, leaky gut, etc.).
- Not 100% ‘Clean’
Some foods are known for helping add weight more than others (think starchier carbohydrates and healthy fats, versus baby carrots and broccoli). And while some of these foods may be “off limits” or instructed to eat in moderation for those wanting to lose weight, those wanting to gain weight are quite the opposite. Throw out the ‘wisdom of modern day magazines’ or our culture by and large that claim: ‘Carbs are bad’ or ‘Eat fat…but watch fat’, etc. In other words: Don’t be afraid of not being 100% strict about your diet in ways you may have been conscious of ‘clean eating’ before (ie. The rules that say: “No starchy veggies, limit nuts, fruit makes you fat, etc.). In fact, many of these foods will actually benefit your weight gain goals. Think: good quality carbs (Starchier vegetables like sweet potatoes, butternut squash and carrots are yours for the taking; some people even have success with some grains like rice or oats). Lara bars can have their place. Bananas (‘the most fattening fruit’ according to dieters). are delicious with almond butter in the mornings! Nuts and avocados are your friends. Coconut oil generously drizzled in with your vegetables is awesome! As for post workout nutrition: a high-quality protein shakes can help you instantly refuel after your workouts. As mentioned above, every BODY is different—so don’t get so hung up in the “clean-eating” or “paleo rules”—and rather, focus on eating real whole foods in generous amounts. Aim for at least three well rounded meals per day, along with 2-3 snacks/shakes, depending on your level of activity.
- Get comfortable with the uncomfortable
Remind yourself that the “pain” or discomfort (mentally or physically) is only temporary. In the scheme of things, the more you are able to make the changes to your diet and weight gain goals now, the closer you are to getting there, and once again being more comfortable.
- Give yourself a break
Don’t be so hard on yourself. Once a week or so, if you need to take a step back to catch your breath, eat a normal amount and not feel so full, do it.
- Lift heavy things
You’ve heard it once, twice, three thousand times! If you are not currently lifting weights, there’s no time like the present to start to support lean muscle gains in your weight gain endeavors. And if you are already seasoned in the gym, continuously challenge yourself to add more weight to the bar—even if it’s 2.5 pounds more! Aim for the RX weight on your WOD…or if you can do that, add a little extra weight. Sure your times may be slower on the whiteboard, but this “extra push” is for you as an athlete wanting to improve your strength—not necessarily your ego in the box. Also, try to focus more on your gains in the gym, and less on your gains on the scale or the change of your clothing size. I would advise not even stepping on the scale until at least a month of solid lifestyle change has gone by. If you must, at most step on it once per week—not every day. Remember….I repeat, Rome was not built in a day! Gradually as your numbers in the gym increase, the body will often follow suit.
If you have no idea where to start, Starting Strength and the Wendler 5-3-1 are probably two of the most well-known beginner strength programs out there.
Here’s an example of a beginning strength program (3 days per week):
3×5 Bench Press
3×10 Back Extension
3xFailure(15 max) Chin-ups
5×3 Power Clean
- HIIT it
Love endurance workouts or aerobic work? Me too. But try to limit that, with your focus being more on your strength program with some HIIT (high intensity interval training) or CrossFit style WODs mixed in there. If you genuinely do love running and aerobic work, it doesn’t mean it’s gone or lost forever; it just means, for now, opt for more of a strength-focus to your training regime.
Contrary to popular belief, 8-hours of sleep is not necessarily the “magic” number for everyone—some need a little more, some a little less, but the point is, is to make sleep and rest a priority. You know your body and muscles don’t build up while they are at work, but instead, while they are at rest. Aim to turn the lights off at least 30-minutes, if not an hour earlier at night, or snooze 30-minutes later if your schedule can allow. Also allot for at least 1-2 days of recovery in your training schedule. The point is, is to make a point about rest and recovery.
I don’t preach a specific supplement of any sort in particular. But most recently, personally, have found success with taking amino acids (BCAAs), fish oil, a probiotic and digestive enzymes (for assisting with digestion) and a beef-isolate/egg-siolate protein supplement post-workout in my strength and weight gain goals. “Extras” may or may not be for you…but everyone can most definitely benefit from a high-quality fish oil at the very least.
- Self-Acceptance: The last and final (often forgotten) key to making a physical change?
Self-acceptance. Ever heard the phrase, “I will just be happier when I gain 10 pounds…lose 10 pounds…etc.”? While it is most certainly great to have goals, above all, try to remember that a weight, a number, does not define you. Every body and body type is different. Hard work will pay off to an extent, but sometimes we can’t outsmart our genetic predisposition. Some people are big-boned, while others are small-framed. Some are hard-gainers, some gain by just breathing in coconut oil. I will say it one more time: As long as you focus on self-care (fueling your body well, quality—over quantity—with your workouts, good rest and doing things that bring you joy and passion), your body will find its happy place.