This was probably the trickiest piece to add to the series. None of this is actually meant to be soapboxing, but because body image is such a hot-button topic, it was difficult to keep this short, effective, and yet general enough that I’m not trying to dictate the way that people should eat and exercise without ever having met them. Please remember that I am a teacher, not a doctor, not a nutritionist, and you should talk to both before you engage in any sort of serious changes in your lifestyle.
The Goal Here:
About the only thing that people seem to agree on right now is that there is a healthy way to live, and there is an unhealthy way to live. Agreeing to the terms and conditions of each is a totally separate story, so the goal, as always, is to get you thinking not about whether or not you should be eating and exercising like you’re preparing for the Olympics or the red carpet, but rather on what sort of lifestyle makes you feel best about yourself, inside and out.
How Eating and Exercise Impact Your Self-Esteem
To put it simply, feeling good about what you’re putting into your body and the performance you’re getting out of your body is a vital aspect of feeling good about who you are. If you’re constantly tired, hungry, over-fed, unable to perform tasks that you feel should be simple for you, you’re not going to be able to recognize even your best physical qualities. By making sure that what you eat makes you feel good, you can ensure that you’re also going to be in a mindset where you can utilize your body to the best of its capabilities. People who have healthy diets and exercise regularly tend to be positive people for the simple fact that exercise releases endorphins, which, as we learned in Legally Blonde, make people happy.
Modern, first world societies, tend to use eating in a plethora of inappropriate ways. We eat for comfort, we eat to alleviate boredom, we eat to socialize, we eat to indulge our cravings, and because the food tastes so gosh darn good. Right, wrong, or indifferent, our societies and families usually build themselves around cuisine—to the point where partaking in a meal in books and visual media tends to be an incredibly symbolic, strategic method of storytelling.
But how does that tie into the way you feel about yourself?
Depending on what you’re eating and how much you’re eating, your body can suffer some serious flack, and I’m not talking about gaining extra pounds around the middle. Remember that everything you eat is something that your body has to deal with later. There’s no such thing as “carbless waffles on the grounds of it being a special location.” Your body really doesn’t care if it’s Christmas and you only get waffles once a year, it still has to deal with the waffles you ate. That’s not to say that you should abstain from waffles, or abstain from any food, really, unless you want to, but rather, remind you to be aware of what you’re putting into your body. Your hair, nails, and skin can all be affected by a surplus or lack of vitamins and minerals, and your mood, cognitive abilities, and energy levels can be as equally affected by your diet as your weight and muscle mass.
If you’re looking to renovate your dietary habits, the best thing for you to do (after you’ve spoken to a doctor or a nutritionist) is to just pay attention to what you’re eating and how much you’re eating it. If there are certain meals that just leave you feeling hungry or unsatisfied, don’t bother eating them; if there are meals that stay with you for hours afterward, and make you feel bloated and gross, avoid that, too. If these are special treats, make sure they stay special treats rather than making them a staple of your diet. Focus on foods that make you feel energetic, that fill you without slowing you down or gumming up your digestive track. A healthy diet will vary from person to person. Some people can need large quantities of protein, and do better on a diet that focuses on all kinds of meat. Some people have a problem digesting red meat and may prefer fish and chicken, or a veggie-based diet. Some people have fast metabolisms and need complex carbs like pasta and grains to keep them going, others metabolize slower, and would feel sluggish or unwell after eating too many potatoes. Listen to your body, not your taste buds, to develop a foundation for what is healthy for you, and then work from there.
The only thing, diet-wise, that I will outright recommend is to drink water. I know very few people, including myself, who drink enough water throughout the day. But water is incredibly important to help you flush your system and to keep your body healthy. So drink water; I tend to carry a water bottle with a little filter in it wherever I go. Holding it reminds me that I need to drink it, and I usually finish one or two refills a day without really thinking about it. Try to remember that if you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.
I hate exercise. I used to tell my students that the only time that I run is when there’s a gun behind me or money in front of me. Exerting myself is not something that I particularly enjoy doing, and it’s not something that makes me feel good. I am, however, an incredibly active individual. I practice yoga in 20-minute increments, I go for walks, I park at the back of parking lots and take the stairs; I walk in small circles for roughly 6 hours straight at work. These are small things that are within my capabilities. The goal for me isn’t necessarily to burn calories, but to keep my body moving, my muscles active, my joints from going stiff. I have a really difficult time focusing on tasks and staying interested in exercise routines, but the point is that I keep myself moving throughout the day.
It’s not really important how you stay active, but rather just that you are active. If you’re a high-energy person, you may find that incorporating more traditional forms of exercise like cardio and strength training into your routine are beneficial; if not, you may find that just doing your daily chores and walking around the house or the grocery store is enough for you. If you’re looking to lose weight, gain weight, maintain your weight, your routine can be easily adjusted based on your preferences, but making sure that you utilize your body to the best of your abilities on a daily basis will do wonders for your mood, and greatly impact your self-esteem. People with desk jobs especially struggle with this, and I’m really lucky that I have a job that allows me to get up and move around a lot. For people who work at home or who run the household for their Doms, it can be difficult to remind ourselves to get up and move around. I’ve found one of the best methods to making sure that I don’t stay stationary for too long is by integrating the Pomodoro technique (I’ve written an article about it which I’ll link below) and alternating between stationary tasks and physical tasks. Mind you, a physical task can include something as simple as hanging clothes to dry, or tidying up the kitchen, or it can be something as strenuous as (begrudgingly) going for a run down the road and back, or doing a yoga routine. It depends on what my capabilities and interests are that day, and what I need to do around the house, and it should probably fluctuate for you as well, depending on what you feel you can and can’t do.
Ultimately, the Goal is to Feel Good
If you’re a person who loves exercise, go for it. If you’re a person who eats pasta and potatoes for every meal because it gives you the energy for it, do that too. Listen to your body and to what your body wants, and try to accommodate it the best that you can with tasks that sit within your capabilities. Focusing on things that make you feel good, and things that you can successfully accomplish, will do a lot more for your self-esteem in the long run than any amount of rigorous diet and exercise that you can impose upon yourself.
Remember that your goal is always to be as healthy as you can manage, and if you don’t already have a routine or habits in place work with your Dom to incorporate some. As with everything else you do, give your Dom the opportunity to be involved and to implement a sense of control over any new aspect of your life.
Until next time,