Were you an athlete when you were younger? Or are you new to discovering your own fitness journey because you understand the health benefits and that it’s the key to a longer life? Are you a postpartum mom just looking for an outlet for yourself to destress and take time away from the kids? No matter where you are in your journey, I think we can all agree that women’s health and fitness have been redefined. I’m going to break down and debunk five former “myths” about women’s health and fitness and talk about how we’ve evolved as a society.
Myth #1: Lifting weights will make you bulky.
Resistance training is the number one way to lose weight. Read that one more time. You are losing weight, even if that number on the scale doesn’t budge. Why? You are losing fat and replacing it with muscle. Muscle not only looks better but also takes up less room than fat, although it weighs more. So just remember that if you’re new to weight training. This is also why it’s important to track your progress via photos and measurements (if you choose), or just see if you notice a difference in how your favorite pair of jeans fit. You will be surprised, I promise!
We simply cannot gain as much muscle as men due to our genetic makeup. Our bodies have a layer of fat between the skin and muscle, whereas men do not. Interesting tidbit about women’s health, right? So in essence, your body fat percentage would have to be extremely low (think bikini figure competition) for your muscles to be as defined as a male. Now, take that knowledge and use it for good. If you want more definition, you can try to decrease your body fat safely. How do you do that? Read on.
Myth #2: Cardio is the best way to lose weight.
Cardio in general is not the enemy. Some (insane) people love running marathons, for example, and if that’s what makes you jump out of bed every morning, then, by all means, continue! But gone are the endless hours on the elliptical, stair master, or treadmill. Studies have shown that daily low-impact cardio does help with overall fat loss, but I think the key takeaway here is that you do not need to do mindless cardio for hours on end, or even high-impact cardio such as running. As a general rule of thumb, we should aim for between 7,000 and 10,000 steps a day. That can vary based on your size, but a lot of us moms can reach this goal just by being a mom. If you do sit at a desk for most of the day, you may have to be more deliberate about hitting this goal. Take a walk after lunch or dinner, it helps with digestion!
The bottom line here? Do what makes you happy. I myself prefer rucking, which is just walking with weight on your back (in a backpack, rucksack, weighted vest, small child, etc.), and it actually burns more calories than walking alone but is still considered low impact. I almost always bring my energetic pup along with to wear him out, so it’s a win-win for everyone. Give some or all of these a try and just see what sticks!
Myth #3: Carbs are the enemy.
Toward the end of high school and early into college, I struggled with an eating disorder. At one point I was down to 85 lbs. It was a control thing for me, to see how many hours I could go without eating. When I did finally eat, the thing I usually awarded myself with was carbs. I think, actually, I know, it’s what my body needed. I continued on to have a roommate with an eating disorder as well, who chose to severely limit her carbs. She would sit for hours on the toilet with diarrhea because you can’t just survive on a large plate of salad all day and also work out several hours a day. What you end up with is a very unhappy and quite possibly permanently damaged stomach. All of this is to say that we literally cannot survive without carbs. Now that being said, complex and overly processed carbs like cereals, chips, bread, and cookies, we certainly could do without. Even fruit and vegetables contain carbohydrates much needed by your body for survival. But I think we need to do away with the Atkins diets of the world, that try to convince you a high-fat, low-carb diet will help you lose weight when in fact, it’s more about achieving a good balance of carbs, protein, and healthy fats.
Myth #4: You should only eat 1,200 calories a day.
I have tried Atkins, Paleo, Whole30… you name it. And perhaps you have, too. What I’ve found that works for me is portion control. How you choose to do that is up to you, but there are so many apps out there that can help you track your food whether it’s via the macro method, Weight Watchers point system, etc., and achieve your goals. You certainly don’t have to track your food, but let me tell you it is eye-opening and I highly recommend it at the very least when you are starting out to gain a basic understanding of what portion sizes are right for you. This will also help you in life, when you’re traveling and at a restaurant, to understand what a good portion size is for you.
Since I’ve recovered from my eating disorder, I am certain that I have not gone a single day eating less than 1,200 calories. You see, as humans, that is the basic amount for survival. So that is why it is very unsafe to just cut calories without a strategy and plan. But if you can track your foods, make improvements on quality, and measure your portions, you can find what our maintenance portions look like. And if you are wanting to lose weight to get to a healthier range, you can decrease your portions based on what is recommended to reach your goal weight. Keep in mind, you won’t be able to eat the deficit portion sizes forever, that’s very unsafe. I also just want to reiterate that I’m not a certified nutritionist, and I would recommend going the route of finding one or using a reputable app (like My Fitness Pal, Weight Watchers, or RP) if you’d like to get started on a plan to achieve a healthy weight, or put on more muscle, etc. — whatever your goals may be!
Myth #5: You need to join an expensive gym.
There are so many gyms out there now, how do you choose? CrossFit, Orangetheory, pole dancing, pilates, yoga, hot yoga, barre, cycling, etc. One thing is for sure, you don’t need a membership at multiple gyms to reach the goals you’re trying to achieve. That being said and coming from my own experience, if you have the ability in your schedule and finances to join A gym, I highly recommend pouring into whichever option that is and immersing yourself in it. Most gyms, even hot yoga, have regulars that you will get to know and will keep you accountable and even just coming back for more conversation. You may even find yourself grabbing a drink after class and making a new friend! Personally, I have more friends than I can count from the different gym communities I’ve joined and have since left and we STILL talk. You can also just ask other friends to join you on regular walks, rucks, runs, or driveway workouts. Meet at a local bridge and walk up and down it together while chatting. Friends and fitness go great together and just make it more fun.
Have you ever heard the quote “what you focus on expands”? Especially if you’re just starting out, it is very difficult to split time between different types of workout facilities, so I strongly recommend focusing your time and energy on one that fits your current schedule and lifestyle. You want to love it so much that you are excited to go every day, and it will no longer feel like a chore. Do you know what else this does? It teaches our children, not through words but through actions, to always take time for themselves and do things they enjoy. Yes, we are always running them everywhere — to school, then soccer practice, then piano lessons — feeling like a Mom Uber, but if we don’t make time for ourselves, who will? Gone are the stigmas that we must work out to be skinny; now we exercise for ourselves: to be a better mom, wife, girlfriend, employee, daughter, etc. Strong is in fact, the new skinny… but so is self-care. Take time for yourself, today and every day, mama!
Learn more about women’s health with our Guide to Fitness and Health in Jacksonville.