Being Okay About Not Seeing Aesthetic Results From Training

Okay, I’m starting today with an honest post about not seeing the results I initially hoped for and why that’s okay. In her most recent podcast, Laura Thomas spoke about thin privilege and it made me consider where I put myself on that spectrum. By almost any standard I am healthy and slim. Hell, I even fit into all the other categories of privilege thanks to being a white, blonde young woman from a western country with a stable family. I’ll never be in a position where I can’t buy clothes that fit me, no one looks at me in a negative way just for being in the gym or being seen to eat something unhealthy, as many overweight people do. But the Instagram world often makes me feels like I’m not enough. I have a core that can hold a three minute plank, but I don’t have steel cut abs. I can balance in Navasana, boat pose, so high I’m almost doing a forward fold, but I’ve also got a little muffin top sitting on the side of my hips. I can do pull ups and have the back muscles to prove it, but also have fat around my arm pits and bra straps. You get the picture.

The thing is, I’ve never lost weight. I’ve never needed to, technically -my body isn’t one to fluctuate in size or mass. But whether I’ve been practicing gymnastics for 13 hours per week, sitting around as a teenager too unconfident to do sports, or a yogi and exercise junkie doing a variety of training nearly every day, my body composition hasn’t really changed. I got to sixteen years old and got no taller; my hips found their adult size and that was that. Before I started going to the gym and practicing yoga regularly, I was eating an okay diet -anything “healthier” probably would have been mentally unhealthy for a teenager to be honest. Oats or cereal for breakfast, a sandwich or form of salad with something sweet for lunch, snack, home cooked meal for dinner. Barely any exercise at this point though. Move on to last year where I would be doing three or four gym classes per week, training at the gym at least three times on top of this, plus yoga most days. When you write it down it sounds like a lot, but I listened to my body and was careful to never overtrain, having one or two rest days per week. I was still eating plenty of food -deprivation has never been my thing -but my diet was significantly higher in vegetables than before. During this period, my body barely changed. I could see and feel that my muscles -especially arms and back -were stronger, but I didn’t look different. I wish I had proper photos from before but from what I can see my body fat hasn’t changed. This drove me nuts -I was working so hard, being so much healthier and yet I had nothing to show for it! Even though I knew better, I couldn’t help but stare enviously at all the tinier girls and women when I attended BeFit festival last year. 

This train of thought was brought back to me the other day when stood in front of the mirror at the gym, trying not to focus on the lodge I could see through my vest. I was in a bit of a bad mood as my pull up count for the last two weeks had decreased to two, and my typical maximum of three had been stagnant for well over a year, and this coloured my thoughts. I normally consider nit-picking about my body’s looks a big no-no, but in the back of my head, there’s a voice whispering: 

“You’d be a better blogger and have more followers if you were slimmer, if you had a six pack and defined muscles”

Sometimes it’s quieter than others, but it’s always there. Thoughts like this drive me nuts because they can become so entrenched, yet rarely achieve positive results. I know that if I listen to this voice, I’ll never be good enough.

So whilst I haven’t completely got over this negative narrative, I have lots of tools to lessen it, which I hope may aid anyone else in the same position.

Make goals about performance, not aesthetics – This is my favourite tip. What’s the point in looking strong, or super slim, if that doesn’t translate into something functional. Are you really envying the girl who looks super toned but can’t squat a fraction of your PB or do more than five burpees (but kudos to her for working on it!)? When you’re focused on building to a higher maximum amount of squat jumps in a minute or pull up goal, aesthetics become secondary. See above, how my biggest source of frustration at the moment is my pull up performance. I’m trying to translate this energy into motivation to get stronger!

Put on something flattering and compliment yourself -If I’m wearing an outfit or underwear that makes me feel good about myself, or am in a bathroom with flattering lighting, I check myself out, appreciate my “good parts” and try and look beyond the parts I like less. When we focus on areas we dislike, we almost get blinkers on and that slight tummy bulge looks disproportionately big and important to us than to reality. Give love to the parts of you that you admire to the same degree as how you scrutinise yourself. Change the ratio into your favour.

Check in with how you’re actually doing -“If you can’t measure it, you can’t change it” jot down your training sessions in a notebook to monitor progress, and for a week or two every now and again, make a food diary. I find using My Fitness Pal all day every day way too much hassle and a bit unhealthy for me, but checking in with myself a few times a year lets me observe if I have any obvious bad habits or nutritional imbalances. I know, deep down, that if I was a little bit stricter about after dinner snacking or chocolate binges, and maybe did a few more HIIT sessions after training, I would look a lot healthier. But I also know that if I skipped these entirely, life wouldn’t be nearly so fun!

If you’re really determined to see clearer results, get some one-to-one training -something I still haven’t actually invested in, but would love to is a few sessions with a personal trainer. Having a qualified, trained and experienced professional take the time to curate a plan for you, and see you through training will help you to see the results that you want. They’ll be more likely to spot gaps in your fitness or dietary habits that could be holding you back. If you’re joining a new gym, see if they offer a complimentary PT session and make sure that you make the most out of it!

Look at the bigger picture -are you really that far off your goals? If you are already healthy, a sensible weight (remember that this looks different on everyone) or making positive steps towards this, then that’s probably where you need to be. Social media highlights people at their best -ever heard of girls taking their bikini photos in the morning when they’ve got an empty stomach and are dehydrated? So if they don’t even look like their photos the whole time, why should you? Put value in your body for what it can do, not what it looks like. I couldn’t find any statistics, but there are so many people with invisible illnesses, such as ME or mental health issues. I think we sometimes forget to be grateful to our bodies for keeping us alive and performing to it’s best, whatever that may be. We put so much energy into hating our bodies and ourselves. Try to step outside of your viewpoint for a minute and really appreciate what your body can do.

Photo: Nathaniel Dargue