Most women I know struggle with body image around their lower belly pooch. Society teaches women that a flat stomach is necessary to be healthy, beautiful, sexy and desirable. It's fed to women that the lower belly pooch is something to be fixed or is a flaw. The truth is, a completely flat lower belly is an unrealistic expectation, unachievable goal and a myth!
“The craze for the past several years is that women need to have a flat stomach in order to be considered attractive. This belief is setting women up for failure because a woman’s stomach isn’t meant to be flat,” Ashley Wood, RN, BSN.
We must normalize what a normal female body looks like, learn to love and appreciate our bodies and stop with the lower belly obsession for our own mental health and well being.
Here are reasons why your pooch is totally normal and a necessary part of the female anatomy.
EATING, DRINKING AND MONTHLY CYCLES
Your lower belly will grow throughout the day which is completely normal. It's just physics. If you fill a bag up with something, it will expand. When you wake up your belly is smaller and flatter with an empty stomach, but by the end of the day it is larger and more prominent because you ate, drank and have some bloating. It also will vary in size with your menstrual cycles, also totally normal.
WOMEN HAVE PADDING TO PROTECT VITAL ORGANS
Why is the completely fat stomach a myth and unachievable? Whether you have given birth to children or not, it is part of the post adolescent female anatomy and part of most women's genetics to have a small amount of subcutaneous fat in the lower belly to protect your vital organs and reproductive organs. It is anatomically correct and totally normal for a woman (in a healthy weight range and with a healthy waist circumference) to have a lower belly pooch!
Many women, including myself, who have birthed children will have loose skin from pregnancy in the lower belly which enhances the pooch. This is normal! Why not embrace this and feel gratitude for the incredible gift our bodies gave us! We made humans!
Why do you see some women without the pooch? Some women are genetically predisposed to not have the pooch or they have chosen to have surgery to remove it. This is not the majority and is uncommon.
SOCIETY FEEDS THE MYTH
The fitness industry and media perpetuate this with ads like "flat belly diets" and "exercises to lose the lower belly pooch" and images that are altered where women's pooches are edited out. You cannot spot reduce body fat with targeted exercises. Body fat can only be reduced overall by eating in a calorie deficit. That being said, if you eat in a calorie deficit, you will lose body fat in whatever place your body wants based on genetics.
ACCEPT, LOVE, TRUST AND NORMALIZE
Accepting, loving and trusting our bodies is easier said than done. How do you do this?
If you are eating a balanced, healthy diet and getting lots of exercise and movement, focus on how you feel. Are you gaining strength? Are you more functional? How do you feel overall?
Lessen the "flat belly myth" noise. It's time to unfollow on social media the toxic images, advertisements and groups that promote this myth. Stop wasting time focusing on this false and toxic input.
Pay closer attention to your health. Is your bloodwork, like cholesterol screenings in a normal range? How is your heart rate variations and blood pressure? How is your sleep and energy throughout the day? Ask your doctor for a checkup on your general health to find out.
I love affirmations and recommend saying them to yourself daily. Say affirmations to yourself like; I am beautiful, healthy, sexy and desirable; I trust, love and accept my body; my pooch has a purpose and is part of my healthy and normal body.
As many women do, I admit to struggling with my complicated relationship with my pooch. However, I have come to realize that it is a necessary and beautiful pooch! Most days it's smaller in the morning, and larger at the end of the day after eating meals. I have a pooch because, I eat, digest food and drink water, I have internal organs, I have birthed 3 beautiful and healthy boys, my body goes through monthly menstrual cycles and I am 45 years old.
That being said, I am also grateful to my body because I have muscle that I've worked hard for and work hard to keep, I am strong, I crush my workouts, on average I sleep well, my body is fully functional, my diet is balanced and healthy, I am in a healthy weight range for my body, my blood work and vitals are normal and most of all, I feel great and I am so grateful to my body (and my pooch) for the beast that it is!
I propose that this Valentines Day we work on loving ourselves along with loving and appreciating our amazing bodies!
We have ALL been trained by society to hate certain parts of our bodies, especially as we age, after childbirth or with weight gain. We all struggle and it is hard, but it negatively effects our self-esteem, mental health and motivation. Here are 10 things you can do to improve and create a more loving relationship with yourself and your body.
1. flip the script
For every negative thought in your head or negative word out of your mouth relating to your body, replace it with 3 positive ones. You can train yourself slowly over time to reframe your inner and outer dialog. Ask yourself, "Would I say these things to my child or my best friend?" If the answer is no, then stop and respond to yourself with 3 positive thoughts about your body. What you say to yourself is very powerful.
For example, if you hear yourself saying, "I hate my thighs" reframe it with something like this, "My thighs serve me well and are strong enough to get me where I want to go."
It's ok to to have fitness or weight loss goals to improve your health, however being unkind to yourself will only hinder that process by lessening your motivation and creating self-pity. This leads down the path of serving habits that don't serve your health. I'll say it again, what you say to yourself is very powerful!
2. Commit to it
Make a commitment to be kinder to yourself. Say it out loud, "I am making a commitment to say kind things to myself and say kind things about my body." Our bodies are amazing! They can create life, sustain life, walk, run, lift, grow, and so much more! Think about what your body has given you through your life and how it has served you well. Commit to being kind to it every day.
3. Ditch the "perfect body" equals happiness narrative
Stop saying to yourself, "When I get to this weight or this size I will finally be happy." That statement is false. Happiness does not come from a number on the scale or a tag on clothing! Human beings all have unique body types and genetic makeups. The "perfect body" does not exist and is unattainable. If you have goals for fitness and health trying to reach an unattainable goal only brings frustration and risk of failure. That is certainly not going to motivate you or help to build sustainable healthier habits.
Make realistic and smaller goals. For example, being able to perform a certain number of push-ups or pull-ups, reaching a daily step goal, eating one more serving of fruits and vegetables a day, attending a number of fitness classes per week or once a day 5 minutes of meditation. Focus on smaller more realistic goals such as those and your larger goals will come in time.
4. STOP judging and comparing yourself to other peoples bodies
Just stop it! We are all different, unique, come from different backgrounds, experiences and genetic make ups. Comparing yourself to someone else's body is like comparing apples to oranges or the ocean to the mountains. Both are beautiful, both are unique and wonderfully different things of this earth, but judging them against each other is a waste of time and energy. Comparing your body to someones else's body will not serve you or your goals. Think of your body as its own unique vessel that serves you, only you and no one else.
5. Cleanse your social media
If you see things in your social media feed that make you feel bad about your body, delete, unfollow, unlike, unfriend or whatever you must do to get it out of your sight. Don't fall into the trap of unrealistic expectations with photoshopped and video edited bodies that aren't real! Get it out of your feed and you will be glad you did.
6. positive affirmations
I don't care what anyone says, Stewart Smalley from SNL had it right! It might seem cheesy but who cares?!?! If something helps you, it doesn't matter what anyones else thinks!
Multiple times a day I get notifications on my watch and phone with a positive affirmation. I read it and sometimes say it out loud, it is wonderful and helps me tremendously. It is a powerful tool that provides verbiage to retrain thinking around certain things especially being kinder to yourself. There are lots of free apps for this, get one!
7. Thank your body for how it serves you everyday.
Practicing gratitude towards the amazing things your body has done, can do, and will do for you, is another powerful tool to repair your relationship with it. Think about all the great things your body has accomplished and thank it everyday.
Say to yourself, "Thank you body for giving my life so much, I am grateful."
8. Stop punishing yourself
If you beat yourself up for having a bowl of ice cream or look at your workouts as punishment for eating foods that don't serve your goals, STOP it! Thinking this way is harmful to your self-esteem and will only lead to repeating cycles of habits that don't work for you.
Everyone enjoys an indulgence and research shows making a habit of giving yourself a treat now and then is healthy. Depriving yourself and being too restrictive with your diet just leads to overindulgence and binge behavior. Look at having a treat as an act of love, treating your body to something it enjoys rather than being "bad." There is no "bad" or "good" foods. Food is food.
Research shows that exercise is a gift to your body, builds precious muscle, keeps your heart and lungs healthy, improves your mood, improves your quality of life and extends your life. It should not be looked at as punishment for what you ate. You cannot out exercise poor diet, period. So looking at it as punishment is pointless if you think it will ex out foods you ate. That kind of thinking will cause associating workouts with dread and increase the likelihood of giving up.
Say to yourself, "This workout is going to make me feel amazing and give my body what it needs to be healthy and strong."
9. feed your body healthy foods full of nutrients it needs
In addition to that treat now and then, feeding your body proper nutrition will make you feel good about yourself. Eating all the colors of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and lots of water will give your body what it needs to be the best it can be. Healthy foods are also a gift to your body and improves many aspects of your life including mood, digestion, sleep and fueling your workouts. Loving your body enough to create healthy eating habits most of the time, will improve your relationship with your body and you will feel great!
10. move your body everyday
It is proven that being sedentary shortens your life, contributes to obesity and increases your risk for chronic and deadly diseases. Movement helps you appreciate your body and gives you confidence when you see the health benefits and experience how good it makes you feel. Any and all regular movement throughout your day is awesome!
I hope these suggestions help you love yourself more, even when it's hard. Choose to love yourself this Valentines Day!
Amy has spent her career helping others reach their health and fitness goals. "I hope sharing my knowledge and experience with others can help someone to live a healthier and more joyous life."