Cleanse Your Mind, The Rest Will Follow: Transform Your Health With a Media Fast
Have you tried the latest health cleanse? It’s SO great. It’ll help you feel better about your body inside and out, and jump-start your healthy choices so you’ll have the motivation to be active and feel A-MA-ZING. THIS cleanse is brand new. None of the celebrity health gurus or fitspiration icons have tried this, and you’ll NEVER hear about it from an actress in US Weekly. You don’t have to drink cayenne pepper juice OR forego solid foods for days and you’ll STILL remove countless toxins from your body. But this time, the toxins are in your mind and they’re just as harmful to your health.
Those mental toxins have built up from years of taking in distorted, profit-driven messages about what it means to have a healthy and fit female body. Whether it’s health and fitness magazines featuring airbrushed celebrities in bikinis with the latest strategies to get “sleek and sexy” in 3 days without ever moving an inch, or fitspiration models with exposed buttocks, breasts and oiled-up abs all over Instagram and Facebook — you’ve likely got a pretty specific image in your mind of what it means to be a “fit” and “healthy” woman. (We’re not even going to show you an example here, because you already have it in your mind.) This is a trending beauty ideal that is parading as a fitness ideal — made to look attainable for any woman willing to put in enough effort, willpower and sacrifice.
But what about the vast majority of women who will never, ever have six-pack abs, jutting hip bones, cellulite-free thighs that don’t touch, and every other appearance ideal that is held up as a sure indicator of fitness — regardless of how many squats they do, how “clean” they eat, how many marathons they run, etc.? This image of what it looks like to be a fit woman is so ingrained in our cultural wallpaper that we are completely desensitized to it. It is so common and unquestioned that it has become natural and invisible. THIS cleanse will start to rid you of that numbness.
It’s called the media fast. Rather than cutting out food, you cut out media. You cleanse your mind in order to cleanse your body. Choose a time period — 3 days, a week, a month, or more — and avoid media as much as humanly possible. All of it. No Twitter/Instagram/Facebook, TV, Netflix, movies, blogs, radio, any advertising you can avoid. Without this never-ending stream of biased, $-driven, idealized, Photoshopped, self-promoting messages and images (even well-meaning ones from friends and family and people trying to encourage their version/depiction of health), you give your mind the opportunity to become more sensitive to the messages that don’t look like or feel like the truths you experience in real life, face to face, with real fit people and your own health choices. Without those messages, you can see how your life is different and how your feelings toward your own body are affected. When you return to viewing and reading popular media, you will be more sensitive to the messages that hurt you, that hurt your self-perception and those that are unrealistic for you. Then you can make personalized, critical, well-informed media choices for yourself and your household that will uplift and inspire, and promote health rather than objectification and unattainable appearance ideals that may shame you into poor health choices.
The following is a personal story of a Beauty Redefined supporter and health blogger named Kate, who shared her health and fitness journey with a large community of fans at This is Not a Diet — It’s My Life. She has written about her experience with a media fast, and provides some fantastic insight into what makes this type of cleanse crucial for anyone genuinely seeking health and fitness — not just the appearance of health and fitness. Here is her story:
I’ve been a larger person for the great majority of my life. I’ve never experienced being someone who has teeny little invisible-to-others flaws they pick apart in the mirror. In fact, for most of my adult life I thought it would just be fantastic to wear a size 14 so I could shop somewhere that sold clothes I liked. I never coveted a “thigh gap” or a stomach with so little fat you could see my abdominal muscles. I thought it would be great if my thighs didn’t chafe when I walked from all the rubbing.
The closest I ever got to the nit-picking your body phase was at the end of my weight-loss and the year that followed. I flew past original goals, to wear that size 14 and be able to walk anywhere I wanted to without getting out of breath or chafing my thighs. I was wearing size 8, even 6 in some things. My thighs didn’t chafe. In fact, they didn’t touch at all. In clothes, my stomach looked flat. I lost most of my breast tissue and went from a DD-cup to a small C or even a large B.
While I was deep in the process of obsessively losing weight, I became a consumer of a type of media I previously never knew existed: fitness and health. I started looking at pictures of fitness models. I started following them and reading about their workout routines and diets. I worked out at least 6 times a week, for 1-2 hours each time. It was all very intense. No walks in the park for me! I weighed myself every morning and I adjusted my diet accordingly. I was the thinnest I had ever been in my life and I kept it that way with constant vigilance. But I still didn’t look like the fitness models. There was a time when I thought I should, and could, look like them if I just tried a little harder. Why not? I lost 125 pounds. I could do anything. All it takes is enough “will-power” right? If I didn’t get the six-pack, I must be full of lazy-excuses. That’s what those fitness model types said, and look at them! It must be true…
Except that it’s not true at all. My body is my body. The reason I do not, and never will, look like one of those headless ab posters actually doesn’t have anything to do with laziness or excuses. It’s just not the way my body is going to look due to my genetics and personal history. It took me a long time to recognize and be able to accept that, especially with all the messaging telling you that if you just Tried a Little Harder, you could make all your perfect body dreams come true.
The fitness and health world is not at all what it seems to be. My outlook on myself was far healthier before I ever started reading about health and fitness. Isn’t that just backwards? Shouldn’t the health industry be promoting actual health and fitness, not obsessive body re-composition?
I had long ago stopped looking at fashion magazines and models. I knew they were underweight and that it was crazy to think I would ever look like them. But the fitness look seemed so “healthy” and that’s how it was promoted. Anybody can do this, they tell you. You just have to want it bad enough. Just eat a “clean” diet, lift weights, and wake up one day looking like Jamie Eason!
Fast forward to now. My outlook is totally different. I’m never going to look like Jamie Eason. I’m me. I look like me. Kate. Hi! Nice to meet you. My thighs touch and my belly is not flat. I am strong and healthy. The 2013 picture was taken a few months ago. I’m wearing the same outfit today, so I must be a similar size. I don’t weigh myself anymore though, so I can’t say for sure.
I went on a new type of diet, you see. I went on a Media Diet. I already didn’t watch much TV or read magazines, but I do spend a lot of time online. Throughout my changing lifestyle I had managed to build up quite the repertoire of places to consume other people’s tight, toned, surgically and digitally enhanced bodies online and read about their endless nit-picking of their imperceptible flaws, Facebook being the most gluttonous.
The most important tool of the Media Diet for me is the Facebook UNLIKE button. Does the page post fitspo? Unlike. Does it go on about counting carbs after 3 pm to get the flattest belly? Unlike. Does it tell me I’m not good enough the way I am? Unlike. Does it send me the message that if I don’t look like the model in the picture, I’m a lazy, full of excuses waste of space? UNLIKE at the speed of light!
If it does not lift me up and support actual health and actual fitness, I don’t need to consume it.
We are bombarded with messages about not being good enough every single day. You cannot completely escape this. I can’t stop going to the grocery store and seeing the headlines about which celebrities are too fat and which are too thin. But I can take an active role in many parts of my life. I can choose.
You do not have to buy those magazines or follow those pages to be healthy. If you’re like me, you might be a lot saner and healthier without them. My New Year’s Resolution this year was to stop reading weight/health/nutrition books. I am proud to say that in 2013 I have only read fiction and art books. Come to think of it, ever since I went on my Media Diet, I am doing a lot of things I enjoy that are important to me that I wasn’t doing before. I’m not working out 6 days a week anymore. I am walking in the park. I am hiking. I am practicing yoga. I only go to the gym 1 time a week, for BodyPump, which is just plain FUN. I have drawn in my sketchbook almost every day this year, something I kept telling myself I would do that I never did. I guess I needed to free up the mental space for it. When I get sick or am too exhausted, I do a crazy thing: I REST. I do not worry about what it might do to my weight the next day.
I don’t track anything anymore, except my menstrual cycle. When I exercise, I do it for myself, for my mental and physical health, and because I want to, not for calories burned. I don’t do it to earn my dinner. I’m going to eat dinner either way. And sometimes it’s going to be pizza. I have allowed myself time and space to think about what is really important to me, how I really feel about my body, and to stop comparing myself to anyone else. Comparing yourself to other people is stupid. A person with my body and my history is never going to look like someone who has always been thin. That’s a great big “DUH.” right? But I think a lot of people still don’t get it.
Many people would look at my body and find things to dislike about it, but I am not them, so it’s okay. My hips? They are glorious. My stomach and thighs that touch once more (but don’t chafe) — so nice, so comforting, so warm and soft. Fat is not an enemy, it is part of my body. It gives me my hourglass shape. It gives me my fabulous D-cups. I gives me warmth. I am no longer constantly cold. I don’t feel dizzy. I have a lot more energy. I am more comfortable sleeping. I feel more attractive and less self-conscious.
Contrary to what I thought, being the thinnest ever didn’t make me happier. It didn’t make me better. It just made me look different. I remember how I felt when I took the middle picture you see above, and I kept staring at it thinking “Wow, I am actually thin.” It was strange and intriguing. It was an out of body experience for sure. When I look at the picture of me now, I see me. It’s not weird, it just is. Living the life I want to live naturally returned me to the body I was meant to have. The funny thing is, this is the body I probably would have had if I had never dieted at all. If I had just let my body mature as it was meant to. But everything told me I wasn’t okay the way I was, and I believed it. I don’t believe it now. And anyway, it’s not for anyone else to say.
You shouldn’t consume things that make you feel like crap. That includes food and media. Are there people in real life or online in your life who treat you like crap? Do they talk down to you? Do they act like they know you better than you know yourself? Do they make you doubt yourself? Cut them out. You deserve better. And make sure you’re not one of them.
Thanks to Kate for sharing her work with us! Her original post appeared here. For more information on how Beauty Redefined seeks to turn the conversation from focusing on looking healthy to actually being healthy, see our two-part Healthy Redefined series on how health is traditionally defined and how we’re redefining it. See also our popular piece on how to tell if the fitspiration images/messages you’re viewing are helping or harming your health goals. For in-depth help to reframe your health perceptions and improve your body image, check out our 8-Week Body Image Resilience Program!