“Those Pants”…Replacing negative thoughts with positive ones

Stephanie Gish posing in those pants for her blog post

Most women have “those pants.” You know, the ones we wore 20 years ago or the ones that we keep in our closet because “one day” we’ll fit into them again…

My weight has fluctuated over the years, admittedly not very much, only +/- 10 pounds since I graduated high school 20 years ago (with the exception of my first Crohn’s flare when I rapidly lost more). But even still, I have (like I’m sure many of you have) received countless comments over the years related to how I look and my weight; people notice when I gain five or lose five…and some actually make comments, good and bad.

So, these are my pants… “those pants.” These are the ones I can’t get rid of, even though I rarely wear them. I’ve had these since high school and in some ways they’re worse than the scale. Many people close to me would probably be surprised to learn that I’ve spent years either berating myself or congratulating myself based upon whether these pants fit…and how they fit. Loose, snug, somewhere in between…

Between Crohn’s Disease, three fitness competitions, endless weigh-ins during my time in the Army, and society’s image of perfect…I have developed bad relationships with food and myself that I still continue to struggle with and work to overcome.

So why am I sharing these deep inner thoughts?

Because I know I’m not the only one who struggles with this.

Although I stay active, being fit and staying at the shape I want does not come easily. For most of us, it takes constant work and focus. But here’s what’s interesting…15 years ago I would spend two hours in the gym every day. I hit cardio hard for an hour and then hit the weights hard and heavy for an hour. I looked great, but my life revolved around working out and dieting–there was nothing else.

Fast forward to today, I don’t go to the gym at all. In fact, I rarely workout for more than 20 minutes at a time. Most days I just drop and do some pushups throughout the day and make sure I get in brief, quality walking sessions and rebounding. Although I’m not ready to get on stage and compete, overall I’m happy with how I look and my life is far more fulfilling than solely focusing on the next competition or whether my six pack abs could turn into eight–the level of obsession I had was, no doubt, damaging.

But this shift in mindset hasn’t been easy and it still takes continuous effort to remind myself every day what my goals are and that the scale or what I see in the mirror does not define me. Through the years, I’ve learned to find balance. I’ve learned how diet and fitness can play a role in my life without actually being my life. It may sound strange, but eating a ketogenic diet and following daily intermittent fasting has given me the boundaries I need and a solid/effective framework that I can operate within–I need that for my type A personality. Keeping my diet in check does far more for my body composition than hours in the gym ever did…as I’m sure you’ve heard countless times, you can’t outrun a bad diet and abs are made in the kitchen. So, I no longer count calories or macros, I’ve learned to listen to my body (though it’s still a learning process), and I focus on what’s inside–not what’s visible on the outside (which should be easy for someone with an invisible illness!).

I’ve also given myself new goals for fitness. It’s not about how long or how hard I can go in the gym anymore or whether I can beat my previous time on a HIIT workout, but whether I can still move with a wide range of motion, retain my flexibility, maintain my strength, and just be functional in my life. I’ve learned to adapt my training and understand now (after many years of lifting and training) that there are many ways to be active and healthy. I’ve learned various techniques and training methods over these past 20 years that all give me the end result that I want. There’s always more than one right way.

Here’s what’s most important though. At my current weight, people like me. When I weighed less, people liked me. And when I weighed more, people liked me. Your weight does not measure who you are. It has nothing to do with your character.

Yes, I’m still critical of myself. I still have negative thoughts about what I see in the mirror. I still nitpick…and for every one photo I post on Instagram, there’s probably 20 more I deleted. It takes practice to replace these kinds of habits that some of us have been doing our entire lives. So, my one simple tip for how I’ve been combating this bad habit (and it still takes practice) is that for every negative thought I have about my physical appearance, I make myself stop and think of two positive things about my character instead.

If I criticize my thighs in the mirror before I have a chance to stop the negative thought from coming in at all, I force myself to pause and remind myself: that doesn’t matter. The fact that I’m a good listener for my friends, that I spend time volunteering, and that I work hard to do my part at work and in society are what truly matter.

To all women (and even the men out there), be kind to yourself. Be cognizant of how you treat yourself and make the conscious effort to change your negative thoughts to good ones. I know it’s not easy, trust me, I’ve been doing this for 20+ years, but it gets easier and you’ll be happier for it.

Always be proud of how far you’ve come, what you’ve achieved, and who you’ve become. Every one of us will always be a work in progress. Don’t get stuck being focused on “those pants” or the scale or anything else you want to nitpick. I’m a big believer in self improvement, but our goals for self-improvement should focus around our overall health, our happiness, being better humans, and spreading love in this world. ❤️

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