Summertime is peeking around the corner. And you know what that means: swimsuit season.

Yes, the season you’ve put off training for all winter long. The season of teeny-tiny, perfectly tanned bikini models. The season of commercials with guys who have 6-packs playing sand volleyball.

It’s a rough season for everybody.

Throw back to last year when I could run more than three miles without feeling like dying - it felt so good!

Throw back to last year when I could run more than three miles without feeling like dying – it felt so good!

Everyone has moments of insecurity; navigating a healthy body image can be tricky. I don’t have all the answers, but I do work with a lot of people who struggle with these very things. And whether you’re the perfect weight (per the height-to-weight recommendations) or the doctor recently told you to lose 100 pounds, I hope these tips encourage you to pursue health and a healthy sense of self.

Tip 1: Get Moving

Exercise is medicine, folks.

It can be tough to do (especially if you haven’t been to the gym in a while), but exercise not only strengthens your muscles; it strengthens your soul. If you want to start exercising, make sure you focus on the little changes – especially at first. Increasing physical activity usually changes things in this order:

  1. First you increase your ability to exercise (walk farther, run faster, lift heavier things)

  2. Second you improve your metabolic profile (better blood sugar control, better cholesterol levels, improved blood pressure – all the things that matter but you can’t see)

  3. Finally you improve your physical appearance (toned muscles, increased metabolism, weight loss/maintenance)

Although regular exercise is really important for long-term weight loss/maintenance, it won’t cause you to shed pounds overnight. Thus, when I recommend exercise as a treatment for the body blues, I’m primarily focused on the first change: increasing one’s ability to exercise. I’m focused on helping people reach physical goals they thought they couldn’t – and thus building confidence and character.

So if you’re feeling lousy about your health or about how you look, get outside in the sunshine and go on a walk. Breathe deeply. Get your heart rate up. When you come back with sore muscles and feel out of shape, pat yourself hard on the back because you just made a big step forward with your fitness.

Quality ingredients, quality food.

Quality ingredients, quality food.

Tip 2: Fuel Your Body with Quality Food

What you put into your body matters. If you put crap into your body all day, how can you expect to feel anything other than crappy? Eating healthy isn’t a punishment; if you do it right, it should be joy.

One of the biggest myths I encounter when helping people with healthy living is the feeling they need to be perfect. Perfect protein-filled breakfast. Salad for lunch. Small portion of fish for dinner with some vegetables, skip the dessert.

The problem with trying to eat perfectly is life isn’t perfect. Your coworkers invite you out for happy hour after work. You forgot your lunch at home. You didn’t have time to make dinner. My life isn’t perfect (see: Dietitian Eats for an example) and I assume yours isn’t either.

Homemade pizza (here's the recipe). Because I believe pizza should be its own food group.

Homemade pizza (here’s the recipe). Because I believe pizza should be its own food group.

I’m interested in the small choices. In choosing an apple instead of Doritos when you’re hungry in the afternoon. A smaller helping of potato salad, but more grilled veggies. Water with dinner instead of soda. (Read my post on Survival Mode for more healthy tips when you’re feeling overwhelmed.)

To maintain a healthy lifestyle, you don’t have to eat perfectly, you just have to eat better. So focus on small changes and quality food.

Tip 3: Love Yourself

Did you notice that above I didn’t say, “summer is a rough season for chubby people,” or “a rough season if you haven’t been working out.” I said “everybody.” Because everybody has stuff they don’t like about their body.

If being skinny made you feel good about yourself, supermodels would be the happiest people on earth. But I hear they’re not. I hear their lives are filled with calorie-counting obsessions and endless workouts. They are some of the most unhealthy, malnourished people on earth.

You grow what you plant – and what you water. Where you spend your time, energy, and thought is how your character will develop. If you spend your energy focusing on your negative features, you’ll feel worse about yourself. If you spend your thoughts building yourself up, you’ll feel better.

So yeah, I’ve got a big nose, but I also have strong arms because I’ve been doing yoga and rock-climbing consistently for over a year. Yeah, my feet look weird in sandals, but I know the right cut of dress to accentuate my more flattering features.

Sure, you’ve got flaws. We’ve all got stuff we don’t like. But more important than what you hate is what you do love about yourself. Find your best self and nourish it.

Some of my best Colorado community <3

Some of my best Colorado community <3

Tip 4: Fuel your Soul

Be very careful who you surround yourself with; those closest to you have a huge impact on the direction of your life. So decide where you want to go in life, then surround yourself with people who will help get you there.

Identify negativity and get rid of it! If that acquaintance only ever complains about work/family/the commute/prices at the grocery store/politics/etc./etc… is that person worth the investment of your time and energy? Make an appointment with a counselor to help you set healthy boundaries for yourself in friendships so you don’t pour out of yourself more than you have.

Identify positivity and pursue it! In place of negative relationships, seek out quality people and pursue them. Volunteer your time to a cause you believe in to find people with similar values. Identify people and actions who fill you up and relentlessly pursue them. Find your community – quality people – and invest in them. Let them invest in you, too.

Tip 5: Refocus

You are more than a pretty face and a hot body. You are more than the color of your skin or the size of your jeans. As much as I want you to embrace your personal brand of beauty, I want you more to embrace who you are.

As cliche as it sounds, beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. That’s why moms love newborns even when they look like aliens. That’s why couples can grow old together and still find each other attractive, even through the wrinkles. That’s why I think my mom is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met.

Quality human, quality food. This is beauty.

Quality human, quality food. This is beauty.

So when I’m really spiraling out of control, focusing (and freaking out) way too much about how I look, I refocus on what’s really important to me.

I ask myself these questions:

  1. Do I care more about being beautiful or being kind?

  2. Have I been treating my body well or do I need refocus on quality fuel and exercise?

  3. What am I doing to make better the lives of the people around me?

At the end of the day, I don’t want my life to be all about me. I’ve found when my focus is all about me, I’m often the most unhappy.

When I’m focused on others – on loving those around me – I think less about me, less about if my eyeliner was perfectly applied, less about if my stomach looks poochy today. And I’m happier.

I love this no-make-up, hair-in-bun, kind-of-looks-like-a-boy photo of myself. Because I just climbed a mountain by myself in the snow. I love it because there is more to this flaca than meets the eye.

I love this no-make-up, hair-in-bun, kind-of-looks-like-a-boy photo of myself. Because I just climbed a mountain by myself in the snow. I love it because there is more to this flaca than meets the eye.

So this swimsuit season I think you should own who you are. You should wear that bikini if you want. Wear a t-shirt over it if you feel more comfortable. Put on extra make-up. Or don’t. Lose 10 pounds – but only if you do so because you’re cutting out junk and instead eating quality food when you’re hungry and learning to listen to your body.

Let me encourage you with the last stanza of my poem, Happiness:

Happiness is… [introspection]
…embracing your faults
…embracing your strengths.
…raw honesty and genuine forgiveness.
…loving who you are, but
striving for who you’re meant to be.

Go be your best self this season and always.

With love from Peas and Hoppiness.

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