Bike Talk: Cycling And Body Image

03 September, 2018

For many of us, cycling offers a break from our daily lives. We throw ourselves unto busy roads, beat our best records, and even climb that damn hill we have been dreading but wanted to test. With so many doubts before we head out on the road, we can sometimes internalize those doubts about our abilities, fitness, and self worth. In the age of Instagram, we often compare our bikes, our kit, and bodies to others, inducing our doubts. However, cycling can help us work on our abilities and be a helpful way to break the constant rigidity and hyper-focus on body image. 

I know a few girls out there who struggle with image that cycling often portrays - lean, muscular, fit for the Tour de France, and fitting in a size 2 in cycling kit. It's not unknown that even female cycling pro's struggle with issues like eating disorders, being underweight, and overworking their bodies to be the gold metal standard. The everyday women struggles to find form fitting kit, often berating herself because she isn't the Instagram image of a "cyclist". Unasked and unwanted comments of our abilities, weight, and skills often weigh in on our body image without us realizing how many miles we put in or how strong or happy we feel after a ride. 
But what if we can use those positive feelings after cycling to change our mindset about body image? There are a lot of skills we can learn from the athletes. The physical commitment, the mental discipline, how to fuel yourself properly — these are all important factors that aid performance. But they are all just facets of an overarching principle, which is this: they treat their body like it’s their business. Whether the goal is Olympic medals, world records or sponsorship deals, athletes’ entire careers are dependent on taking care of their body so that they can perform to the best of their ability, day in and day out. It’s something they must adopt from an early age to set themselves apart from others, and it’s what allows them to push the limits of human potential.

We don’t need to be an Olympian to take on this mindset. We all have dreams, ambitions and goals. Whether it’s climbing a mountain, completing a century ride, starting your own business, or living to see your great grandchildren — health is the common denominator. In order to make all these incredible things possible, we need to commit to our health and treat our body like it’s our business. And once we make the connection between how much our health is actually linked to what we want out of life, prioritizing it becomes a lot easier.

So what can we do to adopt this mentality?

Get To Know Your Body
Understanding your body is crucial to taking care of it. It’s normal to experience symptoms of low self- esteem every now and then, but when things change from a one-off to the norm you need to take action. If you find that you’re always thinking low about your self worth, it may be time to get curious, seek advice, do your own research and find out what is actually going on. Every symptom has a cause, but sometimes you need to do a little digging to find it.
Be Picky About What You Eat
There’s no avoiding it — we have to eat everyday. Multiple times a day. And the food we eat determines our mood, our energy and our health. You don’t need to embark on juice fasts or severely restricted diets — a good starting point is to take stock of what you’re eating and be aware of how you feel when you eat certain foods. Understanding how the food you eat affects your body and energy is a lifelong skill that I recommend everyone invests in. We have an incredible ability to self-heal as long as we give our bodies the fuel to do so.
Be Aware Of Social Media
Be mindful of comparison on social media. It can send you into an unhealthy negative spiral. We’ve all done it, scrolling endlessly down yet another Model/Cyclist/Bloggers photos, feelings of jealousy creeping into our thoughts when we had been fine before picking up the phone! Well, before you get too wound up hold your horses. Again, check in with yourself. If you're feeling a little sensitive that day, ease off on the social scrolling and definitely don’t look at anyone who might trigger an emotional reaction. Concentrate on doing something lovely for yourself that day. As for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram….it’s not going anywhere just pick it all up tomorrow.

Prioritise Rest
The good news is that rest is getting cool. Slowly but surely, we’re getting over the idea that you need to burn the candle at both ends and be in a perpetual state of adrenaline overload. Research has linked adequate rest to pretty much every aspect of health - mental capacity, mood, libido, immune system, physical recovery, weight management, performance, longevity. You name it, and rest makes it better to get on your bike and give your best the next ride. Ensuring that you are getting enough rest is a key habit to cultivate. Even if your life is demanding and you aren’t able to sleep as long as you’d like, taking up practices like meditation, yoga or even just good old power naps will be transformative to your well being.

Expect To Feel Great
From my experience, I truly believe that we set the bar far too low when it comes to our health. Some of us have never experienced what it’s like to feel great, to have energy, strength and resilience. So, we don’t expect it for ourselves or we feel that other people are lucky. But the body’s natural state is not lethargic, moody, immuno-depressed, injured, overweight, weak or stiff — quite the contrary, in fact. We are naturally robust, happy, full of energy and strong. Our bodies have the potential to do and feel the most incredible things, we just need to take care of them.

Change Your Minset
Feeling exhaustion, winded, or sore can be a totally normal part of cycling. When it can turn negative, however, is if it is taken as a sign of weakness. We may be more likely to judge our bodies if we perceive we “can’t handle” it. Instead, remind yourself of all the things your body CAN do. Your legs took you that far and high, your eyes are helping you to see new surroundings, your senses are helping you interpret your experience, and your stomach is helping you to digest the new foods that help describe ride fuel. When we can focus on what our bodies are doing for us, rather than the things it is not, we are more likely to appreciate our experiences and less likely to critique them. It is a privilege to have a fully functioning body, and we must appreciate this as often as we can!
While intrusive body image thoughts may be present with you while you cycle, we can work to decrease the power they have on your ride. Leave your rules behind, being a part of those pictures, and loving what your body is capable of doing can also help you once you get home. These ideas can be used at any time, not just for cycling! And, having the opportunity to break from your normal cycling routine can shake up the usual way we see ourselves. Knowing that we have cycled different landscapes, with different body expectations, can remind us that we are likely our own biggest critic – and that there are many more precious things in this world than what we look like.

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Images Courtesy: MNCDELEON

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