Your body is in a never-ending state of burning, stoking, fueling, respirating, healing, aging, detoxing, eliminating, growing, cycling, and consuming. It will never be stagnant. There is no end point, ever, until you die. (And actually not even then, because you’ll start to decompose!)
These daily fluctuations might be subtle, but that doesn’t mean they’re not happening. By denying or resisting your own transitory nature, you will make yourself utterly miserable.
Most of us do pick up on these changes, whether we’re tuned into them every second or every few days. (How many times have you been guilty of muttering, “I feel so fat today” to your best friend?)
Acknowledging them is not only okay, it’s normal. Society likes to make women out as “crazy” for having feelings, intuition, and sensitivity. We’re judged by standards that were never meant for us, thanks to the patriarchy and our sexually repressed Anglo-Saxon foundation.
Guess what? “Sensitivity” just means we have the gift of being able to pick up on subtle sh*t. If someone calls you “too sensitive,” what they really mean “you’re making me feel crazy because I can’t see the subtle things you see, and I don’t like that.”
Immediately let go of any narrative you’ve been clinging to that your emotions or ability to perceive things make you crazy. They don’t.
If you desperately crave arrival at an end point, where you can finally rest from the exhausting pursuit of your body’s perfection, it’s time to let that go.
A problem arises, however, when you become deeply attached to only one part of your body’s total experience. When your body isn’t in the one exact state you are attached to, you might feel shame, anger, or sadness. Maybe you feel like you should look and feel a certain way all the time.
If you desperately crave arrival at an end point, where you can finally rest from the exhausting pursuit of your body’s perfection, then it’s time to let that go. There is no such end point. The only way you can rest is by letting go of the attachment.
How to do that? By realizing that these fluctuations are a very normal—healthy even—part of existing in a human body. Let’s take a look at a handful of changes your body might go through on a daily basis that could trigger attachment anxiety.
On a Thursday you look in the mirror. You’ve been eating well since Sunday, crushing your workouts, and getting lots of sleep all week. You look at your naked body and think, God, yes! I look awesome. Then you put on something hot and go out to happy hour for margaritas and Mexican food.
You wake up on Friday morning to find a bloated hippopotamus looking back at you in the mirror. If you weighed yourself, you might even be up three to five pounds from the night before.
Now, let’s look at the facts here. Did you gain a bunch of fat since yesterday? No, that’s impossible. Is it all in your head? No, because as we’ve established already, you’re not a crazy person. (You have a female superpower. You pick up on subtle changes.)
So what caused this overnight change? Water retention. Due to some awesome chemistry between salt, water, carbs, and even alcohol, your body can either be holding a little water or a lot.
Bodybuilders and fitness models manipulate the way their bodies hold water in order to “peak,” which just means they get as dehydrated and “dry” as possible for a very temporary appearance of maximum leanness.
The “water pills” and diuretics that are sold over the counter create a similar effect. The results of a dedicated peaking protocol, which have nothing to do with fat, are dramatic. You can go from pretty lean to “holy sh*t, I’m shredded” just by playing with water retention. However, it’s extremely temporary, and in many cases, it’s also wildly unhealthy.
At some point in your life, you may have accidentally “peaked.” In my example above, you might have felt de-puffed on Thursday night thanks to a week of drinking lots of water, sweaty workouts, and eating low-sodium and low-carb home-cooked dinners. By attaching your happiness to this one small part of the experience, of having a body in which you retain very little water, you set yourself up to feel awful the next day when it shifted again.
It’s also worth mentioning here that the stress hormone cortisol causes you to hold water in a major way. So if you’ve been restful, sleeping a lot, and happy all week, your cortisol will be low, and therefore, so will your water-retention levels. This is one of the main reasons for that mysterious “vacation abs” phenomenon, when (despite eating whatever you want and not working out) your body looks inexplicably lean and sexy on vacation. If you hold a lot of water normally due to stress, suddenly being restful and joyful will bring about some fluctuations. Elevation, like traveling by plane, can also cause changes in water retention.
So what to do?
Stop worshipping one half of this cycle and condemning the other. There are certainly some habitual lifestyle factors worth considering and improving here, such as getting more sleep, lowering stress, drinking more water, and eating less processed foods. But water fluctuations are normal. Even someone who is super healthy will notice them from time to time. So find love for the puff.
Throughout each month, many women experience dramatic changes to their bodies, including water retention, breast size, density changes, digestive shifts, fatigue, cramping, bloating, and increased emotional sensitivity.
We’ve been taught to dread, hate, and medicate a huge chunk of these fluctuations, as though they were “getting in the way” of normal, natural life.
I believe this attitude stems from living in a world that does not accept or encourage women to be women. We used to be revered for our sensitivity during menstruation. Now we’re told to take some Advil, discreetly use a tampon, and try not to cry at work.
I’m not saying you have to go all red tent society or anything, but when it comes to embracing and accepting your body’s fluctuations, your body’s monthly cycling is a damn good place to start.
How can you reframe those fluctuations as a gift? What if you consciously planned ahead for some quiet, restful, and emotionally honest time with yourself each month, instead of denying and condemning that part of the cycle?
Find love for the cycle. Find love for how it forces you to slow down or for the gift of heightened sensitivity. Loving yourself for three out of every four weeks is not love.
Women who are new to strength training often tell me with great concern that they feel “big” right after a workout. They’re afraid that means they’re getting bulky, but really what they’re experiencing is affectionately called “the pump” by gym rats.
When you train certain muscles a certain way, those muscles get super full of blood. The effect lasts a few hours to a few days, but it has nothing to do with fat or even muscle building. This is why guys do push-ups before they take their shirts off at the beach or whatever, and why bodybuilders do curls before stepping out onto the stage. It’s not to add any muscle—that would be impossible. It’s to pump the muscles they have full of blood, so they look bigger and fuller and tighter!
Remember that “big” and “small” are not measures of your worth, and that the pump comes from doing something healthy and empowering.
Just to reiterate here: You’re not crazy. If your legs look swole after leg day or you can barely fit your shoulders into your jean jacket after a tough upper body workout, that’s “the pump.” Some muscles respond to it more than others, and some workouts cause it more than others. Arms and shoulders tend to be easy to pump up, and my friend Brett coined the term “party pump” for women who want to pump up just the glutes before going out. It’s normal, temporary, and if you work out consistently, it’s a big part of your body’s day-to-day cycle.
My suggestion, of course, is to find love for the pump. Remember that “big” and “small” are not measures of your worth, and that the pump comes from doing something healthy and empowering.
Debunking the Myth of Flat Abs
Digestion fluctuates minute-to-minute, as well as day-to-day and week-to-week. Many women use their bellies to “check their progress” when it comes to getting in shape, which I vehemently oppose, because the belly fluctuates so much with non-fitness-related factors.
If you base your mood or worth on your progress, and you use your belly to check it, you tend to become an obsessively hyper-monitoring emotional disaster. You wake up with flat abs (because you’re a little dehydrated and your bowels are empty.) You drink a huge glass of water, and now they’re not as flat. You freak out and avoid eating breakfast until it’s flat again. You give in when you’re really hungry, and after breakfast, your belly is kinda round and sticking out, and you feel like you messed up. You get busy with your day and wait a long time for a late lunch. Your abs are flat again, and you’re happy! You eat a salad. Now your belly sticks out again. You’re miserable and start googling to find out if your salad had any gluten in it. This is madness.
There is a misconception that bellies are always supposed to be flat. They’re not. Very empty, very dehydrated bellies are flat. Bellies following a colonic or bowel movement might be flat. Flexed bellies are flatter than relaxed bellies. But it’s meant to fluctuate! We’re meant to relax and breathe deeply and let our bellies round and expand as we inhale. We’re meant to make space for food and water by letting our bellies stick out a bit. Abs are awesome, and flexing is fun, and food intolerances totally exist, but bellies are not all supposed to be flat and tight. Let go of your attachment to that idea, please.
There is a misconception that bellies are always supposed to be flat.
Consider also that a soft and round belly is sexy and feminine! A woman who is truly comfortable in her body, relaxed and breathing deeply, is also going to be extremely present and “in her body.” For this reason, she’ll be radiant, receptive, feminine, sexy, and her belly will be soft and expansive.
Holding your muscles tightly, breathing shallowly, and thinking about how you look to others takes you out of the moment and away from your own experience. The gorgeous lounging maidens in classic paintings knew what was up: Our bellies are supposed to be soft with us.
How to Embrace Fluctuations
1. Acknowledge and validate your experience to yourself. Accept the moment as it is, by acknowledging it’s truth. You’re sensitive to subtle changes, and that includes the subtle changes happening in your body. You’re not crazy, and what you’re going through is totally normal.
2. Next, identify the lesson, growth opportunity, gift, or higher purpose to each part of a fluctuation you struggle to embrace. Assign meaning to whatever bothers you, and then give thanks for that meaning. This might require some conscious reframing. For example, you might reframe your puffy days as opportunities to grow more confident in who you are on the inside and let go of perfectionism and control on the outside.
3. Finally, see if you can find gratitude for the lesson, gift, or meaning you’ve just found for this experience.
Any time you find yourself rejecting, denying, or resisting part of any cycle or fluctuation, return to these steps and repeat them: Acknowledge and validate your experience, search for the gift, and find gratitude.
This article originally appeared on Remodel Fitness and was republished with the author’s permission. Jessi Kneeland is a New York City-based certified personal trainer, strength coach, fitness writer, and founder of Remodel Fitness. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.