Pilates: One Workout That Builds a Better Body Image

We celebrate National Pilates Day and talk about why we heart this workout

When people hear that I write about body image for a blog called "Never Say Diet," they often have the misconception that this must mean I'm against all exercise, too.

Um, no.

I advise against diets because any food or workout program that requires you to make drastic and punishing changes (like cutting out entire food groups or spending hours at the gym) is going to be impossible to stick with and set you up for failure down the road. There's nothing fun about that. But there are lots of ways to be healthy (and even lose weight) without doing any of that. And the right kind of exercise can be an amazing way to boost your body image because it takes the focus off how your body looks and helps you appreciate all the amazing things your body can do.

I started thinking about that important distinction when I heard this Saturday is National Pilates Day (which means a pilates center near you may be offering free classes -- woot! Google "National Pilates Day Free Class" to find one) because Pilates was the first workout that helped me make this crucial discovery.

Full disclosure: My biggest body hang-up is my stomach, which never seems to get as flat as I think it should be, no matter how many crunches I do. (Plus, let's face it, crunches are miserable. Ergo, I never want to do them.) But about eight years ago, I tried Pilates -- and started thinking about those infamous core muscles in a whole new way. For one thing, there are a lot more of them than the vanity muscles we target with crunches. And they do a whole heck of a lot for your body, like hold your spine up, help you lift heavy things, and generally get you through your day. I also discovered that my core muscles, even buried under a layer of what I affectionately refer to as "fluff," could and did get stronger as I worked my way through biweekly Pilates classes. When I first attempted The Hundred, I wanted to die. A month later, I wanted to die...less. And I realized: My core may never be as whittled as a Hollywood starlet's, but there are some seriously strong muscles in there. And they can help me do all kinds of awesome stuff. 

After dipping a toe in the Pilates waters, I went on to explore other mind-body workouts like yoga, which may be even better for building a positive body image. Because there is nothing like nailing a headstand -- a pose that requires mad core strength to make you feel like a superhero.

This kind of exercise (what this Pilates instructor calls "thinking person's exercise") has improved my physical and mental health way more than mindless hours sitting on the elliptical at the gym (and clock-watching/comparing myself to everyone around me) ever could. Which is not to knock the elliptical, if you love it. But if you associate exercise with feeling bad about your body, it might just mean you haven't found the workout that makes your body -- and your brain -- feel good.


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