These “Bad” Changes to Your Body (and Weight) Are Perfectly Normal

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 to your body 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.

rootMost 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 found yourself saying, “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.

But guess what? “Sensitivity” just means we have the gift of being able to pick up on subtle shit. 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.”

I encourage you to 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. They make you intuitive and perceptive.

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’re attached to, you might feel shame, anger, or sadness. Maybe you feel like you should look and feel a certain way all the time. This is the case for countless women.

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. And the only way you can “rest” is by letting go of the attachment itself.

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How to do that? By realizing that these fluctuations are a very normal parts of existing in a human body. Some of them are even healthy! Let’s take a look at a handful of changes your body might go through on a daily basis that could trigger attachment anxiety.

Water retention.

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 shit, 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 above example, 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 (aka retaining 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, where (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 can also cause changes in water retention, including traveling by plane.

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.

Menstrual stuff

Throughout each month, many women experience dramatic changes to their bodies, including water retention, breast size and 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.

Personally I believe this attitude stems from living in a world which 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? What if you found love for the cycle, for how it forces you to slow down, or for the gift of heightened sensitivity? Loving yourself for 3 out of every 4 weeks is not love.

The pump

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 pushups 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!

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 wanted 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.

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.

These photos were taken 30 seconds apart. The outside ones I'm breathing normal and relaxed, the inside one I'm flexing tight.
These photos were taken 30 seconds apart. The outside ones I’m breathing normal and relaxed, the inside one I’m flexing tight.

If you base your mood/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 (cuz 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 til 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. THIS IS MADNESS.

There is a misconception that bellies are always supposed to be flat, but please let me please debunk this myth forever, right now.

Bellies are not “meant” to be flat. Being flat versus gently rounded is not an indicator of better health, or even body fat percentage.

Very empty, very dehydrated bellies are flat. Bellies following a colonic or bowel movement might be flat. Flexed bellies are obviously flatter than relaxed bellies. But the belly is 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. I implore you to go of that dangerous myth.

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You can even consider the option 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 all these fluctuations

1. Start by acknowledging and validating 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, search for the gift. 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 by consciously re-framing. For example, you might re-frame 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.

Anytime 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.

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I am passionate about helping women learn to love their bodies, but loving your body as a woman in our culture isn’t easy, as you know. 

That’s why I created the Body Image Alchemy Blueprint

to help women explore and address the actual blocks that get in the way of truly loving and accepting yourself. If you want to love and accept your body no matter how it looks, but don’t know where to start, this course is for you.

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  • Rubaya

    Life is very critical. But confidence take over a woman to long. She needs to smart, dynamic and active.

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  • Ashley Bucannon

    Lovely blog! Please check us out too maybe do a guest blog http://www.formagym.dreamhosters.com/

  • Oxana

    Thank you for the post. I can so much relate to that, because I have been through what you described above: the bodybuilding prep (bikini category), dehydration, and SUPER lean stage-ready body. Even though my rational mind understood that that was neither natural nor healthy state, when I got back to my normal body, I could not (can still cannot) fully accept myself. The funny thing is that I have been “shredded” less time than my normal body, but the glimpse of it makes you want to have it all the time.
    And for those who would want to use “peaking” tricks like diuretics etc., I would warn about overcompensation. When we deprive the body of something, it thinks we are going to war. The minute it gets whatever if was deprived of, it is going to hold on to it and treasure like a last piece of candy in the house! I.e. water will stay longer, far will be harder to burn.
    So self acceptance is a tough thing to practice.

  • Caitlyn Corradino

    This is such an incredibly important message; thank you for sharing.

  • Rachel Delaurier

    Thanks for writing this – it’s funny now I’m looking to see if you’ve had children. You look great, and I’m happy for you. It’s tough though after growing people inside of your body what it does afterwards. What a mess! You can say things like, they’re my war wounds or mommy scars, etc. You make it look easy and it’s not!

  • Naveen

    It’s really interesting how this article covers the “fluctuations” and explains how to deal with them. However, for those who wish to have a more abstract reading, you can follow – http://www.isaforyou.com.au/isagenix-weight-loss-tips/

  • I love your balanced viewpoints on this touchy issue. I also feel that it’s being healthy with exercising and eating the foods that are best for your body is more important than the actual number on the scale 🙂

    • melissakow

      REbecca – I often forget that the number on the scale is just that…a number. It won’t often accurately take into account my body, it’s changes, my life, my workout routines or my goals.

  • Kelli Yapp

    this is absolutely perfect and amazing and fantastic and I can’t thank you enough!

  • disqus_elwjiRziHE

    You’re amazing <3 i swear all your posts are near perfect – the thoughtfulness and the focus on the issues that actually matter in an industry as superficial (in the way it's presented) as the fitness industry, I honestly applaud you. Thank you, I've been looking for someone like you to guide me in my journey to be more self accepting 🙂

  • Austin Armstrong

    Thank you for your insight! There are unfortunately so many myths about fitness and people performing exercises completely wrong, that not only will impact the potential but can hurt them! I wrote a similar article about fitness myths and tips that I would love to get your opinion on if you have a second? http://therapycable.com/blog/fitness-myths-and-tips.html regardless, thank you again for this amazing article!

  • Sean

    Thanks Jessi for this great article! I think this article is extremely important for not only women but men to read as well in understanding how the body works and to stop judging health and loving your body by solely your daily physical appearance. There are so many factors that are uncontrollable and we need to be able to accept and embrace these changes to our body and understand these are normal and purely biological and not a result of our failure to lose weight or feel healthy. This article really breaks this idea down into relatable and understandable terms and provides great insight that I think many people need to be happy with their bodies. This idea is so important and powerful we are going to share your article on our website below so hopefully more people will read this and start to think differently about their bodies and health.
    We at Gym-In-A-Box really enjoy your blogs and website keep up the great work! If you would like to check out our website and product please click the link below.

    http://www.gym-in-a-box.com
    Sean