Road To My Perfect Body by MJ Lee
During the course of lockdown – and now starting to see people in the flesh – I have been getting compliments about how my body is looking, and I wanted to shed some light on how I achieved this.
*To be clear, this is what worked for ME. Some of it may resonate with you. None of it may resonate with you. This is just me sharing my journey, full-well knowing – and encouraging – that your journey will be different.
1. Capability vs. Appearance
Imagine picking up a phone that looks like it’s from the 30th century…but it can only make calls, send texts, and nothing else. No camera, no data, no other applications. What is the point of having something that looks amazing if it’s functionally useless? That is how I look at my body.
It is so easy to look in the mirror and tear everything to shreds. Flabby arms, dough- y tummy, cottage cheese thighs, sausage torso, the list is endless…BUT the moment I replaced that focus on what my body looked like and put it into what it could do, my training suddenly became about gaining skills rather than losing weight. It became instantly positive rather than constantly negative.
2. Real Goals
‘I want to be skinny’, ‘I want to be healthier’, ‘I want to be stronger’, ‘I want to be more flexible,’ ‘I want to look like Jessica Alba’, etc…These are all things I’ve genuinely said to myself many times. Completely useless. What does any of that even mean? How do you direct your energy into a vague statement? It’s like if someone asks you for directions to the bank, and you answer, “Somewhere over there.” Those aren’t real directions, and now that person will aimlessly wander.
I stopped with those wishy-washy goals and actually laid down measurable targets. For example, I have always wanted to be able to do a chin up. Just one. I had never been able to do one in my entire life and I had written it off as something that was never going to happen. However, with the support of Mikhail St Catherine (at www.powermoves.fitness) – who has been a huge support in my journey with my body – I progressed my strength so that I finally achieved it. All I wanted was one, and I honestly could have cried when it finally happened.
3. Numbers, Numbers, Numbers
From zero chin ups to one chin up; from three push ups to ten push ups; from
squatting 20kg to 70kg…Numbers are the markers of my progress. No matter how amazing or crappy I feel, numbers don’t lie. As long as I commit to consistently training, my body will get stronger – and I know that because my numbers are slowly but surely getting larger and larger.
In spite of the wonderful use of numbers in my fitness, however, there is a specific number that I tread very carefully around: my weight. Even at my lightest, I have always been heavier than I looked, and – for many years – I allowed it to be the dictator of how attractive I was. What I have learned is that having a ‘Target Weight’ is yet another fake goal, and not useful for me to obsess over. Weight is a tool in scientifically calculating macronutrient ratios and caloric intake. Nothing more.
Speaking of caloric intake, relationship with food is another big one I had to reframe my brain around. Like many women, I had an eating disorder. Only recently has my gut really been healed from what I did to it, so I am incredibly cautious when it comes to calorie restriction because it can be a slippery slope. However, with Mikhail’s guidance, I have a set ratio of proteins-fats-carbs along with a calorie target. Even though I’ve always eaten healthy, a personalised eating plan – based on scientifically calculated NUMBERS – has made all the difference in my performance and my energy levels.
Do I hit all my targets perfectly every day? No. Do I still eat chocolate, drink wine, and/or annihilate entire packs of Oreos? Abso-freaking-lutely. It just means I plan my meals a bit differently. If, for instance, I have a social thing I want to do one evening, I’ll focus more on proteins and fats during the day because I’ll be drinking my carbs in the form of pinot noir. Again, not always perfectly hit, but just a guideline that gives my body what it needs. And when I don’t hit it – or at times, massively overshoot it – hey, it happens. I am learning to remove the guilt. I exercise and eat clean the majority of the time, so yes, I will have some freaking cake and not feel like I’ll need to ‘earn’ it.
The other huge factor that really affects my body’s performance – one that I did not
fully realise until lockdown forced me into it – is rest. Growing up in a Korean household, I have drilled into my psyche that anything and everything is achievable through hard work. In my head, any shortcoming was a product of ‘not working hard enough’, so I would incessantly work my body into a state of exhaustion. Not losing enough weight? Exercise more. Right? WRONG! This year has forced me to rest and recover for an extended period of time – something I absolutely would not have done otherwise. I routinely slept a decent amount for the first time in God knows how long, and it has made a world of difference with my body’s productivity. It knows exactly when it’s going to sleep, to wake up, and to eat. It’s as efficient as a freaking German train station. I haven’t actually been exercising that much more than I was before lockdown, but I am recovering way more and providing it with the necessary time to repair. If I’m constantly in a state of fatigue, I not only put myself into a higher risk of injury but I also strip away any enjoyment of the process.
I never understood people who do physical activities they don’t enjoy. There are literally hundreds of different types of exercise, so why would anyone doing something they hate? I, for instance, have zero interest in running a marathon. Oh man, do I ever respect people who do it because it requires incredible dedication and stamina, but I have absolutely no joy in running for that long. Life is too goddamn short to do something that makes me want to die.
So. I only do exercise that I genuinely like doing because, not only do I remove the feeling of martyrdom and the dread of exercise, I do this crazy thing where I actually look forward to it. One of my greatest discoveries over lockdown has been boxing. Joe Fro – who is an incredible teacher – has given me a new skill for me to work on and I have the best time doing it! On any given day, I never think, “I have to do that thing today…” because I only fill my time with things where I get to say, “I can’t wait to do that thing today!”
6. Accept Bad Days
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not always sunshine, rainbows, and high fives. It’s not like every single session I do is an inspirational success story. Sometimes, my numbers go backwards. Sometimes, I don’t hit a target I was aiming for. Sometimes, I feel crap about my body. Sometimes, I’ll be in a mood, I’ll forget all of the above, and just feel like a bloated walrus. This is okay. Progress is not a straight line. I do take a step back for every few steps forward because – as much as my overachieving, highly critical, perfectionist ego likes to demand otherwise – I am not a robot.
7. Be Kind
Imagine this situation: Someone in your life speaks down to you, constantly nitpicks every flaw you have, punishes you whenever you do something to enjoy yourself, and always tells you that you’re not good enough. Sound like an abusive relationship? Well, that’s because it is, and that is precisely the type of relationship I had with my body for the majority of my life. I was my own abuser – incessantly battering my body with shame and guilt. How is anybody supposed to flourish and develop with that type of treatment? This is not to say that – like with any relationship – my body and I don’t still have our occasional spats. She has her moments where she doesn’t do what I want her to do, she irritates or even angers me…However, this is a lifelong relationship, and I want to respect my body and treat her with love, care, nourishment, and encouragement.
So there you have it. My road to the perfect body wasn’t really a road at all because she was always perfect. It was never her who had to change. She was never less perfect when she was bigger/heavier/not yet capable of doing a chin up. It was me and how I treated her that was the problem.
Now, I can confidently say that my body and me…we’ve never been happier together.
By MJ Lee
Born in Vancouver, Canada, MJ is an actor and creative director based in London, UK. With a background in competitive figure skating, professional dance, fitness, and combat as well as a degree in Sociology and French Language & Literature from Dartmouth College (USA), her eclectic background brings a unique perspective to her performing career. Her credits include ‘A Christmas Prince: The Royal Baby’ (Netflix), ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ (The Show Must Go Online), ‘Your Reality’ (Dawn Sky Films), and various Secret Cinema productions.