Ask A Salty: Poor Body Image

Got a question? Just ask!
Got a question? Just ask!

Welcome back to our Ask-A-Salty feature, where you ask us questions and we give you the answers. If you have a question for us you can send it to us by clicking on “Ask-A-Salty” above the banner or by clicking here.

Today’s question comes from Katie:

I am a 16 year old girl and I love to run. I’m on my school’s cross-country team and I’ve been in the sport since 7th grade. I
usually run 4-5 miles a day. I’ve been feeling really upset lately because I feel like I’m grossly heavy compared to the other girls on my team. I am 5’6″ and 128 pounds. I just went for my yearly checkup at the doctor and I know my BMI is 20.7, and I know that’s healthy and good. But I can’t get a flat stomach to save my life. I don’t have much body fat anywhere but my stomach. I don’t know if it’s actually fat or just bloat, or what. I just look like I’m 5 months pregnant all the time unless I suck in my stomach, but I’m lean everywhere else.

I’m not always the healthiest eater but it’s really hard when my diet consists of school lunches and my mom’s dinners (our veggies are usually potatoes with lots of butter). I’ve been trying to make healthier choices and drink lots of water. I’ve lost weight but my stomach hasn’t flattened out at all. It’s been like this for at least two years. I’m mortified to take my shirt off at practices even in August because I look so different from all the other girls with their perfect runners’ bodies. 

Do you have any suggestions, advice… anything? Am I not doing enough core workouts, am I not drinking enough water? I don’t know what the problem is and I just want to be able to go for a run for once and enjoy it and not worry the entire time about how much my stomach is shaking.

Girl, I so hear you. First, I think BMI is a crock of you-know-what since it doesn’t take into consideration those of us with dense muscle tissue (my “scientific” way of putting it), but the best way I’ve talked myself down that ledge of despair is by reminding myself that weight is nothing more than a measure of gravity pulling upon us. A number doesn’t determine our self-worth, our athletic ability, our future. It’s just that: a number.

As far as the “flabby stomach,” I feel the same way about my “child-bearing” hips. As Type A Runners, we tend to be incredibly critical of at least one part of our bodies. Instead of focusing on what I don’t like, I focus on what I do like. I like my big brown eyes and long-eyelashes. I like my long legs and smile. I challenge you to think about parts of your body that you do appreciate, rather than focusing on that one part that you don’t.

My downfall is comparing myself to others. She has the best abs, and she has the best looking calves. I’ve found the technique of the Three C’s my saving grace: Catch it, Challenge it, Change it.

First, catch that negative thought in its tracks.

Next, challenge that negative thought by bringing yourself back to reality.

Finally, change your thought process and focus on something positive that you’ve accomplished over the last couple of hours.

Remember that a body part is nothing more than a body part, and no matter how much we obsess about it, chances are we aren’t going to be able to change it all that much. Genetics play a big factor whether we like it or not. Accepting ourselves as we are, as a whole person who is beautiful and capable and strong is the way to loving yourself, not by changing that one part that drives us crazy (and believe me when I say, just about all of us have at least one of those!)

Blythe body comparison
Happiness comes from accepting ourselves as whole people, not fixating on and perfecting our imperfect parts. (Photo credit: wellapptdesk)

Also, it might help you to focus more on strengthening your body and making it as strong and healthy as you can make it, rather than focusing on making it look a certain way. Do core exercises to make your core strong and to be a more injury-resistant powerful runner! It might not give you a visible six-pack, but you’ll have the best abs for you because they will work their best for you.

The last thing I wanted to share today is this snippet that I found going viral on some social media outlets these last couple of days. We  compare ourselves to that “perfect supermodel body,” when, in reality, that doesn’t even exist. Photoshop and technology lead us to false images that, in turn, affect the way we feel about our own bodies. Don’t be fooled, and stop being so critical of your beautiful self.

Can you relate to Katie? Have you overcome a painful relationship with your body? Please share. There is power in knowing we are not alone!

I'm a new momma, full-time non-profiter, and coffee lover. I write about healthy body image, half marathon training, and recovery from eating disorders. I'm currently training to maintain fitness throughout the winter and break 1:27:00 in my next half marathon.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


  1. I totally agree that we need to accept our body parts for what they are. That being said, I have real issues with bloating. I’ve found that it’s usually food related. I.e. If I eat steel cut oats I bloat so badly I can’t button my pants. I would keep a food/bloat log and see if there is a pattern there. Maybe a certain food or lack of a certain food (fresh vegetables) is contributing to the bloating.

    1. This is a good point. There might be an underlying medical issue to the bloating worth looking into. Talking to a doctor or health provider at the school might be a good idea too.

  2. I really like Ginkgo’s answer here. I would just add that if you really feel like you’re struggling with this that it’s ok to ask for help. Maybe start with a school counselor, teacher or coach you trust to talk about it. It’s easy for this to start with wanting to improve the way we look and for it to turn into feeling really bad about ourselves to the point we need help to get through it. Many of us have been there and needed help too. Hugs!!!!

  3. I love this blog. I was once ashamed of how I looked, and found it hard to think about much else. I have never been a “skinny” runner. I spent the better part of the past 20 years trying to get flat abs, and look like I believed “fast” runners looked. I went as far as to eating far too little calories on the goal of looking different. But when it came down to it, all that did was make me hungry and as a result preform worse on the course and track. As I got older, I started to realize that the goal was not to look a certain way, but to be fast. So I set goals. Work hard, do all of the things that make me fast, run, do my core and strength routine, and FUEL my body. When it comes down too it, I will more than likely never look like a super skinny, 6 pack ab runner. But I was able to race fast and beat girls that more than likely weighed less than I did and had a lower percentage of body fat. I wish that I could have had this better perspective when I was 15-25. I am as a result happier, healthier, and faster because the goal changed from looking good to being a good athlete. Set your sights on what you want to accomplish as an athlete and even when it is hard, be proud of who you are. We aren’t all super thin, and whippet skinny. The best part of that is being fast doesn’t mean that you have to look a certain way. Do yourself a favor and tell yourself everyday that the goal is to be fast, and do the things that will make that happen. Let the rest be what it is! Good luck little lady! Were all cheering for you!!

  4. I think this is so common, especially in running because you see so many runners with washboard abs and low body fat and assume that running is what gave them that body instead of being genetically blessed with a slim body and fast metabolism. I think the key is to focus on what your body can do instead of the things you don’t like about it.

  5. As women athletes, it’s tough for us to not have these kinds of feelings. I struggle sometimes too, and living in Boulder doesn’t help. Everyone here is fit and strong and looks amazing. When I find myself getting down a little, I think about some advice that I read from 4 time World Ironman Champ, Chrissie Wellington. She struggled with eating disorders and low self-esteem for years, and when she finally recovered, she learned to appreciate her body for what it can do, not what it should look like. Remember, your body is an amazing machine, and not many people can do what you do!