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More To Love teaches plus size women how to learn body-acceptance and end dieting for good. 

My Three Pillars Of Plus-Size Fitness

Rachel Estapa

I'm not a doctor nor do I claim to be, but I can tell you one thing:  just because I'm large, it doesn't mean I am not fit.

Some people have a very tough time understanding and believing this one (especially a handful of venom-esque commentators on my recent HuffPo piece) but here's the thing: I don't work out to prove my health to anyone -  I exercise for ME.

I know many of you enjoy fitness and going to the gym, or want to, but you might also do it because in the back or your minds it's still the only way to lose weight. In my upcoming February 2014 More To Love Class, a few of the daily-challenges will be around fitness not purely for weightloss, so if this is one area you want to explore more, register for the class. 

Over the years, I've learned how to keep a committed fitness practice built upon these key pillars and I hope they inspire you to adopt some new approaches to fitness and your body.

Fitness doesn't have to mean "rock-hard" anything

If your Facebook feed or Pinterest is starting to look like a Hollywood advertisement for a gym, unlike/unfollow the page because while you may not be actively looking at each image, your subconscious sure is. And that's messing with your perception of what's possible and necessary for your own body. Those images and messages are not the every-day gym go-er...those are models, professional trainers and athletes. There is a difference between inspiration and intimidation.

Fitness is a spectrum and the only one you're required to pay attention to is your own. To do that, you've got to begin to let go the crazy idea that your body is some lump of clay to be morphed into submission. It's not. Your body is going to react and respond  better to nice things, including your thoughts about it. Fitness and exercise that is tailored to your own bodies ability and needs is the one you'll keep doing for a lifetime. As you progress, your ability naturally expands and you get stronger, more flexible, agile, more toned and might shed some pounds too.

Don't compare and don't despair -- your body loves you back whenever you treat it well.

Weight and shape tell different stories

Today I weigh roughly same as I did when I considered myself my largest ever towards the end of highschool. But take a look at the side-by-side photos below - you wouldn't believe me at all. Today, I look around 25 pounds smaller than in the left photo, but I weigh roughly same.

How is this possible? My body-shape has changed a lot due to how I exercise. I've always been athletic so I have that working for me, but it wasn't until I started doing yoga and jogging (giving up the fast-pace running I swore by) that I noticed a huge change in my body-shape. Over time, my proportions have evened out and my curves become more defined. The point isn't looking thinner though, it's finding a balance with fitness and then your body adjusts.

I have learned that a focus on gradual fitness affects positively how I feel within my body. I work on strength, stamina and flexibility at the gym because I find it more enjoyable and rewarding than feverish cardio to drop pounds. If you shift your focus on conditioning over weightloss, you'll be amazed at how your body responds.

Do what you enjoy, not what you think gets results

It's amazing just how many options for fitness there are today -  but it doesn't mean YOU have to do them all. Like fashion, exercise trends come and go so whenever I hear of "the best new workout" I shrug and go back to what I like doing, which is mostly yoga and jogging with some strength-training in there too. I also joined a gym that feels like a spa-retreat, so I love going 3-4 times a week and end each workout with a dip in the whirlpool :)

My point is stick with what you like doing and mix it up only when you're curious about what you might learn or want to honestly challenge yourself with; and not because you're experiencing the "OMG I'M DOING IT ALL WRONG!!" panic. If a workout looks, sounds and feels like torture and pain (there is a difference between a challenge and pain, btw), skip it - your not going to win any medals because you tried CrossFit a few times, got really hurt and had to sit-out for 3 weeks. And just because someone you know does it and looks like a total bad-ass now doesn't mean YOU aren't exercising to your full potential.

There is so much judgement around workout routines that lots of people get turned off from finding something good for their bodies. This is especially true in the yoga community and it took me 2 years to find a studio I felt welcomed in. You do not have to settle for a gym or trainer that punishes you for going at your own pace. Again: the line between inspiration in intimidation is thin, so pay attention to how you feel and how your body responds and act accordingly.

But the rule of thumb from people who have been happily fit and healthy for decades comes down to this: just go for a walk, do a little stretch and thank your body you're still in this together.

What are your thoughts, experiences and comments about working out while plus size? Please share them below.