This personal trainer is learning to let herself go

After decades of dieting and working out, she’s ready to accept that her body is beautiful.

This column is dedicated to women who struggle to accept their bodies and believe that a tight, lean physique equates worthiness and value. I struggle with you. — Catherine

Letting go. It’s a seemingly never-ending process that comes up repeatedly, in all facets of life, whether we want to let go or not.

We let go of our childhood, friends, relationships, jobs, homes, pets and loved ones. We lose security, trust and sometimes hope. As the decades roll on, we leave behind our looks, our health, and finally, our human bodies.

Have I mastered the art of letting go? Not remotely. I’ve kept jobs I hated because the thought of change and uncertainty was scary and overwhelming. I’ve stayed in relationships long past their expiration date because the notion of saying goodbye and moving on was too daunting.

And for so long, I clung to the belief that in order to be attractive and worthwhile, my body had to be lean, tight, hard. Perfect.

I kept a tough, taut body for much of my adult life. After all, flab and fat were the enemy and the less softness (which, to me, signified weakness and aging) and more muscle I sported, the better. “Rock Solid Bod” was my business slogan for many years and, oh, did I walk the talk. In my mind, my lean, muscular body symbolized power, control, discipline and success.

But did it really? Did my defined physique miraculously change me on the inside? Was I free of fear and anxiety because I managed to keep my body on a rigid diet and workout regime? God, no. I still felt as much insecurity as any other woman struggling to love and accept her body — the only difference being that my arms were toned.

Still, I refused to allow myself to go soft. I carried on, maintaining a low body-fat percentage, following a strict diet and building lots and lots of muscle.

It wasn’t until years later that I allowed myself to even consider the idea that softness of the female body isn’t such a bad thing. God knows, my partner was never crazy about my sinewy build. “Why do you have to be more muscular than me?” he would grouse. He loudly wished I would ease up on the reigns and allow myself to form a softer stomach, rounded hips and fuller breasts.

And allow it, I finally did.

At 48 years old, I now carry additional pounds since my “Rock Solid Bod” era. I continue to eat healthy but without getting obsessive. Dietary indulgences are enjoyed, not shunned. I work out regularly and enthusiastically, but not fanatically. I still adore lifting weights, but I focus more on shaping my muscles rather than building up mass.

My body is strong, yet not bulging. I am finally giving it permission to be softer, more feminine, even nurturing. But to do so, I’ve had to let go of decades of self-programming the belief that softness is unacceptable and a turn-off.

And, oh my, releasing old ways of thinking is no easy feat. I still have moments in the mirror where I scowl at my less-defined upper arms and wider hips. The temptation to say “To hell with this” and return to my rock-solid build is still there.

It’s a work in progress for me, but letting go of rigid thinking is always just that. After all, we spend decades clinging to beliefs that don’t serve us, so it stands to reason that releasing such beliefs will take time. Nothing about letting go is a walk in the park, and so I do my best to be patient and keep at it.

To the women reading who struggle with body acceptance — be it weight gain, the middle-aged spread, loosening skin, whatever — I invite you to soften your opinion of yourself.

It was my mind that softened first, and my body simply followed suit. Though I never thought I’d allow myself say it, a little mind/body softness is a wonderful thing.

Catherine Bongiorno is a personal trainer, nutritional therapist and owner of Lift To Lose Fitness & Nutrition. Email her at or visit for more information.

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