Posts Tagged ‘hope’
Getting healthy is hard, especially when you started at such an unfit condition as I did. It takes discipline, effort, and commitment. It also takes a long time, so you have lots of opportunities to screw it up. Most people can probably keep up with any kind of fitness regime for a few weeks or months.
After a while you may eat the wrong things more often, or neglect to exercise as much as you probably need to, or consume too many calories a day. You may start to plateau in your weight even though you’re eating right and exercising. Heck, you may start gaining weight back again. All of these things are extremely frustrating and hurt your long-term progress.
I’ve had some setbacks that I had to correct. My “every once in a while” foods became more frequent in the Winter, when it was also cold enough outside to make it hard to walk and otherwise be active as often as I needed to. I found myself craving high-calorie “comfort” foods. I stopped going to the gym as often. My daily feedback cycle was causing me to get even more discouraged – even on days when I did everything right I wasn’t losing weight, or wasn’t losing as quickly as I’d hoped.
What Causes Diets and Exercise Plans to Fail
As I’ve been having some success at losing weight and staying on track even after some setbacks, I’ve thought a lot about what factors contribute to my failure so I can figure out how to avoid them. I have problems with seasonal depression, and the changes I’d been making to my body only exacerbated my condition once the cold Chicago Winter came.
I was making a list of these factors when I had an epiphany and realized that they all stemmed from the same root cause. What causes people to abandon clean livin’ and start doing the wrong thing is despair. Despair about such minuscule improvements after putting so much hard work into exercise. Despair about those times when you didn’t have the self-discipline to eat as healthily as you know you should. Despair about how long it’s going to take to get healthy, and whether or not the effort you’re putting into the process really feels like it’s paying off.
Physical fitness is fueled by the hope of a healthy and attractive body; despair is the loss of hope. It’s the opposite of hope – giving into weakness and taking the easy route toward a harder life.
You’d think that everyone would eat healthily considering the benefits – looking and feeling better, living longer, being able to perform physical feats, and being the best version of yourself that you can be. So why doesn’t everyone always do the right thing?
The fact of the matter is that getting fit is going to take a lot of time and effort, and you’re going to slip because you’re human. You’re supposed to slip and do the wrong thing from time to time. It’s like holding your breath – eventually you’re going to have to take another. You can’t torture yourself or you won’t stick to the process. I’ve found that it doesn’t even help to build wrong days into your schedule, because it’s hard to tell when that craving for chocolate brownies is going to strike, and if you plan to eat one anyway when you don’t really even want one, well, that’s just working against yourself.
So the only trick to dealing with despair is to not give into it. In other words, don’t despair about despairing. Remember why you’re trying to be healthier in the first place. Here are some tips to avoid the trap of falling into despair and staying on your path to a fitter and healthier body:
- Get regular feedback about your progress. If you’re weighing-in every day you can’t gain that much weight by eating one bad meal. Or even a few. If you see the scale go up in the morning, you can reaffirm your goals for the day on the day that it matters.
- Reassess your goals at least once a week. How are you working toward getting healthier? What could you do better? What stumbling blocks are standing in your way?
- Look back. How much progress have you made so far? Look at photos of yourself from a few months ago. Do you want to go back to that?
- Remember: you’ve been doing this, which means you can do this. If you can do it for one month you can do it for another month.
Anything less than forward progress means that you did all that hard work for nothing. There is no option but success.
Imagine that you took the mind of an Olympic athlete like swimmer Michael Phelps and put his consciousness into my body. After he was done screaming “Holy shit! What the fuck happened to my beautiful body? What have you done to my long-torsoed, dolphin-like physique?” – how long do you think it would take him to turn my overweight, atrophied, out of shape body back into a precision swimming machine? Well, okay, probably a while. But is there any doubt that he’d do it? (Hint: there is no doubt).
So if an athlete’s mind could get my body into good shape, my body isn’t really the problem. The problem is that I was a fat guy, mentally, for a long time. As a consequence, I shaped my body to match my mind.
The “trick” to weight loss and a healthy body isn’t a secret in and of itself: eat healthy foods, not too much of them, and get exercise. That’s what you have to do. What people don’t tell you is how to do it.
Here’s how. The Secret – the key to getting healthy:
Become a healthy person, then act naturally.
Fitter, Happier, More Productive
How do you do that, then? I wish I could tell you that it was easy, or that there was a secret elixer you could drink to become a thin person. It would be simple if you could go to the county faire and see the hypnotist. The truth is both simpler and more difficult than that.
You become a fit person by choosing to be one. You have to make the choice every day, several times a day, at least at first. After a while your new lifestyle becomes habit and it’s not as much of a chore. Every morning you’ll decide to exercise. At every meal you have to choose to eat more healty foods, and in much smaller portions than you’re used to. Why do you do this? Because you have to. Because you’re sick of being held back by a body that doesn’t work the way you want it to. Because to live another day as a fat person is unbearable and it’s stopping you from doing the things that you, as a healthy, fit person, want to do.
What kinds of things do I want to do? At first I just wanted to be able to walk up a couple flights of steps without being out of breath and getting chest pain. I wanted to be able to keep up with thin people when walking somewhere. I wanted to be able to get up from a chair or pick up something that weighs more than five pounds without grunting a little.
In just a few weeks of eating right and exercising regularly, I was able to do those things, so I continue to re-assess and re-set my goals. Now I’m feeling cocky and ambitious. I want to go hiking without feeling like I’m going to die. I want to play tennis regularly. I want to learn how to swim, which I’ve never done. I want to run a 5K. I want to run a marathon. I want to run across an entire state. I want to dance with the prettiest girl in the club (I do this already, truth be told) and I want her to want to have sex with me. I want to wear shirts without sleeves to show off my massive guns. I want to climb a fucking mountain.
Keep in mind that these are my short term goals. Once I accomplish these I’ll come up with something more impressive.
So given my goals, why the hell would I eat a piece of cheesecake when it takes me a step back from them? Why would I take a cab or ride the bus when I could walk somewhere? Why wouldn’t I hit the gym most days when the gym helps me make my muscles bigger and makes me stronger?
Okay, I know, I still haven’t said how to become a fit person with your mind. Some people have accused me of tricking myself. Fine, if that’s what you need to believe. The truth is that once I thought about what I was doing and how unhealthy my relationship with food was I changed instantly. It was like I awoke from a dream, as though I were sleepwalking through my life up until that point and was now finally awake. I had (Christ I cannot believe I’m going to say this) a moment of clarity. My thinking was so clear that I couldn’t believe that I ate the crap I used to eat and exercised as little as I did. In that instant I was transformed into a healthy person and emerged like a phoenix from the… well, you get the idea.
So all I can do is tell you how I arrived at my decision to be healthy, and how transformative that moment was for me. I made a decision and the rest has been fairly easy. You may not be able to make that decision, or not know how. I bet that going through the motions will yield the same results that I’ve seen. Why not give it a try?
Say Something Nice
Most people I know have been really helpful and encouraging. Even complete strangers sometimes say nice things, like when I’m looking through books on nutrition and exercise at the book store, or walking on the treadmill looking unhappy (I find the treadmill to be dull as all hell and it gives me motion sickness a little). Most of my friends have been extremely supportive.
Some people haven’t, though. And some never will. It’s okay that people will feel resentment that you’re making a change that they haven’t chosen to make for themselves, or wish they had the “willpower” or whatever excuse they come up with to not do the right thing. They’ll tell you that your habits won’t last. Or they’ll say something like “We’ll see” or “Oh, wouldn’t that be nice!” like your goals are an unattainable pipe dream. Fuck those people. They can pretty much die in a fire.
If they come around once they see you getting fitter, that’s great. Everyone is welcome to come around and join Team Jough at any time, even if they’ve been jerks to me in the past about my newfound healthiness. Some people may see you as an inspiration and start eating healthier and exercising themselves. That’s totally cool.
I used to work with a guy who lives near where I work, and works near where I live, and I pass him from time to time when I walk the three miles to work (while he’s on his way to catch the bus). Sure, we stopped and talked the first time. Then I just got a little wave. Now he gives me this sheepish wave, or says something like “Walking to work again?” in a critical tone. You bet I’m walking to work again. And it’s okay that he’s taking the bus. He doesn’t have to walk to work just because I’m walking a somewhat longer distance than he would have to. Maybe he’ll start walking to work some day and feel better about his situation. I don’t really let his unhappiness affect me.
After all, I delight in my condition.