If you feel as though you’re always on – or have always been on – a diet; as though the moment you eat something “off plan” or skip a workout, the weight will pile back on; or as though you’ve heard about and tried just about everything when it comes to diet and exercise, this post is for you.
You are not alone.
Below I’ll share with you my personal fight with chronic dieting and exercise, as well as the steps it took to break out of that destructive cycle.
I’m not entirely sure why I haven’t shared my experience until now. It’s likely been a combination of embarrassment, shame, and a little bit of fear. Not many people like to admit that they’ve ben weak, made mistakes, or struggled with something as seemingly straightforward as food. However, I am happy with who I am, and I wouldn’t trade the road I took to get here for anything.
Who I Am
I’m a balding, bearded, outgoing introvert who loves lifting weights, eating barbecue, drinking beer, walking and hiking, listening to Podcasts (2x speed FTW), watching Netflix, and pretending to read. Seriously, I LOVE all of those things. Oh, and I laugh much more and worry much less than I probably should.
I grew up in the small town of Blacksburg, VA (largely insulated from the real world), graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, and have been fortunate enough to have lived in a wide variety of places since that time. I’ve lived in Arizona, D.R. Congo, Tennessee, several different parts of Virginia, Kentucky, and now the good city of Raleigh, NC.
I’ve also been blessed with a range of professional experiences – working in mining, high school education (Mr. Arthur sounded a bit odd), lab & museum system mechanical renovations, construction consulting, personal training, and nutrition coaching.
I’ve got a supportive family, a great group of friends, and am generally a pretty happy dude.
All of that being said, there were a few years when I did not think my life kicked as much ass as I think it does now.
How I Got Started Dieting
Growing up, I was always a bit overweight. While I was fortunate enough to never quite be considered “obese”, I still carried around more than “just a little baby fat”.
I was an active guy throughout high school and college so there were periods when I was pretty physically fit, but I was always able to put on weight VERY easily. A few too many beers or late night Jimmy John’s stops and the ol’ belt would start feeling tight. For the most part, this never really seemed like that big of a deal to me, as I was confident and secure in myself for countless reasons completely unrelated to my body composition.
When I graduated from Virginia Tech in 2009 I had a bit of a spare tire, thanks to the bars and restaurants of downtown Blacksburg, VT Dining, and my affinity for wizard-staffing. Upon leaving Blacksburg and moving to small mining town in Arizona to begin my life as an adult – a laughable notion, I know – I decided that I was going to get my act together and start living a “healthy” lifestyle.
Thanks to mainstream nutrition advice and conventional wisdom, “healthy” meant cutting down on animal products (specifically fat and cholesterol), and eating lots of fruit and “heart healthy whole grains”. I also knew that I was going to need to exercise so that my “calories in” were lower than my “calories out”. It only made sense that I start running regularly and become a vegetarian.
This approach worked pretty well for a bit.
I was losing weight, my clothes were fitting better, and I did indeed feel “healthier”, although probably anything would have been an improvement from my college eating and drinking habits. Regardless of what, specifically, was responsible for the extra pounds disappearing, I was stoked. I kept up my routine and things went pretty smoothly for a while.
How Things Became Unhealthy
While I was successfully losing weight (my primary focus at the time), my progress would always stall.
I figured that just being a vegetarian and running wasn’t enough. In an effort to overcome these stalls, I started looking at different diets and exercise routines. I started dieting more restrictively, running farther and more frequently, cutting out more foods, and weighing myself more often.
To make a ridiculously long story short, over the next few years I experimented with vegan, raw vegan, paleo, primal, low carb high fat, and low fat high carb ways of eating, and always calorie restriction. I also played around with running, road cycling, body weight circuits, rocking the elliptical machine, and various weight training programs in my attempt to look lean and healthy.
Unfortunately, at this point my life had become nothing more than an endless cycle of “diet” and “exercise” and I was anything but healthy.
At 6 ft tall and 145 lbs., I was weak, stressed, couldn’t sleep, had no energy, was always hungry, had zero sex drive, and was generally numb to life. Panic attacks, binges, and sleepless nights had become common occurrences. While I put on a facade indicating otherwise, my shit was anything but together.
This cycle pretty much consumed my life from 2010 through 2014. I was neglecting my friends. I was neglecting my family. I was neglecting myself. What I didn’t know at that time was there wasn’t any way of eating, new training routine, or any number on the scale that would solve my problems.
How I Broke the Cycle
It wasn’t until I would recognize and re-frame several thought patterns that I’d start finally looking and feeling like the lean, strong, healthy young man I wanted to be, without having to let food and exercise run my life.
Here are a few things I came to understand that were critical to my breaking the diet cycle:
- The number on the scale does not reflect my overall health, attractiveness, or value as a human being.
- A diet should be something I have, not something I go on.
- There is no one-size-fits-all solution. What works for me may not work for other people and vice versa.
- My eating habits are in no way, shape, or form a reflection of my morality. Food is not a moral issue.
- Sometimes more is not better. A car driven at full speed with no tune-ups and no gas will breakdown.
Correcting these thought patterns was not easy, and it wasn’t quick, but the following steps were critical in my progress to where I am today:
- I started asking myself, “How’s that working for you?”, rather than following arbitrary “rules”. This meant making food choices based on the results I was actually getting, rather than what I read in some book or blog.
- I stopped exercising and started training. I no longer viewed movement as a means of calorie control. It’s now a means of getting stronger and more mobile, which in turn has led to increasing my confidence and giving me a sense of accomplishment.
- I started meditating daily. I like to describe meditation as practicing the ability to take a step out of my own mind, notice my thought patterns, and redirect them when they don’t serve my best interest. This was instrumental in identifying and correcting some of the stuff going on in my head that was holding me back.
- Perhaps most importantly, I began investing more time in my friends, family, and hobbies. I no longer turned to food or exercise as a means to fill the hole that only these aspects of my life can fill.
What Roles do Food and Movement Play in My Life Now?
Do I still monitor my weight? Yes, but only in combination with girth measurements, and I’m at a place where it has no impact on my mood or sense of self-worth.
Do I still watch what I eat? Yes, but I eat foods that work for me – not somebody else – and I do on occasion eat (or drink) things that don’t contribute in a positive way to how I look or feel.
Do I still prioritize physical activity? Yes, but I use movement to get stronger and stay mobile, rather than to earn or burn food.
Most importantly, I now do these things not as a means to respect myself, but because I respect myself.
I respect myself and I recognize that I deserve to live an awesome life. My life – nobody’s life, really – should not be dominated by food, exercise, and stress. After all, what good are our bodies if not being used to enjoy and find fulfillment during our brief flash of life on this rock?
What You Can Do
If you feel – or have ever felt – as though you’re a slave to food and exercise, and want to learn how to get lean, strong, and healthy without your diet or your workouts ruling your life, sign up for my mailing list below.
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