Before we start, be aware that there are a few topics explored in this post that could (and most likely will) be their own posts individually. While I intend to touch each of the points in more depth later, I just didn’t feel doing so was appropriate before addressing a different, more general message.
As mentioned in my most recent previous post, the process of figuring out how to get and stay lean, strong, and healthy has played (and still plays) a tremendous role in my life over the past several years. This has been anything but an easy, straightforward process, and at times I’ve felt confused, frustrated, defeated, and considered giving up.
There were countless occasions when I’d find myself asking, “Is there something wrong with me?”
I remember at times feelings like an outcast – like I was the only one I knew who took nutrition, training, and practicing a healthy lifestyle so seriously. While my friends, family, and coworkers were just going about their business, eating whatever was convenient or tasty, not stressing over their expanding waist lines, I felt like the odd ball choosing not to eat dessert, making time to go to the gym instead of happy hour, and going to bed early instead of watching CSI: Boogie Nights (or whatever the hell season they’re currently showing). Often, those around me would even give me a hard time or make comments about what I was eating or how I was spending my time.
Interestingly, I also remember feeling like other people were able to get strong, lean, and healthy, but that these outcomes constantly eluded me. I’d spend hours reading books, blogs, or articles about nutrition and physical activity. I’d try some way of eating, and then either feel like crap or find that I couldn’t stick to it without binging or “cheating”. I’d try different workout routines and movement practices, only to find that my body wasn’t changing in the way that I wanted it to. I was attempting one thing after another (admittedly usually only for a matter of weeks or a few months) and felt like I was getting nowhere.
If you’re struggling with similar thoughts and feelings, my first piece of advice actually has nothing to do with specific food choices or exercise pointers.
Rather, I’d ask you to first understand that there is nothing wrong with you.
Below are five thoughts I’d like you to consider.
1) You don’t really know what other people ‘s situations are.
I assure you that, the more I’ve been open and approachable about my own efforts, the more I’ve learned just how many other people share the same values and it’s a much higher proportion than I’d previously thought. The next time you start thinking the people around you don’t care about their weight, health, or body composition, keep in mind these possibilities:
- Perhaps they’re just at a different point than you are in the process.
- Perhaps the steps they’re taking (however misguided) are different from the steps you’re taking.
- Perhaps they’ve tried in the past but have given up for one reason or another.
- Perhaps they just have different priorities and responsibilities than you do (which is totally within their right).
We’ve all got different stories and situations. Some of us are open about what’s going on in our lives, others of us aren’t.
2) The comments people make about your lifestyle may be out of genuine well-intended concern
There was a time – spanning a couple of years – during which I was small, weak, and frail; and I was letting fitness efforts affect my personality and relationships. This was a red flag for my friends and family. They weren’t being dicks when they’d suggest that what I was doing wasn’t a positive thing; they were simply expressing concern for my extreme weight loss and the effect that my lifestyle was having on my personality.
Be open to this possibility. Believe me, admitting that you have a problem sucks, but it’s the first step towards solving it.
3) Not everybody understands or shares your personal motivations and goals, and that’s totally cool.
I mentioned before that there were times when others’ opinions of my lifestyle mattered. That said, there were also times when others just didn’t understand WHY I was doing what I was doing.
They didn’t understand the pride I took in lifting weights and looking fit. They didn’t understand just how much better I felt after making changes to my eating habits. They didn’t understand that we don’t have to resign to lives of getting older, sicker, fatter, and more medicated, and that’s totally cool.
Other people are not you. They don’t have your goals and they don’t have the same life experiences as you. Likewise, you’re not other people. You don’t have their goals and you don’t have the same life experiences as them.
All you know is you. You want to be your best self, so do it. You do you.
4) Doing the things it takes to get lean, strong, and healthy is NOT easy.
The things you need to do to lose fat, get strong, and be healthy run completely counter to how you are wired and how our current society is constructed. We’re wired to seek out the most nutrient (and calorie) dense foods while expending as little effort as possible, and then store those nutrients until we score our next meal (which might not have been for days).
We use our senses to assess the nutrient content of food (this is why we go ape shit for colorful foods rich in sugar, salt, and fat) and seek out those that promise the most value to our bodies. However, modern food producers know this and have created products that completely blow natural foods out of the water.
Doritos? Ice cream? Trail mix? Nachos? These are designed to hit our tastebuds (and brains) in ways that urge us to continue eating. My personal kryptonite is BBQ cheese fries. I may go get some right now.
We also live in a world in which – for many of us – there’s absolutely no necessity to move to satisfy our basic needs as living organisms. We can easily get out of bed, sit on the commute to the office, sit at our desks, sit during lunch, sit on the way back home, sit while we eat dinner, sit watching tv, go to bed, and then repeat the process. We don’t even need to grow, kill, harvest, or even cook our meals.
For our brains, making the effort to avoid hyper-palatable foods and instead choose LESS calorically dense options, and then go OUT OF OUR WAY to challenge ourselves physically, goes against pretty much everything they’re wired to do.
If you think this process is difficult, congratulations! You’re doing exactly what you’re designed to do!
5) Most health and fitness advice out there is too simple for such complex issues as optimal health and body composition, and lots of it is just wrong (or not right for you).
For starters, our official nutritional guidelines are, for the most part, crap. It’s beyond the scope of this post to explain how and why they’ve gotten things so wrong, but there was a lot of bad science and a not-insignificant amount of corrupt politics involved in demonizing cholesterol, dietary fat, animal foods (e.g. protein), and salt. Many of us are trying our hardest to stick to these guidelines but are frustrated because we continue to get fat and sick. Many of us just don’t even try to follow these guidelines because we think that complying to these guidelines is going to blow (which it does).
On the other hand, there are hundreds or thousands of alternative dietary approaches like low carb, vegan, vegetarian, ketogenic, paleo, primal, pescatarian, Weight Watchers, and the likes aren’t magic bullets either. Some of these ways of eating work GREAT for some people but are an absolute disaster for others. Some people will do great as vegans, whereas others will lose all their hair. Some people feel wonderful eating a ketogenic diet, others suffer from insomnia and low libido. Some people love the control that comes with flexible dieting (counting macros), whereas others feel it’s too tedious.
We’re all different, and what works for one person may not work for another.
Eating habits aside, other factors like sleep, stress, gut bacteria, illness, genetics, and dietary history complicate things further. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to being healthy. There arguably isn’t even a one-size-fits-all definition of what “healthy” even is!
The next time you’re considering calling it quits, or you’re beating yourself up over not seeing the progress you’re working so hard to achieve, keep these things in mind.
You’re not the only one, but you’re the only one that matters.
You’re not a failure, you just haven’t found what works for you yet.
There is nothing wrong with you.
Keep moving forward. Keep trying new things.
Keep working towards the body and life you know you’re capable of.
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