You've done it. You've committed yourself to being healthier, and you have a plan in place. You're eating better, exercising more, and even though sometimes you have difficult discussions with yourself about this whole thing, you're generally feeling good. Way to go! But are the people around you supportive of what you're trying to do, or do you hear more negative comments than positive ones? Here are some common comments that are more subversive than supportive.
“Come on, one cookie won't kill you.”
And they're right, it won't. But that isn't the point, is it? When you're trying to make positive changes to your diet, you are faced with some tough choices. Certain things need to go, no matter how much you love them. Or, if you do decide to let yourself indulge, it is under strict conditions (a piece of dark chocolate after a meal taking the place of a chocolate bar from the gas station on the way home from work, for example). Being faced with a sudden choice when someone brings treats into the office can be really tough, and it's made even tougher when the people around you apply pressure.
“You're so lucky, you can eat whatever you want!”
As a wise man once said, “in my experience, there's no such thing as luck.” Not only do you work hard to keep fit and healthy, you work hard to make the best dietary choices you can. The truth is that everyone can eat whatever they want, as long as they don't want to eat bad stuff. That may be a bit too Zen Riddle for you, but it's true. As you cut sugary, salty, fatty foods out of your diet, you crave them less, making it easier to turn them down. At the same time, a balanced and nutritious diet means that you can have a cupcake at your daughter's birthday party without consequence, since you certainly won't be having one tomorrow. That's not luck. It's a mix of willpower, determination, and hard work.
“Ugh, you run? I hate running.”
I don't mean to pick on running. You can substitute yoga, weight training, boxing, etc. This one bothers me specifically, mostly because I don't always love working out either. It can take a lot of discipline to get to the gym, and it takes even more when I do decide to run because I'm just so bad at it. If you are wrestling with thoughts like this and someone close to you says how much they hate it, you aren't likely to feel very motivated.
“The gym? You don't even need to lose weight!”
This statement is not to be confused with “I think you look great, no matter what.” One is a supportive and caring thing to say, the other is dismissive. Comments like this are made when someone has misconceptions about why people decide to work out. Even though weight loss is helped by exercise, diet is arguably more important, and there are many other benefits to a regular exercise regimen. Of course you know this already, and you understand the benefits of becoming stronger, more flexible, less stressed, and generally healthier.
“Just skip the gym, let's go out!”
Again, this is a dismissive comment, and it has a more sinister cousin; “You spend all your time working out, what about me?” Assuming you don't actually spend a destructive amount time at the gym, this is said by someone who feels left behind by your new commitment to yourself, and wants you to be more focused on them. They want to spend time with you, and that's not a bad thing, but they aren't being supportive of your choices, goals, and schedule.
So what do you say?
Assuming you want to maintain relationships with the people around you, a polite but firm reply is best. You have no obligation to explain yourself to anyone, but it may help. It's pretty difficult to argue with statements like “I may not have weight to lose, but I do want to be stronger” or “no thanks, eating a cookie at 9am just isn't in line with my goals.” Of course you can decide what tone to use, but the important thing to remember is that standing up for yourself is a good thing. When people make comments like the ones above, they likely aren't consciously trying to undermine you, so acting as though they are isn't helpful. Firmly stating your position and giving a confident “thanks, but no thanks” ought to be enough. It is possible that they are feeling envious of your results or guilty about their choices, but that is their problem, and you certainly don't need to make it yours.
“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” - Benjamin Franklin
I've written before about the importance of setting goals, but what happens once the goals are set? Let's say your goal is “lose 10 lbs.” Great! Now what?
Now you need to plan out how you are going to achieve that goal. I'm going to use the 10lbs as an ongoing example, but it is important to mention that no matter what goal you have in mind, planning is an important step.
When you set a goal, ideally you are setting one that is reasonable and specific (ie lose 10lbs before the cruise in February). That makes it more manageable, but it can still seem a bit too big. This is because you are looking at a desired result, rather than actions you can take. You can't DO losing 10lbs, but you can do things to help you achieve that goal. Again, be specific, and write it down. An example for this goal would be; Buy a new pair of athletic shoes, make an appointment with my doctor to get cleared for physical activity, check out the rates at the local gym, download (and start using) a food-tracking app, and call Real Trainers to set up a consultation. This list could be completed within an hour or so, but will feel like you are actually taking action (because you are!). Follow this up with a plan of what type of training you want to do, how often you want to do it, and what kind of changes you want to make to your diet, and you are well on your way. The plan is in place, all you have to do is carry it out.
A specific plan will also allow you to keep track of your progress. Without one, you may get frustrated when you don't see results, or be unable to replicate it later on if you do.
I mentioned shoes, and you may have thought, “do I really need to buy shoes? What's wrong with my old ones?” I put that there for a couple of reasons. First, something as simple as picking up a new pair of shoes or workout shirt can inspire you to use your new gear. You've rewarded yourself for deciding to do something good, and you have a built-in guilt mechanism in case you have trouble getting motivated; “I spent all that money on shoes, I HAVE to go to the gym.” I'm kidding a little bit, because guilt isn't always the best motivation and this might not work for you, but then again it might. Second, the planning stage is where we find a lot of our excuses; “I can't work out, my shoes are terrible, I don't have time to work out, and counting calories? Ew.” Recognise these as excuses and address them with reasonable responses; Shoes go on sale all the time, buy new ones. If you have time to watch TV you have time to work out. Diet tracking apps are so easy to use, at least give it a week to see what it's really like.
When you write out a plan you are giving yourself a clear set of directions towards your goal. You may need to change it as you progress, but at least you're moving along rather than waiting to get started or going around in circles. Even if the first and only step in your plan is “GET HELP MAKING A PLAN,” once you take that step you are miles ahead of where you started.
It's happened to everyone. You wake up, you look at the clock (or more likely your phone) and you see that it's time to get up. “Man, I really don't want to do ________ today,” you think to yourself. Maybe you hit snooze and get back under the covers for just a few more minutes, trying to put off the inevitable. This feeling of, I'll call it dread, happens to the best of us. It doesn't always happen first thing in the morning, but at some point there is something that we have to do that we really don't want to do.
When it's something like going to work, we don't have much of a choice. Sure we could call in sick, but then we have to lie to the boss, explain it to our colleagues, and deal with the aftermath the next day. Not really worth it, most of the time.
When it comes to something like working out, the consequences might not seem so dire. “Ugh, I'm really not feeling it today, I think I'm gonna skip the gym.” And then you don't go. And then... Nothing happens, right?
In a case like this (which I assure you also happens to the best of us), you might not end up with the same backlash from skipping it, but there are certainly consequences. Even if you aren't letting someone else down, like your workout buddy or your trainer, your goals are pushed back by one more day and you've dug yourself one shovel-full deeper into the habit of not going. Perhaps you feel guilty about it and get into that old self-defeating shame spiral that makes you wonder why you ever decided to start working out in the first place, and then once it's too late (the appointment has passed or the gym is closed) you think “I really should have gone, I'll go again tomorrow.”
So what do you do? The answer is, you show up. Show up to the training session. Show up to the class. Show up to the appointment you have with your friend who is waiting for you to start the run. You don't feel like it? You don't really wanna? You don't know if it's worth it? Then why did you make the commitment/appointment/note on your calendar in the first place? You know the answer to that question, and it may be something worth re-examining if you are having that much trouble keeping up with it.
Now, of course it is possible that you've over-committed yourself, or that you're sick, or that you actually can't make it that day, or whatever. If you have a valid reason rather than an excuse, then by all means take the day off. Just be sure that you're being honest with yourself. If not, show up.
Even more important is to show up mentally as well as physically. You've seen the folks at the gym on the recumbent bikes scrolling through Facebook on their phone while pedalling at a snail's pace, or the people messing around with the weights with no real plan or even idea of what to do. They're there, but they didn't show up. At best, they are wasting their time, at worst they might suffer an injury because they aren't paying enough attention to what they're doing. In either case they likely wonder why they aren't seeing results after spending so much time at the gym. If you're there, but you aren't really into it, you are doing yourself a great disservice.
So show up, and then Show Up. Hopefully you are there for you, and for healthy reasons. If you have decided to make positive changes in your life, then the only one who can make sure that happens is you.
Ryan Casselman is a personal trainer, musician, and the founder of Real Trainers. Stay tuned as he finds out what he's going to write about each week or so!