Over the past year, we’ve talked about letting go of the dream of six pack abs, why gaining 10 pounds might actually be a good idea, and how to fuel your body rather than fall victim to restrictive diets. Do you notice a theme? Goals are great, don’t get me wrong. But you have to live a little, too.
What do we actually mean when we speak of fitness?
“Fitness,” is a state where you’re able to live your life without the burden of fatigue, with a body that works at the peak of its potential and is free of disease. These days, however, it’s no longer synonymous with health. In many ways, the fitness industry, which is supposed to help us achieve that heightened potential, has failed miserably. We are less healthy and less active than ever.
A high percentage of diets result in failure – even weight gain – and we all know the stats on how many gym memberships actually get used (most of them don’t).
The true success of the fitness industry has been its triumph in creating marketing that deeply affects our psyche and behavior. We now believe that if we drink expensive protein shakes and chase 5% body fat, we are in pursuit of “healthy.”
As a result, new terms are surfacing into pop culture that speak to the ugly, obsessive side of fitness. Parallel to the increase in chronic metabolic conditions, including diabetes and obesity, something called “orthorexia” is taking a steep ascent into the mainstream. Chances are you know someone with orthorexia, even if you haven’t heard the word yet. It’s that person who obsesses over healthy eating and exercise to the point where they avoid social occasions or feel guilty at the thought of a missed workout or less than clean meal. Could that person even be you?
I’ve found that I am spending more time helping people with orthorexia than I am helping people who exhibit “unhealthy” behaviors.
Clients who were otherwise perfectly fit, active, and healthy hire me to help them fix their “unhealthy” lifestyles when there wasn’t actually anything wrong. But those few small vices like having drinks with friends or finding enjoyment in Oreos was creating a profound sense of shame and failure.
Accept the trade-offs
After weeks of exploring their own habits and reflecting on the dismal trade-offs of no more happy hours, I asked them if they really wanted to live like that. They always let out an audible sigh of relief when I finally give them “permission” to keep their vices, have a drink with friends, and live a little.
Sometimes we think we want things because we are told we should want them – perfect abs, a million Instagram followers, money, a fancy title at your job. We fall into this pattern of thinking of “if I only had XX, I would be so happy.”
Thanks to the magic of marketing, people are tricked into thinking that six pack abs are just a workout program or protein shake away. Let’s talk truth. A body with washboard abs and minimal body fat requires incredible sacrifice: no more drinking after work and no more treats. You will be working out all the damn time, and your sleep will be impeccable, but once you get them, they aren’t actually “chiseled” into your body. Maintenance of these little gems requires constant attention and sacrifice. Again, do you really want to live like that?
Be at peace with those trade-offs. You are in control of the choices you make and fully aware of the consequences. Maybe you are very active and eat a mostly healthy diet, but also like to enjoy ice cream and wine. If you are ok with how you feel with this lifestyle then you have won at balance.
There is something to be said for fitting in your pants and also having a well-paid job. While I’ve seen people totally transform their lives and their physical health by making better choices about food and exercise, the more powerful outcome is finally realizing that they don’t need six pack abs to be fit – that enjoying a drink with friends, without guilt, is actually much healthier than stressing about keeping themselves at 5% body fat.
You can be athletic and happy and still jiggle a little. Sometimes good is good enough – a pretty brave attitude to have in our perfectionist culture.
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