The fitness industry can be a frustrating place. If you’ve ever looked in the comments section of a fitness or nutrition article, you will notice that we fitness professionals argue a lot. I promise you I can find someone to argue with me that drinking more water is not healthy, or that heroin has health benefits. It’s just the zealous nature of the business. In all honesty, I’ve been so frustrated at times that I have contemplated leaving this industry. But then I run across someone, like the person in the following story, that reminds me why I do what I do. I felt this conversation would really be of benefit to anyone struggling with self-doubt or self-acceptance in regards to their fitness level or goals. I’m going to paraphrase a lot of what was said, and I wish I could have recorded the conversation in its entirety.
I recently led a nutrition workshop at one of our Anytime Fitness locations for a grand opening event. Heading into the workshop, I decided to veer from my typical “nutrition education” style and instead, hoped to get every attendee involved in the conversation. And for the majority, it worked really well. We demonstrated the power of not approaching lifestyle changes alone and how the input of others can give you a brand new perspective. You may be surprised to hear this, but it doesn’t take a fitness expert to come up with ideas for conquering your most common errors and pitfalls. This was ever apparent in the workshop as other attendees tossed their tricks and tips around the room to each other, and I sat back and listened for minutes at a time. Overall, it was a great experience, and I think we really had some tangible takeaways from the workshop.
Immediately following the workshop’s closing, as people were filing out of the room, my cohort and I were approached by the young woman that remained silent the entire workshop. Even when nudged, not one word. As she began, her levels of frustration and distress were obvious, “I think I have a serious problem. Can you help me?” What ensued was a very moving talk about her success, struggles, and self-love that I wanted to share.
Her problem, so she thought, was that her diet was way off track and she needed to make a change. I’ve listened to enough people tell me about their diet or a day of eating that I can easily distinguish when someone is being honest or just telling me what they think I want to hear. This woman was the former, and she was not only accurate but downright meticulous. Without saying it, I knew she had been eating the same diet for quite some time and didn’t stray too far from it most days. My response was a simple one, her diet sounded great, and it should have been working for her. I knew the answer, but I asked anyway, “So what’s the problem?”
“Well, I really love banana bread and this past week at Thanksgiving I may have overindulged a bit. Like, really indulged, and I gained eight pounds after.” Confirming my assumption, I responded by asking how often overindulgences or slip-ups occurred and elaborating on how one ‘cheat” per week can erase an entire week’s progress. She was quick to dismiss frequent indulgences and said that the banana bread incident was a singular error. At that point, she had earned my trust, and I knew she was genuinely seeking help, not bullshitting me. I began to wonder why then if her diet was on point (which it was) and she didn’t have constant diet slip-ups, she was not losing weight. So we asked what we should have asked from square one, “How long have you been on this particular diet, and how much weight have you lost?”
Twenty-five pounds in the last three months….
Seriously, if my eyes had rolled back any further in my head I would have gone blind. “Twenty-five pounds?!? Then why the hell are you talking to us?” She had no idea that losing twenty-five pounds was not only a success but quite possibly too fast of a success. (1-2 pounds lost per week is optimal for most.) All she could focus on was that she had gained eight pounds back in the last week or two. This is all too common for people to focus on their failures and completely ignore their success. Especially in a weight loss scenario, where progress is and should be slow, it’s more important than ever to focus on every victory no matter how small.
After a few minutes of praise and encouragement for the twenty-five pounds lost, we advised her to start incorporating things like banana bread and other foods she craves into her diet. I’ll save my typical moderation and finding a sustainable diet for the rest of your life for another article, but she got an earful. I want to encourage you to take a look at your progress over the past month, six months, and year. How far have you come? That’s what really matters. Slip-ups and overindulgences will undoubtedly happen but if you keep the long term in sight, they are minuscule errors in the grand scheme of your life. If you find something that is working, stick with it. Plain and simple.
What came next really resonated with me and inspired me to write this post. Her next and final question was about muscle gain. Specifically, “I think I have a problem gaining too much muscle, too fast.” I can count the times someone has asked me about gaining too much muscle on a fish’s hand so I had to explore a bit more on this question. It turned out that she was blessed with really strong legs, but she wasn’t proud of them. She told us that since she had started exercising she had gained half an inch on her calves and hadn’t been strength training at all, just walking. The fact that she measured before and after really showed her level of discomfort with her leg size. Our first course of action was to reassure her that the size gain was a byproduct of going from no activity to some activity and that a net loss in girth was inevitable with fat loss over time. (When muscles go from inactive to active they hold more glycogen and water, causing an increase in size without actually building any muscle tissue.) Following our reassurance came a harsh dose of reality.
I had to tell her that she’d never have twig legs or even legs that were drastically smaller than their current size. She will forever have larger than average legs. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
You see, everyone has parts of their body they wish they could change. For me, I’ll forever have small legs in proportion to my upper body size, and I hate it. Even in my glory days of squatting over 500 pounds, I was still accused of skipping leg day, when in reality I was skipping upper body days. Over time, I’ve come to accept and love my body, especially its flaws. When you recognize and love the flaws you appreciate the strengths even more.
That’s one of the best parts about living a healthy, fit lifestyle. Fitness has the potential to teach you more about self-acceptance, self-reflection, and confidence building than any other outlet I’ve come across. No matter your body type, you can find an avenue that will work to your benefit. I could see this woman’s eyes light up and a sense of hope and excitement rush over her as we talked about beginning strength training and the possibilities of her being stronger than most of the men in the gym with her genetic advantage. She could imagine the confidence that would come along with those accomplishments, and she loved the thought of using a perceived flaw as an advantage moving forward. It gave her hope, something she’d likely never had in regards to her leg size. And hope, well hope is all you need to keep moving forward.
Learning to love and accept your body is a journey and a long journey at that. Remember, chances are you will never have the perfect body you’ve been chasing, but there’s no reason your body can’t be perfect right now.
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