The gym. The dreaded, daunting, depressing gym. Home of the sweaty, the sexy, the toned and the healthy. A mystical place, a magical land of transformation and beauty. So close, yet so far away. Every few months, treadmills, cross-trainers and benches are assaulted by guilty-looking faces atop not-so-healthy-looking bodies. With them comes a new set of good intentions, goals, desires and dreams. The bars empty, the gyms fill up. A new wave of health and wellbeing sweeps the town.
And yet for many of us, this exercise-diet-frenzy is short lived. After a few weeks, we peter out, we become acquainted with our couch again, and forget what it felt like to be looking after ourselves
For years I wrestled with the same all-or-nothing cycle of healthy to lazy. I went from zero-tolerance and prison-style diets to all-you-can eat food fests. I achieved some great results over a few weeks and then hit a wall for months.
And then recently, something changed. I stopped seeing my training as an afterthought. I swopped my fitness fanaticism for a far more realistic approach. And I finally ended my bursts of healthy bingeing. Here’s how:
1.I understood what I was really training for
Over years of training, it had been the norm to set myself goals based on my desired body shape. One month I wanted to get bigger and be Superman, one month I wanted to be leaner and have Brad Pitt’s abs. As I inched closer to my ideal body, my burning desire to change remained the same. It was never going to be good enough.
And one day I realized: good enough cannot be translated into a goal. Enough is not a number, a salary, a car or a house: it is a feeling. The feeling that you are great the way you are, that you are worthy, that you are loved. I understood that what I was really training for wasn’t bigger legs or a better 6-pack, but to feel good about myself.
When it comes to any desire, it is always possible to look beyond it to truly see what you are lacking. When you set a new goal for yourself, have a good think about where it is coming from. What feeling are you trying to reach? What emotional state do you want to attain?
The truth is that exercise and movement are only one part of the equation, one side of the balance. A better body will never entirely fulfill you. Understand what you are really looking for, and aim to achieve it through a combination of ways: movement and nutrition (of course!) but also connecting to yourself and seeking personal development and growth.
2.I changed the way I saw my training
Once I understood my true desire behind my goals, I started to think about my current exercise and eating habits. If I was training to achieve more love and happiness, were my current habits supporting that?
I realised that over my years of training, I had in fact abused my body. We all do so in some way or other. We spend far more money on our houses or cars than we do on our health. We put our bodies through extremes of bad diets, binge drinking or periods of starvation, causing them great stress. I remember eating huge bags of Tupperware's full of food, causing more damage to my bank account than good to my body. In pursuit of our goals, I put myself through inhuman workouts and grueling routines; I used to measure the effectiveness of a programme by how sick I felt at the end of it. I took unhealthy amounts of supplements, pills and powders, with little (if any) consideration for the long-term effects. And I had forgotten the main reason for my training: my own health.
From that point onwards, I have seen my training and my eating habits as a source of nurture and pleasure. I eat well and I exercise regularly, because I love myself and because I want to do what is best for me. It is a sign of self-love, an act of generosity and a gift of kindness towards my own body - which have changed me at a much deeper level. I feel more grounded, more balanced, and far, far happier.
Think of your new goals and habits as a way to nurture yourself. Make the decision right now to favor choices that will support your body, your mind, and your energy. When it gets tough, remind yourself of why you set out on your current path. You will see that leading your life from that perspective is a game-changer, and will impact all areas of it.
3. I stopped reaching for the unattainable
As I started to nurture myself more and more, my objectives started to change. Rather than fantasizing about having a perfect body - i.e. the standard wet dream of chiseled pecs and ripped abs - I realized I could still be happy with the way I looked - and that anything else would be a bonus. What I really wanted was to have a body that was capable of amazing things. I wanted to deepen my connection with it, to explore its limitations, to make the most of what I had. I wanted to challenge it, make it perform better, learn new movements and develop my strength, flexibility and endurance.
We all have a certain image of perfection, built through our interaction with others, the media, Hollywood, porn, our fantasies etc. We then compare our whole lives to this image of perfection, and when it is not good enough, we judge and punish ourselves. I see so many guys (including clients of mine) with fantastic bodies that still beat themselves up for not looking like a Muscle & Fitness model.
Happiness is about being realistic, as well as pushing your own boundaries. Have a good think about where in your life you are comparing yourself to your ideal, perfect self. Scale down your expectations of yourself, be happy with who you are right now. Set realistic goals for yourself, and achievable habits: rate them on a scale of 1 to 10 on how achievable they are (10 being easily achieved.) Any below 6 or 7 can be resized, rescaled and rethought. Achieving regular targets will help you build even more trust and respect for yourself.
4. I focused on my long-term fulfilment
As my focus became much more longer term, my perspective changed to my main objective: to be happy, healthy and fulfilled (easy right?) This makes all my daily choices much clearer. When I am faced with a decision, I can tell straight away whether it will only satisfy a short-term pleasure, or whether it is a step towards my long-term desires.
Focusing on the long run is not always easy, I must admit. Waking up at 5.30am everyday so that I can eat a good breakfast, stretch a little and feel good before my morning clients is not always a piece of cake. And I would be lying to you if I told you I never felt the urge to stop my workout halfway through to go and try Starbucks’ latest sugar-with-a-hint-of-coffee drink. But the more good choices I make, the happier I am - and that is the all the proof I need.
When you are faced with a decision, ask yourself a couple of things: (1) which will nurture you the most and (2) which will lead to more happiness in the long-term. Rather than constantly favoring short-term pleasures, it is sometimes best to go through temporary discomfort to achieve a larger objective. Studies have even shown that those willing to wait for their reward achieve more success and happiness. If you are constantly denying yourself long-term fulfillment, you will continuously be battling against your inner voice, the voice that wants health, nurture and self-love. The more discipline you add to your daily life, the more freedom you will have: the freedom to really really really enjoy the odd slice of pizza, the all-day lie-in, all-night party or strawberry cheesecake (with extra ice-cream!)
Love & Health,