Set your mind to your purpose, and learn to trust and rely upon it like you rely upon the sun to rise every day, and can only expect it to submit and descend into night.
Does this sound like something you’ve said to yourself or others: “I don’t have any trouble losing weight. I can lose weight quickly. I just have trouble keeping it off!” I’ve certainly said it before, and have even used it to justify sitting around and being 80-100 pounds heavier than I really should for years at a stretch. It’s fair to say that keeping it off is a challenge — it’s the challenge. But does telling yourself you can’t do it get your closer to your goal, or keep you from ever getting close enough to see its possibility? Like an addict, I’m basically saying “I can quit any time, and it will happen very quickly and you’ll be very impressed. Just imagine! When I decide, anyway, it’ll be cool. But now, it’s cool too, just being like this (because staying off the drugs forever is gonna be miserable, the addict says to themselves).”
Food is not as straightforward as drug addiction, of course, because we must choose to eat food essentially every single day to be at our best. Here’s the rest of the unspoken piece we quietly think: “I’m not ready to quit, because I’m stressed-out, and I couldn’t possibly reduce my stress levels by going through the prolonged agony of a health and fitness commitment.”
When you do this, you’re simultaneously visualizing success through hard work as a fantasy and enjoying your fake success in your mind’s eye, and seeing it as a painful journey not worth attempting except in a theoretical universe. There are also a lot of loaded assumptions that need to be examined. You’re catastrophizing fitness into something that is inherently stressful forever, an ordeal, rather than something that eventually makes it easier for you to manage your levels of stress. Rather you should tell yourself, the pursuit of fitness forces you to grow physically as an individual in a way that is wholly positive, no matter the setbacks that occur along the way, which are inevitable and required in order for you to learn to persevere. Perseverance for its own sake is a skill we all need to develop. It’s a key component in “grit,” a requirement for true success. The other component is passion — having a genuine appreciation for why you’re doing the thing you’re doing, feeling it in your heart and in your bones on your best days, and knowing it’s lurking behind the scenes on your worst days, waiting for you to draw it out and show it the world and the light you have to give it.
Your perseverance will be fueled by the slowly noticeable but accumulating results and the satisfaction of recovering from setbacks knowing they don’t end your progress but challenge you to find new ways to take care of yourself and improve using other options available to you, giving you boosts in confidence and determination that make every other facet of your life more enjoyable. I am telling you this like it’s a fact, because it’s necessary for you to absorb and internalize this truth right now, here, today, in the present moment, as you read these very words. All time disappears, past, present, and future, and we are simply here together. You and I. I believe this, I am passionate about it, and I will share and infect you positively with that same passion, because it’s lurking in your bones too, waiting for some light to give it the courage to come out.
Maybe you’ve never gotten far “in fitness” where it starts to feel self-perpetuating even though it is possible to get there and fall off…but I promise you, there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s not all about “looking good naked” or “showing off at the reunion” or “proving to someone else that you can be disciplined.” It’s about enjoying more than ever before being with other people in the present moment, feeling more confident approaching people for any reason at all, feeling warmth and positivity when others notice your results and seek advice from you, and for parents, playing with your kids with a newfound enthusiasm, showing them a healthy role model of an individual who takes good care of themselves, and for all of us, being able to do fun things at random periods in your life, if you so choose, because you can drop everything and hike with your friends at a moment’s notice without worrying about how tired your body is from just “being” a human today, or can climb a rope with your shockingly improved upper-body strength after making that a personal goal somewhere in your trek to finding more and more attainable goals, or can swim and snorkel for long stretches without tiring…
So back to the question at hand: were you able to lose all of the weight you wanted to? Where did you set the bar? Did kettlebells, dumbbells, or barbells ever enter the picture, or was it all about cardiovascular exercise and dietary restrictions? When did you give up? Did you truly experience a prolonged period where you were no longer “on a diet,” but watched your weight, tried to live a pretty normal, non-restricted life, and just saw it creeping up and up despite maintaining a decent level of activity and a half-way decent well-rounded diet that matches your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) with your activity level?
You might think to yourself “well, I see what you’re doing now, after all that cute philosophical nonsense. I mean it’s real, but you’re feeling it, and I’m perhaps not. So you’re saying I have to count calories forever, and deprive myself just a little bit, forever. Big revelation. I already know that’s how you keep the weight off.” We’ll get to why that isn’t true, but it’s complicated, and that’s OK! Dancing is complicated, but also liberating, and simple when you begin to get a taste for its mastery. I’m nowhere close to a “master” of dancing, but I know that the more you practice it, the more effortless it will become. You need to practice “not gaining weight” in order to “keep weight off,” and you need to know when the time is to practice that. You could practice it before you even try to lose any weight at all. Just watching it for awhile, seeing how it ebbs and flows naturally, seeing how it bumps up a little bit after a weekend of partying and drinking, and how it naturally drops back down after a few days of taking better care of yourself.
You will definitely need to re-frame “making mostly good choices about what you eat and also enjoying whatever you like from time to time” into something much better than deprivation and more like good judgment and flexibility and self-love that seems alien and scary when you’re still in a place mentally that feels threatened by making lasting changes. You will need to learn just how much you can really get away with eating when you’re not trying to aggressively lose weight, but remain active, continue to eat a varied, high-protein, high-vegetable diet, and establish what “enough” food is for a given day when you just want to maintain your weight loss and more importantly, your lean muscle mass.
This post has sprawled into many thousands of words, so I’m going to *snip* it right here and let this be the philosophical mindset beginning component, the shift in thinking you need to make before worrying about all of the details. “Did he say barbell training?” Don’t rule out the possibility. It took me months to get to a point where I wanted to mess around with barbells and now I have to pace myself each week to ensure I’m not too enthusiastic about using them to shape myself in ways I never imagined possible — from within more quickly than from without.
You don’t need so much help losing weight as you need help keeping it off. I’ll flesh that more and more as we go on.