The day my world changed…
He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying. ~Friedrich Nietzsche
I will never forget that day. Standing in my bathroom after getting out of the shower about 30 pounds and 6 years ago, I might have considered getting on the scale, but I knew I was well overweight, and I had a pretty good idea of what the scale would say. The past 8 or so years had not been kind to me, as I had gained weight every year.
I had been trying to lose weight since my early twenties, when I started ballooning up for no good reason. I hadn’t changed what I was eating or drinking, at least not that I was aware of. But still, while all of my friends watched with amusement, I got fatter and fatter.
So, over the years I dieted and got fatter, and on this morning I stood in the bathroom realizing that I was part of this epidemic of weight gain in North America. I had tried to be fit. I had joined a gym, I had bought expensive exercise equipment, I had reduced my fat intake and nothing was working. The weirdest part of this was that up until this moment, I didn’t think I was like every other overweight person out there. I was different. They weren’t trying, I was. They were dumb and lazy, and I wasn’t. It was then that I realized that if all of the things that the experts were recommending weren’t working for me, and clearly weren’t working for everyone else, then maybe I should stop listening to these experts and start using my brain.
It was a very important moment in my life. It is one of those moments that I can remember as clearly as when it occurred. I realized that all of the advice, all of the expert instruction wasn’t working for anyone. In a significant way, it wasn’t our fault that no one was getting thinner, but I don’t mean to dump the personal responsibility onto anyone else here. Obviously we are all responsible for ourselves, its not that we were ignoring the experts and that was why we were fat, but exactly the opposite, because we were following the experts, we were getting fatter. I knew I had been trying. I had been working hard, and I realized right there that so had many, many others. These weren’t stupid people, these were lawyers, accountants, doctors even. These weren’t lazy people, these were driven people who had raised families, gotten degrees and earned awards.
Clearly something was wrong. This was during the low-fat diet trend that was being suggested by everyone. Given the hype a few years earlier and all of the products on the market, it seemed as though we were all going to be thin any day now. What a disaster that turned out to be.
So, I was standing there and I realized that I had to find out what was wrong. I had been sold a bill of goods and I was damn well determined to figure out why it wasn’t working. I also promised myself right there and then, that if I came up with the answers to these questions, even if just for people like me, I would share them. I believe I have come up with the answers and this is my attempt at sharing them.
As discouraging and sad as my long and inexorable slide into a cycle of weight gain has been for me, the loss of weight and regaining of myself has been equally uplifting and liberating. I feel tremendously fortunate for what I have been able to achieve over the last six years or so I have become fit yet been able to hold onto and maybe even embrace my un-fit self. Give me a moment to explain what I mean by this.
A Little Background
After several successful steps to become fitter, the first of which I will share with you in Chapter 3, I ended up losing about 20 pounds. Along with losing the 20 pounds, though, I ended up with a number of successful athletes as friends. These people were very fit, ridiculously fit. They exercised at least 6 times a week, watched what they ate, didn’t like junk food, drank in moderation, excelled at sport and almost never watched TV. Even today it strikes me as odd that we became friends, but I am very grateful for their friendships, not only because they helped me find this path to fitness, but moreover because they are good people and a pleasure to know.
My daughters were in preschool and kindergarten at the time, and anyone with kids knows that this is a time when you end up making a lot of new friends, whether you want to or not. I was one of those dads who was in the ‘not’ category. I had a bunch of good friends, I really didn’t need any more and I hated the fake front that so many parents put up around other parents, myself included. You really don’t know these people and you don’t want judgmental parents making things difficult for your child, so for all intents and purposes it is just easier to say ‘Hey’ to the other parents in the morning when you drop off your kids and leave it at that. The parents you want to avoid most are the ones that pretty much live at the school and get involved in every aspect of their child’s life. These are the people who you know could be trouble.
In any case, if you are married with kids you also know that your plans aren’t always your plans. My wife ended up becoming friends with a very nice mother of a child in my daughter’s preschool and we ended up going on an overnight trip together as two families. I remember when the two of us dads met up, there was a palpable sense of neither of us wanting to be there and although we never said it out loud, our body language was clearly shouting, “I have all the friends I need”. Later that night as we were all sitting around drinking the bottle of tequila that I brought with me, we were having such a good time, that we forgot that we didn’t want any more friends.
So with serendipitous events such as that, I began to make more and more new friends and they coincidentally were remarkably fit and active. I wasn’t. True I didn’t look fat anymore, but I was clearly overweight. I was about 25 pounds overweight. For some reason though, the fit people didn’t see me as a fat person and I lived amongst them. They had some inkling that I wasn’t like them, that I like to go out partying, that I loved bad foods and made bad food choices, but they sort of ignored that. It was during this time that I discovered that fit people are totally different people from us.
These people really are nothing like the people I have known all of my life. My earlier friends did enjoy the fact that I was fat, in a schadenfreude sort of way. It was kind of ironic because I was pretty fit and good looking in high school and I lost all of that after University. In any case, though, they did have a, “there but by the grace of God go I”, sort of empathy to their amusement, as they knew any one of them could start to gain weight and end up in the cycle I was in. The new friends I quickly discovered didn’t like fat people at all, and really had no empathy for them. None.
The actual differences that I began to discover led me to the realization that we are totally different people, different classes of people with wholly different values. I call them the fit people, but this isn’t a description of their weight as much as it is a description of their core identity.
What I mean by fit people isn’t exactly that they are in great shape, although they are, just that they are in great shape because they are lucky enough to have as habits, desires and behaviors, those habits, desires and behaviors that will end up in fitness as an outcome. It isn’t coincidence that these people find fast food repugnant. They prefer going to bed early and getting up and going for a run before the sun comes up to having another drink and ending the night at some diner eating a chili-cheeseburger. These people are nothing like us, the un-fit people. We have always known that their lives are less colorful and exciting than ours. We know, even as we inch our way to the grave with every deep fried onion ring, that we wouldn’t change places with them, yet still, as we age and get more and more overweight and less and less a shape we are proud of, we want to find a way to not commit suicide by sedentary behavior and over-consumption, and that is where studying the fit people comes in.
Sometimes a fit person can become overweight and a non-fit person can get a great lean body, yet because I use the term to describe their core values, they haven’t changed. The fit person, who may have been injured and therefore cannot exercise, is still a fit person, even when they are overweight, and the un-fit person may always have the same debilitating love for food while still being able to find ways to manage their weight, without ever becoming a fit person. In fact, this is precisely what I am hoping to teach you. Some of you might jump the fence and become a fit person altogether; it does happen, but that isn’t what I am trying to teach you here.
As well, remember that fit people sometimes do gain weight, most often when injured or when pregnant. This is one of the key tricks that they play on us all. They gain weight temporarily, and then lose it as soon as they become active again. They will then claim they know what it is like to be overweight and to be one of us. They do know what it is like to be overweight, but they don’t have a clue of what it is like to be one of us. These people are constantly recruited by shady nutritional supplement companies and crappy exercise device manufactures and they make us feel even more useless because we look at them and they make weight-loss look easy. It is easy, for them, but that doesn’t make it easy for us.
In this book, what I am trying to do is educate you as to why fit people are fit, what core values and differences there are between them and us, and use those differences to learn how we can modify our behaviors to get lean without ever giving up the person we have enjoyed being.
Throughout this book I am going to share with you some of the unchangeable, immutable truths that all fit people share. I am going to call these the Laws of Fit People. I will then share with you a lesson and an action plan to make the necessary changes outlined in each chapter. Finally I will close each chapter with a description of the major differences between fit people and un-fit people in order to share with you how fundamental these differences are and let you find some additional areas where you can make life changes.
Oh, by the way, don’t tell a fit person that you think that he or she is different. The most consistent thing I have found with fit people is that they think we are just like them. Only they think we are lazy and have no self control. We are slovenly pigs that can’t help but chow down on Super Big Gulps and Double Cheeseburgers all day long. We are too stupid to know what foods are bad for us. They get very upset when you try to point out that the difference might be in the habits we learned as children. Our love for fatty, unhealthy foods, and salty deep fried snacks. Our need for chocolate and our inability to successfully develop an exercise plan or our poor goal setting and plan making when it comes to exercise. No, their viewpoint is is that they are hard working and smart and we aren’t.
Law of fit people #1: Only change one thing at a time. Success is assured, there is no need to rush
When doing anything, especially sport, fit people always focus on only one thing. There is no rush to make massive changes. This is because success for them is assured. Think about it, they aren’t going to quit. People who incorporate too many items right away are desperate. They are too rushed, they don’t believe in themselves or their motivations. We, the un-fit people, won’t find it odd to incorporate an entirely new lifestyle for 2 frantic weeks thinking this will make us fit. It won’t. Fit people will try a small change to see if they can sustain it for a lifetime. This they can do.
Lesson #1: Change
You don’t want to be the frantic person any longer; in fact, you can’t afford to be that person any longer. You need to pick one small element and focus on it. Make small meaningful lifelong changes. As you move forward through this book, there will be many changes that you are going to have to incorporate into your life. I don’t want you to try to do them all at once. I want you to take your time with each element and focus only on that. Each chapter will tell you about how long to spend on it, so you won’t have to guess if you have mastered it. As well, the instructions in each chapter are clear as to what you need to achieve before moving on.
I need you to move your focus out further than you are used to. Most short diets are frenetic bursts of energy and effort. These succeed in the short run because you work so hard, but they can’t work in the long run because the same thing that makes it so compelling in the short run, won’t work for the long run. What works in the long run is slow purposeful change. Change one thing at a time as you move through this book. Don’t rush yourself. You future of fitness is really that easy. Keep your eyes on the prize and you will succeed.
1.Your action plan is to read this book cover to cover. Then follow the action plans starting with the next chapter. Do not try to make more than one change at a time. Do not rush ahead. That is not sustainable and that kind of thinking will get you in trouble.
2.When you have a chance, go on twitter and search ‘starting diet’. Look at all of the people lamenting that their last diet failed, but they are starting again with this new cabbage diet, or lemonade cleanse. They will be back in two weeks or a month, tweeting about starting their diet again. Hell, this could have even been you. I want you think about those people and their short term solutions while you move forward through this book. You will quickly see how foolish that attitude is and how likely it is to end in failure.
3.Finally, I want you to start thinking of a mantra. A personal saying that you can repeat to yourself to slow yourself down. I know this sounds strange, but right now the biggest mistake you can make, the most likely thing you are going to do wrong, is push too hard too fast. In fact, even as you move along, this will more often than not be the behavior that will get you in trouble. My mantra is “This is a marathon, not a sprint”. With this, I remind myself constantly that the behaviors that I need to incorporate into my life are of the slow and steady variety. Think about a long distance runner trying to sprint for the first 5 kilometers instead of pacing himself or herself. That runner would never win after giving his or her all in the beginning. That is the way I want you to think of the changes in this book. You are welcome to use my mantra; after all, I didn’t invent it. I borrowed it from someone else and used it as ‘mine’. Another great mantra is ‘A long journey begins with one step’. Think every time you run, every time you start training that you are moving along that journey to fitness and every step is necessary and important. Every single step.
Biggest Difference #1: Relationship with Food
I would say that the largest difference that I have noticed between fit people and un-fit people is their relationships with food. I would be hard pressed to find an overweight, un-fit person who doesn’t have an unhealthy relationship with food. Some people are emotional eaters, others are clearly addicted to specific unhealthy foods, yet at the core of both of these behaviors is a sensual love of eating. We love refined carbohydrates and fats. We cannot get enough of them. Because of this, we center our lives around food.
For many of us, dining out is our most constant entertainment and probably our only family face time. Food connects us with our youth and childhood where many bad food habits were established and have since become part of our traditional diets. Food is also one of the only allowable vices.
Everyone eats and everyone must eat to survive, but those of us with a less healthy relationship with food eat for its pure enjoyment. Because of this, addiction to food is so much harder to detect than addiction to drugs or alcohol. We all sit down at the table and eat. Fit people are seen at our favorite casual dining establishment too, but they don’t see food the same way we do.
Fit people tend to eat for fuel. This is one of those things you can’t ask them though because they prefer to think that we are all the same, but they have more willpower than we do. That isn’t the case. They love vegetables and often talk about the freshness of the foods they are eating (I can’t think of one time that I have heard an un-fit person talk about the freshness of a food, except referring to how long it has been out of the deep frier or under the heat lamps). Fit people don’t like the fattier foods nor do they like the saltier foods. Fit people are certainly pickier eaters than the unfit, but in a totally different way. If you were to set out a range of foods on a table, everything from salads and tofu on one end to cheeseburgers and burritos at the other, you could tell the unfit people from the fit people right away. They would each gravitate to their own end of the table as they wouldn’t even want the same foods.
As you move towards getting healthy but keeping your lifestyle, you will need to explore your relationship with food. Are you an emotional eater? Are you addicted to certain foods? I know for me, eating is a deep, primal pleasure. After getting married and having kids, I found that I was losing these visceral connections to life so I ended up depending on food to keep me happy. I have since added some physical activities that are healthy choices and learned how to moderate my love of eating. I certainly don’t get it right every time, as I am not a fit person, but I can manage my love of food and still live life to the fullest. By being aware of your relationship with food, and hopefully over time taking steps to moderate it, following the steps in this book, you should be able to enjoy all of the aspects of life you currently do and lose weight and find some new fantastic aspects of yourself that you hadn’t even imagined.
Figure 1-1: Phases of Fitness