***Disclaimer: I understand that there are many interpretations and definitions of fitness. In this article, I am using the term “fitness” to refer specifically to the behaviors and practices associated with aesthetics (muscle mass, low bodyfat).
You’re thrilled. You’re excited – ecstatic, even. After months of grueling work, you finally fit into your skinny jeans. You can look down and actually see your toes. You ran your first half marathon! You’ve been diligent about getting plenty of rest, keeping junk food to a minimum, and working out several times a week. You feel light on your feet and your coworkers can’t stop commenting on how great you look nowadays. You’re beaming with pride and you’re practically walking on clouds now that you’ve reached your goal.
So you go out and celebrate with a martini. Then two. You order a giant platter of cheesy nachos as an appetizer, followed by a plate of taquitos. After that, you make a beeline for the nearest frozen yogurt shop and go to town on the sugary toppings. You fall into a drunken stupor and pass out on your bed with sauce stains dribbling down your shirt.
Ahh, so what? you say. That’s one night of celebration. No harm, no foul. Except… you wake up the next morning and you find yourself reaching for the pastries before your mind can figure out what you’re doing. Bummer. The day is shot; might as well go all out the rest of the day, right?
Soon enough, your gym membership is gathering dust and your jeans become progressively tighter (again!) by the day. You’re upset, but you’re also in denial. You’ve worked way too hard to get in shape – how could anything possibly move you away from that sweet spot?
Here’s the thing, folks: everyday makes a difference. You can’t train hard and eat right only three days out of the week and call yourself a fitness buff. There is no five-days-on, two-days-off (more commonly known as The Weekend) schedule that you can follow and still expect to have abs. Fitness is every damn day. It doesn’t need to be 100%, but it should be close.
Though one isolated cheat meal won’t affect you, what’s really going to get you into trouble is if you extend that meal through the weekend. Repeatedly. Then slowly let it leak into Monday, Tuesday, and the rest of the week. Pretty soon, your weight is creeping back up and your face is filling out. Oops. Little bites are nothing, but added together, they become something big. Remember: just because you’re eating the crumbs from that brownie pan doesn’t mean you’re not consuming calories. They still count. (Seriously.)
Living a fit life is more than about a sound nutrition and training regimen; it’s also about having a fit mindset. In the beginning, you’ll find that you likely need a lot of extrinsic motivation to make the right decision. You bribe yourself with gifts for when you reach mini milestones, you secure a workout partner so you’re less likely to skimp out on a session, and you need to feed off of constant positive encouragement to keep going. Motivational pictures, videos, and quotes clutter your desktop as you seek to draw motivation from outside sources at the start of each new day. More days than not, you just don’t feel like doing the work. But you dig deep and keep going anyway.
Eventually, that quiet voice inside your head becomes increasingly louder and that fire inside you burns stronger. There’s no question over whether or not you’re going to get up early to get in a lift before work. You order a chicken salad (double meat with dressing on the side) when you go out to eat – and you don’t even bat an eyelash. You want to eat healthy, wholesome foods. You look forward to your daily sweat session. You begin to see exercise no longer as punishment but a privilege and a right.
You understand that you have the right to treat your body with respect, and you are more than willing to do so.
That moment marks the transition from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation. Congratulations, my friend – you’ve crossed the giant chasm.
Then and only then will you understand that fitness is not a one-night stand. If you view fitness as a short-term gig, you’re doomed for failure. Think of yourself as being married to fitness: you’ll have disagreements sometimes, you may go days without communicating after a fight, you may not always want or need to be around each other all the time – but at the end of the day, you’re committed to staying together for life.
Cheeseburgers and Oreos? They’re long-distance relationships. You love each other, but you don’t get to enjoy each other’s company everyday. Maybe every weekend. Maybe every two weeks.
Master the simple, basic rules of nutrition and implement them into your life day in and day out: prioritize protein at every meal, consume plenty of vegetables (something I’m working on myself), and consume your carbs in the peri-workout window. This is, in my opinion, the basic foundation of quality nutrition that should first be solidified before delving into more advanced styles of eating (eg. intermittent fasting, carb backloading).
With regards to exercise, don’t go all out. If the last time you stepped into the gym was back when the Backstreet Boys were still around, you probably shouldn’t start off on a six-day schedule. Ease into it – three times a week will be more than enough to begin with. Be patient. You didn’t get out of shape overnight, did you? So why should you expect to whip right back into tip top condition after a week? Remember that progress, however slow, is still progress. Be proud of yourself; at least you had the mojo to even start. That in itself is a big step.
Ask yourself this: is what you’re doing now something you can sustain for the rest of your life? If you’re crash dieting, I encourage you to take a step back, look up, and see the long-term vision. Make your fitness-related decisions a lifestyle choice. Make it work for you.
(A caveat: yes, it’s a lifestyle, but don’t let it consume you. Being a neurotic eater is no fun. Freaking out because you can’t figure out how many grams of butter was smeared onto your salmon at your favorite restaurant is… obnoxious. If you missed out on a holiday dinner because you thought getting to the gym during that hour was more important, you need to seriously re-think your priorities.)
Just as love is a decision, so is fitness. It should revolve around your life and not the other way around.