Saturday, November 26, 2011

Feeling Guilty?

Feeling Guilty?

Picture yourself at your local gym. You’ve just allowed the over zealous, bouncy-bubbly secretary to swipe your credit card, essentially agreeing to being tortured for 90 days, 6 months, or perhaps even a year. A whole year?

Ouf, perhaps you were a little too motivated this morning following your bowl of bio-organic oatmeal sprinkled with stevia? The receptionist hands you back your credit card which seems to wear a definite frown and hands you a form to fill out and sign. Reluctantly, you bow your head and begin to read the various advisories and questions pertaining to a multitude of health problems. And, then, as you sign hurriedly it hits you… How the hell am I going to get myself to this gym three WHOLE days a week.

You pause… “I don’t even like gyms” you think to yourself.

The only thing I can really say about “getting there” is that it doesn’t become a “pleasure” overnight. I remember it feeling like it would always be a chore in the beginning. In fact, when I first started out I chose to have a personal trainer because I knew I would never do it for myself. Having the appointments once a week made working out like taking a college course. There was a plan. There were goals. There were scheduled meetings and time I set aside to “learn to be fit”. My trainer was a way to hold myself accountable both in terms of my food intake and in terms of what I did in the gym.

It all began with a consultation on Thanksgiving: October 2008. There was an assessment of where I was: 221lbs with very little ability or knowledge in the fitness department. There were, as there always are, questions about where I envisioned myself in the next few months. What was my purpose for being at the gym? Why did I want to train? This consultation gave us, my trainer and I, an objective – something he and I would work towards.

Perhaps it is a cliché but Rome was not built in a day. Working towards the ultimate goal of “fitness” is a long process. At times I feel that many who end up joining the gym in January with the resolution of losing weight don’t realize that the process requires as much planning as a road trip. It requires a starting point, a goal, a set of pit stops along the way. Furthermore, it requires knowledge: knowledge about calories, nutrients, exercises, recovery, etc.

In the beginning, the idea of moving our bodies is foreign. Our “normal” is to sit or lay motionless. The mere idea of the sweat, blood, and tears required to change our bodies is repulsive. So, again, how do we change our minds or trick ourselves into thinking that the gym is “fun”? The trick is not to focus on what is unpleasant but to focus on the goal, to focus on what is right in front of you. In my case, this meant looking at where I was: 221lbs and inactive, and determine where I wanted to be. In the fall of 2008, where I wanted to be, was at a healthy weight. To me, “healthy” meant around 150-160lbs. I had never been this weight in my adult life, so I chose a moving target. I told myself I would “stop” when I felt comfortable in my own skin.

Next, approach this goal, not by focusing on how far away it is but by looking at what steps are necessary to achieve the desired result. The desired result in this case is weight loss. Well, as many before me have stated, weight loss is merely about calories in and calories out. We must expend energy in order to rid yourself of the excess reserves of energy stored in our fat cells. In order to do so, we decrease the number of calories we intake (by a reasonable amount) and increase our activity level. Simple enough? Perhaps it merely seems simple on paper: it took me 15 years of trying before I was able to reach a healthy weight for my height and body type.

The difference this time around was that I treated my weight loss like an assignment. Again, lets work with the idea of focusing on the positives as opposed to the negatives. In following a weight loss regime: focus on what you did good today. There is no such thing as “cheating”. Breaks in time are artificial. Days, Weeks, and Months should not be used to decide whether or not the double quarter pounder with extra cheese is a good meal choice. Diet’s work mainly on the principle of guilt. We guilt ourselves into eating perfectly for a certain period of time until a certain goal weight is achieved or until we go on our vacation, get married, or go to our prom. Health and fitness should not be something that is sought on the short term. Each and every choice you make will bring you closer to your goals. See it as, I’ll have the kids meal instead, because that is healthier than what I did yesterday… Baby steps.

 In following a training program: focus on getting to the gym and completing your workouts to the best of your abilities. I began this entry thinking about guilt. What is it that “makes” me go to the gym? In the past, I often used guilt to get me by. I knew that if I over ate or didn’t complete my workout “perfectly” I would feel guilty and beat myself down for failing to “abide by the rules”. This past week I was ill with the stomach flu and was unable to complete the workouts I had initially scheduled. To anybody else, I believe, illness is a logical reason not to be at the gym. Most people would never think of trying to workout when sick. I however, measure things in terms of “how sick am I really”. I guess that these past 4 years have made me a different person when it comes to burning calories. I no longer see it as something I have to do, but rather, something I want to do.

This all being said: as I recovered from my illness and continued to regain my strength my mind began to make me feel guilty for not working out. I was not yet able physically to return yet my mind reminded me, constantly, that inactivity equals excess weight. Fear, that’s what it is. Fear is the greatest motivator. I fear gaining weight and hence I take steps to prevent weight gain.

So, are you feeling guilty? Guilt usually indicates that whomever is experiencing it perceives what they’ve done to be wrong in some way. Friday, I did not go to the gym as I was working on a little more than an hour of sleep. In many ways lack of sleep would have prevented me from completing a workout. However, the fact that I was no longer as ill as I was on Tuesday and Wednesday meant that I felt guilty and saw the day as a “loss” of sorts. The opportunity to be active had eluded me.

Guilt certainly has its place for beginners. “something” is necessary in order to motivate you to begin the process. When you first step into the gym your body and mind do not associate an active lifestyle with any “good”. As you progress your weight loss will act as a positive reinforcement for continued activity. 

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