To continue on the theme – what do I ‘want’? I want to be a shining example of athletic excellence and I want to be vital, robust, healthy and mobile into old age, but I’m quite aware that the light that burns twice as bright burns half as long (clip not for the faint of heart). I want my cake, and I want to eat it too. What’s the point of even having cake if you don’t get to eat it?
So I’m also aware that I don’t want to do myself damage in the name of progress – in the name of achieving my goals, or maximising my athletic potential – I don’t want to cut my nose off to spite my face – y’know, however you want to word it. I want to be progressing and developing, and not hurting myself.
I’ve done damage to myself in the past. I don’t mean injury as such – though I’ve had a bunch of those – I mostly mean dieting. For some reason, like many others out there, I seem to have grown up believing in some kind of deprivation and restriction – believing it was necessary for good health.
But all it did was make me sicker – here’s a shocking thought: malnourishment might just be worse for you than being fat.
It’s obvious when you think about it, but how often do we stop to think about it? People talk as if fat reserves were useful in cave-man days, and as if they’re redundant now – because what, now food is always around and we’ll never starve ever again? Except that so many of us starve ourselves by choice these days. Our own fat is our last defence against dieting. That may be the very definition of irony.
So there was deprivation to varying degrees. Maybe quantity, maybe type of food. I got a bit thinner, but seriously – at what cost?
I see this around me quite a lot. People think they’re too fat, so they say shit like “look at me, I’m disgusting” – you’re not disgusting. You’re a human being. Have some self-respect.
Fat cannot make you disgusting. Fat is not a moral position, nor is it unhygienic, nor is it anything other than subject to taste, just like any other aesthetic. People like to bitch and moan about it being un-healthy, thin people like to complain about tax dollars being spent on obese people, and all I can think is what the hell? Is that any way for our society to function? That when people get sick (because it’s going to happen to all of us one day), they’re on their own? Aren’t we supposed to be civilised? But some people love to pretend that as long as they’re thin, as long as they don’t get fat, they won’t get sick. And they won’t have to die in pain. Which brings me back to my first objection: what the hell? Maybe you have ‘good genes’ and maybe you’ll live a long, thin life. To be prejudiced against people because of their genes – y’know what that is, don’t you? It ain’t kosher. And before you accuse me of overreacting or being melodramatic – it’s true. Fat people are denied medicine all the time, and instead are told to lose weight, despite the immediate probability that diets make you fatter, and you’re more likely to die from bariatric surgery than you are from obesity alone.
Now remind me what’s fair about all that? Why is it fat people who are also sick don’t deserve the healthcare dollars? Are they not taxpayers too?
And if obesity is so prevalent and fat is so bad for us, how come we have a longer life expectancy than ever before? How come overweight people live longer?
Maybe it’s because they’re all exercising a lot, trying to lose the weight?
And what’s with this bullshit about fat people “doing it to themselves?” How many fat people do you know who haven’t tried to fix it, who haven’t tried diets, only to discover they don’t work? What then? Try harder at something that doesn’t work?
To be clear – what is my agenda? To get people to stop harming themselves. I wouldn’t have anything against dieting if it didn’t fuck us up so royally. I don’t really care what people do with their lives. I’m mostly opposed to prejudice, exploitation and hypocrisy. That’s what led to me to where I am now. And my interest in health and fitness - seven years working as a personal trainer, and many more in martial arts - I haven’t found one consistent and reliable method of weight loss that works for the long term. Not one. So why would I go around telling people the best way to get healthy is to get thin, when there are so many other ways to improve your health, that do work, even if you don’t shed a pound? Maybe they’re good because you don’t shed a pound.
When you can’t hide behind the noble banner of ‘being healthy’, when you have to admit it’s just a thought, a prejudice, an idea - how do you justify diets that harm – for the sake of aesthetics and acceptance? To prove that it can be done (if this really is an issue - if you need to prove that it can be done - does that not reveal the truth that dieting is not an effective solution for a population - if only an elite minority can be successful?)
And people think it’s irresponsible to say “it’s okay to be fat”? That it will somehow encourage people to get fatter? As if you could possibly encourage someone to get fatter in this society, in this age! That it will encourage people to eat worse food? Really? If telling people it’s okay to be fat inspires them to eat worse food – doesn’t that simply reveal how disordered we are as a society when it comes to choosing what to eat? How oppressed we are? And the solution is supposed to be more oppression? Am I the only one pulling my hair out at the absurdity of it all? Thankfully, no. I am not.
And anyway, how much good has it done, telling people it’s not okay to be fat? Where has that got us? How much thinner have we become?
In the name of health, in the name of athletic development – what do you do? How do you work for both progression and longevity?
Firstly, eat more. If you want to progress athletically, odds are - you need to eat more food. And don’t worry so much about what you look like. That was a huge thing for me - it enabled me to engage with what was actually good for me, rather than what I thought should be good for me.
If people were honest about health, if we actually spoke honestly about Osteoporosis, we’d just tell everyone to eat more.
And when it comes down to it – what’s most important? Progression? That only matters if you’re competitive. Health and longevity? That only seems to be important if you’ve been sick – somehow people tend not to care about it when they’re healthy. And what is health, but how you feel at the present? What is this notion of lasting change, or lasting health? It’s merely the fear of death incarnate. How can health possibly be lasting, in a world where death is certain?
Anything that’s about the future is merely a concept. What about today? And if you do want to change something for the better, for the long term, how do you go about it? How do you do what you like, and have what you like lead you in the direction you want to go?
I think it’s easier than we make out. If you actually do what you like, it’ll naturally lead you in the direction you want to go. If you do what you hate, if you force yourself, if you discipline yourself to being good and doing what you think you should, at the expense of your true nature, one day you’ll wake up and realise this life is not the one you wanted. What kind of lifestyle choice is that? And how likely are you to continue with an exercise program you don’t enjoy, that you don’t find rewarding? How is that a lifestyle change worth adopting? How can you discipline yourself to health?
If it’s fun, you don’t need discipline. If you need to discipline yourself to something – maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.
If it’s good for your health, odds are – you’ll find the process rewarding on some level. It might not be fun and games all the time, but if you’re constantly tired and fatigued, if you’re depleted and hungry all the time – that’s not good for you. Stop it. Do something else.
I’m not going to tell you to try harder at liking exercise – what the hell’s the point of that? Is that seriously a workable idea? Just avoid doing what you despise. Start there. See where that takes you. Sooner or later, a whim to move is bound to occur. Maybe it’ll take weeks. Maybe you need to start eating more before the impulse to move arises. Maybe you need to remind yourself that you’re not beholden to anyone, you don’t owe it to anyone to train, and you’re not obliged to try any method you don’t want to. You don’t have to do any number of sets or reps, or any particular exercises, you don’t have to count, you don’t have to train for a particular duration or intensity, you don’t need to train regularly – all these are merely concepts; attempts to systematise something that never needed to be systematised in the first place – it only ever needed to be enjoyed. You don’t need to walk, jog or run, you don’t need to lift weights, you don’t need to learn dance or martial arts or yoga, all you need to do is whatever you enjoy.
And then, if you want, once you discover what’s limiting you, what’s holding you back – maybe then this is where discipline comes in? Maybe. When you’re motivated by what you enjoy, and you discover what you need to do to enable that, it’s not such a problem to do it. But as long as you feel like you should be exercising, you’re setting yourself up for failure and you’re unlikely to choose an approach you enjoy.
Often when we start exercising, we start dieting too, because we don’t want to ‘waste’ our time at the gym. But the opposite is true, and our intuition will lead us there: train more, eat more.
But what do you do when a lot of good and effective training methods are counterintuitive? Experiment.
Being hungry is a good sign. Hunger is not the enemy; food is not the enemy. Propaganda is the enemy, hatred is the enemy – these things tend not to make anyone healthier, they don’t (to quote the slayer) end in hugs and puppies. So why systematise anything? You can just follow your own desire, and trust that your body likes to move – because that’s basically what bodies do. And they also like to rest, and you don’t need to judge it. You only need to trust it. And don’t time anything. Don’t wear a watch when you train.
Do things that make you feel good. That’s the surest path to radiant health that I know. And enjoy being a real adult, making your own damn choices. Respect yourself and don’t do what you’re told.
The owner at my gym was asked to write a piece on effective fat loss that doesn’t interfere with one’s life. Really? Are we that naive? One of the awesome things about being an adult is supposed to be having the freedom and autonomy to make your own choices. Really, what the hell is the point of being a grown up if you don’t get to be in charge of what you eat, and how you move your body? Who said it? We are both cursed and blessed with freedom. For better or worse, nobody can make our choices for us. You cannot escape it. And as long as we try to palm that off onto someone else... How healthy do you really think you can be, how self-assured, if someone else is making all your food choices for you? How will we ever overcome our disordered relationship with food and exercise if we don’t start to make these choices for ourselves?
I wish it was easy, but there’s no way around having to make your own decisions.
That’s the thing with coaches, nutritionists, gurus and guides. They can help us out, give us advice, but nobody can make your decisions for you. And I would not have it any other way.
Read Part One.
Read Part Two.