_ You can see it in people sometimes, when they don’t know when to stop. If you go to an exercise class, you’ll often see the people who work the hardest are not the thinnest, most muscular, or the fittest participants. But they’re good at pushing it, because for some reason, they believe that’s what they have to do.
I finally realised my self-worth is not based on my ability to work hard. It’s a difficult thing to let go of. And it’s often tied up in the need to compensate and a sense of superiority (which is, of course, the secret code word for inferiority – where else would the need to feel superior come from?) – I might not be good at x, but I know how to push it. I’m better than these people who look how I want to look, even though they’re doing it all wrong. The biceps are just a trophy muscle, they’re not useful (yeah, because the body’s just full of unnecessary muscles). I’m better than those other actors who have work, but they’re bad at it. Whatever. I want to get toned, but I don’t want to be strong.
It’s a kick in the teeth for many people – women are supposed to look fit, but they’re not allowed to be able to throw a dude across the room. You still gotta be fragile in the right way. Toned only. A thin neck. Except that toned doesn’t exist. We have a docile, obedient population of dieters who have no energy to do anything, and who train for no good reason – only the vague threat that maybe one day they’ll be fat, and their own prejudice and fear (and hatred) will bite them in the ass.
_ There’s a guy at my gym with a shoulder problem. At the end of every set, he gets half way through an exercise and winces, lowers the weight and shakes his head. I’ve seen real injuries before, and they don’t play out like that. He’s embarrassed that he has to stop. I can only assume he doesn’t want to appear weak, and y’know – it’s not that I’m stopping because I’m weak, it’s my shoulder.
In training, when it gets to the point where I need to stop, I no longer feel embarrassed, and I don’t need to make excuses. So of course, now I can finally have a real experience of training. Now I can actually discover myself, and my strengths and weaknesses – because I’m stripping away the prejudice.
It’s okay to reach a point where you don’t want to go on. We use the word can’t to make it not our fault, not our weakness, not our choice.
Do three more reps! I can’t! Oh, okay then – I’ll stop abusing you, because you’ve reached the limit of your will (except I still think you’re weak, even though you were never going to win this rigged game to begin with).
There’s no shame in stopping. If we really wanted to motivate people to excel, and be healthy, and want to train – and if we wanted people to be truthful – we wouldn’t shame each other all the damn time.
If I’m to be honest, and I like trying to be honest, this post was going to be next in the Will To Work Hard series of posts, but they aren’t quite turning out the way I thought. And it’s because I don’t really care how hard you’re working, and I don’t think you’re obliged in any way. Who do you owe it to, to vomit at the gym? Why should you work beyond the point of fun? To get to a point of satisfaction? Maybe. Reward? Maybe. But how far – and when have you gone too far?
And can you ever get back home again?
But it’s okay – every single experience in the gym will teach you something if you let it. About training harder, or gentler, and I’m learning that strength of character stops me from overtraining.
I remember a friend once telling me – don’t study nutrition, study psychology. Clearly what he struggled with was getting people to do what he said. Manipulating people to make different food choices doesn’t help anyone. All I spend my time doing now, is kinda encouraging people to have fun, and trying to help them get healthier. But that’s hard, when they’re hell-bent on dieting, or on controlling their food choices, or ‘being good’. It’s a little heart breaking – seeing people who are eating maybe thirty grams of protein per day (if that) ask for tricks to help them eat less. They are seldom satisfied with my answer.
That’s the thing with coaching. We are specialists, I get that, but specialists in what exactly? Teaching people how to deceive themselves? Getting people out of touch with their bodies, by telling them lies like “keep your body guessing”, as if your body isn’t to be trusted? As if your body isn’t you? As if it’s working against you?
Aren’t we supposed to help people connect? Get in touch? Isn’t that what training does?
When you’re trying to lose weight, you’re working against your body. You’re trying to make what is, conform to your idea of what should be, and you don’t have all the facts. It’s not just that buzz term ‘starvation mode’, your body cannot actually be dominated for its own good. It doesn’t work that way. Nourishment is the path forward, not depletion. Food doesn’t kill you - what you eat isn’t killing you - it’s not eating. That’s what kills you.
If someone’s not eating what you’re telling them to – there’s something greater at hand here, and manipulating them into making different choices – shaming them or praising them – the body knows what it needs, and I don’t believe in restriction any more. It only makes it harder to work out, harder to get in touch with yourself. Rules get in the way every damn time, because our concept of reality will never be as complete and intricate as the nature of reality. So I don’t believe in deprivation. The science doesn’t support it, it’s pure assumption. People think it’s healthier to be thin, but they don’t think about what trying to get thin actually does to you. And it’s not pretty.
I don’t post too many links on this opinionated site of mine, because it’s not really about science, but I’m quoting something really cool now: “a great deal of evidence suggests that health problems linked to fat are actually a result of dieting, and the incredible strain that dieting puts on the body. A recent study found that people who lost 15% or more of their body weight had an increased risk of death compared to people of the same size who didn’t lose weight.” Read the original post at Body Love Wellness.
A friend was talking about how important it is to eat seasonally – because we evolved that way or whatever, and I get it – I do. But to believe that humans have not been freezing food to preserve it for tens of thousands of years is simply wrong. During mini ice-ages and in colder climates, people used to bury berries and meats in the permafrost. You could have blueberries in winter if you wanted. Am I supposed to believe that human-kind did not evolve to be able to digest blueberries in winter? If your digestion is that weak, you’ve got bigger problems.
And anyway – if you’re not able to digest a food properly, where does the fault lie? With the food? Maybe. But it’s not a given.
When it comes to exercise, and the myriad health benefits, which all happen even without any weight loss (defence against cancer and improved immune response in general, hormone-optimizing benefits, increased heart health, these sorts of things), it’s not intensity that’s key. It’s consistency. And if you are exercising, and you start dieting, you can kiss those real and verifiable health benefits goodbye. You’ll get some of them, to an extent, but you start overexercising and underfeeding, and immune function worsens, you start depleting yourself, and then you’re depleted – hormonally. And where do you go from there? Diet harder? No.
The only way out is by eating. You have to eat your way out of that diet-hole, and eat your way to health!
Seriously, nobody’s honest about just how much food we actually do need to eat, in order to thrive.
And eating something – anything – it’s better than starving. That’s what cravings do.
Someone else I know, she’s a doctor – she went to a medical conference and they do all the long term generational studies on rats and mice because they’re such short-lived creatures – anyway, there was this study someone was presenting and the mice who were fed the high-carb diet were the fattest, which wasn’t too surprising, but they lived half again as long as the low-carb dieting mice. In some cases I think it might have been twice as long. And they were big fat carb eaters. And they outlived all the other mice.
There is absolutely no reason to pay penance at the gym. If you haven’t been for a while, hitting it hard will only mess you up. It’ll just be hard to recover from, and it’s not going to burn any fat. It just won’t. As your strength improves, your ability to work at a greater capacity improves. Take it easy – it’ll happen in time if you let it, if you don’t overdo it.
It’s not the training you’re doing now that burns fat now, it’s not so literal as that. How could it be? Seriously? Your body composition is determined by other things, and your training is one of many things that can have an influence.
But it’s consistency over time that yields the most profound hormonal benefit, and that’s basically what body-composition comes down to – hormones.
Having said that, nobody I’ve ever trained has lost more than a few kilos from training alone. Am I doing it wrong? Hell no. And the ones who were already dieting when they started to see me – think they had any better results? Nope. Why don’t they lose weight? Training burns calories doesn’t it? Yes. Yes it does. And calories are completely irrelevant when it comes to weight loss and body size. Especially when you’ve already destroyed your metabolism through deprivation. It’s the biggest lie ever told to fat people, and people who are afraid of getting fat (in short: everyone with any degree of privilege).
You might as well just take a random number, attribute it to a random meal, and after eating – simply jog until you’ve been running for that many minutes. It’d be just as effective as counting calories. Two. Let’s attribute the number two to a bagel. Eat it, now jog for two minutes. It sounds more ridiculous, so who’s going to do it?
If you want to get back into training, pay attention to yourself. Work within your capacity, and increase it as you like. Anything else is a waste of time, unless you’ve got an event coming up. Then you might benefit from some more specific programming.
Which brings us back to exercise selection and the will and desire to work hard. More to come soon about that.