She wakes up exhausted and stares blurrily at the alarm beeping on her phone. Damn! She needs to be in her gym by 6am! Trainer’s orders! She has been warned that she has to be there on time for her session, or else…. Or else what? She’s not sure. But she drags herself out of bed and stumbles to the bathroom.
She reaches the gym at 6.20am. Her body aches from the sheer fatigue of the workout she went through the previous day but she goes through the grind anyway. She would have just loved to lie down on the gym floor and sleep. Her trainer however adopts the role of Hitler as he pushes her through a series of random, punishing exercises with a stern face and loudly shouted instructions. She is sleep deprived and exhausted!
Later in the day she visits dietician and proceeds to climb onto the weighing scale with trepidation and a few mumbled prayers. She is afraid of being called ‘fat’ right up to her face. The scale has moved only by a hundred grams and she is told she is allowed to eat only a morsel all day for the following week and even when she nearly faints, she struggles through the diet.
Is there something wrong with this picture or is it just me? Can you not see that this punishing routine of over-exercising and near starvation can’t be good for you? Why put yourself through torture when there are perfectly sane and successful ways to actually lose weight. What drives you to believe such nonsense? What makes you want to flit from pillar to post in search of the perfect body or compare notes with other women whose bodies and physiology are entirely different from yours, and decide that you will follow her fitness routine, preferably hire her trainer, eat her diet and miraculously see the results you want?
Isn’t it possible that your body would have very different requirements? What it may really need is something like better stress management, more wholesome food or better quality sleep. Isn’t it possible that your lifestyle up until this point has created a unique set of problems for you that need to be addressed independently? Your genetic propensity for disease and weight is completely different and needs to be dealt with as such. Our body will respond only if we treat it with respect and that means by feeding it the right foods in the right amount, exercise just enough for improvement, not punishment, and manage other aspects of ourselves like stress, sleep and relationships.
Advertisements always tell us we are not good enough to sell us something — a product that will all at once make us slim, beautiful and youthful. The fitness industry tells us there is this fabulous new form of exercise or a new-fangled machine that will help you get that flat stomach you so desire in a matter of minutes. Or, this remarkable new drink that burns fat even as you sleep. It’s all very promising.
But do you really believe that?
I think you do only because many others are doing it.
You could lose all the weight you want and still be scrambling around for something else that is ‘better’ to try and satisfy that emptiness within. You could still be searching for recognition or happiness after you achieve that 26-inch waist.
It’s time we take stock and ask ourselves why we drive ourselves so? Why do we punish, belittle and are unhappy with ourselves.
Perhaps it’s time to take a step back and ask ourselves what it is we really want. Approval or even admiration from others for our great bodies? Or, satisfaction for ourselves for being able to live our best possible lives?
— Start with respecting your own body
— Accept that you have made mistakes in the past but they don’t need to define you
— Make better choices going forward
— Start slow and stay consistent. Consistency is the key to success
— Create one simple habit (like walking for 30 minutes/day) and persist with it till it feels familiar. Then increase the duration/intensity as required
— Eat holistically. Think about your food as a ‘lifestyle’ not a “diet” you follow for a stipulated time only
— Identify the kind of exercise you enjoy. That’s the only one you will persist with
— Find the right coach/mentor/trainer/consultant. It’s important they understand not just physical exercise and diet, but the psychology of staying fit and well
— Most importantly, believe in yourself. It is possible to get healthier and fitter to be the best possible version of yourself.
The author is a lifestyle medicine email@example.com