We are going to pretend you gave me a truth serum and asked me to give you my top five tips to improve your fitness and overall wellness. Ground rules include that I won't sugarcoat my advice and that you may not like or agree with what I say. All I ask is that you take some time to chew on them. Sometimes we disagree because the person is wrong; other times we disagree because they are too close to being right. Wherever you end up, I do have a few opinions about things based on my several years in the biz. So buckle up, kids.
Throw Away Your Scale
I HATE scales. I find zero use for them outside of an annual doctor's visit. People who weigh themselves multiple times a week (or worse, daily) are setting themselves up for a life where their self-worth is tied to a number. That number has nothing to do with how good you are at your job, or if you are an amazing parent, or a fantastic friend. It may guilt you into going to the gym, but it won't supply a real desire to get healthier and stronger.
If you are seriously overweight, you do not need a scale to tell you that. You will know you are losing weight when your clothes begin to fit differently and, eventually, not at all. You will know you are gaining weight when your jeans begin to cut you in half. Not a huge mystery there. Scales are a devil and a scapegoat. They don't take into account water weight, hormonal changes, or random all-you-can-eat buffet nights because, you know, Vegas. They will focus you on all the negatives and harm you on your journey. If the thought of cold turkey scares you too much, start with small changes, like weighing once a day, then once a week, then once a month, then every other month until you are weaned off of it. Focus instead on how you feel and how your clothes fit. I am telling you, the scale is not a helper, it's a saboteur. Get rid of it.
You HAVE to Show Up
The superfit didn't get to where they are by hitting the snooze button. Or pushing off their workouts until later in the week. Or waiting until it was convenient. There will never be a totally convenient time to put working out into your schedule. We have competing demands for our time almost every waking minute of our day (and sometimes when we should be sleeping). The key is prioritizing your fitness and wellness journey above all other elective things. You have to go to work, take care of your kids/family, shop for groceries, pay bills, and show up for things you are committed to via work/family/community. Everything after that becomes a voluntary use of your remaining free time.
If getting into better shape is as big of a priority as you keep saying it is, you do that before anything else. You don't watch TV. You skip happy hour and go to the gym. You walk on your lunch hour. You don't sleep in on the weekends, you get up early before everyone else and get your workout in. You turn a girls' night out into a girls-go-to-hot-yoga date. You walk the track while at your kids' soccer game. You find ways, and there are millions, to make your fitness as important as it needs to be in order to attain your goals. And before you know it, it won't be as hard to fit it in. It will become part of your daily routine. In fact, and I know you may not believe this, you'll get to where you will truly miss a lost workout because of illness, weather, travel, or injury. And that is when you know you are in the right groove.
Work Harder and Smarter
If our goal is to change our bodies, whether that be with weight loss, strength gains, endurance thresholds, or sculpting some sweet biceps, we have to do more than we normally do, all the time. That means our "goal" must remain a moving target. As soon as we hit comfortable, we have to push beyond that to keep progressing or we'll plateau. It happens all the time. Finding that workout groove we just talked about is superimportant, but we have to change it up from time to time. Our bodies are made to adapt, and once they do, we need to give them new challenges.
If you are a runner, try cycling or swimming — you'll be surprised how your cardio fitness may or may not translate into another format. If you like Pilates or yoga, add in some strength training to see how your muscles adjust to more than body weight. Your goal is to stay one step ahead of your body's ability to anticipate demand. It'll take you into new fitness territory. If your best friend is really into CrossFit, try it. Maybe you'll love it, and maybe your body will, too. I became a cycle instructor after years of running because my friend invited me to her class. Instead of hating it, as I promised her I would, I loved it. Where will your next fitness adventure take you? You have to be brave and take chances to find out.
Get Your Head on Straight About Food
I've said it before, and I'll keep saying it: FOOD IS FUEL NOT OUR ENEMY. I don't support highly restrictive diets. I don't believe in supplements as life-changing additions to your nutritional landscape. I don't think you need to completely cut out carbs, fat, sugar, or any other major food category in order to achieve a health body weight or lifestyle. I grew up eating everything Hostess and with a soda can in my lunch bag, so I am coming to you from history of not-so-great consumption habits. I've gotten way better over the years, focusing on whole foods and avoiding processed junk whenever possible. But guess what: I still like and eat cookies. I drink full-calorie craft beer because it tastes better. I share nachos with my kid at a baseball game. That means that I'll probably carry some extra weight and won't have Instagram-worthy abs. But I also get to live life on my terms.
Would having a perfectly flat stomach make me a better mom or even a better fitness trainer? I don't think so. But that is a choice I make for myself. And you will have to do the same, among a myriad of others along your fitness journey. These are called trade-offs. You have to make sure what you are working for physically is in balance with the rest of your life, or you won't be able to maintain it. We need to make lifestyle decisions that are sustainable. Otherwise, crash diets will always fail, restrictive eating leads to cheating and failure, and we never find a happy medium where we can thrive. And our number one goal should be to live life to the fullest: to use fitness as a tool to help, not as a means to punish ourselves for making "bad" decisions.
Stay on Your Own Mat
The worst thing we can do to ourselves is try to be someone else. And to feel like failures because we cannot transform into what we think is an ideal human form. We have to stop looking at others to determine how we feel about ourselves. In yoga, we tell people to stay on their own mats — to not worry and judge ourselves if the person next to us is bent into a pretzel and we are working on touching our toes. Everyone's journey is different. We have to be real about what we want to achieve and why. And understand that no matter how hard we try, there are limits to what we can and should change about our bodies. And above everything else, to celebrate the fact that we are healthy enough to explore what is possible.