What I would never tell someone is that they should do something. I'm not here to try and guilt trip you and make you feel bad if you feel like you've been lazy. You don't give people advice that they haven't asked for. But that's the joy of this blog; I get to share without fear of coming across as being "too intense". I'm not a personal trainer, I'm not a nutritionist, I'm not a professional athlete, I'm just a guy who decided to do something and it just so happened to change my life. And that's what I like to share and recommend.
So today we're talking about body image. (Yay! ...or nay?)
There's too many people who come at fitness and nutrition with the wrong mindset. It usually begins with wanting to look like this:
I would be a liar if I said I never wanted to look like that dude up there. When I was a kid I grew up with Super Heroes and action movies, Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis, all those guys. It was my legitimate dream to be a Power Ranger when I was little. Superman is still my hero and my idol. Batman gives me hi-fives in my dreams. Captain America saultes me on my way to work in the morning.
But the one thing all of these people share in common is their impossible shape. Cartoon characters and Comic Book heroes get to look the way they do because they're drawn that way. They're fictional characters with a build loosely based on reality. As the Dark Knight Rises looms on the excited horizon, let's not forget that, on the page, Catwoman often looks like this:
Women get a bad rap in comics. They have impractical costumes. Even if they have armor it's scantily clad. If women were in real life how they were in the comics, they would die. Often. Because when you're dealing with intergalactic dangers you want a little something more between you and imminent death than your cleavage and a pair of leather underwear.
So all of this, all of what we're told and shown as kids is body image. Everyone has a body image, how you view your body and how you think your body should look or how you want it to look. When you look in the mirror every morning, are you happy with what you see? And beyond that, you assume that if you could just get that six pack and those big biceps, those nice calves and a toned tush that you would be happy and healthy and people would think you were good looking and successful.
But the amazing thing is, it seemingly never goes away. I've seen videos and documentaries of these massive bodybuilders who nit pick the muscles we never even knew existed on the human body. They talk about the tiny skin flap that hides the extra 1/8th of their lower right 8 pack ab. Even me, who has gotten into what I consider good shape, still wakes up and looks in the mirror and thinks, "No, it can be better than this."
It's dangerous. People think it's physically possible to look like that stud up there on a regular day to day basis, that that gal is how we can look all the time if we just work out a lot and eat right, that the shape of fictional characters is acheivable. But you can't. Look at them. Every time you see a movie or a magazine and you've got people in there who look like that, don't think that they look like that 24/7/365. First of all, they're flexing. Do you know how impressive those abs look when you're not flexing? Not that impressive. These people have makeup applied and they're lit properly to accentuate those muscles. A lot of male fitness models even use steroids. Bodybuilders who go to competition go through pretty extreme dieting and dehydration to get their skin pulled tight against their muscles so they look like human versions of the Hulk.
That's 2012 Mr. Olympia Phil Heath. You think those guys look like that every day? Go take a look at what they look like the next day. The next week. It ain't like that.
But how many people do you think walk around every day with the assumption that they can look like a Super Hero if they work out enough? A lot. When people say they want to get fit and get healthy, how many of them do you think begin with the sole intention of literally just getting healthy? How many people look in the mirror and say, "I don't care what I see. I just want to feel good." Some people may, but body image plays such a huge role that it puts those people in the minority.
Exercise, fitness, and health is often being pitched to you under the guise of "Look sexy and strong and THEN you'll feel good." They urge you that it's about being healthy, but the photos they show, the guys who host the videos, they look like the Super Heroes, not like regular people. If you're not a paid athlete or fitness professional or trainer, or unless you have oodles and oodles of time, you can't look like how you think you could. Looking like those two fitness models just up the page, those people likely spend hours a day working out, their diets are perfectly tailored to them, and they get paid to have their picture taken with their shirt off. That's their living.
But what is your living?
Most of us work regular jobs, we like to eat food, we like to drink, we like to watch Television, all the while feeling envious of the "special" people who were "born with good genes" that look like Greek Gods, and we curse ourselves for being "born with bad genes".
Genetics play a hand, to a degree. But I've seen many an unhealthily obese person justify being so because they have bad genetics. Wrong. Genetics don't make someone obese. Just like they don't make someone look like Phil Heath on a day to day basis. Some of us have bigger or smaller bone structures, hips, arms, chests, legs, etc. Our muscles may grow in more prominenly in other areas whereas some people seem to be blessed with perfect shape and form, but what isn't genetic is making unhealthy choices. If you blame genetics, that would imply that, were you to give up all the scientifically engineered food you love to eat and started exercising, you'd still look, more or less, the same.
You wouldn't. You'd be healthier, you would feel better about yourself and, lastly, you would be in better shape.
Because of what body image issues have done to us, we place looking good on the top of the list when in actuality it should be at the bottom. That's something that, over the past year and a half, I've struggled with, and continue to struggle with, but have learned its importance and seek to remind myself of it constantly. Being healthy, eating right, and exercising is not about getting six pack abs and being ripped immediately, it's about taking care of yourself and finding a way to feel better about yourself. The shape you desire comes as an afterthought, a sort of reminder that, "Hey...this is working after all."
Junk food isn't just damaging the body, it's damaging the mind. People don't realize that by eating poorly you're depriving your body and brain of the vitamins and nutrients it needs to function properly. It's amazing how a majority of the issues we suffer from in the day to day that we have prescriptions for from the Doctor can be changed, reversed, and eliminated simply by changing our diet.
Evolution defined our bodies thousands of years ago. Soda didn't play a part in ancient mammals. Neither did fast food. We're not designed to be able to take in and properly deal with all the grabage we consume. Does that mean that you have to quit everything cold turkey and get on a sctrict minimalist diet because that's how science made us? No. Enjoy your life. But! Prolong your life by taking care of yourself. I have burgers and fries and ice cream and shakes, cake and pie and cookies and candy enough. But by enough, that means infrequently. I love all of those things because they have been scientifically engineered to be the most amazing tasting things you'll ever have. Check the ingredients on your favorite foods; to a degree, you're just eating a science fair project. And not evolutionary science like fruits and veggies, but man made science designed to make food and drinks so tasty that you've got to have more of them. That's how companies make money. It's not a rant against them, that's just how big business works. But it's hurting us. These foods are also designed to inhibit those little sensors in your tummy that send signals to your brain that says, "I'm full, stop eating." Junk food sort of puts those phone calls on the fritz and your brain dials back and says, "I'm not full, keep going!"
The more you eat calorie loaded, unhealthy junk, the more weight you gain, the more calories it takes for you to maintain that weight, the less full you feel when you eat more and more junk, the more weight you gain when want to feel full, the bigger you get, the more calories your body requires to maintain that weight, the more junk you eat...
I cringe every time I hear someone tell me they can't eat a certain healthy food because they "know their body." I can't count the times I hear someone reject healthy foods saying, "I can't have that. It makes me sick. I know my body." I would bet close to a million dollars most of these people have no clue about their own body. More often than not, we DO NOT know what's best for us and chances are healthy foods aren't making you feel gross, it's essentially your coming down from the junk food drug. What it does to your blood sugar, to your brain, to your cells, your heart and your arteries, that's what's making you feel icky. What we do is assume and tell ourselves we know, because it's our own bodies. But if you don't understand the science behind how the human body works, and the science behind what an excess of junk food will do, then you don't know a thing about your body.
That is not genetics. Junk food is not genetics. Sorry. So that's no excuse to throw health to the wind because "You'll never look like that" or "you just weren't born with those genes." Stop it. Sometimes things happen that mean someone's genes brings a very sick kid into the world who's going to have a rough time surviving. But I've never seen or heard a story of a kid born into the world with the fat gene who was obese because of it. Every time you see those three year old, 150 lb. kids? Their parents allowed them to get like that, their parents are responsible for making equally poor choices. Are certain people more prone to put on weight or have a slower metabolism? Sure, a lot of small factors. But again, junk food is not taken into account when genes are formed. There is no junk food gene.
So why all this? Because it's important for you to remember that the goal of eating right and exercising isn't to look like Superman. It's to find out who YOU look like, inside and out. The muscles and the tone and all that stuff are a BYPRODUCT of good decisions. They will come in time. But if you just want to look ripped, and you start a diet and you hit the gym solely for that, chances are it's going to fail. Because you're head isn't in the right place. You're focused on looking pretty, not on feeling good. How you feel on the inside reflects on the outside. No joke. When you find what it means to be healthy, you find that you do in fact get in better shape. Why? Because you're taking care of yourself.
Beat up your body image by embracing the idea of feeling good about yourself. Don't focus on looking a certain way, focus on feeling the right way, focus on being healthy. And remember that moderation is key! There's a lot of wonderful things to enjoy in life. Good food, wine, what have you. There are a lot of things I partake in because...they make me happy! In-N-Out Burger rocks the hell out of that double double and fries and when I eat it, it feels like my brain is exploding. But I do it on the ocassion because it makes me happy. Dairy Queen is my buddy. That blizzard or that chocolate soft serve? Love it! But not every day. Not every week. Once in a while. And when I treat myself to things I don't have all the time they become more important and become a reward. And on the flip side, I've discovered how incredible real food is. People hate fruits and veggies because "they're boring" and don't taste like junk food, but that's because junk food has abused their palette. You forget what honest to God food tastes like. It doesn't taste genetically engineered. It shouldn't taste like a science fair project, no matter how tasty that science fair project may be.
You be you. That's most important. Drop the desire to look like a Super Hero or someone else. Seriously. I've spent a long time now focusing on trying to leave behind the body image mentality and focus on the feel good mentality because I know that it leads to a physical change as a result. What happens when I do that, when I remind myself of what I've accomplished, those visual results are that much more rewarding, not because I was born with good genes and I can eat whatever I want, but because I've taken care of myself and worked my ass off to get there. When people tell me, "We can't all look like you and eat whatever we want." I say, "I don't eat whatever I want and I didn't always look like this. I wasn't born this way. Apparently you never saw me in High School. I look like the me I do know because I found the will to do it and didn't quit."
It's hard work, I won't kid you. No amount of pills or powders or shakes or "lean" cuisines and "smart" or "healthy" choice frozen meals will make you look like the photos in this blog. Real food and doing the research it takes to understand your body will get you where you want. You'll have more energy, you'll be happier, healthier, and yes, you'll even start to get in better shape. And when you notice those results last of all, let them be the motivation to push you further. It's working, keep it up!