Getting Fit the RIGHT Way, part 4: Start Slow, and Be Patient

When we finally do make the resolution to get fit, we usually want to see results quickly. “I’m putting in all this hard work at the gym–why aren’t my pant sizes going down every week?” “I haven’t eaten anything but ‘healthy food’ for two weeks; when am I going to see the pounds going away?”

Unfortunately, our bodies do not change as fast as infomercials would have us believe. And actually, if you push your body to lose too much weight too fast, you may only end up wrecking your muscles and packing on more fat when you’re done with your “fitness plan.” (How do I know? It happened to my mother in the sixties, when the “yo-yo” fad diet was all the rage, even with some doctors; she suffered long-term negative effects from the prescribed “starve yourself and then go back to eating regular food” diet.)

Fitness is Not a Certain Weight/Muscle Mass

Fitness is not about being skinny and fitting into itty-bitty clothing sizes. Nor is it about being able to lift tons of weight and having huge, rippling muscles. Fitness is about having a body that works efficiently, repairs itself swiftly, and can do everything you need it to do. Ideally, every food we eat and every activity we do should support our bodies’ health so that we stay fit.

But realistically, almost nobody lives this way. When it comes to food, most of us either make unhealthy food choices (guilty as charged), or we have gastronomic illnesses that keep us from eating properly. And in terms of physical activity, we either choose not to be as active as we should, or we have injuries or disabilities that prevent us from doing much.

Thus, we start “getting out of shape;” our bodies slowly lose the ability to do the things we’d like to be able to do, or eat the foods we’d like to be able to eat, even once in a while. For instance, my dad’s Type II diabetes keeps him from the vanilla milkshakes he so loves, while my bad ankles and knees keep me from playing basketball like I used to do.

Getting Fit = Slow and Methodical

Lack of fitness is not just a weight or body shape issue–it’s a quality of life issue. But getting fit again is not a short-term process. After all, we didn’t get out of shape in only a few months, so what makes us think we can get back in shape in a few months?

If you’re serious about getting back into a healthy physical state (which is what fitness is), then you must not punish your body by overdoing exercise or going on crazy fad diets. That’s a quick way to make yourself sick or injured. Instead, you must take it one tiny but firm step forward at a time.

What do I mean by “tiny but firm” steps? Make small changes one at a time, changes you can gradually adapt into your lifestyle so that they become routine; then, once one change has been adapted, move on to the next change.

Here’s an example–my own fitness journey thus far:

  • Began drinking mostly flavored water (2006)
  • Took out about half the volume of sweet and salty snack foods (2007)
  • Began cooking/eating more meals at home (2007)
  • Shrunk my portion size by a little at each meal (2008)
  • Began taking anti-inflammatory medication to help reduce joint swelling (2009)
  • Began doing ankle-strengthening exercises at home (2009)
  • Changed out my potato chips for whole-wheat crackers, and my candy for peanut butter (2010)
  • Began walking more–parking further away from buildings’ entrances, for instance (2010)
  • Started Zumba classes (2011)
  • Began to eat more “healthy” foods–more salads, etc. (2011)
  • Added AquaZumba classes during the summer months (2012)

From this calendar, you can see that my own fitness journey has stretched across six years so far. Each change I made was a small one, not particularly spectacular, but it was a stepping-stone toward the next. I had to get my joint inflammation down before I could even think of taking Zumba classes; I had to take out many of the snack foods I was eating before I could replace them with healthier options.

The important takeaway here: each time I made a change, I made sure it had become natural and routine before I demanded another change from myself. If you force too many changes on yourself in too short a time, you’ll never stick to any of them. Trust me on this–I’m quite experienced at quitting diets and exercise plans because of this very reason.

Most Important: Don’t Be Angry at Your Body, or Yourself

As you begin your own fitness journey, you will most likely feel terribly exhausted after your first workout (or two), or you might feel a little deprived after your first “healthier” meal. Do not be angry with yourself or your body because of these feelings. You’re not “weak” or “stupid” for needing to take it slow. Every person’s fitness plan will be different, just as every child in school learns at a different pace.

I’m making this serious warning about anger because anger can push you to do more than you’re physically capable of, or to try risky or dangerous tactics to get results. For instance:

  • I got so mad at my stomach rolls back in 2005 that I starved myself to try to get rid of them, and I ended up passing out in the shower at home.
  • I got mad during one of my first Zumba classes because I couldn’t do every move the instructor did, and I ended up hurting my ankle because I stomped down too hard with my foot.

Anger has been responsible for these and many more fitness setbacks in my life; don’t let it sabotage you.

Don’t compare yourself to other people, or compare yourself to your younger self, even. What matters right now is making changes that you can stick to, one at a time. Who cares how fast someone else is completing their fitness journey? You’re not in competition with them, or anyone. You’re trying to get back to a body that can do all you need it to do, no more and no less.

Next Week: Have a “Fitness Buddy” (or 3)!

Finally starting on your own fitness quest is great–but trying to do it all by yourself is NOT great. Every story’s hero needs friends to adventure with, and as the hero of your fitness journey, you’ll also need friends to keep you in line and keep you motivated. Learn more about that, in next week’s episode of “Getting Fit the RIGHT Way!”

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