Now, I’m not a nutritionist or an exercise-ologist. I’m not thin, and I have high cholesterol. (My doctor tested me; apparently I will always have high cholesterol, unless I eat carrot sticks and celery only for the rest of my days- true story.) So you can take or leave what I have to say. But several things occurred to me the other day, and I thought I’d share them.
I was out walking in the woods near my house, sweating like a pig and out of breath. My legs were tired, and I didn’t want to walk one more step. And I was having a great time. In fact, I was figuring out where I could explore next, and assessing the concrete (yes, there’s a concrete path in the woods) for rollerblading potential. As I walked, I realized two things. 1. This is exercise. 2. I’m having a good time.
I’m very pro-body acceptance. At my thinnest, I’ve never been thin. And I have skinny friends who can’t gain weight. Our sizes say nothing about our character, and I’m tried of having weight be made to sound like something important. So here are some of the lies that the fitness industry tells us. In no way is this a comprehensive list.
1. No pain, no gain. Bear with me for a second. Yes, exercise needs to be a little strenuous in order to work. Yes, done well, you might have some sore muscles. But for me, this always meant that if I wasn’t torturing myself, I wasn’t exercising. I hate: running and weightlifting, going to the gym (inside! ick!) and doing pushups. If it’s exercise, I can almost guarantee I hate it. But if it’s fun, I don’t mind moving my body. For me, walking through the woods is fun! Skating is fun! Yoga is fun! Kickboxing is fun! Running is horrible torture, invented by skinny people for sadistic reality TV to watch me jiggle. Which brings me to my second point.
2. You have to work hard to call it exercise. I kind of stopped skating for awhile because I read on some website that you only burn a lot of calories skating if you’re going full out. If you’re just kind of cruising along, you’re not exercising. While I love skating, I need exercise. I want to take off a few pounds. So I put my skates away and did nothing. Effective, right? Here’s the fundamental flaw with that whole “you’re not exercising” thing. For anyone who isn’t good at skating, they’ll tell you that it’s hard to stay up, coordinate your feet. They’ll tell you how much it hurts their leg muscles. I never understood that, but now I do. Even cruising along, you’re activating your core muscles. And I’d rather skate than do sit-ups. Something is always better than nothing.
3. A cheeseburger is “better” for you than a salad because that salad has too much fat/ salt/ calories. You know what I’m talking about, those websites that call out different restaurant foods. They talk about how unhealthy certain salads can be for you, and that you shouldn’t eat that high calorie/ high fat/ high sodium dressing. Yes, and we should all be eating organic foods and cook everything from scratch in a blissful, chemical additive free lifestyle.
See, I fell for that too. I thought, “well then I might as well eat the cheeseburger.” (Back when I ate meat.) And somehow, in my mind, that worked. I tried to force myself to eat tasteless, low-fat dressing. But then I didn’t want to eat salad and made excuses why I should eat something else. Here’s the thing. The salad is healthier. It’s got fiber and vitamins and all that good stuff. If I use unhealthy dressing, I can just use less because it tastes better. None of us are perfect, and life is all about harm reduction. Just do the best you can with eating. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. In a choice between the salad and the cheeseburger, I still think the salad is better for you. Even if the veggies are drenched in bad for you stuff. Where’s the redeeming part of the cheeseburger? The tasteless tomato slice they put on top that almost everyone takes off anyway because its’ mushy?
4. Certain exercises are better than others. Yeah, this is true. But you know what the best exercise is? The one you’ll do consistently. That’s the best one. You can work up to something better later. But if you’re doing nothing right now, a 5 minute walk is better than thinking about running 30 minutes and putting it off. 5 minutes every day is better than a half an hour once in a awhile. I live in the real world.
5. Exercise is something you have to do; no one enjoys it. We’re talking about average people here, not people who have body smarts. (I’m talking about the kind of intelligence where people are actually good at moving their body.) Actually, if you don’t like exercise, you probably just haven’t tried the right one yet. My husband loves bike riding, and I hate it. I love to skate, and he thinks the only thing he should ride on 4 wheels is a car. We both enjoy walking/ hiking. He likes going to a gym; I think that going inside a building to exercise is crazy. The only exception to that is DDR, which is the most fun I’ll ever have while sweating. The point is that if you need to get more exercise, try a few things. Don’t get stuck in the gym rut or think it has to be one particular type. Google “exercise for people who hate exercise” or something like that and see what you come up with. Remember, if you do something weird to get moving, the exercise police aren’t going to come get you.
6. Weight is a good indicator of health. Nope. Disagree. It’s a lie. Here’s why I say that. First off, I’ve been trying to lose weight forever. I’m a whole foods vegetarian. Which means that I eat my daily dose of veggies and grains and all that stuff. And I’m still fat. Why? My doctor put it best: “You come from German farming people. Being able to keep weight on and be strong was an asset.” Yep. I just don’t lose weight like some people. I could starve myself and exercise excessively, but why? I have more stamina than my thinner friends (as evidenced by the fact that I can keep going longer when we go places). I can walk for miles and my body does all the activity I want it to do. I feel pretty good, sleep pretty well, and am happy overall. So how am I not healthy?
Like I said, I’m just a person trying to get healthier myself. I’m also a therapist, and something I’ve noticed is that mental health and physical health are tied together. If you feel good mentally, it’s easier to get moving. And if you feel good physically, it’s easier to feel good mentally. So do yourself a favor; if you’ve been putting off positive change because it’s overwhelming, start teeny tiny. Babies learn to roll over before they crawl, and they pull themselves up before they walk. Apply that to your own stuff and remember that even if it seems really, really, really slow, a little progress is better than none.
Oh, and don’t forget that you should probably ask your doctor before starting any kind of exercise program. Because, you know, I’m not a doctor.