So much of the work I did – and still do – in taking control of my body involves what seems like a very basic thing… Changing habits. But I’m continually learning that this is one of those things where you do it once, then assume you’ve mastered it until you hit a wall and realize you need to do it again. And again. And again. So it has been with my own habits. Just when I think I’ve mastered “good habits”, I find that I’ve really just mastered the art of telling myself I have good habits.
A lot of us who grew up fat or were fat for a long time but overcame that have what I call “Ugly Duckling” syndrome. I’ve mentioned it before obliquely, but it’s basically what you’d expect: we went from fat to fit but still carry the fat kid with us in a few ways. It actually reminds me of something my brother said – though it’s a pretty common aphorism I think – when talking about chasing women. He said that you don’t want the girl who has always been hot, because she knows she’s hot and expects more. You want the girl who used to be a fat dork because she doesn’t know she’s hot yet and you have a much better shot! A lot of us are like that. No matter what we look like on the other side of our journey through fitness, we will still be, to a lesser or greater degree, dysmorphic. What we see doesn’t really line up with reality entirely.
Since I was fat for most of my life it seems as though a lot of issues that appear discrete from the outside actually converge in a lot of ways. Few more so than identity issues… who and what am I, exactly?
There’s a very clear memory of mine from when I was in grade school… one of those memories that sticks with you because of keenly it alerts you that something is amiss. Something in life isn’t what it seems. I remember I was flipping through a magazine that had an article about Dolly Parton. At that age the only thing I knew about Dolly Parton was that her boobs were enormous… and that’s basically what I got from the article too. She said, “I do have big tits. Always had ’em – pushed ’em up, whacked ’em around. Why not make fun of ’em? I’ve made a fortune with ’em.” That’s literally the only thing I remember from the article, but this was almost twenty years ago and it’s pretty clear in my mind. But that isn’t actually the memory that’s important here… What I remember more was the advertisement on the opposing page. It was an ad for Jockey athletic wear with two buff, athletic guys fighting over a volleyball. I remember seeing it and thinking, “Oh… that’s what a guy is supposed to look like?” Neither of them looked anything like me. How did they get that way? Why didn’t I look that way? Would it just happen when I grew up? And why are they so much more interesting than Dolly Parton’s chest?
So I bragged on Facebook about a few of my clients last week. Several of them have made great progress: dramatic, visible progress. J___ is much leaner, T___ is practically a different person in the face, and C___ can slip out of his pants now without unbuttoning them. I’m proud of their success! And a little proud of my part in it.
But at the same time, a few guys have expressed frustration at their progress. Not that they aren’t making progress – all my guys are, even those who barely listen to me! But some of them want to hit the gas a little harder. C___ in particular wants to see some abs and tends to grumble that those aren’t making their debut quite fast enough. I’m sympathetic to a point – abs are bizarrely motivating, especially to us fatties who may never have seen them in the mirror – but only to a point. And I say that because my guys tend to fall into some pretty obvious traps. Traps I feel like I warned them about… but then again, maybe it’s one of those things where you can’t really warn people away from a hot stove until they put their hand on it.
So what are the biggest traps my clients fall into? Let’s look.
I write a lot about momentum, sometimes more and sometimes less explicitly. Momentum is something I take for granted a lot of the time, even though there are those times I set down my flag and say, “Yes! Nothing is more important!” And that’s largely true. At the same time, nothing is more difficult to maintain unless you plan on maintaining it. (A failure to plan…)
This musing about momentum arises from me having not written anything here in several weeks. I lost my momentum – through both external stresses as well as just my failure to plan ahead – and so this fell off my radar. It shouldn’t have and I’m returning to it to attempt to rebuild that.
So, a little story about momentum:
I have some good news and bad news here along with my little story. First the bad news: the dark secret lying at the heart of health and fitness. There is no resting on your laurels. Ever. There is no point where you look at yourself and say, “OMG Finally that’s over. I can stop now.” There’s no stopping. There’s no finish line. There’s no top to this mountain.
I’d started to follow up, as promised, on “Fatties and Phone Calls” because apparently that really resonates with people. But then I remembered that a certain kind of conversation has been coming up for me and the new guys I am consulting about training, which means it’s probably closer to the surface of my thoughts and what I think is important right now.
When I sit down with a client – this is before they even see the gym and usually over dinner or coffee so we can get to know one another – I ask them a range of questions designed to get a feel for them. Who are they? What is their health history? What are their goals? How do they treat and/or feel about their body? And they get a chance to interview me as well. It’s important to me to have a rapport with my clients… Usually the biggest reason they are working with me is because they know I’ve been on the other side of fitness – the painful, discouraging, difficult side of fitness – and so I, myself, am as much a part of their experience getting fit as any of the exercises I’m working them through.
Over the course of the “interview” between us one thing seems to stick out almost universally. My clients simply aren’t imagining themselves getting something they want out of fitness. They are dreaming too small. I’ll explain.
I promised I’d get back to the idea of body image in Fatties Don’t Get Phone Calls (2), and so here that is.
I get the impression from talking to people about their weight that there is a pervasive fear about seeming to be shallow. This fear of seeming shallow colors a lot of what people think about themselves and their relationships to others, especially if like me they grew up struggling with weight and body image. People will go to unreasonable lengths to avoid the appearance of vanity, to such an extent that they end up making unhealthy and destructive choices in life… because it seems better than appearing shallow. It can keep us from making positive changes in our life and even sabotage us in some ways.