When you work as a personal trainer you quickly realize that all the fitness you have worked for can actually hurt your ability to have clients relate to you and trust you with their health. Today’s article is going to be a winding trip through my experience with learning how to care for my body and maybe provide people a chance to see inside my own struggles with my health, body images, and fitness. The more we invest in and understand each other the more we can help each other. I have always defined wisdom as being able to learn from others experiences without having to experience them yourseIf. I ask people to have faith in my guidance and trust the process everyday. Health skills are a practice and an evolution and I hope listening to my story can help you not make the same health mistakes that I have.
In the Beginning
I was by all accounts a normal kid with a pretty privileged life. Not too rich nor too poor. I was an active curious kid. I liked sports but then again I liked everything and everyone. I fell in love with books as soon as I could read and I can even remember being jealous of a kid in kindergarten who could read better than me. This love of reading has been an amazing asset to my life but definitely kept me inside more than I would have otherwise. An unhealthy life doesn’t come by accident and isn’t all bad. I did great in school because I could read and focus but in elementary I did start to develop a disconnect with my body. Through school I tried about every sport and while relatively coordinated, I wasn’t as fast as the other kids. You tend to naturally be drawn to what you are good at. For a slightly overweight kid that led to wanting to play video games to be able to win—brain games and other activities that played to my strengths. It’s a small slope we walk down. My health and nutritional knowledge was pretty small as a little kid. My parents did a great job preparing good meals, but as a parent, it’s hard to artificially produce the amount of movement a kid needs or monitor all the snacks I would get as a break between chapters or video games. I steadily gained weight throughout elementary and by the start of middle school I discovered things about myself. I could do anything if I practiced, I was good in school, and I was overweight.
Atkins at 13
When I entered middle school I took karate as an option instead of gym class. This was an amazing experience with an amazing supportive instructor (Mr. Stenson if your reading, you do good work.) I also played football in 7th grade. Doing activities for a kid are great ways to grow and develop both physically, emotionally and in community, but I’ve since realized that doesn’t allow it to replace regular physical activity and play for a healthy body. These activities taught me alot, but when you go home to read and play games as your only other daily activities they can only do so much to counteract a poor diet. Between watching the leaner kids progress faster in both karate and football, I really became interested in losing weight. In 8th grade quietly to myself I tried the atkins diet as I understood it. I don’t remember the experience too much but I remember it being the first time I determinedly changed my diet which pretty much meant I would eat raw carrots now..all the time. This was my first of many failed diets. As middle school and early high school went on my weight was this annoyance that was always there. I was always pretty sure girls didn’t like me, if a friend suggested to go play a sport I wanted to play but it wasn’t my first choice. Who wants to play something they aren’t going to win? Who wants to do something for fun that exposes their weaknesses? With this I eventually left football for something I could succeed at , theater. This didn’t help me physically but I was a happy outgoing overweight kid.
Obsessive Compulsive Soccer
My life changed winter of 2006 . I was 16 and I went to my best friend’s house to play video games he wanted to play FIFA ( a soccer video game). I wasn’t too interested but I agreed. The game was alright but I didn’t know anything about soccer or the rules so It wasn’t too fun. My buddy who played every sport imaginable pulled me over to this new website called “you tube” and wanted to show me this soccer video. It was a video of a professional soccer player doing all these amazing tricks, spins, and shots with a soccer ball. This hit something deep inside of me that made me want to be able to do all that. It was that key moment where you fall in love with the greatest love of your life. From then on all I could think about was trying to kick a ball every which way possible. I was 275 lbs and decided I wanted to play a sport that was nothing but running. All the end of my junior year all I did was play soccer. I’d pull one muscle, so I would kick with the other leg while it healed. I thought sports where supposed to hurt so I didn’t think anything of it. The weight began to come off as every free moment went to kicking a ball in the backyard. My senior year I wanted to play soccer for school so bad that I decided to play goalkeeper since I was still pretty overweight and it was the only way I could get on the team. Through all of this I still had unhealthy eating habits and still binged regularly. I would under eat on some extreme diet and then eat everything in sight.
When it came time for me to go to college I picked the one thing that was all I thought about: health. Throughout college I became more interested in fitness overall. I learned how the body worked while at the same time living as if the rules didn’t apply to me. I would run everyday and play sports, but it was in college where my eating habits became very distorted. I would play unhealthy games like seeing how little food I could eat or fast as long as possible before I would go binge on beer and chinese food. I was living on a constant cocktail of joint pain, caffeine, beer, and unflavored oatmeal. I was extreme and was working very hard. Working hard in a stupid way won’t get you anywhere and as a result I never improved beyond a point. I limped all the time, developed plantar fasciitis, and patellar tendonitis. I was compulsive with exercise and would beat myself to a pulp on the soccer field whether I was happy, mad, sad, or just because it is Tuesday. Now, I often tell people exercise is like watering a garden. If you water with a firehose and plant on rocks, nothing will grow no matter how hard you were working. This period of time taught me this. It wasn’t until after college and being reduced to zero running for a year that I began to truly learn to work with my body.
Lessons and Takeaways
That’s my journey so far. Our lives leave us marked and somethings will never change. I will always have some wrinkly extra skin at my belly, I still feel uncomfortable with my shirt off, I still always have to pay attention to not get that extra plate of food or to eat incredibly fast. I have learned so much on this journey and I can honestly say I am in the best shape and mental state of my life. Some of the biggest things that I have learned on this journey are
- Balance in eating. Extreme eating whether it be complete expulsion of a food or a strict plan will only lead to an equal and opposite reaction that leaves me worse off than I started. It’s by finding balance in my eating and constantly honing in my eating habits that I can enjoy eating without fear of overindulging or hurting my health. Eat slowly to 80% full.
- Balance in exercise. All exercise is meant to cause a change by doing a minor damage. Recovery is an important part of the process. I have spent many years not recovering enough and being stuck spinning my wheels in nowhere land. Exercise is a tiny piece of the puzzle. It’s all about your total health. Get enough exercise and let it be.
- The rules apply to you and that is a good thing. I have spent many years acting like the rules of health don’t apply to me. I have tried not sleeping, eating garbage or exercising too much. The rules apply to all of us and there is no way around it. We need to eat vegetables. When we say you need 7-9 hours of sleep to be healthy (not to survive) , you need exercise. Those are the rules and you can read all the books, articles, and blogs, buy all the supplements, and snake oils, but it’s all a waste of time. The great thing is we know the rules and because of that we know what to do for our health.
- It is an evolution. Healthy habits are like any other skill. Give it the time and just keep focusing on getting a little better each day. Keep chipping away at the basics and change slowly. Drink a coke with your salad if that’s what it takes to get you to choose a salad. Perfection is made up like unicorns. Better is real with real results and real promises.
- You are meant to feel good and to be happy. If you feel stressed, worn down, or achey then what you are doing is wrong. Chase things that make your body feel good. Real health doesn’t make you feel sick.
I truly hope that my story can help somebody take a look at their health and maybe get a little bit closer to where they want to be. Feel free to comment or ask me about anything I opened up about in this article. I am an open book and don’t want my mistakes to go to waste. If you have thought about personal training I highly recommend it. My life would have been so different if I had a guide through this journey. You are not alone.