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Perspective And Establishing Achievable Goals


I hardly would consider myself a “picture of health.”  I don’t have the greatest diet (I’m a fan of red meat; I crave chocolate desserts; and I need at least one can of pop a day); nor do I spend hours each week at a gym.  So, it may seem unusual to post about health and fitness.  

However, when I turned 40 last year, I had the unfortunate realization that my body was different than it was 10 years, even 5 years ago.  Therefore, similar to the way a wise investor plans for the future, I decided that I would have to change some of my habits to maximize the returns, i.e. maintain a healthy body in the years to come.  That change was not in the form of a total transformation on what or how I ate or drastically increasing the frequency of when I exercised.  Simply put, it was about perspective and establishing achievable goals.  That is the crux of this post.

By way of some background, growing up, I was fortunate to have parents that made sure I ate my breakfast every morning; had lunch to keep me focused at school; and consumed a balanced dinner each night.  Even luckier, perhaps, was the fact that my parents did not necessarily curb the junk food I ate.  As a result, sweets, chips, and soda became staples of my diet.  But, because I was active and played various sports, the empty calories from the junk food never caught up with me.

Then came college…I saw an end to breakfast.  Lunch was something that was probably quick (and deep-fried), and dinner was either pizza or hoagies; more often than not, both!  Of course, increasing my consumption of unhealthy food also meant an increase in cans of soda per day.  Strangely, though, I gained very little weight, which I attribute to the substantial walking between my classes in State College.  That, and the fact that most of my free time was devoted to hockey.  It truly was, as Dickens put it, “the best of times”—I ate what I wanted, but because I exercised, it never caught up with me.

Post-undergrad was the rude awakening.  With law school came more time spent in class, on book work, and studying.  It also meant much less time for exercising.  Yet, as the not-so-healthy eating habits to which I became accustomed in college remained the same, I began to gain weight.  For the first time, I realized that not all the calories I consumed would automatically be metabolized.  And it showed.  Still, because I was in denial, I simply chalked up the snugger shirts and tighter waistbands on me getting older and my body just changing.

By my late 30s, I had put on about 40 pounds from where I was when I graduated college.  That increase was attributable to the lack of exercise and my affinity for fried foods, sugary snacks, and general overindulgence. Sadly, I began employing the “tomorrow diet,” i.e., I’ll justify eating this triple bacon cheeseburger and curly fries because tomorrow, I’m changing my ways.  Yeah, that didn’t work.

More disappointing was how I would become discouraged with sticking with a diet and exercise plan.  This manifested in two ways.  First, I’d start the week out well: a balanced diet, a limited amount of calories, and some exercise when I had the chance.  But, by the end of the week, the balanced diet would return to those pizza and hoagies, the calories would tick up, much like the gas pumps now do, and I found sitting on the couch and watching TV every night after work was much more satisfying than breaking a sweat.

Second, for those weeks that I’d actually stick to my diet and exercise even two or three nights, I would then step on the scale to see a minimal decrease or even a gain.  I’d become despaired.  As a result, I’d discard the diet and rationalize that maybe, just maybe, my weight and fitness were where they needed to be for my age.  In retrospect, that rationalization, was self-defeating at the time.

About three years ago, I decided to purchase a bicycle to ride at the beach while on vacation.  At the time, I figured it would be a fun way to spend the early the morning—pedaling on the boardwalk, watching the sunrise, staring at the many faces that I’d pass.  I had no idea that it would trigger my fitness.  During and after the beach trip, I caught myself enjoying biking.  I got to see sites from the saddle rather than on foot; I broke a little sweat, and I felt better after riding even for 15 minutes.  At no point, though, did I consider biking exercise per se.  This was because I wasn’t doing it to “exercise.”  It was just pleasurable.  

Enter the perspective.  In terms of exercise, mentally, I never associated biking with those agonizing, mandatory goals that often come with traditional exercises (such as 30 minutes on a treadmill, 15 reps with the weights, 5 miles running).  Therefore, I never became “burnt out.”  

Similarly, in terms of the physical demand, it was a sport in which I could push myself if I felt up to it, or would causally pedal on “slow” days.  Hence, there was little to no risk of injury as long as I obeyed what my body was telling me for the particular occasion.

Ultimately, biking made me realize that in order to stick with a form of exercise, perspective is required.  To gain a handle on that perspective, I would make the following suggestions.  First, you have to want to do an activity totally aside from any physical benefit it may provide.  As stated above, hockey is one of my passions.  Never have I classified hockey as “exercise.”  Perhaps that is why I continue to play it to this date with the same enthusiasm as I had when I was 12 and laced up my first pair of skates.

Second, but related to the first, your enjoyment of the activity—whatever it may be—has to be the driving force to get you to perform it.  In other words, you can’t convince yourself that you’re doing an activity just because you need the “exercise.”  If you do that, it becomes routine, boring, and perfunctory—factors that serve as deterrents.  

Third, you have to be able to set minimal goals for the activity; that is, you can’t be afraid to say, “I only feel like performing an activity for just 10 minutes,” or telling yourself, “I just can’t work out for 30 minutes today…”  Admittedly, I’m obsessive and this suggestion is tough.  I tend to set loftier goals to push myself and feel like I’m getting the most “bang for my buck” exercise- and time-wise.  Again, I’ve found that the more elevated the goals, the more likely it is to find excuses to not engage in the activity at all.

Fourth, develop some consistency in performing the activity, but still adhering to the previous suggestion.  For example, since rediscovering biking several years ago, I’ve purchased a stationary bike.  I’ve convinced myself to work out on it at least three times per week, even if one or two of those sessions are for short periods.  Creating a plan for a particular activity with minimal goals helps in continuing to participate in that activity.

Fifth, don’t be afraid to diversify your activities.  I’ve found that “shaking up” my exercise between biking, hockey, using an elliptical, or even walking introduces variety so no activity becomes repetitive and stale.

Sixth—and most important—do not get discouraged for missing a few days or even a week of an activity.  In the past three years, I’ve had periods where I just didn’t feel like working out.  Or, because life intervenes, I couldn’t work out.  Missing those sessions was lousy, but you cannot assume all progress is lost.  Re-start the activity, again with the minimal goals, and agree to re-achieve the consistency.

Hopefully, those suggestions, however basic, can assist in your fitness.  But that is just one side of the coin.  The other is dieting.  Once more, perspective is critical, and I believe an approach similar to that of exercising is effective in losing or maintaining a healthy weight.

Foremost, if you’re like me, eating is not simply about sustaining life.  Instead, it’s about triggering that pleasure center in the brain with the various sensory experiences and the feeling of satiation.  With that in mind, when dieting, I intentionally try to not eliminate any food from my diet.  Yes, you can lose weight with pizza, hoagies, and soda.  Remember, like exercise, even though you’re dieting, there has to be some enjoyment.  Otherwise, it won’t last.  The strategy I found effective though (and as cliché as it sounds) is moderation.  Have only two slices of pizza rather than one half of the pie; eat just a half of the hoagie; and wash down the pizza/hoagie with one can of soda or diet soda.

Next, you have to come to terms with the fact that adding to your weight is much easier than subtracting from it.  Once you are mindful of that truth, you have to set minimal goals and accept that weight loss is not instantaneous and weight maintenance isn’t automatic.  Personally, when losing weight, my goal is one pound per week.  By doing this, you prevent any discouragement by failing to meet a higher goal.

Lastly, as in exercising, do not become discouraged.  Some weeks you’ll be up in weight when you feel like you ate right and worked-out; other weeks you’ll be down even when you went to an all-you-can-eat buffet the day before weigh-in.  I’m convinced that there’s really no rhyme or reason to weight loss and the scale more often than not is my enemy.  When that happens, simply agree to do better next week and commit to adhere to the strictures of your particular diet.

By placing fitness and dieting into perspective, I’m happy to say that I’ve lost over 30 pounds since my peak weight several years ago.  While I’m pleased that I was able to achieve that feat, I certainly haven’t become complacent and still employ the above techniques on a daily basis.  Fitness and dieting are the proverbial marathon, not the sprint.  That race is long, and in the end, it is with yourself.  I hope this post gives you insight and perspective to assist in succeeding with your goals.

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