winter road

The Fitness Fan Who is Always Off the Wagon

I feel like I am always off the wagon. As I say out loud, “Dude, Wendy’s fries are so good,” it occurs to me that there are some times in my life when I stick to standards that at other times go completely out the window.

I don’t feel bad about that. I don’t think I need to punish myself for eating “bad” food. I’m not sure any food is inherently bad (meatloaf is), though low-quality is definitely a thing. And I don’t feel bad about points in my life when I am more sedentary or care less about working out. Sometimes exercise is eking out a mere 6,000 steps a day. Other times it is a fifteen-mile run or an hour of strength training. The point is that our societal fetish for “all-or-nothing” is bullshit. It doesn’t work that way.

The key to long-term health and wellness—not just physical fitness, but also mental health, nutrition, etc.—is not the ability to stick to a strict regime ad nauseam, forever and ever into infinity. The real key to wellness is adaptability. And flexibility. If you’re beating yourself up over getting a Frosty when you’re stressed out, that is not making you healthier. If you stop exercising because of an injury or a stressful family situation or a move or a job change, then making yourself feel bad about this period of decreased activity is not going to help. It won’t motivate you to do more. It will just make you feel bad.

I’ve been thinking about all of this because of a post on Body for Wife. Check it out.

The Exercise Myth

The post argues that most people do not like exercise. They don’t like it and don’t stick to it long term. I’d also argue that most people don’t stick to overwhelmingly “healthy” eating habits—that is, if you think that being healthy is never indulging, or completely avoiding certain things. It’s just not realistic for most of us to think that we will always choose the healthiest option, work out every day, never eat a whole sleeve of Oreos after 8pm…

This post is not for people who work out all the time and always eat vegetables and never deviate. I don’t know anyone like that, but if that’s your life and you feel cool with it, awesome. This post is for people who feel bad about their habits, or who think they should feel bad about how they are. Since most people don’t stick to exercising regularly and few people seem to think their nutrition is consistently on point, I’d consider that the Body for Wife message is for most of us.

It’s all about the journey.

Where does that leave us? Where does that leave you? After all, each person is the protagonist of their own life, so what can this information do for you? Well, I hope it can help you give yourself a break. I hope that it motivates you, like it has for me, to never stop getting “back on the wagon” because the wagon is really just a series of cars that aren’t always the best or the fittest, but should include a healthy dose of self-care and grace and forgiveness.

As for me? I’m always bouncing back and forth. People think that I’m a healthy person and that I’m fit because I generally “look” kind of the body type of a healthy person (which is crap, as we all know, since you really can’t tell from someone’s outward appearance how healthy they are) and because I talk about running. But you know what else? There were at about 3 months in a row where I totally flaked out on exercise this year. As I buckled down at my job to get things wrapped up before leaving, there were some days where I got in only 3,000 steps a day. That’s abysmal. And I felt it. Also, I sometimes get super addicted to tortilla chips. And sour cream. And sour candy. And things that are hardly nutritious. Meh!

The hardest part about falling into a shitty routine is getting out of it. Getting back on the horse. I’ve discovered that I am really great at restarting. No matter how long I’ve been out of commission or how many metric tons of fries I’ve eaten, I always feel great about finally shaving my legs so that I can go to the gym in shorts and starting to work out again. Even if it only lasts a few weeks, I’ll be glad I did it. And maybe next time I’m off the rails, it will only be for a day or two, and then I’ll get back at it. Because maybe that’s what I need at that moment.

I think everyone needs this kind of routine. Maybe you know that you only really make it to the gym two months a year. Whatever. Buy a two-month membership and then plan for how you will handle the rest of the year. Try to make it to just 3 months this time. Or add a two-month stint later in the year. Get a walking buddy or a bike or a pool membership. Find a quiet bench to sit on once a week in silence for ten minutes, or commit to journaling on Sunday mornings. Any little bit of positive change you are making is still positive change. Maybe it won’t last, but you can still be happy that you did it. Maybe it will help you change your habits just a little, but it will be sustainable and enjoyable. That’s great!

That’s my “I’m about to eat my weight in chili” face.

But what it comes down to is that most people don’t like to be uncomfortable, and it’s unnatural to avoid high-calorie foods and to use energy to not travel anywhere or acquire anything. So do what makes sense. Do what makes you feel good. If you like to have goals and aspire to things that you don’t usually achieve, but you are at peace with the process, do that. If you like to register for challenging races because you’ll do them even if you’ve half-assed training (yo), then do that. Things will change at some point. You’ll experience loss or have a victory or be broke or be sad and you’ll fall off the wagon or fall in love with something else. It’s cool. You’re allowed to change your mind.

Just try to be well with you. And if you can follow doctor’s orders for decent eating habits and mental self-care and a little exercise, you will probably do just fine.