Most people who know me don’t know this since I’ve been in good shape my entire adult life, but there was a day when I was not in good shape. In fact, I was fat. I was 13 and it was the summer between 8th grade and high school. I decided I needed to get in shape and I did not have anyone giving me any advice, so I did my best to figure it out on my own. Of course, I made a lot of mistakes. A lot! Since then (I’m 39 now), I’ve learned quite a bit. I offer you today what I wish I knew then. I hope you can use this as you get in shape or stay in shape. This is what I wish I knew then. This is what I would say to my 13-year-old self if I could talk with him with the wisdom I have now:
1. Exercise can be really fun if you let it be. When you feel out of shape, you can want to be in shape so bad that you treat exercise like a chore, like drudgery that you have to endure so that you can one day be in shape. You can treat exercise like only a means to an end. Since you’re only doing it to get to a future in-shape you, you may accept that it’s no fun, boring, and doesn’t feel good. Have you ever heard someone say, “It feels good when it’s over.” I encourage you to challenge that notion. Why not exercise in a way that feels good when you’re doing it? There’s a few ways to accomplish this. First, do exercise that you truly enjoy. Some people think, in very backwards thinking, that if it’s fun it can’t be good for them. Nothing could be further from the truth. What you enjoy, you will put your heart into and you will continue doing. Second, make it a conscious choice to enjoy yourself. Make that time you set aside for exercise truly “me time” and savor the opportunity to move around. Later this afternoon, I’ll be doing a yoga workout and I can’t wait. I love everything about it.
2. You can be in really good shape with a relatively modest amount of exercise. My brother said to me on the phone yesterday, “I don’t have a six-pack, but I don’t have a lot of extra fat on me either. And I workout three days a week.” He does three or four workouts a week, about an hour each. Like he said, he’s lean, and he’s got great energy. He works in New York City, he’s a husband and a dad to three kids, and he’s a happy, healthy guy. His workouts help to keep him well and feeling good. When I was 13, I thought I had to do marathon strength workouts. I was lifting weights for two hours a session. When I went to play basketball, I’d play for hours and hours. I felt like if some exercise was good, more was better. What I learned eventually was that, beyond a certain point, more exercise does not get you fitter, it only makes you tired. And it can lead to injuries too. You can be in really good shape with three or four hour-long workouts most weeks.
3. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with you when you’re out of shape. It just means you’re doing some things less than optimally with how you’re taking care of yourself. With some course corrections to your approaches to exercise, nutrition, and sometimes other parts of your life, you can be back on track to being in shape. It’s positive to see that things are out of whack and that you’d be better off—happier and healthier—with some changes. But being out of shape does not make you a bad person. That’s how I felt when I was 13. I thought it meant I was lazy. I thought it meant I had no discipline. And I thought it meant I was different—lesser than—everyone else. If you find yourself out shape right now, and wanting to do something about it, great. But realize you are perfect just the way you are right now. Getting in shape will help you be healthier and happier, but right now you rock too.
4. Food is your friend, not your enemy. Ironically, being fat is in many ways a form of lack of nourishment. When you are not meeting your needs for the nutrients your body runs on, you eat and eat and eat (in search of those nutrients). Our culture teaches that food is an enemy and that to be well, be lean, be in shape, your job is to deny yourself food. Scratch that. There’s an entirely better approach. At each meal, think about providing yourself with the very best food. Think of food as the fuel your body runs on and the raw materials that your body is made of. Make each meal a celebration of nourishment and delight. Savor the pleasures of the smells and tastes and textures. Do this while mostly eating whole, natural, real food (as opposed to processed food) and you are doing great.
Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.