Turning dreams into attainable goals, while rewarding, is not for the feint of heart. It takes hard work, dedication, sacrifice, and belief in oneself. It also takes finding the right mentor, as discussed in Part II of Staying the Course, and, as discussed in Part I, finding the right community to surround yourself with can increase your odds of success as well.
In previous blog posts I discussed goals in general, but let's begin to move the focus to specifically health and fitness goals. No matter the goals you are pursuing in your life, health and fitness should still be at the top of your list. Numerous studies have been conducted on how increasing physical activity can improve cognitive abilities. In an article published by the NY Times, a direct link was established between exercise and academic performance in children. "Children who are more active are better able to focus their attention, are quicker to perform simple tasks, and have better working memories and problem solving skills than less active children." With these same benefits carrying into adulthood, it is clear how increasing your physical activity will help you increase your odds of success in reaching whatever other goals you have set for yourself.
As the battle with obesity and diabetes continues, health and fitness is a hot topic right now. In fact, it is so hot that recent market research has reported that the health and fitness industry is currently totaling $30 billion per year, with the supplement industry raking in $82 billion per year! Go to any bookstore or library and the number of titles trying to draw your attention to the latest diet fad is mind boggling. Watch one episode of your favorite television show and you'll be hard pressed not to find several diet and health related commercials trying to sell you the latest product whether that be health food, supplements, fitness apparel, or a gym membership. With all this coverage being placed right in front of our eyes on a daily basis, it's difficult to admit health and fitness goals aren't somewhere on our list, even if they are admittedly at the bottom of our list.
However, despite the amount of information out there, it is very difficult to find any one expert or point of reference to guide us. If you've ever tried to figure out your own nutrition, you'll know firsthand the frustration of figuring out what is right and what is wrong. One "expert" says to eat a diet high in fat and protein, while another "expert" says all that fat will give you heart problems and all that protein will give you cancer. So not only is it frustrating, but all the scare tactics used to push their individual agendas are, well, scary! And then you have the doctors, who despite medical advancements are still using a chart full of essentially useless numbers to track obesity rates, which brings me to the single most useful piece of advice I can give anyone (especially women) embarking on their fitness journey...
Smash. The. Scale! Smash it! Right now. Take one of those huge hammers you see all those fitness models banging on the large tires with and smash the shit out of your scale. If you don't have one, don't buy one. And every time you go into the doctor and they make you step on the scale to track your weight, do so with an eye-rolling attitude and forget what the number says.
Becoming too focused on the number on the scale is unhealthy. It can become very addicting and, just like any addiction, ruin your life. There are FAR too many factors that can affect our weight for it to be the most accurate way of tracking your progress toward your fitness goals. For example, if you weigh yourself in the morning on Monday, but not until the evening on Tuesday you'll have the weight of an entire day's worth of food affecting the number on the scale. Or perhaps you diligently weigh yourself every morning but Monday morning it was in your clothes before leaving for work and Tuesday morning it was before you got dressed. Or perhaps one day you weighed yourself when you woke up but before you used the restroom. Or one day you weighed yourself after you woke up and after you had used the restroom, but after you had showered as well with a head full of heavy sopping wet hair. Or what if you weighed yourself on Wednesday after enjoying a high sodium dinner for Taco Tuesday? All that sodium will make you retain more water than normal and increase the number on the scale. Or what if you ate more potassium than normal (a mineral that causes your kidneys to excrete more water) thus causing you to retain less water than normal and reducing the number on the scale... I could go on and on and on, but hopefully you get the point that none of these factors listed are an indicator of how much body fat I've lost; they're all simply factors of weight alone that have nothing to do with my health.
If I were to look at the height and weight chart still archaically used today to indicate how much I should weigh, the starting range for my height is 125 pounds. Allow me to show you what 125 pounds looks like on my frame.
The only way I was able to weigh in at 125 pounds last year was by not lifting in order to lose muscle mass, eating a highly restricted diet that left me feeling weak for my final two weeks, and by severely dehydrating myself to the point my cheeks were sunken in and I couldn't speak due to a lack of saliva in my mouth. Did I weigh what some chart said was a healthy weight for me? Yep! Was I healthy? Hell no! While I performed just fine the next day, there is no way I could have maintained that weight.
In a society too focused on weight and not on actual indicators of health, it's a shame the number of people (women especially due to society's influence on what is considered attractive) who start training and, when they see the number on the scale increase unexpectedly, stop training out of fear and/or frustration. Tracking your weight isn't necessarily a bad thing, and can be helpful in the grand scheme of things, but using it as the only reference of progress is doing yourself a major disservice. Besides, unless you are competing in a weight regulated sport such as I do, why does that number on the scale really matter anyhow? If you are eating and moving in a way that feels healthy, your clothes are fitting looser, and you can SEE the fat coming off your body simply by looking in the mirror, who cares if that means you're 150 pounds or 185 pounds? 30 pounds may sound like a lot, but once you've competed in a weight regulated sport where manipulating your weight is a necessary evil, you'll realize 30 pounds is actually nothing.
Like I said, weighing yourself constantly can become addicting and create a whole host of body image issues and eating disorders. I believe you will do yourself a disservice if you weigh yourself too often, especially without understanding the extensive list of things that can affect your weight without having anything to do with your body fat. Instead of weighing yourself all the time, I encourage you to find out what your body fat percentage is and track that monthly. Most gyms have body calipers and can help you find out what your body fat percentage is. Learning this number will give you a clearer picture of your obesity rate and any resulting health risks you are susceptible to as a result, and tracking your body fat percentage through your fitness journey will give you a more reliable idea of how much progress you've made.
A lover of words, magic, and the idea of changing the world by encouraging the pursuit of one dream at a time. Living the dream myself as a professional boxer, kickboxer, and MMA fighter.