Every year I need to come up with a physical challenge. Last year it was surviving Helsinki City Triathlon (not the long one but the really short one), year before that it was learning to run and cycle all over again. In 2009 it was learning to swim, and in 2008 it was losing about 15% of my weight.
This started in 2007, with the realization that if I don’t do something, my life will be considerably shorter and more painful and difficult than I ever imagined. All because I didn’t really know what to do, and refused to see the facts for myself.
I had been living in an illusion, where long nights out and smoking in chain caused problems to everyone else except me. I was overweight, I solved that by thinking that really is ok to have a bit of extra – and by removing most of the mirrors from my apartment. I ran out of breath when running to the bus. My back had started hurting more or less frequently.
My driver in 2007 was motivation, just the realization that I need and want to do something about this. My previous attempts had all failed for mostly one reason: I knew that I should do something, but wasn’t really motivated at all.
Giving up is easy
I do believe that motivation is mandatory in getting fit, especially if you’re starting from the bottom like I had to. If you only reason that you should lose weight, any changes won’t be permanent. You’ll go on a diet, look for an easy way out. Something that has results, like, two weeks from now.
Every time I started exercising, I inevitably gave up after a month or two. With the most typical excuses – “I don’t really have the time, my life’s too busy anyway”, “I used to be really active so underneath all this I’m actually in good shape” – I retreated back home, to nurse my pains after starting too hard. Then I usually got sick, and that was the end of that period of exercising. I noticed that physically active people made me a bit uncomfortable.
I hated any kind of exercising because I felt uncomfortable during it. And I realized that my current way of life had brought me to this point.
Looking back, the worst of the excuses was “I don’t need any help with this”. Most of us do, actually.
I hired a personal trainer. It took everything I had in terms of money, mental health and guts. When I started working out with someone who actually knew what to do, I became painfully aware how little I knew about my body, health or eating habits.
I thought I was just in bad shape, but realized that was just the tip of the iceberg. I also didn’t know how and what to eat, so I ate everything and whenever I wanted. I didn’t know how much energy there was in alcohol, and that you shouldn’t exercise if you have a hangover. I didn’t know that I would have to exercise 3-5 times a week just to stay in shape. I didn’t know how or why to stretch after exercising.
Turns out I didn’t know much about my body, and I was 32 years old.
The worst part seemed to be that all these changes would be permanent. There would be no three or four month period, after which I could return to my “normal life”.
This would be my normal life. The old one had led me to a point where I actually needed a new one.
Most of these things were taught to me by a person who’d been fit all his life. When I told him after a particularly difficult workout that he has no idea how I feel, he responded “You’re right, I don’t. I’ve never been fat like you, and I’ve never been in such a bad shape.” This was the one of the worst things anyone ever said to me.
Later that evening I realized that he was actually first person in a long while who was really honest with me. Instead of quitting I went back for more.
Last December I agreed to help a friend of mine with similar problems. Ever since then I’ve been coaching this person about the same things I’ve gone through. Occasionally it’s like looking into my own past.
So what now?
It’s been five years, and the changes are enormous. Almost everything has changed, from the shape of my body to my energy levels at work, the quality of my sleep and my ability to cope with stress. I’ve lost some weight, gained some weight, learnt that I can ride a bike for 60 kilometers in one go and that I hate swimming butterfly stroke.
I’ve also learned that I feel really good after a thorough workout. I’ve gone from zero to five workouts a week. My entire life has been turned upside down.
One thing remains unchanged. Ever since the start I seem to need a project or a goal every year. Now that the snow has melted it’s time to get the bike out again. I’ve managed to get some excess weight again, and it’s time to lose it.
Because of my work I’m interested in achieving this assisted by services such as Runkeeper, Dailymile or HeiaHeia, various iPhone apps and with semi-intelligent wearables such as Fitbit or Nike’s Fuelband. I’ll be writing thoughts about the project here, with more or less frequent updates concentrating what I went up with and why, and how these services, devices and applications work in real life.
I blogged the first period in 2008, the one with losing weight. I did it anonymously, being self-conscious about failing and my friends and colleagues knowing about my project. You can still find it by doing a little digging.