When it comes to our diets, there are a few hard and fast rules that will help just about everyone drop a dress size. You know, like eat more celery and less Cheetos.
But when it comes to the day-to-day decision to break a sweat — because, let’s face it, there is no lasting weight loss without physical activity — I believe that every person is a little different.
For example, I have trouble mustering the energy to exercise in the evenings, while others wouldn’t dream of rolling out of bed at 5:30am to hit the gym. Some people like to tone up with yoga or Pilates, while I prefer to pant through a run or a grueling kickboxing session. While some can push through several hours of strength training at the gym (insane Biggest Loser contenders, I’m looking at you), it may not work for all of us. I’m lucky to be able to carve out 45 minutes for a sweat session 5-6 times a week, and some people get away with far less. And that’s perfectly fine.
That being said, I think there is one workout rule that applies to every single person looking to lose the weight and keep it off. And that is this: you must make fitness a part of your identity. If you want to truly commit to a regular exercise routine, I don’t think you can just pencil in a 30-minute walk four times a week. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great start — but I think it takes more than a calendar appointment to make exercise a part of your life.
I strongly believe you need to find something that you love to do. It has to be something you can latch onto strongly enough that you won’t let bad weather or family responsibilities or work schedules or anything else stand in your way. I’ve been known to run in the rain, and have attempted to maneuver my car though six inches of snow to make my Muy Thai kickboxing class.
I recently returned from a vacation (Disney World!) where I gave myself permission to eat anything I wanted — ice cream, cookies, cheeseburgers, you name it. While traipsing through theme parks for six days is physically demanding, it was still nothing like my usual running/spinning/kickboxing regimen. So, big surprise here: I returned home to pants that suddenly fit a little more snugly. I was hungry all the time, and feeling way too lethargic to hit the track.
Because of my lack of exercise and unhealthy eating all week, I didn’t feel motivated or energetic…but most surprisingly, I didn’t feel like me.
That’s when I realized how much working out has become part of my identity. It has consumed my life in so many ways that without a daily bout of exercise — even if I miss less than a week — I suddenly start feeling like a completely different person. It’s truly humbling to realize that, before my weight loss, I used to feel this way all the time.
If I were to draft a list of all the qualities that make up who I am, “physically active” would be right at the top. My being can no longer be summed up by my gender or what I do for a living. I’m also a runner and a purple belt.
I think my overzealousness at the gym in my earliest weeks of weight loss paid off in more ways than a scale could ever show. I quickly became a fixture on that elliptical machine, and it wasn’t long before people started calling me by name…and asking about me when I didn’t show up. That’s when I realized that others saw me as something of a gym rat, and that fueled me with the motivation to get stronger and tougher and fitter. I wanted to live up to that new perception of who I was.
When I started running, at first I considered it nothing more than a fast way to torch as many calories as possible in a short period of time. But it wasn’t long before I got bored with the monotony of pounding a treadmill. When I started looking at running as more than a weight loss technique, that’s when the habit really started to stick. I subscribed to Runner’s World. I strapped on a Garmin sports watch. I signed up for 5K races. Suddenly, I was a “runner.” And now I can’t wait to lace up my Nikes.
I’m often asked to divulge the number of times I work out each week. But an active lifestyle is so much more than the hours you spend on a treadmill. It’s just way too easy to lose interest in working out and return right back to your favorite position on the couch. I should know…I work at a gym.
I tend to shy away from making all-knowing proclamations on this blog, but I truly believe that the only way to make fitness a lasting part of your life is to make it part of who you are.