Hello! My name is Derek Smith and I have been a friend of Dale’s for over a year now. When he approached me to do a guest article on this kick-ass blog involving Health and Fitness, I immediately jumped at the chance because I’ve had something on my mind lately regarding the Fitness Industry and the misinformation that has been being pumped into our minds for decades. This is something that I think pertains to anyone who is actively trying to lead a healthy lifestyle. I may have people who disagree with me, and that’s okay too, because I’ve frankly been through too much to give a damn. The primary reason and truest intent in writing this is to hopefully help at least one person from going down the rocky path that I did and take a second thought about buying into what the Fitness Industry and Fitness coaches are all telling you to do.
Why should you listen to me? I’ve been through almost all of what an aspiring fitness enthusiast in the USA could be exposed to in the health and fitness industry. Like many, I had an early interest creating a better and healthier body, so naturally bodybuilding was the path that I chose. In my teenage years I had knee surgery which forced me out of team sports and put me back in the weight room even more. During that time, I had tried every supplement, fat burner, creatine, pre and post workout, minerals and oils that are made (however, I have always been a natural athlete so no steroids!).
I’ve had the chance to speak with well-known bodybuilders about bodybuilding including Frank Zane, Kevin Levrone, Steve Kuclo, Jeff Willet and Ronnie Coleman to name a few. And, I’ve worked with multiple well known bodybuilders and Fitness Models including one who frequents shows like Ellen and is plastered on every Romance Novel out there. Also, I’ve competed in 2 bodybuilding shows myself.
With all that, I’ve also been the most depressed, unhappy, miserable, and unconfident version of myself from the ages of 15 to 27 when I thought I was going “hardcore” in the health and fitness industry. Not to mention the amount of money I spent along the way. I’ll tell you, NONE of the above is necessary to achieve great H & F and there is hope for a better way. If you’ve seen or read any of Dale Robert’s books (5) you may already have an idea of what I’m talking about it.
STOP- Don’t get me wrong here, this article is not just for bodybuilders. This can help any man or woman who is pursuing health and fitness and are unhappy with their eating, workout routines or are not getting the results they want.
To wrap up my bio- I pushed many people away and missed out on some amazing times and memories that I could have had for the rest of my life, but instead I was taking myself way to seriously missing special occasions and celebrations for time either in the gym or to cook chicken breasts and separate it into neat little containers thinking to myself, sigh… a worthwhile sacrifice for perfection. And even after it all, perfection never truly came.
Stop the misery already!
To make this more digestible (no pun intended for diet talk), I’ve broken down the common ways in which most people make themselves unnecessarily miserable in the name of Fitness including Dieting, Eating Out, the Holidays, your Perfectionist never-give-up attitude and your current Workout Routine.
* I will also mention, my beliefs are grounded in the understanding that the body’s adaption to grow stronger and healthier is the result of the moving-average of stress placed on it. This is the reason you don’t have big biceps after one workout and why you don’t get fat after eating an extra-large pizza by yourself. All else remaining equal, you can tell the different between a person who works out 1-3 times a week and someone who works out 3-5. Over time, the second person is normally working out on average more than the former person.
Dieting- To begin, please know this; You don’t have to eat chicken and sweet potatoes every day! And you don’t have to do anything of the sort. If you want to you can, but you don’t HAVE to to get great results. You don’t even have to eat brown rice if you want. And all of those raw vegetables? Don’t eat them every day if you don’t want, find a way to steam or juice if you prefer. It’s really all about finding a healthy mix that’s enjoyable, and here’s the key so listen up, that you can do long-term.
This tough game we’re in is about setting yourself up a winnable lifestyle and doing something that you enjoy, and therefore, don’t ever need or want to stop. There are some good approaches such as flexible dieting or IIFYM (1), but I encourage you to just find a healthy balance of eating the foods that you like. This whole idea of “I had a cookie at work and now my diet is blown so I might as well just start over tomorrow” is complete BULLSHIT. This is no way to live and the majority of people who take this approach remain unhealthy and see little progress towards health until they realize the better way. Do yourself this favor and don’t be this person. If you already are then I am personally calling you to please stop in the name of all that is holy and sane. What I just said may be hard for you to hear and may be a bit jarring. Here’s the thing, though; there’s so many people like this still out there! Right now there is a peak in the health and fitness industry and things are beginning to shift away from the misery induced forms of fitness preached by big supplement companies, publications companies and the brain washed personal trainers. Unfortunately, there will be many casualties to walk the path before the word is out, and I’m trying to save as many of you as I can. Sometimes the strongest thing you can do is to actually let go of your obsession on your passion enough to readjust your sights to the long-term. If you are as hardcore as you think you are, stop setting 90-day diet plans and get serious about setting up your Life Plan, AND stop beating yourself along the way. The amount of mental damage that is self-inflicted in the health and fitness industry is outrageous. When I say 90-day anything plan, 90 days is a wonderful amount of time to focus on something, but you must have a plan after that. Don’t just sprint for 90 days and expect everything to be magically rosy when you get there.
I can offer no critiques here because mental well-being is still not even a “thing” in the fitness industry. So that means, start making it one!! There are many sexy and cut looking people walking around that others envy, but it’s only if you got to speak with and know these individuals deep-down that you would realize many are sad, hurting and have holes in themselves and are using health and fitness to compensate or self-medicate.
Are you angry about life? Do you feel like you’re not good enough for your partner? Do you hate the way you look? Do you feel insecure around other people? Are you depressed because of your body? Do you label food as “good and bad”? If you have any of these perspectives, you really need to dig deeper and ask yourself why are you feeling this way. Keeping asking why until you get to the root. You may find you’re using the gym to compensate in some way. Maybe you don’t feel significant at work, so you throw up 300lbs at the gym. Or maybe an ex cheated on you so you want to look really good to make them jealous. Maybe you just want to get your blood moving because you sit at a desk all day (guilty). The reason doesn’t matter as much as knowing what it is and why. Once you are aligned with it you may decide you don’t need to go to the gym anymore because you have evaporated your anger by acknowledging it. Or, maybe now you’re so aligned with a new purpose in the gym and you have fresh blood to crush it!
For any of these reason, It’s critically important when you are improving your health to also work on your mental health. Journaling, creating a blog, talking to others in the fitness industry or even seeing a therapist for a while are all things to consider depending on the current state of your mental health. Once your mental health is in check, you will be able to stick on a long-term plan and stop being so damn impatient to look a certain way and the result you want will come naturally and still faster than you would expect. The body has amazing adaptive survival process and if you put it in the need to adapt long enough, it will, and you will end up with a stronger and healthier pack of meat to live in. Everything else is just confusion and muddy’s clarity
Eating out- Simply put, enjoy it. Everyone is different on this topic and family culture comes in to play a huge role. If eating out is something that is a big part of your social scene and you don’t want that to end in order to pursue your H & F, you don’t have to. If eating out is not a challenge for you, then it certainly can be a way to cut out extra calories and avoid processed foods or foods high in salts and other preservatives. For others (like me) who come from a culture where eating out and just dinner in general is a big deal, there is hope. All you have to do is plan accordingly. What do I mean by this? If you know you’re going out to eat, plan the earlier part of your day accordingly. You can try intermittent fasting (2) where you save your calories for dinner time and get to eat basically whatever you want. The beginning part of the day is usually just coffee and water, then as you get hungrier you can have an apple or piece of fruit. This is just one approach to IF that I’ve tried. You would be shocked how long you can actually go throughout the day without feeling your depriving yourself of anything. Then when dinner comes, you can feast guilt-free. Odds are, you’re not even going to get a day’s worth of calories in one meal anyway so you should be all set. This is just one example of how you can plan ahead. You can also just pick smart meals at dinner or go for salads or soups that can be filling. Just tell yourself half of your meal is going to be left overs for tomorrow for lunch so you don’t eat the entire thing. Or you can always just say screw it and eat whatever you want. Since the body adjusts as a moving average, just eat less calories the next day to make the average for the week to be where you should be for calories. Just another strategy to make eating out possible without sacrificing. Just please don’t be the person that I used to be and order a chicken breast and broccoli and ask the waiter for special accommodations. You certainly can, but it’s just not necessary and it’s not going to make that big of a difference in the long run. You’re with your friends and family so enjoy it. This is your life after all and if you’re not a paid model and this is your career, then you should not be sacrificing everything else in your life just to do well in this one area. Life is a balancing act and you can only make these sacrifices for so long until you start regretting them.
The Holidays- Ah the dreaded sweets and peer pressure. I’m not going to write too much about this. If you want to have a piece of pie and thanksgiving and Christmas, then go for it. If you want some alcoholic egg nog while you’re watching A Christmas Story marathon on Dec 24, then you should. Again, this is a long-term approach not a 90-day sprint. It’s not going to make that much of a difference. If you are leading a lifestyle of diet and exercise that is putting your body in the state of needing to adapt to be strong and you are burning up calories, then your body is going to use this stuff up as energy just like anything else. If you want, you can always use some of the going out to eat strategies discussed in the previous section. Eat half of your meal to save room for sweets later in the night, maybe add another 20 minutes to your workout early in the day to anticipate some extra calories. Enjoy yourself, don’t beat yourself up for having sweets and do feel guilty if you do. That’s my one rule- if you’re going to indulge, make sure you do it guilt-free because if you’re only half enjoying it then it’s simply a waste. Have the sweets and fully commit and enjoy them or don’t have them at all.
I refuse to give up, I’m obsessed with perfection! – This may apply to some and not to others. For me, I’m an extremely passionate person and am very ALL OR NOTHING. I don’t believe in doing anything half ass. If I would have spoken to myself 5 years ago about this long-term lifestyle approach, I don’t know if I would have been able to commit to it because it requires yourself to scale back your discipline a little bit and focus on the long term, or at least that’s how it seems to someone who feels like they are “giving up” control. But it’s not. It’s trading being miserable for an overall happier and healthier mental state that is going to result in a long-term ability to practice healthy dieting and exercise which is going to result in results in your body that are equal to or greater than the ones you are experience now…except now, you will be much happier along the way. This thing is a marathon, not a sprint my friends. If you find yourself doing “challenges” with an end date or overly restrictive diets, then the path you are on is likely too short, not sustainable and will not give you long-term results. Would you rather kill yourself for 3 months and have average results or keep great results for the rest of your life and enjoy this process? This is a no brainer, but possibly the hardest thing someone who is obsessed with their fitness can do. I believe it’s one of the final pieces keeping you from getting the results you truly want.
What qualifies as a work out anyways? Does it have to be at a gym otherwise it doesn’t count? Dale has already proved my point with his epic Home Workouts (6) WRONG again. Has your fire and enjoyment in your workouts dulled? Are you even bored? I’ve been there many times. You need to take a step back and determine what workouts are you going to do and why. You should even take it a step further and ask yourself what body parts you want to work on. Girls are naturally better at this naturally than guys. Girls are usually working on their legs and butts. But often, males and females too can get stuck in way of thinking that you have to work out everything each week. The problem with this is for example, I’m pretty happy with my back, and my chest is actually overdeveloped compared to other body parts such as my arms. I love working out arms but rarely get a good arm workout out in because I’m too busy doing the exercises I “should do” for legs, back or chest for the sake of being well rounded. Fuck that anymore! Workout what you want. It’s your body, if you want bigger arms then work on your arms 3x a week if you’re going to enjoy it. This is a recent realization that I’ve had. Many of us are often only have 1 workout a week that we look forward to it. It doesn’t have to be this way. If you don’t want to do legs, that’s cool don’t do legs. Yup I said it. Don’t just do it because you’re supposed to, that sucks. Do it because you want to. Don’t you remember when you first started working out and you were amped about your workouts because you got to do all these cool exercises that you really enjoyed? That’s how it can be still! If you’re doing a lot of cardio you may be working legs pretty hard already for a non-bodybuilder type. And ladies, I’m talking to you. if you’re trying to get small legs, don’t keep working them out!! They’re only going to get bigger, lol. You’re not going to leg press your legs to being smaller. Lean out if you want to get them smaller but don’t work the hell out of them. Just look, most girls have better legs than guys do just because they do so much cardio. So many guys have the chicken leg syndrome that the girls would probably enjoy. It’s all backwards.
On another note, there are hundreds or thousands of ways to get your exercises in. If you don’t like a particular exercise, then don’t do it. If it causes you constant pain in your joints or ligaments, then you should probably take a break or stop doing it. “What if it’s deadlifting?!”. Then YES, stop doing deadlifts. Deadlifts massively build up your hamstrings and are a great way to get a huge barn-sized back, but it’s not the ONLY way. Most of the population doesn’t do them right anyways. If you dread deadlifts that much in your set, just take them out. Put in something you’re going to enjoy more and put more intensity into because you enjoy it. You will get more out of it. Listen fellow fitness comrades, like I said I said earlier, unless you’re a fitness model that is getting paid to have this lifestyle then you don’t have to live like one to get really great results and have abs and big arms or a nice ass. You can get all those without the eating disorders, body dysmorphia or splitting up your marriage and friendships. If you are getting ready for a bodybuilding show I would definitely recommend a different protocol for pre-show, but this can be something for post-show training since you CAN’T ALWAYS be getting ready for a show ALL the time. I know people who compete and the ones who are the best and happiest are the ones who don’t go off the depend in pre-show prep or post-show prep. They look good year around, not just only around show time. If your motivation is to look good, wouldn’t you prefer being able to take your shirt off in front of your friends and family year-round without feeling self-conscience?
A Better Way:
The better way has basically already been eluded to and spelled out in a number of different ways in all of the things you should STOP doing. It’s too often forgotten that health and fitness includes the health of your mind and your sanity. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs (3), that even includes having close and meaningful relationships before the Self-Actualization part of the pyramid. The better way means rethinking your priorities. Putting first things first which means putting gym time second or third is okay. So your H & F is in the top 3 of your priorities for the day and that’s still pretty damn important and more balanced. I just know too many people who are still walking around with this huge monkey on their back called (insert super hero echoing deep voice guy) “The Pursuit of Health!!!” and this pursuit is the leading factor to their unhappiness, stress levels, suppressed immune system and ultimately, not being or feeling healthy at all.
Stop defending a shitty routine and “healthy lifestyle” that you hate and isn’t getting you the results anyway. Take the mental win at a better way and see the side effects of a happier body becomes a healthy body and mind.
I will conclude this post with one of my crazy right-brained analogies that I hope you will make some correlation to your health:
Think of building a fire- you must start small. You have some tinder and some small twigs and sticks nearby. Consider the little wind you blow on the smoking embers that make them explode into fire to be the exercise and effort you’re putting into your workouts. If you blow too hard, you’re going to put the fire right out. You can compare this to getting fed up with how you look and you convince yourself you’re going to start doing 2-a-days forever until you have no fat left on your body. At first it will get very hot, but you will quickly burn right out. Now consider the opposite, if there’s no wind or no air, the fire won’t start. A fire needs air for the combustion process. So you can’t kill yourself from the start but you have to start doing something. Maybe you only start doing 2 or 3 days a week. That’s absolutely fine and a respectable approach to improving your health and fitness levels. Now what happens when the fire gets going? It gets a little bigger, it requires more to keep going. This is equivalent to making your workouts longer, harder and increasing the number of days you are working out. But once you make the fire start burning hotter and bigger you need to feed it. Would you keep throwing tinder in? Of course not! If you do, it will burn up so fast and the fire will start to shrink and you lose everything you built. If you give it some solid wood planks and then a couple large logs, that fire is going to burn all night long! So you need to makes sure you are eating enough and the stuff you’re eating should satiate you and keep your fire burning for a long period of time.
This “building a fire” analogy is not perfect, but it’s one that I’ve carried it my mind and I feel you can pull quite a few solid points out of it.
How do you make Health and Fitness effortless and not something that makes you miserable? Build it into your lifestyle. Does anyone ride a bike to work anymore? Fantastic exercise that doesn’t seem like exercise. Mr. Money Mustache does a great article on biking and even how it saves you $1,000’s, I insist you check it out (4). The overall health and fitness functionality of your body is not a sprint. It is something that you should be approaching in enjoyable ways throughout your years and decades of your life. For as long as you are not 6 feet underground, your lifestyle should be reflective of this. You don’t have to kill yourself in the process.
Some Basic Points to live by in your H & F Journey-
- Please stop killing yourself in the gym 5-7 days a week if it’s making you miserable
- Please stop doing workouts that do not make sense to you
- Please stop doing workouts that you do not enjoy
- Please stop doing exercises that do not feel good to you just because you think or are told that you “should” do them
- Stop making yourself miserable in the name of health and fitness
- STOP Eliminating things from your diet that you really want!
- Carbs are not bad
- Fat is not bad
- And you may actually be eating too much protein. But protein is not bad EITHER!
- Labeling foods BAD and GOOD are the first foot in the door to having an eating disorder.
- Stop making yourself miserable in the name of Health and Fitness (I’ll keep repeating it)
- Uncover and Understand YOUR real reason you want to workout
- Audit yourself to determine your current mental status and give attention where it’s needed
- Talk to people in fitness who are able to sustain health year-round
- Fitness can be in the Top 3 priorities of your life, but it shouldn’t always be number 1
- Don’t miss out on celebrations and memorable events to go to the gym or because you can’t eat chicken breast