Believe it or not, I don’t know it all… nor do I plan on ever knowing it all. However, reflecting on my fitness journey thus far, there are a few things I wish I would have known or at least thought about before I started. I wanted to share these thoughts with my readers in hopes to enlighten others who might be starting out on their own fitness journey.
1. There will always be bad days. The good days will out number the bad days. But…there will always be bad days.
When I first started my fitness journey, I knew that there would be bad days, I just didn’t know that there would always be bad days. And they don’t go away. Days where you are tired or sore. Days where running 1 mile feels like you’re running 10. Days where you walk out of the gym feeling like you didn’t get a good workout or you feel like you’re “not seeing results.” Days where you feel like you’re doing an exercise movement wrong or you made an idiot out of yourself in spin class. Days where you feel like everyone is staring at you because you don’t know what you’re doing or you think you look awkward. Believe it or not, everyone has been there. Bad days do not ever go away because we live in an imperfect world and that is okay. Not everyday has to be good.
2. 1,200 is not a magical number.
When I first started my fitness journey I was fixated on the number 1,200. At some point in time someone, somewhere came up with the idea that in order to lose weight you could not eat more than 1,200 calories a day. Well, guess what? 1,200 calories is not a magical number. It does not take into account age, height, weight, resting metabolic rate, activity level, sex, lean muscle mass, or fitness goals. Don’t get me wrong, chances are if you eat 1,200 calories and exercise regularly you WILL loose weight. And fast. However, you have to ask yourself… is weight loss at this pace maintainable in the long term? What happens when I go back to eating normal? Please, don’t get hung up on that stupid number… or any number really. If you feel tired, grumpy, starving, or just plain want to eat more than “x” number of calories, do it. Chances are your body probably needs it. Eat for your own goals, be patient, and you’ll be just fine. 1,200 calories is not a magical number.
3. Your social life might decline.
When I first started my fitness journey I didn’t think that I would eventually stray away from my very active social life (drinking) to enjoy a more laid back, quiet lifestyle. In your early 20s nearly everyone’s social life is centered around going out to the bar and drinking until 2:00am. This tends to lead to late night fast food runs followed by a massive hangover the next morning, cravings for greasy food, and a general unproductive day following. I spent the majority of my college years and a few years after that living this lifestyle. There is nothing wrong with this, but I wanted something more. The more I got into lifting and working out, the better I felt and the harder it was to justify going out and drinking almost every night. Soon invitations to go out began to decline. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy a glass of wine or a hard cider here and there with my close friends, but after a good dinner and a few drinks I am happy to call it a night so I can have a productive day in the gym and outside the gym the next day.
4. If you want to look like an athlete, you need to eat like an athlete.
When I first started my fitness journey I didn’t understand nutrition or how important it is to eat enough (yes, enough) food to achieve your best results. I had this ridiculous idea ingrained into my head that “less is more” when it came to food. This meant that I would usually skip breakfast, eat a salad (lettuce, cheese, onions, tomato no dressing) for lunch, and then some sort of lean cuisine type meal for dinner. I spent hours in the gym everyday and still wasn’t happy with how my body looked. I became thin, to thin actually, but I still didn’t look muscular or athletic. I knew I needed to change my diet and I started to research how athletes and weight lifters eat. I began to tweak my diet adding in foods like eggs, egg whites, chicken, protein bars, ground turkey, black beans, oatmeal, brown rice, sweet potato, veggies, greek yogurt, protein shakes, peanut butter, and avocado. I found the more I ate the better my workouts got and the the stronger I became. My muscles grew and my excess fat slowly came off. Your body is a machine and if you want it to work at it’s highest potential, you need to fuel your body and fuel it well.
5. Running won’t shape your leg muscles.
When I first started my fitness journey I didn’t train legs. I am almost embarrassed to admit this, but I remember saying to myself something that sounded like, “I don’t need to train legs because I run and that does the same thing.” So I did just that… I didn’t train legs. I didn’t squat, I didn’t lunge, I didn’t leg press. NOTHING… Face. Palm. Running does NOT shape your leg muscles. In fact, running distance for too long at a steady pace actually breaks down leg muscles. Running will burn excess calories and help improve cardiovascular health, but it does NOT define your legs or build a perky, round behind. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with running. Just don’t substitute it for leg training. They are not the same!
6. It’s okay to take a day off from the gym.
When I first started my fitness journey I was scared to take a day off from the gym. I actually hate the phrase “No days off.” I was convinced that if I took a day off it meant I failed that day, or I was lazy, or my willpower wasn’t strong enough. I was afraid that if I took one day off it would lead to whole week off, then a whole month off and that I would ultimately let myself go. The truth is, your body and your mind need a day off from the gym. Your body needs to recover in order to prevent mental and physical burnout and possible injury. I have learned that is okay to take a day off. It’s okay to take a week off. Its okay to take as much time off as you need. When you get back into the gym you’ll be re-energized and re-focused. Taking a day off doesn’t mean you are weak or undedicated. It means you’re smart and taking care of yourself.
7. Consistency is very important.
When I first started my fitness journey I didn’t realize how important consistency was. Consistency, in the gym and with your diet, is key- it reveals what works and what doesn’t work. You can’t expect consistent results if you, yourself aren’t consistent. I spent to much time being inconsistent with my workouts. For example, once I realized that I needed to train legs (see above) I would go the gym and use the squat rack… maybe once or twice a month when I “felt” like it. Then every “once in a while” I would use the leg press instead. One week I would train legs two times a week and then the following week I would only train legs once. Not surprisingly I didn’t see any progress. I sometimes drank a protein shake after working out and I sometimes made sure to eat enough protein throughout the day. My results lagged. It wasn’t until I started being consistent with my workouts (following a set plan and writing it down) and consistent with my diet that my results sky rocketed and I was able to pin point what did and didn’t work for me. I am of course, by no means perfect and spot on everyday day, but I’m always striving to be as consistent as possible when possible.
8. There is no such thing as good and bad foods.
When I first started my fitness journey I fell into this trap of labeling foods as good and bad. I guess I can’t really blame myself when I can barely go a day without hearing the phrase, “I ate so bad today” or “This food is so good for you.” I honestly believe that there is no such thing as good and bad foods. Yes, there are foods that provide zero nutrition and supply TONS of calories, but that does not make them “bad.” This just means that you should consume them in moderation and be mindful of portion sizes. If you eat a doughnut for breakfast instead of egg whites it does not make you a bad person. Associating foods with the words “bad” or “good” fosters an unhealthy relationship with food. It wasn’t until I let go of the idea that foods were good and bad that I learned it was okay to eat anything, literally anything (in moderation) and still meet my physique and fitness goals.
9. It’s Okay to Reward Yourself.
When I first started my fitness journey I don’t think I rewarded myself enough. In fact, I was very hard on myself. If I ran a mile, it wasn’t two miles so it wasn’t a big deal. If I completed a 5k it wasn’t a 10k, so it wasn’t a big deal. Every milestone I accomplished in the gym I shrugged off like it was no big deal. You should celebrate every little achievement that you have. It’s an odd thing, rewarding yourself. We are taught not to brag, to be humble, and modest. And while I agree with this, we also need to remember to reward ourselves for our accomplishments. Even if it’s just getting up to go to spin class in the morning before work or hitting a new PR on your squat, it’s okay to pay yourself on the back for a job well done. You deserve it.
10. The scale won’t bring you happiness. Ever.
When I first started my fitness journey I thought that reaching a certain weight on the scale would make me happy. I knew that if I saw “X” on the scale I would feel so accomplished, so invincible, so capable. Well, at one point or another I saw that weight. I saw “X” on the scale. What I did to achieve it was less than pretty, but I did it. And guess what? I still wasn’t happy. In fact, I was far from happy. It’s been a long time since I saw “X” on the scale and I hope to never see it again. The scale can be a great tool for progress in the beginning, but at some point or another I highly suggest you let go of the idea that you need to be “X” number of pounds in order to feel like you’ve been successful. It won’t bring you happiness, not now, not ever. Focus on what makes you feel happy that isn’t a number. Whether its making a home cooked meal, learning how to do a pull up, or running your fastest mile.
What are some things you wish you would have known or wish you would have told yourself when you began your fitness journey? Can you relate to any of the above?