Earlier this week, I read an article about the effects of shame and guilt on gym memberships, particularly for men. Since then, I’ve been practicing a particular strain of mindfulness; when I’m eating and when I’m feeling fat.
Here’s a little context. About two years ago, I made a series of decisions to start really losing weight. Prior to that driven part of my life, I had tried and failed to make a routine out of eating well and working out many times over many years. Here’s what worked for me, condensed into a few statements; I stopped drinking beer, I started learning about nutrition and it’s effects on health, mental stability and strength, I started running and I eventually learned all about sugar. Since those days, I’ve lost about 100 pounds and kept it off. My walking weight is now at 165-170, though I will fluctuate weekly.
Today, I’m sitting here at 178, feeling like an absolute piece of shit.
Since reading the article about how shame and guilt push men into gyms, I’ve really been paying attention to my emotional states as I eat, snack and in particular, when that familiar wave of ‘I feel fat’ makes it’s way into my psyche. For some reason, I feel strange writing about this – like it’s supposed to be my secret battle, an internal struggle only. I guess that really is the ugly face of societal taboo.
Basically, the article focuses on the idea that men, and in particular, overweight men, focus more on body image than on the aspects of fitness that actually matter to health. I’d like to say I’m not affected, but when I really slow everything down to pick it apart in my mind – I totally am. My role models, good men by any measure, are guys like Tim Kennedy, Dwayne Johnson and Joe Rogan. These guys are strong, intelligent and by all means appear to be good men. They’re also fucking jacked.
I listen to as many motivational shorts as the next guy to get me fueled up for a run. In the past few weeks I’ve actually hit new personal bests with Joe shouting ‘be the hero of your own life story’ in my ear. I ran a half marathon in 2 hours and arrived home feeling like superman. Though I can’t remember specifically (and it could just be my mind coming down from a dopamine rush from my maple-syrup infused oatmeal breakfast) but I’m nearly sure that the good feelings were whitewashed with a sense of not being ‘good enough’ soon after. Even though I’d just achieved the best running time and distance of my entire life, I still have that dad-bod that everybody loves to hate staring me back in the mirror.
Just. Not. Good. Enough.
I don’t know where it comes from directly. Sure, advertising and the constant flow of model-ready men being paraded around every form of media I take in. For some reason, that doesn’t feel like a good enough reason to be affected the way that I am. So, do I create it in my own mind? Why can’t I be satisfied with the progress I’ve already made instead of just bouncing it off a wall of everyone else?
Maybe it’s a blend, though. Just maybe, it’s a part of the drive that set me forward to make such substantial changes to begin with. Maybe that constant push to get better is just progression at the heart of it, competition against myself and my own limits. Maybe the lack of feelings for accomplishment really comes from that brutal truth, the one that gnaws at each of us, as far as I can tell – the one that says you’ve got more in the tank, don’t give up. We all feel it, sometimes more than others – we know we have a better version of ourselves, waiting to be unlocked.
Maybe it’s just the spirit of progress. Maybe it’s all in my head.
Whatever it is, I can feel it when I slow the world down enough to really examine my thoughts and feelings. It is especially present when I’m eating something, in the moment that I know I really don’t need to be. It’s there when I’m working out and I know I’ve got more in the tank. Not all the time, but every so often, it’s there when I catch a reflection of myself, knowing full well that I can be more than the man that’s looking back at me.
With good diet and exercise, there are immeasurable mental gains to be made. You’ll become more driven, focused and self-respecting. You’ll be a better human being. I think maybe the spot that I find myself is the dreaded ‘plateau’. A half way point, stuck in limbo. Wanting better but lacking the drive to really make it happen – because at the end of the day, progression is up to me, nobody else. I have to be able to reconcile that if I want to move forward – my own feet carry me there. Regardless of how much I want to or not, if I don’t walk, I don’t move.
There is an interesting trend in men’s health, and once I could break away from the commotion enough to put myself on the scale against it, I found myself struck. Here I am, consumed by guilt for not making the right choices, the ones I know I’m bound to for best health and senses of self. I walk around shamed, not by anyone else or the ‘pressures’ of modern day imagery, but by the in-your-guts knowledge that I can be better, though I choose not to be.
The real challenge isn’t in a half marathon. It’s not behind the squat rack. The real hard part is finding the version of yourself you want to be, working towards it constantly and obsessively but at the same time, finding value and worth in the person you are today. Make small steps, grind hard and never, ever quit.