You can approach your fitness journey in two ways: QUANTITATIVELY and QUALITATIVELY.
A quantitative approach would mean tracking numbers–your personal records in the gym, calories, bodyweight and the size of your waist. There are many methods to do this and most fitness programs incorporate a lot of excel files, calculators, kitchen scales and measuring tapes. Although this is a clear and precise way to achieve your goal, it can be confusing, time consuming, obsessing, and frustrating. That’s because there is no fixed amount of weight we should lift to build muscle, get stronger or become healthier (unless we want to impress other people or join a competition!). According to Precision Nutrition, the world’s leading nutrition coaching educational system, the actual calories in food aren’t accurate and can be off by up to 40%, making counting calories a constant trial and error. In addition, our bodyweight, which fluctuates throughout the day, is dependent on the fiber we ate, water we drank, and sodium we’ve consumed.
That’s not to say a quantitative approach is bad. It certainly can be useful especially at the beginning of your fitness journey where you are still getting a picture of what you are changing and understanding the clear steps to get to your goal. However, if we’re to look at the bigger picture, the reason most of us start exercising and eating healthy is because we simply want to improve the QUALITY of our lives whether that’s to be free from illness, to live longer or to be more present with our loved ones. This entails transitioning to a from a QUANTITATIVE mindset into a QUALITATIVE mindset.
As a fitness coach, who grew up with anxiety and insecurity, I used fitness to reinvent myself and to take on an identity like of a professional athlete. Many injuries, trips to the hospital and heartbreaks later, I realized that my body wasn’t naturally built to withstand the intense training of a professional athlete. To reach the next level, I’d need to take banned substances and performance enhancing drugs to “even out the playing field”, as they say.
During this period of confusion, there was no one to connect with but myself. I started asking myself why I started fitness in the first place. I discovered that reconnecting with myself was core reason why I enjoyed fitness for a long time. It was the quality of life it gave me, that made exercising more fulfilling, not my Back Squat record, body fat percentage or number of packs in my abs. My mind wanted athleticism and aesthetics, but my body longed for health and wellness. When I understood how to reconnect with my body, I stopped treating it an an ornament but rather as an instrument. This is why reconnecting with ourselves is so important. It allows us to honor our limitations and detach from perfection. Having a body or performance goal is not wrong. In many ways, I still have that goal. But instead of prioritizing what society (or gym culture) has conditioned me to aspire for, I balance it out by listening to what my body needs and it has become far more fulfilling.
Here are some important concepts I learned over the years that helped me reconnect with myself and achieve balance:
1. Breathing. In lifting weights, proper breathing is needed so your body can exert enough force. In every task, breathing supplies oxygen, relaxes our body and improves our mental focus. Breathing happens unconsciously but by actively making it conscious, we can use it to get stronger in mind and body. When feeling overwhelmed, try Box Breathing: inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, holding your breathe for 4 seconds, exhale in a sigh for 4 seconds then holding your breath for 4 seconds. During this process, it can help if you think about inhaling everything that’s “good”, letting it fill up your body as you hold, exhaling a long sigh everything that’s “bad” and finally detaching from it during that last hold. Repeat for 5 to 10 breathes.
2. Pain. Each repetition of an exercise draws us into pain. When we are in pain, our mind doesn’t focus on a hurtful comment or a past heartbreak. Pain pulls us into the present moment. By regularly doing exercises that are designed to be painful (but safe), we become highly accustomed with pain and therefore highly attuned to the present moment. Always being in the present moment shifts our focus to the task at hand whether that’s having a conversation with a loved one, finishing a project and tending to household chores. Presence makes us more productive and efficient in everything we do–we make ourselves proud and the people around us happy.
3. Strengths and Weaknesses. In training, it’s normal if you can’t do all the exercises or lift the recommended weight. Failure isn’t a reason to give up, or to switch to the next program. Reconnecting with yourself means getting acquainted with your strengths and weaknesses. It’s about honoring your limitations instead of believing in the idea that our bodies are limitless machines. The sooner you reconnect with yourself, the faster you can progress.
4. Your Relationship with Food. Food is an integral part of fitness but is not simply another variable for losing weight. Yes, the nutrients (and chemicals) found in food provide us sustenance, but there is more to food than calories. Each meal is an experience of flavors nature has to offer. There is a story behind every dish, where it is sourced, how it is cooked and why it has been prepared. Food provides the information to our body whether it can express health or sickness. Yes, tracking of your CARBS is essential to stabilize your glucose levels, but the less you think of food as a quantity and instead as a means to a quality life, the more you build a healthy relationship with it. The healthier your relationship with food, the less it takes a hold of you. There are no restrictions, deprivations, crash dieting or mandatory eating. There is only a HARMONY of what you WANT from food emotionally (pleasure, sustainability, global awareness, etc.) and what you NEED physiologically (nutrients, vitamins, minerals, fiber, water).
Today, let me invite you to reconnect with yourself. Start by reconnecting with your body. With a proper program that incorporates mindful exercises, balanced nutrition and mindfulness, you can unleash the best version of yourself. Disconnect from perfection and start tapping into your intuition. A treasure inside of you awaits.
“Why do we have to listen to our hearts?” the boy asked.
“Because, wherever your heart is, that is where you will find your treasure.” — Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
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Have a great day!