The Best and Worst Health Advice I’ve Ever Received, and 3 Simple Steps You Can Take to Change Your Life – Forever
Jason David, or “JD” for short, and I met met when we were 13 or 14 years old. We played baseball together. I really liked him. Then we lost touch and didn’t reconnect until 20 years later. I didn’t like him quite so much at that point. You see, he caused me a lot of pain and suffering. He was the owner of the CrossFit affiliate gym that I joined and for a 2-3 month period I had trouble tying my shoes, bending over to pick something up – God forbid someone poked me in the chest. I was sore, I was tired…but it was awesome. It was hard, but transformative. I came to JD out of shape, and in a relatively short period of time he helped me get as fit as I had been since college. I miss JD and my friends that I used to work out with, but fortunately I have found a similar community of awesome people at Coldfront CrossFit in Traverse City who continue to push me and, most importantly, make waking up at 5 a.m. to work out fun. As a final note – this is not a post about CrossFit. It’s a post about changing the trajectory of your life by finding a routine that works for you – whatever that may be.
Diet and exercise. It is the worst advice EVER!
I tried it for years. It never worked. I tried the gym down the street, the really fancy one by work and even the really cheap one. I tried running. I tried doing stuff at home. It was almost always the same thing for me. I’d get a plan and sign up in January. I’d work out 3 – 5 days per week and everything would seem to be going great.
I’d start eating differently. Not as much fast food, just protein shakes and “sensible lunches.” I tried over and over again and failed every time. I even tried with a buddy a few times. Then I’d miss a day, then he’d miss a day. Then I wouldn’t see him for a few months. Something would always happen.
But I knew the answer! All I had to do was eat right and exercise and everything would be great! But I kept stopping (I’m not going to use the word quitting for a reason, more on that later).
Why couldn’t I stick with it? Was I lazy? A loser? Too fat?
I certainly didn’t enjoy working out, but it was something I felt I had to do for my health. It’s super important – so why did I stop? Why do others keep going? How in the world does that person get up every day at 5:30 a.m. and go run on a treadmill? Are they just more disciplined than me? More dedicated? Are they better than me?
Maybe I was simply destined to be overweight. Maybe quitting smoking is harder for me than everybody else. For one reason or another I failed at every attempt to get my health in order as an adult. And as a responsible adult, I believed it was my fault.
My health kept going in the wrong direction. I kept buying bigger pants. Bigger belts. I started to be comfortable in my role as the “lazy fat guy.” I’d make fun of myself – others would laugh. It was a big joke. But in the back of my mind I knew there was a problem. The anxiety wouldn’t go away. The blood tests got worse and the weight kept going up. Too much drinking and eating were getting the best of me. Very simply, I was slowly killing myself.
In late 2007 I decided yet again that I was going to make a change. I went back to one of my gyms (still had a membership there even though I hadn’t gone in years). Took pics on day one – did the whole bit. I thought, this is it! I’m making a change for good this time!
It was working. I had quit smoking a few months prior and had been dedicated for several months. Dragging my tired ass to the gym and plugging away 5 days per week, I’d work out 4 days during the week and one on the weekend. I actually lost about 25 – 30 pounds. I’d finish my workouts with a protein shake and down egg whites for breakfast every day. But something was also eating away at me. Gnawing at me from the inside. Kind of like the health/fitness version of credit card debt. Something was always hanging over me like a dark cloud.
I hated going to the gym.
Never once was I excited to go. Never once did I look forward to it. In fact, I dreaded it. I figured everybody felt this way, and that was the price we pay for fitting into our pants. It stressed me out. I couldn’t believe people actually enjoyed this stuff. Was I supposed to keep this going? Forever?
So one day while I was supposed to be working (corporate desk job) all I was doing was surfing the internet. I hated my job so much and was so miserable that all I would do was look up fitness related stuff on the web and read various articles from an assortment of magazines.
One day I came across something that piqued my interest. It was a class-based program called CrossFit. I didn’t pick it for any other reason that it seemed hard. I didn’t know anything about the program and didn’t do any research whatsoever – which, in retrospect, was pretty irresponsible.
I gave it a try anyway, and then a fundamental change happened, although I didn’t realize it at the time.
After about a month of being “the new guy” and a complete disaster I started to get the hang of it. CrossFit is a group class program and it had a few regular members which made things a bit easier. Initially I was a bit more comfortable being in a one-on-one setting but as I got to know a few people there was more of a comfort level. It kind of reminded me of the first day of school. You know, how on day one you don’t know anybody but then a few weeks in you get to know a few people and even become friends? It’s kind of like that.
The program is also performance based…and I actually got pretty good at it. Or at least I thought I did. And since I had to write everything down (to track progress), goals were built in. It was intense for sure. And since it was kind of expensive compared to a typical gym, I felt obligated to keep going while my credit card was being charged.
So I stuck to this for a few months – I wanted to give an honest try to see if it was for me. In the beginning, other than meeting a few people it wasn’t much different than what had happened to me in my previous fitness endeavors. I still had to drag myself there to work out 2 – 3 times per week.
So one day I was at work bored out of my mind. I worked downtown and my CrossFit class was at 5 p.m. I had planned on going the next day but something came up. I had to go today if I was going to get my weekly workouts in. So I thought…screw it! I’ll just leave early and change in my car on the way.
I got in my car and started driving down Mt. Elliott in Detroit. I don’t know what time I left but I knew I was cutting it short (I hate being late). I also thought I’d have less of a chance of being pulled over for DWN (driving while naked) in Detroit than I would in Sterling Heights (about a 20 mile drive) which is where I was headed. So there I was, on Mt. Elliott right where it turns into Mound, in the middle of rush hour. Naked. Trying to change to get to the gym on time.
I made it! But I forgot my socks. I didn’t care though.
Years later I look back at this commute to the gym as the beginning of my lifestyle change. It wasn’t on purpose, but instead of thinking to myself “ahh screw it, I’ll just go tomorrow,” I did everything in my power to get to the gym on time. It wasn’t because of dedication. It wasn’t perseverance. It wasn’t “stick-to-it-iveness.” It was the exact same part of my brain that had dreaded working out for so long. It was the same part of my brain that would choose McDonalds over a salad. And it chose the gym that day.
Put simply, I just wanted to. For the first time in my life.
I could’ve done anything that day. Could’ve gotten a pizza and went home. Could’ve gone to the bar for happy hour. I could’ve gone home and watched TV. But I wanted, more than anything that day, to go to the gym.
Eight years later. I’m still doing it. I don’t try hard. I just do it. Not because it’s important, but because I like it. It’s not forced. I relish it. And I’m friends with almost everybody that does it with me. We eat well and we exercise. And we love it.
I know there are a lot of people out there stuck with that dark cloud overhead – and if you feel like a failure or a lazy piece of garbage you have to understand that it’s not your fault. If you joined a gym in January and stopped going because you were bored, you didn’t “quit.” You stopped. We’re simply not wired that way. I don’t have a degree in biology or psychology but I believe this firmly: If you are doing something that you think is supposed to benefit your health, and it stresses you out or bores you to pieces, you should stop. And then look for something else.
Diet and Exercise. It’s the Best Advice EVER!
For over eight years now I’ve eaten a good diet and exercised regularly. It was that simple. I’m happy with my health. I’m happy with how I look and feel. I’m able do things physically that I never thought possible eight years ago. The psychology of it is what made the difference for me. It was completely accidental. I didn’t know what I was looking for until I found it. And it saved my life.
My lifestyle change was about luck. It was about trial and error and it took me almost getting diabetes, having ulcerative colitis, pre-cancerous colon polyps and 42 inch pants to figure it out. Lucky for you, I’ve found a way for you to avoid all that.
Here’s how you can do it in 3 easy steps:
1. Find 5-10 people you know that work out. It doesn’t matter what they do for their workout. Make a list. Call them. Send them a text or Facebook message or whatever and make small talk. Ask them what it is they do and to tell you about it: How it has worked for them? Do they enjoy it? Just pick their brain for a bit. Don’t limit yourself to anything. Keep an open mind.
2. Ask them if they can name 5-10 people that work out at their gym off the top of their head. If they can, write the name of their gym down.
3. Call and set up an appointment tomorrow!
Disclaimer: Whatever you choose, do it for three months. You cannot disqualify any gym/club/group until you are there for three months. Don’t worry about anything other than showing up. Just get there. Don’t worry about getting hurt or being out of shape. If you make it three months, and you hate it, call the next gym/name on the list. And understand, it doesn’t have to be a traditional gym – just something that somebody enjoys that involves physical activity with a group of people. Don’t limit yourself. Just remember step 2.
Our physical limitations aren’t what keep us from exercising and living an active lifestyle. Our lack of willpower isn’t what makes us eat that entire bag of potato chips. We’re better than that, but we can’t go it alone. If you know anybody that gets up every morning and exercises mindlessly, alone, without specific goals or a purpose – they are the odd one. Not you.
Do something different this time. Instead of waiting util January, start today. Don’t shop on price. Don’t wait for a friend to start with you. Take charge. Find a group of people to work out with that you know will want to help you. They’re out there. And they may know you better than you think. They also can probably help you with that diet thing too – but that’s another post altogether!
Jason David is owner of St. Clair Shores CrossFit in St. Clair Shores, Michigan.