“How does one control weight? By not overeating. How does one stay in shape? One plays sports. There are no magic pills here.” ~Vladamir Putin
Many of my readers may not know that I had my own struggles with weight in childhood and throughout my twenties. I was a classic overeater and I remember saying, “I can’t moderate. I’m an all or nothing person.” I also remember feeling as if I were a ship lost at sea, being tossed to and fro with no direction and no rudder to guide me. I felt tortured, helpless and completely unable to control many aspects of my life.
I tried different diets and exercise programs and was unable to stick with any of them for more than a few weeks or months at a time. I had some limited success but the weight always came back, that is until I learned a valuable lesson.
I took part in a class that gave me something I had never had before – freedom to eat any food that I wanted! I could eat absolutely anything – chocolate, fried foods, desert, salad with real dressing, full-fat cheese. I felt so liberated to finally realize that the food wasn’t the problem. Instead of blaming food for my weight problem, I learned the problem was within me. My desires, my mental obsession, my trying to control the food rather my own self, was the the root of my being overweight.
I took the class in 1998 and have maintained my weight since. I haven’t been perfect throughout the years but I know when I am getting off track and how to fix it; I stop overeating.
As a personal trainer, I realize my philosophy on exercise and food is certainly an anomaly by today’s standards. I don’t believe in torturing my clients with volumes of cardio or weights. I don’t give diet advice. I tell any potential new clients that if they are only looking to lose weight then they really don’t need my fitness services.
Instead, I offer my clients an opportunity to learn how to use exercise as a way to maintain and build their bodies. I teach them holistic practices – yoga and kettlebell – that have been time-tested throughout hundreds of years. I teach them to connect with their bodies in a positive way, accepting them for the awesome machines that they are. I do not provide my services as a way to compensate for overeating.
I disagree with today’s approach to diet and exercise. The two terms are erroneously used together as if they are synonymous. They are not. Diet and exercise are two completely different aspects of health in the same way that walking and driving a car are both forms of travel. Driving a car gets you to your destination faster if you know where you’re going.
However, diet and exercise arrive at different destinations. If you try to use the terms and actions interchangeably, you won’t get to the right destination. Diet is a means to control your weight, to keep you at a healthy weight where your clothes fit well and your general health is good. Exercise on the other hand, is a path to better overall health, making your body look good in the clothes that fit, while making your joints stable and muscles strong.
I often tell my clients that one cannot exercise enough to overcome the effects of overeating. For example, one large piece of pepperoni pizza from Pizza Hut contains about 370 calories. On average, walking briskly for one mile for a 150 pound person burns just 91 calories. Which is easier? Skipping the extra piece of pizza or walking nearly four miles to burn it off? Multiply the effect by three meals per day and the solution is quite clear. Most people don’t have the time or inclination to walk twelve miles per day to burn off the effects of superfluous calories.
Exercise (or training as I like to call it) when separated from diet begins to take a different form. Instead of being something onerous as a way to “control weight,” it becomes a path for better health. When used as a tool to sharpen skills, improve reflexes, improve cardiovascular fitness, strengthen and tone muscles, develop better coordination, gain flexibility and maintain or increase balance and stability, exercise becomes necessary in a completely different way than as a rudimentary and ineffective means for weight control.
When used properly, exercise opens up a world of opportunity for each person to discover their own personal preferences for exercise that is actually enjoyable! I am extremely pleased that I have found the two disciplines that I teach – kettlebell and yoga. Between the two, I never get bored; I work all facets of my fitness (cardio, strength and flexibility); I learn continually and require very little equipment. I have found my own personal sweet spot that works well for me with both my non-diet diet and non-fitness fitness. (As an aside, I know another trainer who calls group fitness classes “group torture sessions.”)
I always hope that as I teach, my clients will learn to listen to their own bodies and really tune-in to the language being spoken. Everyone has a unique body with unique skills and requirements. Being able to determine the proper type and amount of food requires great listening skills, as does knowing how much physical training should be done. Truly, there are no magic pills but magic begins to happen when we learn to hear and understand our own personal body language.