Nat weighs up fitness and realises staying in shape can be likened to the company we keep.
For any bodybuilder, weight, or mass as it’s called, is good. The object, of course is to gain muscle mass, the more the better. This requires perseverance: disciplined training programmes and special diets so that one can build muscle and, when competition season comes around, lose fat to show it all off. One wants good mass (muscle) but understands that, except in times of competition, one also lives with a fair amount of bad mass (fat).
Amateurs — the majority of gym members who don’t bother with competing — have a different goal. That is to have enough strength to stay fit, ward off infirmity and to look good, and to have an acceptable ratio of muscle mass to fat without much fluctuation. All these can be accomplished without radical diets or chemical supplements.
So, for professionals trying to beat the competition as well as amateurs trying to maintain good health, weight, believe it or not, can be a friend.
Well, there are some people with whom I’m no longer friends. We start out liking each other and hang out regularly. Then something happens and the relationship becomes toxic. In fitness terms, what starts out as bigger arms and firmer legs can turn into a bigger belly and sagging arse, a fatty liver and clogged arteries. Like a bad friendship, one’s approach to fitness can cease to work.
I’m not talking about friendships that have lapsed. In those cases, people grow apart. One person is busier than the other. Interests diverge. Someone moves away or, as is often the case, moves on. Life is full of friends like that. With those people, one might actually become close once again because the friendship, like a fitness programme, is a good one and you can easily go back to it.
It’s hard to tell the difference between the two.
Anyone who has followed my blog — indeed anyone who has seen my picture — knows I struggle with my weight. Up to the age of 34, I could literally eat anything I wanted and I not only had muscle, I had little enough fat padding it that I had decent definition. I exercised to gain and maintain mass but didn’t need or want precise, competition-level muscle definition (‘getting shredded’ in bodybuilding parlance). In those days, I could eat anything and then, if I gained a bit of weight, cutting out dessert for a week would get me back in shape. No big deal. That is, until my metabolism changed. That was when my weight just kept going up and up. For me, the past 15 years have been characterised by steady weight gain and many unsuccessful efforts to lose it. Weight is no longer a friend. See? It happens even to gym rats like me.
So how did this happen? For someone who spends as much time in the gym as I do, I should be in better shape. I should have an acceptable ratio of muscle to fat. I should, at the very least, not have excess weight on my waist. So where did the dreaded love handles come from? Well, one answer is that I’m a stress eater. In the past, I would have minor bouts of stress characterised by eating a pint of ice cream. But now that I’m older, the stress is greater and lasts longer. I get stressed, gain weight, lose it, run into more stress and gain it right back with interest.
The problem with yoyo-ing weight is that unsuccessful efforts to lose it take their own toll on the psyche, especially when, for most of my life, all I needed to do was diet for a week and the weight would come off and stay off. My approach to fitness is still that of someone who loses weight easily. But I don’t any more.
So whenever I have a bit of success getting my weight down, I get paranoid. Is it going to happen again? Will I lose weight then let up for what feels like a brief moment only to gain it all back and more? What can I do that’s different to make sure the weight and all the health complications that come along with it come off and stay off?
Among fitness professionals, a differentiation is made between a lapse and a relapse. A lapse is like having lost touch with a good friend for a while but, because the relationship is basically a good one, you pick up the phone one day and that bit of effort takes things back to what they were before. It is beneficial to everyone. Nothing fundamental has changed, it’s just that you got busy for a short time and a small effort makes everything good. Just like the days when I gave up cake for a week or two and found myself back in shape.
A relapse, however, is like resuming a long-term friendship that has become toxic. Your friend started out trustworthy but now borrows your money and never pays you back. His lies make you think he knows you’re in trouble and he’s making every effort to get you your money but, instead of doing anything to help you, he’s on a beach somewhere getting laid. Relapsing into a friendship with someone like that can only make you unhappy, unhealthy and, in one particular case I have in mind, broke. You get paranoid worrying that, for all your best efforts, you’ll run into the guy at dinner or the gym and end up lending him more money again and again. Like an outdated fitness programme, this friendship no longer works and going back to it is foolish.
So what is the difference between a lapse and a relapse? Not only is it one of time, it is one of repetition. A lapse is a short break, like a holiday or briefly losing touch. A relapse is like going back to a bad habit or situation and finding yourself unable to get out.
The difference is seeing the patterns, both in friendships and in fitness. Being able to tell which actions are good for you and which ones are bad can make all the difference between success and failure. This goes beyond just repetitive exercise. It requires self-examination and an examination of the habits and company we keep through life.
Recognising what no longer works and changing my approach to life and fitness is the only way to success. Eating healthier meals are good, but recognising that I need a break more than I need Häagen Dazs is better. Taking a break isn’t wimping out, it’s running away to fight another day. Furthermore, I have to make sure my holidays aren’t literally toxic. Getting drunk isn’t the goal; appreciating the good wine is. There are many more things that I need to do but none of them actually involve exercise. They involve, rather, my approach to health and friendships.
It’s kind of like getting invited out for drinks with a bankrupt friend who will only borrow more money and never pay it back. Rather than agree and test your ability to say no, it’s better to avoid that hazard completely.
14/05/2012 - 11:32