The first and foremost reason why many of us start exercising or eat better is to lose weight. We can pretend that it is not true, but it is the most common underlying motive. Hence, you rarely hear someone say: “I exercise to feel better mentally” or “I eat better to lower blood lipids”. And while there are numerous reasons why people want to lose weight in the first place, improving self-esteem is, not surprisingly, at the top of the list – and rightly so. I mean, you “wear” your body all day long, every day, in every situation. It is the first thing people notice about you, and unfortunately it is what they use to form an opinion: “That person carries excess weight, therefore they must be lazy”. How many people still think that when they see an overweight man walking hand in hand with a beautiful woman, he must be rich, or funny, or both. It is sad, but too often true.
Carrying excess weight negatively impacts one’s self-esteem and can become a real mental burden. I have worked with many clients who, after losing a lot of weight, confided that they still felt like a “fat person” inside. They had formed along the years a very unhealthy self-image based on their body and how others perceived them. It might have started at a young age – when they were made fun of because they were the overweight kid of the class -- or because they were always picked last for sports. Being subjected to further judgments as an overweight adult only amplified the phenomenon.
Undoubtedly, a vast majority of people start to exercise because they are tired of the way they feel about themselves. And it’s a good thing that they do. I am not going to lecture you about the health risks associated with carrying excess body fat. You and I both know them very well. Instead, I will tell you what happens to those who take the leap and who become regular exercisers, to those who decide to change the way they eat, and to those who adopt a healthy lifestyle.
After spending a few months experiencing new levels of physical pain and discomfort; after overcoming daily struggles: Changing the way they eat, surmounting anxiety about what people might think of them, meeting with harsh criticism – sometimes from people very close to them – people slowly start to change inside.
They progressively notice that they are generally happier and more cheerful. They feel peaceful and handle stress better. They are more inclined to compliment others (when you start to like yourself better, you feel more compelled to do that), they sleep better, they are sick less often, and they become more productive at work – because the brain functions optimally when you are lean and exercise regularly. They regain optimal physical functions: They can run, play sports, walk for hours without being out of breath or without experiencing joint pain. They can do yard work without undue fatigue, play with their grandkids, finish their workday still feeling energetic and even enjoy a better sex life.
I know I started lifting weights at an early age because I had been picked on and bullied as a kid and because I was shy and an introvert; I wanted my “new body” to inspire respect, even fear in others. However, what I quickly realized was that training every day helped me deal with anxiety much better. It helped my hyperactive brain focus like never before and made me sleep soundly for the first time in my life. Wanting bigger arms is what got me in a gym originally, but how good it makes me feel inside is what keeps me going many, many years after. I don’t care that my initial motive to start training was “image-based”. It allowed me to discover something that made my life so much better.
Therefore, as a kinesiologist and a professional trainer, I really don’t care if you take on exercising to lose weight. Some people might call you “shallow” for wanting a better body or think that it is egotistical to feel proud about how you look, but I don’t. It’s ok to feel good in your own skin; it’s actually very healthy. And I am so glad that you are dissatisfied with your body. I am truly happy if you woke up angry at yourself this morning and decided that enough is enough; and that you dusted that old treadmill of yours and put on your shoes to run at 6 am. You are embarking on a journey that is going to change your life for the best on so many levels. You don’t know just how much yet.