Don’t Join the Gym Today
Physical fitness is one of the best investments you can make for yourself. Working towards fitness goals will make you a stronger person, physically and mentally. You’ll feel better and (duh, most importantly) look better. I want you to get out there and work your ass off. Just not today.
The expectations we place on January 1st are absurd. Every year we make plans to quit smoking, lose weight, go back to school, get a better job, find a better relationship, get out of debt, and otherwise make our mark on a cold and unforgiving planet. And for the most part we really don’t mean a fucking word of it.
Year after year we set ourselves up for disappointment. Sometimes our resolutions are unrealistic (I will figure out my life) or vague (I will be a better person) and we immediately doom ourselves to failure. Sometimes we simply don’t make a reasonable plan for success.
When we throw out the old calendar and begin a new year it feels like we get a chance to start over. We can learn from all of the mistakes of the past and become brand new and better people, literally overnight. This year there will be no more shitfaced Tuesdays. No longer will we eat lean cuisine and cigarettes every night. This is the year we turn it all around. This year we will finally be happy goddammit.
We crave redemption. We need forgiveness. We are compelled to make big, sweeping changes in order to feel cleansed. And there are tons of people out there that will gladly take your money for the opportunity to make you temporarily whole. This isn’t a new phenomenon. Going way, way, way back to the middle ages, the Catholic church literally sold forgiveness in the form of Indulgences (what up, Martin Luther!).
For the last several years, the most common New Year’s resolution for Americans is to lose weight. I don’t wish to offer any moral judgement on whether or not a person is overweight. Everyone is different and that’s rad. But given that 69% of American adults are classified as overweight, it shouldn’t be any surprise that there are scores companies working hard to sell you things you don’t need so that you might feel ephemeral absolution. The health and fitness industry is rife with bullshit “miracle cures” and “shocking secrets” for weight loss.
Are you familiar with the Master Cleanse? It is a massively popular crash “diet” that exists in a special place between extreme weight loss fads and our innate need for redemption (it’s called the MASTER CLEANSE for Pete’s sake). Here’s what the diet consists of via this stupid, stupid website:
The Master Cleanse is such a simple program to teach in 100 words or less: First, squeeze Fresh Lemon Juice. Then add Rich Maple Syrup, and Cayenne Pepper into Pure Water. Drink a minimum of six to 12 glasses throughout the day whenever one is hungry. Take a laxative before bed. Instead of the morning laxative, you can do the Salt Water Flush.
These dinguses actually recommend you consume nothing but water, laxatives, and pepper for two weeks. Credit due here: you WILL lose weight if you do that (in addition to muscle mass) but you’ll gain every pound back as soon as you stop. That is absurd, do not do that. Our bodies work CONSTANTLY to cleanse themselves and they need things like protein and vitamin-rich vegetables to do their jobs, not a sudden halt to the fuel that keeps it running.
Do you want to know the one shocking secret for losing weight? It is actually pretty simple: Consume fewer calories than your body needs to maintain your current state. The best way to do this is to increase the rate at which you use calories (i.e. exercise) and count the calories you consume. It’s annoying but it works. The Jenny Craig system is successful because it employs this exact principle of caloric restriction (you can and should do this on your own without buying her overpriced packaged meals, though). You can use all kinds of tools to see how many calories are in the foods you eat. Here’s one. From there, you can use a calculator to get a general idea of how many calories you need per day with your weight and level of exercise.
So what about exercise? Let’s get really real here: If you buy a gym membership today, the massive overwhelming odds say that you will stop going in a few weeks and continue to pay for a service you don’t use through the rest of the year. Gyms rely on well-intentioned folks to start the new year with high hopes by giving them a credit card and promptly fucking right off forever. So what’s the solution for working exercise into your lifestyle? It kinda depends on your goals and physical shape. Jogging or yoga could work for you. I am, shockingly, not a doctor but I strongly recommend weight training. Oh look! There’s a really great guide right here. Regardless, try things out and don’t get suckered into a long contract before you’re sure you can commit.
Calorie reduction sucks. Burning calories through exercise sucks. Hunger sucks. There are many reasons why our fitness goals often go unmet. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to dissuade you from betterment; I want you to succeed at every goal you give yourself. Instead of marching blindly towards a vague goal, we should set ourselves up for success by learning out the problem and setting concrete goals.
Rather than spending the day beating yourself up about how you should completely change your life, I’d like to offer an alternative to our annual parade of guilt-based resolutions. This year, simply resolve to explore a subject you’re curious about. Maybe resolve to listen to more music from unfamiliar genres, or learn an instrument, or read a book about beer. After all, life is about balance. Mostly.