Body Transformations vs Self Compassion

My older brothers are both physical specimen. Kickboxing champions, fitness enthusiasts, you know that weird breed of human that seems to like exercise? I am not that breed. I was always a scrap of skin, bones and anxiety. I always dreamed of “getting ripped in six weeks” or “bulking up for summer”. I heard my brothers talking about supplements, training approaches and marginal gains. But I didn’t want marginal gains. I wanted a training montage. I wanted to go from zero to hero in about 3 minutes with ACDC in the background and then a jump in the air with a dramatic freezeframe! Yeah, I can see why they didn’t want to work out with me too.

Like every person going into their thirties I started looking towards exercise and diet as a means to slyly convince myself I wasn’t deteriorating and eventually dying. With my skinny frame and beer belly I looked like a lower-case b. I always wanted a dramatic ‘before and after’ and after a lot of work I felt I was in perfect shape… to take a before shot.

I tried intermittent fasting – only eating between midday and 8pm. There is great research that this works well and isn’t dangerous. However, I like to eat socially and explaining this arbitrary rule about timings all the time made me sounds like a gremlin: “don’t get him wet, he hates sunlight and don’t let him eat after sunset!”. I lasted a month.

I tried the Keto diet – this is the high fat, high protein diet. It’s great if you love fish, red meat and dairy. I am a vegetarian… there’s only so much lentils one man can eat! I lasted two weeks.

I tried busting my behind in the gym – I bought the protein powder, I made myself go four times a week. I pushed myself until I couldn’t push anymore. I made great gains but… in the end I lasted two months.

But every time I ended up failing. I ended up missing a few days, having a few drinks but mostly having a busy diary and not feeling like I could handle doing those things with aching muscles and a rumbling stomach. If you try to make a drastic change to your body in six weeks – you will have a horrible six weeks. You will be hungry the whole time and your body will hurt.Then when you go back to normal you’ll gorge yourself to compensate. But what if I could change what ‘normal’ was for me.

Exercise advice is generally terrible. It’s all NEVER GIVE UP! GO UNTIL YOU CAN’T WALK! LITERALLY CRY IN THE GYM! This year I decided to take a more compassionate approach.

In January I bought some weights. I started using them once a week. That’s a whole once a week more than I used to! By the end of February I was using them twice a week and in March I was using them three times a week. And I stuck to this regimen strictly… except when I didn’t. If I missed a session, or let it slip I would forgive myself again and again and make sure I get back into the routine as soon as I can.

By May I started a diet. Where previously I had eaten whatever I want for three meals a day (plus snacks) I decided I would have porridge with fruit for breakfast, a different healthy lunch each day and then whatever I want for dinner. I stuck to this regimen strictly… except when I didn’t. If I went for lunch with family, or needed a greasy spoon after a night out, it doesn’t matter. I forgive myself and get back on with the routine as soon as I can.

There was no rapid change. But for the first time in my life, I had started an exercise regimen that wasn’t a fad. It’s been 10 months of exercising regularly. With self-compassion I’ve gotten rid of the most fattening part of any diet – failure. Things became much better for me when I dropped the fads, stopped making short term changes to my body and started making long term changes to my life.  

By Josh Elton

Valleys Steps Associate