In a few short weeks, I will be 60 years old. What!? It seems unbelievable to me. I don’t feel any differently than I did when I was in my thirties – except for perhaps greater wisdom, and definitely more pragmatism about life. I’ll be celebrating my 60th birthday in Hawaii, hence the image that accompanies this post.
I’m a fitness professional. Often that designation brings to mind images of young, hyper-fit, tanned and toned women and men with boundless enthusiasm and perfect eating habits.
But that’s not me. And it’s not most people, either. So instead, I propose we change the channel and look at health and wellness from a real-life perspective.
What does a “healthy” person look like?
First and foremost, “healthy” is not about outward appearance in my opinion. To me, a healthy person has energy, vitality, mobility, and balance. Whether a person’s scale weight or body type plays a part in that can vary widely based on the individual.
One example of this is in the sport of triathlon. Participants may choose to compete in their age group, or if they qualify (based on body weight), in a separate category for larger body types. These are known as Clydesdales (for men) and Athenas (for women). Although these athletes don’t meet society’s standard of “fit” based on appearance, they are nevertheless quite strong and capable of completing a demanding endurance event.
I believe that your best weight is whatever weight you are when you’re practicing the healthiest lifestyle that you actually enjoy living. That means if you like to exercise five days a week, but you also want to have pizza with your kids on Friday nights, your ideal weight is that where you can do both of those things and feel good about it. Because while being at a healthy weight is important, so is living your life.
What about nutrition?
There are so many “diets” out there today. To me, though, the best diet (as we use the term today) isn’t a “diet” at all. I try to avoid using that “D-word” because of its negative connotations of deprivation, suffering and willpower. I’d rather talk about a nutrition plan or program. The best one nourishes your body effectively, is satisfying and satiating, and when combined with regular exercise, helps your body to achieve and maintain a healthy body composition for you (not what the scale shows).
I think fad diets are born from our inherent desire for a quick fix with minimal effort. Fads get their “legs” from paid celebrities’ and quasi-experts’ endorsements, massive amounts of advertising, and anecdotal evidence. Certain diets have had long-standing histories that offer a particular allure based on some deeper emotional connection or desire. For example, when you think of Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig or NutriSystem, what comes to mind? To me, it’s “fast and easy with no deprivation.” Then there’s Paleo and Keto, which have this aura of mystic and toughness that makes others admire you for doing it. Vegetarians and vegans often have an underlying ideology, like animal welfare, “clean” eating or environmentalism – all admirable causes I can relate to.
What troubles me more than fad diets, though, is the exploding “nutraceutical” industry. These companies push their own versions of a magic pill or potion that will cure everything from acne to cancer. These companies are unregulated, and their claims are often based on complicated-sounding pseudo-studies. But when you dig deeper, you may find that they mostly rely on anecdotal evidence from people who’ve used the product (the placebo effect is a very real thing). What’s also interesting to me is that the ones making these claims are also usually selling the product as well, through multi-level marketing.
Just nourish your body with foods as close to their original source as possible and avoid the over-processed and the artificial. I’m not obsessed with going organic/free-range, but in some cases (especially certain vegetables) organic just tastes better.
And then there’s exercise
I think we should tell more stories about how exercise makes you feel and move, and less how it makes you look. Our bodies are designed to move. Unfortunately, western culture has gotten us so far away from that with desk-based work and entertainment/technology that keeps us sitting for hours and hours. It’s really scary to think that we need a federal government program to motivate kids to go outside and play for an hour a day. As grown-ups, most of us can relate though. It’s a common misconception that in order to want to do or change something, you must first feel “motivated.” In fact, motivation is the effect, not the cause. It’s the action itself that produces motivation, not the other way around.
When you’re just starting with exercise, it’s easy to minimize your true potential. But in fact, your true potential far exceeds what feels possible in the moment. You’re stronger than you think you are, and you’ll find yourself proving this to your former self every day.
Perfection not required
When it comes to creating a healthy lifestyle, pursuing perfection is a fool’s errand. I should know – I’ve been running that errand for much of my life! Instead, just try to focus on simply being a little bit better today than yesterday, even if it’s one tiny step. When you work toward “better” you’ll get much farther than striving to be perfect, and inevitably failing.
Most importantly, don’t compare yourself with others…especially as seen on social media, magazines and advertising. Just work hard and be yourself.
Finally, a healthy lifestyle means sleeping more, playing more, and engaging face-to-face with other humans, animals, and nature. It’s being mindful and grateful as well, for all that we have.
Laurie Kelly is a virtual fitness professional who believes her work should be about much more than just weight loss – it should be about support and coaching to help with stress relief, mindset, nutrition, and longevity…and of course, exercise. Contact her here or subscribe to her blog for monthly doses of practical information and inspiration.