Most of us know how difficult it can be to get in shape. At one time or another, many of us have given up. Some experts suggest that it’s mainly because we’re unfocused or uninspired, and that the “cure” is simply to find the right person (or plan) to serve as a guide. Others claim that it’s only a matter of setting a well-defined goal, or coming to terms with the fact that we must commit to a rigid routine.
The way I see it, notions like these only serve to make people feel lazy and weak. They wrongly imply that you simply must make a “decision” to get off the couch and that claiming there’s anything more to it is just a convenient excuse. It’s no surprise, then, that so many folks blame themselves for their lack of success or that they feel so much shame when, time and again, they’re unable to stay the course.
What’s your “excuse” for failing to reach your fitness and weight-loss goals? Is it really that you are too lazy or weak to do what it takes to succeed? I doubt it.
Personally, I believe laziness is a symptom, not a cause, and usually stems from obstacles most of us don’t even know we have. These obstacles, which are more common and complex than most people know, are what I call “unidentified fitness obstacles” or “UFOs.”
UFOs are the missing links in our quest to be optimally fit. They’re the hidden reasons many of us keep falling short of our goals.
Years ago, when I had clients who quit working out or who had modest results, they would often find fault with their diet and exercise plan (and sometimes, with me!). I wondered why some of my clients would have great success and maintain what they achieved, while others, no matter how hard they tried, would make very little progress.
It then became clear that I needed to start digging deeper to get to the truth. This meant asking critical questions most fitness experts don’t know they should ask. Things like: “How are you sleeping? How do you feel? Does anything hurt?” Or, “Do you have energy swings? Do you find that you’re often fatigued?”
Once I realized how common it was for problems like these to be holding individuals back, I turned my focus toward uncovering the roots of each person’s particular blocks. Suddenly, clients who once achieved little success were now surpassing their goals. This encouraged me to explore and develop new ways of addressing UFOs.
I’ve found that there are basically two categories of UFOs: Mind-Body and Exercise. Mind-body UFOs include seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), as well as “snack amnesia,” hormonal imbalances and attention deficit disorder (ADD). Exercise UFOs include inefficient training techniques, improper equipment adjustments and failing to modify your routine over time.
These are just a few of the other UFOs that can limit, or halt, fitness success.
· Food allergies or intolerances, such as lactose, yeast or wheat sensitivities (they can cause cravings, bloating, illness, disrupted metabolism and low energy)
· Being on the wrong birth control pill or wrong combination of drugs (can cause weight gain, depression and lethargy)
· Adult ADD (can keep you from focusing on or completing tasks)
· Depression (you eat out of boredom or for an emotional boost)
· Low levels of testosterone, serotonin, DHEA or imbalanced thyroid hormones (can cause a lack of energy, difficulty increasing lean body mass or losing fat)
· Candidiasis (yeast overgrowth; may cause you to gain weight)
· Poor body image (may cause you to binge or overeat unhealthy foods)
Part of the problem is that there are a lot of UFOs – so many, in fact, that few physicians and trainers are familiar with them all. And even if they are aware that these types of problems do exist, they don’t understand how much they can limit a person’s success.
The safe, one-size-fits-all advice is to “exercise more and eat less,” but it’s not of much practical use to a person struggling with one or more UFOs. And I’ve found UFOs are far more common than most people think. In fact, nine of every 10 people have at least three that are holding them back.
Coming Back to Earth
No one approach works for everyone, regardless of what you may have heard. It’s important not to lose sight of the fact that your needs (and goals) are unique. Everything you do should be with your interests firmly in mind. Moreover, even if you have a clean bill of health and no major concerns, keep in mind that you could have “subclinical” problems that have not yet been diagnosed.
Everybody has their “issues,” whether physical, mental, or both. Until they’re addressed, you’re likely to find many of your efforts limited in their effectiveness. But when you are willing to be on the lookout for signs of trouble, and to stay receptive to a number of potential solutions, I believe your chances of success increase enormously.
I’m happy to be writing this column for Experience Life. In upcoming issues, this column will look at a wide range of UFOs. It will also provide resources to help you research your own UFOs, as well as advice about how to address and eliminate them for good. Throughout, my focus will be to help you conquer your personal fitness obstacles and offer you inspiration to live a healthier, happier life.
Michael Gerrish, MS, is the author of The Mind-Body Makeover Project: A 12-Week Plan for Transforming Your Body and Your Life (McGraw-Hill, 2003) and When Working Out Isn't Working Out: A Mind/Body Guide to Conquering Unidentified Fitness Obstacles (St. Martin's Press, 1999). Formerly a conditioning consultant for both the Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins, Gerrish is an exercise physiologist, psychotherapist, and certified thought-field therapist. He lives in Massachusetts. Visit his Web site at www.exerciseplus.com