Getting fitter can seem like a long, hard slog. That’s because it is - at least some of the time. There aren’t any shortcuts. Unfortunately, most “encouragement” out there is unrealistic and in my opinion only ever really puts people off. And as for the marketing campaigns - how often has “Just Do It!” got you doing exercise, rather than Just Buying Stupidly Expensive Trainers!?
Finding advice and support that will serve you is important, so let’s take a good look at the most important signs that what you’re reading is compassionate fitness advice that will help you without making you feel inadequate or bad about yourself.
It doesn’t rely on fitness “hacks”
How often have you had that nagging feeling in the back of your mind that you need to start getting fitter? Then maybe you read something like: “6 easy steps to a flat stomach/pert bottom/thigh gap in no time!”?
How often have you thought: “Yes! I should do that. I can do that! I should start now”?
And how many times have you actually got a flat stomach in 6 easy steps? How many times have you felt guilty that you haven’t taken those steps? After all, they’re easy? And they take no time! It’s down to you to just do it!
Now, maybe you start taking those steps to getting fitter and life gets in the way. Maybe you don’t. Either way, your stomach isn’t any flatter than before. You feel guilty. You’ve failed.
Cue disappointment and disillusionment.
Well, you haven’t failed, you shouldn’t feel guilty and it isn’t on you.
Hacks like this really are not suitable for most people, because they go against every principle for long lasting success in getting fitter and healthier.
Firstly, having a flat stomach or a thigh gap is an unrealistic aim for the vast majority of us, whether because of our lived experiences or our genetics, or a combination of both. So tempting us with an unreachable goal already misleads us before we’ve even started and leaves us obsessing over something we don’t really need.
Next, changing our bodies in a positive way is never easy. Simple, yes. Straightforward – sometimes, if we’re really lucky. Easy: just no. Never. There are so many things that can interfere with our commitments to getting healthier that it really isn’t easy. Family commitments, work, mental health downturns, hormones – the list goes on.
Thirdly, under no circumstances will you see positive changes to your health in no time! You will only see changes over time. If you’re starting to exercise from scratch, you may feel a difference very early on, but pretty soon you can find yourself taking it on trust that you are actually making progress, because you sure ain’t seeing much.
So that’s each element of the hack debunked: the goal of the hack, the manner in which it will be achieved, and the timescale.
There’s also a reason why the hack as a whole completely misses the point. The carrot it dangles before you is that you can get things over with quickly and that’s that.
Go for goal, reach goal, all live happily ever after.
No. Even if you do actually reach this kind of goal in this way on this timescale, that isn’t the end. You then need to maintain your flat stomach/pert bum/thigh gap. Well, either that or rid yourself of the need to get a flat stomach/pert bum/thigh gap once and for all. You could have saved yourself some time by doing that in the first place.
When it comes to health and exercise, hacks don’t work for anyone in the long term. They work for hardly anyone in the short term.
Of course, every rule has an exception - and here’s mine.
It doesn’t include any before and after selfies
I bet if you closed your eyes now you could see any number of before-and-after selfie montages you’ve come across on Instagram, Pinterest or wherever.
Too many are from celebrities or influencers who have looks that conform to an ideal beauty standard in the before picture and a more extreme version of those looks in the after photo. If you can actually tell the difference at all.
I don’t find anything positive in these. People passing off a picture of a well-exercised body in the before picture, then “improving” on it in the after picture (“Look how dreadful I used to look with that teeny-weeny layer of fat over my six pack! See how perfect I am now!”). You probably guessed already that I wouldn’t be interested in these.
“Before” and “after” bypass “middle”. They suggest that there’s an end point to everything. In these pictures, you don’t see all the effort – be it physical or in staging the photos – that really makes the difference. Also, that end point reinforces and conforms to values that seem to be important in our society, but really aren’t.
The whole thing about keeping fitter and staying healthier is that life is one long middle. And if you respect your own health, you need to be in the middle for the long haul.
“But”, I hear you cry, “what about the other kind, the uplifting kind? The kind posted by people who’ve made significant life changes and want to celebrate them with before and after pictures? And aren’t you all about trying to get fitter, trying to get healthier? What have you got against them?”
It doesn’t constantly bully you out of your comfort zone
Stepping out of your comfort zone is overrated. It’s the talk of the type As, who are convinced that the only way anyone can make any kind of progress is by constantly “stepping out of their comfort zone”.
Now, if we don’t ever step out of our comfort zones, it stands to reason that we won’t grow.
But there’s just too much emphasis on stepping out of the comfort zone.
Progress doesn’t only come when you “aim high”. It also comes when you feel in control of most of what you’re doing, when you understand in your body what’s going well and what needs more work and when you can visualise the steps that will make up progress over the short-medium term and – most of all – when you look forward to taking them.
Sometimes you might feel ready to challenge yourself to move out of your comfort zone long term but on the whole it’s not something that is vital for most of us. I have done it myself and really benefited from it. But before that came growing my confidence in my comfort zone.
It does come from a place of empathy and understanding
Anything that calls itself fitness advice that anyone can use should be rooted in the idea that anyone deserves to get fitter - no matter what their starting point is.
That doesn’t mean that it will always hit the mark. Anyone can unwittingly write something that triggers a bad place in someone else and no author can cover all the bases.
But it should be immediately clear from the tone of the piece that the writer isn’t only focussed on those who are already fit.
It can be hard to find the right way to tap in to what readers need – and to make them feel as good as they can feel about themselves.
But that shouldn’t stop us from trying.
Oh, and anyone who is really trying to do this will welcome feedback when they’re getting it wrong.
It does focus on the journey much more than any end point
So many health and fitness programmes are designed to get you to aim for an end goal. But let’s just think about that for a minute…..
If you don’t get started in the “right” way, you feel like a failure already.
You end up putting too much into the getting from start to finish, because you’re not looking past the finish. What happens when you reach that goal, worn out and fed up of making sacrifices?
In your focus on the finishing line, you forget to enjoy what you’re doing
To encourage yourself, you promise yourself rewards which are the exact opposite of what you’re doing!
We need to change the whole narrative about this. Most of the experience of feeling better about yourself is in the doing. The rewards for reaching a goal are that you feel more successful, empowered, stronger or that you’re ready to set a new goal – not that you can eat a mountain of ice cream and sit on the sofa for a week because you’ve lost exactly 3kg.
It does celebrate slow progress
Because that’s how things mostly happen. If you get a big break, though, that’s great. Every now and then something “clicks”, you get it and you might immediately see a genuine improvement in the short term.
Mostly, though, that’s not how it works. There’s quite a lot of two steps forward, 2-3 steps back in getting fitter. Often, we can only measure progress over a year, and even then when we take a wider view of progress and don’t just focus on the numbers.
I’ll give you an example. I take up cross country skiing every winter. It’s my favourite activity, but I don’t have the means of doing it over the summer. Because I use a sports watch, I can see that my times don’t really improve much, even year on year. But my technique does improve. So does my endurance, so these days when I go out on skis I can look around me and enjoy the beautiful nature in which I’m lucky to find myself. Also, I’ve been doing this for nearly 10 years now, which is progress in itself!
It does project a neutral view of weight
Last but not least, the elephant in the room – weight management.
Ah, weight loss. There you are, happily reading about fitness and they sneak it in: a reference to calories in, calories out or losing weight. I’m not sure which is worse: advice to help you get fitter which uses weight loss as clickbait or weight loss advice dressed up as fitness advice.
Sadly, it’s all too often one or the other.
Why does fitness advice need to have anything to do with weight loss advice? There’s no reason for it at all. Yes, a consequence of looking after your fitness might be that you lose weight and/or become more defined.
But it might equally not. So why, oh why, do we still need to navigate through people banging on about weight loss when we want fitness.
Don’t believe me? Well, what is MyFitnessPal actually? Is it a fitness app - or a weight loss app?
Now, you could argue that weight management is an important part of keeping healthy over time, and question whether being very overweight or underweight is OK.
And I’m not suggesting pushing this debate out altogether.
I am arguing that it is perfectly possible to get fitter without engaging in weight management.
I just wish more service providers should get on board with this.
And don’t get me started on diet culture. But that’s a frustration for another day.
Compassionate fitness advice is rare - but it’s there
Unfortunately, there still isn’t a lot of advice and information out there for which you can check off all 7 of these. If nothing else, the last one will usually fail.
And to be fair, we live in a world where it’s hard not to fall for at least one because of the cultural pressure we’re under to meet standards and fit stereotypes.
But you can count on Fiddle Fit Middle to really try to connect with you from a place of compassion.
And you can hold me to that.