How to Achieve Balance in Health (or the art of not beating yourself up about being fat)

The health and fitness industry is a really crappy industry a lot of the time.

Pretty much 90% of the marketing that goes into sports supplements or fitness programs revolves around a man or woman with washboard abs, and this isn’t going to change any time soon, because unfortunately; it works.

The problem with this is that the focus is often on the short term benefits of the products - like how they will help you get ripped in 4 weeks (read: not possible) or how they help you ‘detox’ (read: not actually a fucking thing).

When we start on our fitness journeys we buy these kinds of products, thinking they will do the same for us as they have done for the model in the ads, subconsciously or consciously setting ourselves a standard we want to aspire to.

But in actual fact this is rarely what happens.

Not only do we quickly realise that the model in the ads has likely devoted the vast majority of their time to keeping themselves fit, but we find out that there’s miles more work involved in getting that desired physique than we originally thought.

Bummer.

So what do we do? Just Give up? Or do we go all out and devote the vast majority of our time to getting in amazing shape?

Devoting your life to fitness

Realistically for many of us, getting in incredible shape will not be our primary goal in life.

Shock horror.

It’s nice to have an amazing physique, it really is, but it’s also a little bit pointless.

Sure, if you’re a physique competitor or a fitness model who makes a living off their physique then the point becomes more obvious. But most of us want other things like to build a business or get married or get a masters degree.

Yet often, those who train strive for these model looks without actually needing to, resulting in us beating ourselves up about the extra few beers on a Friday or chocolate cake with the family.

I see so many men and women devoting their whole life to getting in incredible shape, yet they lack any passion for their day jobs and skip going out with friends.

That is not achieving balance.

So what is balance, really?

Balance is something that’s hugely important and often overlooked when signing up to training plans or diet programs.

These programs emphasise the short term goals and don’t actually teach you anything - merely making you sweaty, skinny and miserable over the long term.

Balance is defined in the dictionary as;

An even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady

Perhaps we shouldn’t take this entirely literally, but it does show that without balancing life, you’ll fall one way or the other and it’s probably not going to be that much fun.

I’ve spent a lot of time doing different training plans, having ridiculous schedules, training in different kinds of gyms, living off tiny budgets and more. I’ve also been very weak, very malnourished and certainly don’t have genetics on my side when it comes to training.

That being said, I strongly believe there are three things that stay consistently in health, regardless of other variables in your life:

  • Being strong is more important than physique (for both men and women)
  • Educating yourself is infinitely valuable
  • Long (and short) term mental health is more important than looks

Let’s have a look at these points in a little more detail.

Get Strong

99% of people who join a gym, whether they like to admit it or not, are there to look good.

It’s a really important element of balance in being able to realise that getting strong can be just as liberating as looking great, and is downright more useful.

Focusing on strength instead of physique alone will allow you to start setting goals you can stick to - focusing on how much weight you can pick up becomes almost a form of meditation. And I can tell you now there’s no greater feeling than beating a personal best.

Some people will scoff at this and think that lifting heavy weights is only for muscly guys, but I can assure you anyone will benefit from doing solid compound movements like bench and squat - especially girls.

Start moving your workouts away from 45 minutes on the treadmill and towards free weights - squat, bench, deadlift, military press - your body will thank you for it.

And here’s a not-so-secret-secret: the stronger you get, the better you start looking naturally.

Educate yourself

Education is often overlooked in the fitness industry because those who are supposed to teach us rarely do.

How many times have you done a PT session and come away sweating but with no more knowledge of how to actually train than when you started?

To really achieve balance you must be able to integrate health knowledge into your life in a way that eliminates uncertainty when you make decisions about the food you eat or the training you take on.

For example, having a decent knowledge of macronutrients and how each will affect your insulin levels is something that will be forever valuable - yet getting someone else to plan your meals and attempting to stick to this plan long term is not.

It’s easy to learn about this kind of thing, from books like Grain Brain to awesome YouTube videos like Crash Course, even reading one book on health a year can have a big impact. Get a better PT. There are plenty who are willing to really teach their clients. Don’t fall prey to thinking you know everything - keep educating yourself and in the long run it’ll pay of for your health, and the health of your children.

Watch your (mental) health

Kate Moss once said;

Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels

Clearly, she’s never tried bacon.

Achieving balance directly impacts your social life and personal happiness. What is the point in doing something if it’s going to compromise how well you interact with others or if it makes you unhappy?

It’s great to become disciplined to the point where you can control what you eat and when, and it’s a healthy mindset, as that discipline rubs off on your career and motivation too.

But make sure you know when to relax! If you’re eating a roast dinner with your family, don’t say no to dessert; that time spent with them is more important than worrying about the extra sugar you’ll be eating.

Just know when to treat yourself and when not to, as these treats are very important for your overall mental wellbeing.

Finding balance?

It’s hard to achieve balance, it really is. The points mentioned initially give us false hope in many ways, and the amount of information out there is confusing when it comes to diet.

I hope focusing on the three areas will have as much impact on your life as they have for me. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been, look healthier than ever and I’m still able to go out with friends, study and work hard.

Try not to fall into the trap of starving yourself and doing lots of cardio, because balance is about strength, education and knowing when to treat yourself.

Why do we lift weights?

Why Bodybuilding?

Your body is one of the only things that will be with you until the day you die.

You may lose your job, your home, your friends, your family, and even your mind, but your body will stay. The body is organic, it was not invented or created by humans, and without it you cannot exist in this physical dimension of our world.

As bodybuilders we understand this, and see our bodies as a precious gift - a solid piece of stone we must sculpt to our choosing.

Looking at the lifestyle from the outside, it can understandably seem very odd, and even downright stupid. People will mock and tease, for all they see is physiques, and are mistakenly led to believe we are only driven by beauty; that we are superficial idiots with simple minds.

Of course, there’s no denying most of us set out on our journey for that very reason. We started naive, craved a body the opposite sex would be attracted to or what we'd seen in a magazine. But lifting weights teaches us otherwise, and we are pushed into new realms of life from it. It teaches us that a desireable physique is just a surface reward, and beneath it lies a form of discipline almost impossible to comprehend from the outside.

Strength of the body is forever an advantage. We live in a world where we no longer need to fight for survival, and it is much easier to drift by without becoming strong. A gym lets us train our bodies in a modern way - we create strength where it seems as though it is not needed, but of course being strong is always an advantage. Strength allows you to operate correctly, to be able to lift everyday things with ease and be useful when it's needed.

Strength goes far beyond muscle and anyone who trains seriously will know this. Having physical strength develops your mind - you are more focused, diciplined and confident. I can comfortably say that all my successes from a young adult to now are due to the motivation lifting weight embeds in me.

Mediocrity is attainable, it surrounds us daily. Anyone can dress to impress, but standing tall and wide shouldered takes real work, dedication and self-development. Someone who puts themselves through physical pain to grow stronger will have beliefs and integrity; a self respect earned.

A well-built physique is a status symbol. It reflects you worked hard for it, no money can buy it. You cannot inherit it. You cannot steal it. You cannot borrow it. You cannot hold on to it without constant work. It shows dedication. It shows discipline. It shows self-respect. It shows dignity. It shows patience, work ethic, passion. - Pauline Nordin.

To slowly grow old without experiencing what your body is capable of is something I'd rather avoid. People may say what I do is pointless - a waste of time. Those same people tend to be the ones who cannot safely say their time is well spent.

Lifting is more than just weights, it is dicipline, it is strength, it is passion and it is integrity.