Using Wholistic Wellbeing to Reappraise Fitness
Too many people I know fall into a similar pattern. They spend countless hours in the gym and go on restrictive diets, hoping this will make them “fit.” After a while, they usually burn out, and end up in a worse place than before, both physically and mentally. Our culture constantly bombards us with unhealthy and unhelpful messaging: “This new diet will make you happy”; “If you lose five pounds, you will look your best”; the list goes on. I recently read in The Guardian that there is evidence that younger people will go to the gym more frequently if their reasons are about improving their appearance. As Michelle Segar, the director of the University of Michigan’s Sport, Health and Activity Research and Policy Center explained, “Society promotes exercise and fitness by hooking into short-term motivation, guilt and shame”.
I don’t believe this way of thinking is sustainable. We need to approach the issue of fitness more wholistically, as an overall lifestyle, rather than just a pastime or passing fad. Physical and mental wellbeing implies a balance; there are no quick fixes, and only if you enjoy your lifestyle can you maintain it. Fitness as a lifestyle implies consistency. I remember doing certain exercises that didn’t resonate with me, which made it difficult to stay on track. Once I discovered yoga, though, I realized the power of doing fitness exercises that is suited to my own likes and needs. Now I feel content and powerful when I exercise. I used to feel like I was being forced to do something uncomfortable, whereas now I feel like I’m in the zone.
As someone who previously doubted the usefulness of exercise because he was doing it wrong, here are my top two tips for doing it right and reaping the rewards.
Go easy on yourself.
Your mental wellbeing is likely to suffer if you set too many unrealistic goals. Make wholistic health your overarching goal; free of any ailments, but also happy, fulfilled, and connected. The fitness-as-lifestyle proposition promotes exercise and healthy eating for their own sake: appearances should be secondary, although they can still be a part of one’s journey. This is my own approach.
Don’t completely give up the foods you love.
Small steps and balance are key: there’s no use cutting out the foods you love completely as it will only accelerate withdrawal symptoms and cause a relapse with adverse effects. What I would recommend is to practice mindful eating: a form of meditation focused on food which I have incorporated into my own routine. Mindful eating involves eating slowly and without distraction, listening to physical hunger cues and eating only until you’re full, engaging your senses by noticing smells, sounds, textures, and flavors. It certainly makes eating more pleasurable; it’s an intentional act, rather than an automatic one.
Fitness should not just be a fad nor just about appearances. It should be viewed an all-encompassing lifestyle. Let’s go beyond thinking about being “fit” as something that we achieve for a specific purpose, like losing weight. Let’s be fit in order to live a long, quality life, imbued with Wholistic Wellbeing.