There are a few times of year that people put unbelievably insufferable things on their social media feeds. Okay that’s…every time of year. But there are a couple of times where the insufferability hits ungodly peaks. Such as everyone showing how happy they are at Thanksgiving, but clearly omitting the videos of their crazy uncles repeating 4chan conspiracy theories. Or increasingly unkempt masses of men celebrating their expanding whiskers during “Movember”. Or the surprising, and frequently shocking, deluge of “Sexy Fill-In-The-Blank” costumes at Halloween. And of course, endless photos and videos of Spring Break debauchery that will inevitably become someone’s “where it all started” story at an AA meeting.
But few things are more insufferable than people sharing their New Year’s resolutions. Because it’s demoralizing to see so many people posting things that I know will end up being lies and broken promises. I’d rather see the people on the Internet set their expectations low so that I won’t be so disappointed. But, given the nature of the average online content, the denizens of the Interwebs would have to set expectations really low in order to avoid disillusioning me further.
Okay, perhaps that’s a bit too “black-pilled” as the young folks say. But when reviewing resolutions related to the subject of this blog, my pessimism increasingly feels more like realism. Because many Americans have resolutions about getting in shape. And given how they’ve been performing in recent years, there’s reason to be skeptical that they’ll actually succeed.
I know it’s possible, because the first thing I wrote about two and a half years ago was about how it wasn’t that difficult for me to make the change. And most Americans, although overweight or obese, probably aren’t a complete disaster. It’s a very achievable goal to start behaving better. But I also know why I failed for so long and why so many others do: Impatience.
Many people dive headlong into a new lifestyle on day one. Their approach to good health is a blitzkrieg of exercise and dieting. Sure, the original Blitzkrieg did conquer a huge chunk of France in just a couple of days. But it ultimately backfired. But in addition to being generally awful, those guys were totally hooked on meth the whole time. Which isn’t something you should include in your regimen. I mean, you might be able to work out for a solid forty-eight hours hooked on meth, but I don’t recommend it.
I’m guessing these New Year’s resolutions cause sales of gym memberships to go absolutely through the roof in January. And all of our overly optimistic (and overly portly) fellow citizens gleefully march into the local Gold’s Gym or L.A. Fitness and hit the machines. They run on treadmills or stride on ellipticals for far longer than their out-of-shape selves probably should. They achieve the heights of fitness ecstasy with the so-called “runner’s high”. Then they go home and celebrate the afterglow of their newfound salubrity.
The problem with this orgy of athleticism is that it produces severe morning-after regret. Our corpulent pals inevitably wake up for work the next morning with a kind of soreness hangover. And all of their cavorting at the gym also produces a form of “walk of shame”. Except that it’s not the kind of shame they have from wearing the same clothes they wore the day before. It’s the kind of shame one gets because they’re forced to walk like a zombie from the Walking Dead, since that’s all that their tortured muscles can manage.
This experience is often enough to end the ambitions of all but the most dedicated. But maybe there are some that think (I’ve done this before) that the problem is that they shouldn’t have done it all by themselves. So, these survivors of day one go back to the gym to seek out a class with a teacher. After their puny muscles recover (a week or so later) they sign up for every aerobics or spin or Pilates class they can find, thinking that maybe that will help.
Things in the class usually start out fairly well for them. But then they inevitably notice that their more experienced classmates are outperforming them while their excessively ebullient (bordering on manic) instructor hysterically encourages them to keep pushing the limits of human endurance. So they hustle harder, not realizing that their classmates are expert level fitness fanatics, while they are noobs to the world of calisthenics who can’t possibly keep up.
This inevitably produces an even more severe soreness hangover, because it’s combined with the anguish of public humiliation. Likely compounded by the endless selfies posted by their grinning classmates who upload post-workout “YOLO” pictures on Instagram. The kind that all too often show the new kid in class bordering on collapse in the background. This worst form of fifteen minutes of fame, combined with the physical suffering, is often more than enough to kill a nascent weight loss journey. Especially for the men, since they usually were literally the only man in the room and just got shown up by a bunch of girls.
But maybe some few of those men manage to recover from the mortification another week later. In order to overcome their defeat in the face of girl power they may decide to go full giga-chad. Side note: I’ve been learning a surprising amount of Internet newspeak. I’m probably too old to repeat these neologisms. God help me if I ever say something is “totes adorbs.”
Anyway, these dudes (and more than a few women) return to the gym and hit the weights. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as I’ve noted before. But yet again, our too eager friends overdo things. Especially the men. Not understanding how this should really work, they pile ridiculous amounts of weights and try to turn themselves into the Hulk (or at least Lou Ferrigno) in one sitting. They inevitably leave the gym feeling even better than they did after the run. Which is not surprising, because this sort of training is actually great for your mental well-being.
But it’s impossible to become the Hulk in one day. Not ever, really, because that’s not how gamma rays work. But it’s not possible to become Lou Ferrigno or Arnold Schwarzenegger or Hafþór Björnsson in one day either. But it is possible to become a miserable, immobile pile of flesh that doesn’t have a walk of shame after the soreness hangover the next day. Because people who make this mistake can’t even get out of bed the next day.
And exercise fails aren’t the only New Year’s resolutions that go awry. There are diet fails too. Many of us decide to go full keto or full carno or full vegan. Some of us might start fasting like maniacs too, which I find…irritating. But these sudden changes all too often result in failure.
You might be seeing a pattern here. Getting in shape is a marathon, not a sprint. There’s no need to push yourself to the limit or adopt monk-like asceticism in your diet. You’re training to become healthy, not a Navy SEAL. Well, okay, you might be training to be a Navy SEAL, but if you are, don’t take my advice. Just say “Sir, yes sir!” to Master Chief Whoever at BUD/S and do whatever he says.
But for the rest of us, these extremes are, well, too extreme. I didn’t start losing weight by killing myself. I started slowly. The exercise I added initially was just yard work and home improvement projects. And I was doing small chores, not cleaning the Augean stables. I was also able to figure out how to work a little physical activity into my commute and my leisure time. If we do a little bit each day, we wake up the next day without the muscle hangover and can do it again.
And the diet changes don’t have to be extreme either. Just do stuff like avoiding added fat or eating more greens. There are a lot of small hacks I’ve discovered that don’t require Herculean effort to achieve, such as this list of fifteen ways that I’ve written about in the past. But the important thing to remember is that this is a long-term change, not a sudden health kick that we stop in a month or so. Don’t go too hard too quickly.
And there’s no reason to wait until January 1st. I started on May 6th, 2019. Any random day will do. And you actually don’t need a gym membership. Just start somewhere, even if it’s in your own living room, set small, achievable goals, and build. In the best case, the blitzkrieg approach may produce some fast results. But it will ultimately wear out and end badly. Just like the actual Blitzkrieg.