There are a lot of utterly crap diet and exercise tropes, but my personal least favorite is “The Myth of the New You.”
Because we are staring down the barrel of the Autumnal Holiday Season, with New Year’s coming on like a freight train, you can bet that we will be seeing a lot of “NEW YOU!” ads front and center on whatever platform you haven’t figured out how to use ad-blocking software on yet. I’m definitely not the first person to point out that the whole Diet and Fitness Megalapagos runs on self-doubt and insecurity. These companies’ bread and butter (except I guess bread carbs are bad now, so quinoa and coconut oil?) is earned by making people like you feel as self-conscious and insignificant as possible.
Hold on to your yoga mats because I’m going to blow your mind right now, ready?
Okay. Here it is.
The imagery in most of the advertising you see is FALSE. I know. I know. If you can’t believe your eyes then what can you believe? If it hasn’t been photo-shopped, it’s still been lighted and edited to show up in the best possible way. OF COURSE it has. Companies pay good money for their advertising, and all in the name of separating you from yours.
There are a lot of truths out there that can motivate people to change their habits. Increased energy, stamina, not having to call your brother-in-law (who you barely tolerate) to help you move a dresser, not feeling like you got hit by a steamroller when you have to pull a double shift at work; so many good reasons! Sadly though, becoming someone else is not one of the things you will gain on your journey to increased fitness. There is no skinny teenager inside you waiting to spring out and grab life by the testicles (or ovaries…though anatomically speaking that’s way harder and probably lethal). Doing 50, or 500 or even 5000 sit-ups per day cannot magically erase the “old” you and upgrade you to the new still-under-warranty human of your dreams.
You are going to have all the faults and flaws that you had before you started.
But that’s great! YOU are worth working on. You, as you appear today, with your stretchmarks and your scars (physical and emotional) are good enough, and you deserve to feel good! I think that a lot of people get frustrated because the results of their hard work don’t show up in the places that they were expecting (or hoping) them to. You completed your couch to 5K program but you didn’t change clothing sizes. Quite possible. Your body has worked hard storing up those energy reserves and it’s not going to let go of them easily, but you can do something you couldn’t do when you started! That’s a result and it has much subtler and more far reaching results than maybe you were expecting. You started weight training and got a new personal best but HORROR your waist is actually LARGER than it was when you started. All your hard work was wasted because your pants are still too tight. NO! Your hard work is just manifesting its self in a different way than you were counting on, but that’s not your fault. That’s the fault of a culture that teaches us that they ONLY benefit to exercise is to move closer to the generally accepted standard of beauty. Chances are you don’t look like a model, and probably never will. That’s not shocking. There are only a few thousand people in the whole world who look like models and (spoiler alert) THEY’RE MODELS!!
I’m not saying that weight loss is not a frequent side effect of exercise. I’m not saying that you won’t FEEL more attractive if you take your physical fitness in hand, but ultimately I think that’s more a side effect of increased confidence than anything else. I also want to warn you that there might be some things you like LESS about your body when you tackle a new activity. Muscles can make some parts of you bigger, parts you might not want to be bigger. You know what happens when you lose a lot of weight? You get wrinkles where you didn’t have them before. That skin that’s stretched out over your jolly tummy? It deflates like a balloon.
Do I sound like I’m trying to discourage you from undertaking a new physical challenge? I’m not. I’m absolutely not, but I want you to recognize that the propaganda that surrounds us everywhere we go is based on flat out LIES. There are dozens, maybe HUNDREDS of great reasons to increase your physical activity but all of them are going to be found inside of you, not on a before and after poster.