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The First Part of Your Life Doesn’t Determine the Second Part

Sometimes I think the only reason my inner lazy guy doesn’t once again claw his way back to the surface is because he’s just too damn lazy to make the effort.

The first 25 years of my life were lazy. I’m amazed I had it together enough to finish high school, let alone university. Sweat happened only when a sadistic gym teacher made me, or my wife (then girlfriend) said, “We need to talk.”

I never joined a single sports team. I grew up in a family that abhorred physical activity. While other kids were running around terrorizing the neighborhood with games of cops and robbers, I was trying to find something that didn’t suck via the 13 channels of shit on the TV to choose from.

Floyd fans will get that.

The drinking age in Alberta is 18, and I was hitting the beer bottles pretty hard by graduation. With university came lots of fast food that the booze was washing down, and by the age of 25 I looked like this:

Before-in-garden-small

It was getting this picture back from the developers (young people will be saying “Dafuq is a developer?”) that was one of the things that prompted me to get in shape. Also, I wanted to propose to my girlfriend and offer her substantially less of me, gravitationally speaking, to minimize the chances of her saying “No” when I offered her an expensive, sparkly little rock and asked her to put up with me forever more. You know: Body for Wife.

The transition from lazy to not quite so lazy was friggin’ brutal.

The first six months I did lose a little weight. My body changed some, but it wasn’t much. I was looking a bit better and feeling better. The big change was that I was figuring out how to do this—this thing where you exercise regularly and eat healthier (and consume fewer calories).

The victory in those six months was not the way the scale moved or how the pants got looser, but how I learned to not give up. And believe me, there were plenty of times when I wanted to give up. I remember one drunken, gluttonous weekend three months in where it seemed like I gained back all the weight I’d lost in just a couple of days and I almost said screw it, but on Monday I was back at it. I’m not even sure why. I was so sure I’d quit that weekend, but it was like the habit was getting formed. I know it was a close thing. In hindsight, I cringe at the opportunities I would have missed had it gone the other way.

It was the six months that followed the “learning to tolerate it” phase where I moved into the “learning to love it” phase and made some real changes to my physique. It was also during that second six-month period that I came to the realization that I would never quit.

That was the focus that I’d learned: not about changing numbers on a scale, or adding a certain amount of muscle, or changing a clothes size or seeing a specific number of abdominal muscles, but embracing sustainability of lifestyle. It was all about adopting this attitude of I will workout until I die.

And, of course, coupled with this idea was that, if I was working out, I should probably eat well too, and maybe not drink so much.

And so, 21 years later, I returned to the scene of my before photo at Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island. Things look a little different at 46 than they did at 25.

after-e1407010340708

The first 25 years of my life were pretty “meh.” I didn’t accomplish much. I had dreams, but no ambition to chase them. Fitness changed all that. Fitness prompted me to marry the woman of my dreams and raise a couple of awesome straight A students who are both about to get their black belts in karate. I also completed two master’s degrees, had a successful business career and become one of the most read fitness columnists in North America.

It takes effort for me to drag my lazy ass out of bed to go for a run in hideous below zero. It takes effort to not join co-workers for the lunch buffet grease fest and instead go pump iron at the gym. It takes effort to train week after week for a race and then give it all in the quest for a personal best. It takes effort to go for a walk after dinner instead of collapsing in front of the TV.

These are efforts that pay back not just physically, but emotionally, psychologically, and even spiritually. What’s more, they teach you valuable life skills about problem solving and perseverance; about how hard work gets shit done. Many a career has been advanced by first adopting a fitness regimen.

If the first part of your life has been blah, fitness can change that. Exercise can alleviate depression, enhance creativity, boost your cognitive capabilities and reduce stress. It’s all good.

So what was the point of this piece besides using it as an excuse to show me flexing at Butchart Gardens?

It’s preaching the same thing I have for years: losing weight involves becoming a (somewhat) different person on the inside. Just because you’ve been inactive all your life doesn’t mean you always will be. Jack LaLanne always said, “It’s never too late to start,” and he was right. If you’re ready to start, know that this is about learning how to change – not just your body, but your mind, your schedule and your reason for being. It’s not just about the exercises you engage in and the diet you consume, it’s about changing who you are.

It’s not a list of actions. It’s someone you become.

Don’t just do this; be this.

This piece was first published on an older website on August 2, 2014. 

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James S. Fell, CSCS, is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and AskMen.com. He is the author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada.

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