As a trainer there is always one question that I hesitate to answer when taking on a new client: “How long will it take me to see results?”. I hesitate to answer this because to answer would imply there is a finish line on the road to health. As much as infomercials would like to have us believe there is no end game in the pursuit of fitness . Yes, exercising can dramatically change your body, lift your spirit, and make you a more intelligent, well-focused individual. I believe that with every cell of my being. But, as with anything else in life, to really reap the benefits one must focus on the process rather than the end result. I say this by no means to discount the importance of having goals. If exercise didn’t assist in things like weight loss, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, elevated mood, increased strength, better bone density, and the like very few would see any point in doing it. As John Lennon famously said, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans”. It is great to have a goal and nine times out of ten you will reach that very goal. Ten times out of ten you will discover things you never had the prior ability to visualize along the way and it will be these things that truly inspire change.
Maybe you start eating a cleaner diet with the initial goal of losing weight. You start adding more whole foods, fruits, and vegetables and struggle for the first few days, As you continue on this path you gradually notice changes that are not connected with weight loss at all. Your energy soars to new heights, those irritating headaches have suddenly dissipated, you no longer need that 3:00 pm cup of coffee to get you through the work day. Soon you start to lose taste for the convenience foods you once survived on, your body has had a taste of true nourishment and never wants to go back. Your clothes are looser, your body is stronger, and you are amazed to find that the weight you were trying to get rid of has fallen off. You haven’t been cranky or hungry or felt that sense of frustration you felt while on “diets” in the past. It seems so natural now to live this way and you are enjoying and appreciating food more than ever. The road to weight loss has been enjoyable and the outcome is now a nice side benefit.
B.K.S. Iyengar, who recently passed away at the age of 95, said this of yoga: “Penetration of our mind is our goal, but in the beginning to set things in motion, there is no substitute for sweat.” Maybe, like eating a cleaner diet, you began an exercise program with the initial goal of losing weight. You begin moving more, lifting weights, and for the first few days it is uncomfortable and you are not sure you want to continue. Just when you are considering quitting the gym you have a really tough day at work. You consider going to happy hour to drink your cares away but decide to give the gym one last shot. You jump into a kick boxing class and find a release that is much more powerful than anything you have experienced on a bar stool. After a few weeks of increased activity you are sleeping better, are better able to handle the stress life throws your way, and feel stronger both mentally and physically. And yes, you’ve lost weight. Your looser pants feel that much better paired with your new-found peace of mind.
Why does anyone ever want to lose weight? The reasons are many but they all fall under the same umbrella: to feel better. But maybe we are barking up the wrong tree. Maybe it’s the healthy habits themselves that we are truly craving. It is unhelpful to put all our hopes and dreams on a desired outcome because, in fitness as in life, there is very little we can control. As Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron says “We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart.” Our bodies, our lives, and ourselves are constantly changing. While keeping anchored to our highest goal can keep us on the right path it is more important (and ultimately more rewarding) to be fully committed and present to the journey.