You may read that quote and ask yourself, “Why does this apply to me?” I’m not an athlete, I’m not training for anything specific – I just want to lose a few pounds and tone up. However, just because you’re not an Olympic hopeful doesn’t mean that you won’t benefit from adopting a similar attitude towards your fitness. Any coach will tell you that natural talent will only get a person so far. Elite athletes are able to achieve such a high level of success because of the work they put into their sport. It’s that level of commitment that garners such impressive results.
We may not have the same amount time and energy to devote to fitness as a professional athlete, but that shouldn’t stop you from approaching your training with a similar mindset. Setting a goal and having something to work towards, no matter how modest, will inspire you to show up consistently, work even harder, and maybe make some difficult changes. Once you have something to work towards, the actual work you need to put in will seem like a much easier hurdle to overcome. Implementing those changes that push you out of your comfort zone – that’s where the magic happens.
That may mean getting up early and making it to a 5am class, or keeping your nutrition on track through the weekend, or lifting a weight that scares you a little bit. Ever hear the saying, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”? It’s true; in life and in the gym. It’s easy to fall into the habit of grabbing the same weights all the time, or continuing to skip meals, or turning around and heading home early on your run. It’s easy to make excuses as to why you can’t do things – you don’t have time, you don’t know how, or you just don’t like it.
But they’re just that – excuses.
Because you can and you should.
So how do you get started and make the switch from dieting and exercising to eating and training? Step one; set that goal. When you diet, the focus is all about what you can’t or shouldn’t eat. When you are eating like an athlete would, you are using that nutrition to support your goal, and it becomes about what you need to eat to get to that next level. You won’t feel deprived because you’ll want to do it.
Once you incorporate your training goals into the way you eat, you will find yourself thinking differently about food. Instead of thinking of what those calories are going to cost you, you will begin to think of what they can DO for you. If you reach a new milestone during your workout, choosing that grilled chicken over pizza (even if you’re kinda sick of it), is going to be easier because you know it’s going to result in muscle gain. You eat it because you don’t want the work you just put in to go to waste. Maybe you’ll finally be able to stop viewing carbs as “bad”, and start seeing them as the difference between 10 and 15 reps on your max set, or time shaved off your next race time. You’ll find yourself being more persistent in hitting that seemingly impossible protein goal, because you REALLY want to deadlift 200lbs. Saying no to a second drink on Friday night won’t be hard because cardio class is early on Saturday morning, and you want to be able to wake up for it.
A “diet and exercise” mentality won’t get you the same results – because they are both short term fixes to longterm problems. We live in a society where it is all too easy to overwork ourselves at our jobs, or to swing by the nearest drive thru as we rush off to our next commitment, or to spend our free time staring at our phones instead of really living. These are the longterm issues we need solutions to. When we decide to improve our wellness we need to have longterm goals in mind. We need something that motivates us to improve our lifestyle for the rest of our lives – not just until the scale says a number that makes us feel validated. Nobody wants to be healthy for three months and then go back to being unhealthy for 3 years…or however long it takes for you to build up the courage to try again. Unfortunately, if you lack goals, then you are in danger of falling right into that lose & regain/start & stop cycle.
Setting goals and putting in the work required to attain them is what separates training from exercise. Of course, exercise without a goal is better than being completely sedentary. But if you are doing it “just because”, it becomes much easier to take a week off or lose focus during times in your life when you are busy with other things. When we allow ourselves to stop making movement a priority, we enable ourselves to push it to the back burner.
However, imagine if you actually enjoyed and looked forward to that movement? You would be far less tempted to stop eating well just because you were able to drop the ten pounds you set out to lose, or to quit running because you did that one 5k. When you decide to stop exercising and start training, that movement develops true purpose. Your goal can be anything! Find something you love and just commit to getting better at it. It can be working towards a new PR on one of the core lifts, strength and conditioning to improve your performance in a sport, or going from a 5k to a 10k or more. Whatever your reason, once you have a goal, you will no longer allow yourself to skip your workouts – because it won’t be worth seeing your progress halt.
Training and eating go hand in hand – they are truly symbiotic. If you don’t eat properly, you can’t train properly. If you are making the effort to train, then you had better start caring about what is on your plate. Once you are able to change the way you think about food, you will find yourself striving to fuel your body instead of obsessing over what you’re “missing out” on. Hitting that goal will become more important than any other temptation.
So what happens when you reach that goal? Where do you go from there? Don’t worry. That’s the funny thing about progress….it’s kind of addictive.