With the media’s obsession with being skinny coupled with alarming reports of the growing percentage of obese Americans, many people are making the choice to lose weight and get in shape. Having lost quite a bit of weight myself (I’m 6’0″ and went from 180 lbs/size 12 to roughly 155 lbs/size 6), I understand the struggle but also get frustrated with people who complain about the process. I believe that one’s overall goal should not be merely to “lose weight” – it should be about feeling better and leading a healthier lifestyle. However, for this article, I’m going to focus on some basic facts that one must realize before embarking on the path to physical fitness and an overall healthier lifestyle. These are tips that I found helpful on my journey, and you might too. Granted, I still puff on my 2 cigarettes per day, but getting fit is a long process and I’m working on it. In order to handle the difficulties of getting fit, I propose 5 tips that helped me get to where I am and, more importantly, maintain an athletic physique and high level of fitness.

1. Realize that getting in shape does not happen overnight. Although you may see very fast results with implementation of a diet and exercise plan, it is impossible to attain fitness goals without a significant amount of work. Initially, people lose water weight and those extra pounds that their bodies have been dying to shed. However, in order to maintain a certain level of fitness, you can’t stop your healthy living plans after a couple weeks – this is a lifetime commitment. Know that this is going to be a time-consuming process; you will need to spend significant time at the gym (don’t believe the infomercials – 30 minutes, 3 x per week might be good for beginners, but isn’t going to cut it if you’re seriously training). Also, more time is required to prepare dinner; this is not because healthy food takes longer, it is just relatively more time-consuming to make food then it is to run to Taco Bell (and damn, the Bell is so good, but I’ll deal with that in #3).

2. Initially, it’s going to hurt. There’s a colloquialism that goes something like “Nothing good ever comes easily.” At first, your body is going to be in a state of rebellion and you are just going to have to suffer through it. In order to commit to getting fit and not letting this pain stop you, you need to change your perspective on pain. I’m not talking about ignoring it – you should be more aware of it. Learn the differences between legitimate injury and what pundits call “weakness leaving the body.” You are going to be sore and experience discomfort, but one must adjust their pain tolerance to ignore muscle soreness. Feeling sore after a workout means that your body is healing and rejuvenating itself and only getting stronger. For instance, if you are sore from a heavy lift, eating bananas and doing low-resistance cardio (such as biking) will help alleviate the pain by ridding the muscles of lactic acid that’s built up. However, if your pain interferes with your daily activities (this does not include your quads burning as you walk up the stairs – that’s feelin’ the burn!), you should consult a doctor.

3. Stop fighting with food. Perhaps the most difficult part of getting fit is balancing food intake. I’ve had problems with both overeating and undereating. I’ve realized the key is to find a happy medium – and to get professional help if it’s too difficult to overcome this hurdle on your own. It’s tough balancing the amount you need to feel full and the amount you need to fuel your body. If you view food as fuel instead of a source of pleasure, you can more easily meter your intake. Eat slowly – you’re not going to feel full immediately (it takes 20 minutes for your brain to get with your stomach). The psychosomatic disconnect causes most people to eat to the point of near-nausea. Eat 4-6 small meals a day instead of one huge meal and ALWAYS eat something for breakfast, just to get your metabolism going (you’re also then less likely to pig out at lunch and dinner). Try not to eat when you’re bored or overly emotional – go for a run instead! And, my favorite tip – don’t deprive yourself, just moderate! For instance, I have what I call “Cheesesteak Sunday,” my weekly reward for working out hard. If you allow yourself a bit of the food you love, you are less likely to binge. Make a weekly meal plan and stick with it!

4. Challenge yourself. Think you could never run a 5k? Bike 50 miles? Swim for 1/2 an hour? You never know until you try!! Make small challenges outside of the realm of “inches” and “pounds.” Sometimes the best way to gauge your progress is to do physical activities that seemed impossible before. The scale is like an ex-boyfriend – it lies. But, how you feel when you accomplish a physical challenge is unconditionally swell :). For instance, my friends decided to run the Broad Street 10 miler and conned me into joining them (mostly by telling me what a huge wuss I was). I followed a training plan (thank you, Runner’s World!) for a month before and finished in a respectable time. It also helped that I paid my $30 – which is a lot of beer – to run it, so I was not going to waste that $30. I’ve also found that if you pay for something (like a gym membership), you’re going to use it (and if paying for something you don’t use doesn’t phase you, then you have too much money). Make a goal other than one that deals with your looks – you’ll feel more rewarded and feel better about yourself, no matter your shape!

5. Treat your mind as well as you treat your body. I find that the process of getting fit can be a total psychosomatic experience. Often, the things that hold us back from treating our bodies well are emotional issues that start in our minds. Some people overeat when they are sad, some people undereat to gain control when their lives seem to be spiralling away from them. I suggest either getting outside help (I have gone to talk to someone and there is no shame in that), either from a friend or professional, or to take some fitness classes that focus on both the mind and body. Yoga is really good for relaxation and improvement of flexibility and balance (psychical abilities that can help in the gym… and the bedroom ;)). It is far easier to fix the physical once you have isolated the environmental, emotional, or other external problems that cause stress or proclivity toward unhealthy habits. Working out releases endorphins that will make you feel better too – that’s why runners get so addicted!

I’m no expert, but I’m a much happier person since I’ve followed these steps. I’m in the best shape of my life, look great, but most importantly – I feel awesome. I suggest, too, getting with your doctor before you start working out or changing your diet, as drastic health complications can arise. Good luck to anyone who embarks on the journey – it’s not the easiest hill to climb, but the view from the top is incredible.