First of all, I wanted to tell you that I tweaked one of my life bucket list items. Instead of trying to maintain a six-pack of ab muscles for a year — a feat which I’ve come to realize may be an unhealthy and impossible goal — my bucket list now reads “maintain a four-pack of ab muscles for a year.”
In other news, I wanted to tell you that I ticked off a life bucket list item! Yay! I’ve maintained a four-pack of abdominal muscles for a year. Happy dance. My sister and I actually had a happy dance when we were kids.
This is what I’m calling a four-pack on me.
With my trademark humility, let me admit that I don’t think I could have done this if I had to devote my mental energy and time to a traditional job. It requires a shift of thinking and that takes effort.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t if that’s what you want. Your story is different than my story.
I’ve written about it while I was doing it, but here are my notes to myself. I think if I do these three requirements and a few of the recommendations, I can stay healthy. You too.
Requirement #1: Devote a bit of mental energy to your body consistently
Initially, I wanted to allocate as few brain cells as possible on fitness. But eventually I realized that success comes down to simply accepting that you need to devote some time and mental space to fitness and you have to continue to devote some time and mental space to fitness. Reopen the dialog with your body and talk to it every day.
Staying in shape definitely gets easier the more you do it. Of course you can form habits on food and exercise. You can start to crave the movement when you’re in the thick of it.
But as hard work giveth, laziness taketh away. If you stop paying attention to your body, it defaults to mushy sadness. Health is not something that you can just tune up once every few months. Consistency matters more than anything. Show up. Discipline is key.
I think the biggest reason I succeeded is because, in the beginning, I decided to spend the time minding my body. It’s putting in the minutes and the brain cells. It’s making the effort.
Make your muscles work and make mindful and smart choices about the diet that works for your body, most days, for the rest of your life.
Requirement #2: Figure out your diet
Oh, yes, diet. Diet is first, third and fourth in importance for maintaining your health. For me, anyway. Probably for you too.
I think this is how it works. Food determines how the fat on your body looks. Exercise determines how the muscles on your body look. You can target your muscles, but you can’t target your fat.
The healthiest body has a high percentage of muscle mass. The goal is to be heavy, but with muscle and not fat. This is why strong is better than skinny. You want to assert your apex predator status and eat as much as you need to fuel yourself and build up your muscles.
The calories in, calories out method of fitness works until it doesn’t. But I bet it will work at least a little.
I told you specifically what I eat already, but here are a few recipes I found myself making pretty often.
Mom’s recipes I’m actually using from my website. Life goal accomplished.
Requirement #3: Be consistent
This is important enough that I’m listing it twice. You have to make physical movement and eating right a priority for the rest of your life. Your body will decay or your body will grow every single day. There is no standing still. Make the choice to grow.
Every day you have to make decisions. Make the right decision and your body will show it. Make the wrong decision and your body will show it. Figure out your diet so you know what the right decision is for your body.
When you know the right decisions, it just boils down to putting yourself in the right environment so you can make those right decisions. Make it easy to climb back on the wagon.
That’s it. Do these 2-3 requirements and your body will be happy.
I have a few recommendations that may or may not help you depending on you.
Recommendation#1: Take pictures
You manage what you measure, so take pictures. Take pictures, take pictures. A picture is the best visual aid. It’s the easiest and the best. Don’t argue with me.
I did a whole thing with my BMI and body fat percentage and all that, but who cares about that junk. Pictures are key. How do you look? Your body is talking to you. What’s it saying?
Some pictures might not be fun. That’s okay. Take the picture, archive it, and go work on requirement one and requirement two. A couple of weeks later, take another picture, archive it and go work on requirement one and requirement two, maybe requirement three.
If you’re doing requirement one and requirement two every day, the odds are extremely good that your pictures will get more vibrant and alive as time goes on.
You see your body every day, so you acclimate and perhaps don’t notice everything. Or you forget. Comparison pictures help you remember and appreciate.
Pictures also help you diagnose. Eating too little and losing muscle? What areas are weak? Pictures can help you figure it out.
I averaged a picture perhaps every three weeks and showed them to everyone I know. And strangers.
…which I now realize was a bit obnoxious.
Recommendation #2: Make it about the muscle mind connection
Talk to your muscles and be friends with your body. It’s the best. Oh, goodness, it’s the best. Every day, I marvel at this secret of life. Hello, friends! My muscle friends. I love you! I already wrote about this.
The muscle mind connection makes me want to work out. That’s the secret.
Recommendation #3: Use a resolutions chart
How many times can I bring up my resolutions chart? But, seriously, I found this chart so vital in my fitness goals. Ben Franklin started it. You totally want to be like Ben Franklin. I do.
It’s okay to miss one day. That happens. But don’t snowball. The resolution charts lets me very clearly see the potential snowball. I try to NEVER miss more than one day in a row. Track your discipline.
It doesn’t count unless it’s written down. Make it intentional.
On my chart, I always have columns for workout (time) and workout (activity). I also test out eliminating or adding different food groups, and try to include any other fitness experiment I’m trying.
Recommendation #4: Pow-wow with your muscles as soon as you wake up
The days when I work out as soon as I roll out of bed are the better days. I feel more prepared to face the world after convening with my body.
And automatically doing something first is a super easy way to grab momentum. There’s no negotiation, no mental energy, no looking for time.
Recommendation #5: Think about your inflection points.
You’ll encounter so many obstacles because life is obstacles. How are you going to overcome? I think through as much of the story as I can and plan around the predictable and plausible hurdles. I already wrote about this one, too.
This tip really helped me because most of my excuses are stupid. I most definitely can find the time to work out. Controlling my time is my superpower.
Personally, I don’t like to weigh myself. I know my weight from a doctor’s appointment in February 2017 (97 lbs or 44 kg) and one in January 2018 (92 lbs or 41 kg) and one in August 2018 (86 lbs or 39 kg) and I planned to step on the scale before I took that first picture in this article, but I didn’t because I don’t have a scale. For reference, I’m 4’11” tall (150 cm).
Oh, I’m not saying that shunning the scale is the right way to go about this either. Weight can be a really helpful way to measure if you do it with the right mindset. I just had no idea what a good target weight would be and I know how stubborn the numbers can get. But mostly I didn’t want to buy a scale.
It’s worth it
Just like seizing control over your money feels great, so does seizing control of your health. This is an accomplishment my brain doesn’t dismiss as luck.
I’ve never felt embarrassed by how I look, but I now love seeing the muscles when I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I feel like a bad-ass who can take care of herself. Whenever I use the bathroom and I’m by myself and I’m not wearing a dress, I lift up my top and look at my abs for a quick “heck yeah!” pick me up. It works a surprising amount of the time as a mood and energy booster. I marvel at my abs more than I’ll admit to in public.
I love my body. We giggle together on the daily. She’s a friend. More than a friend. This relationship is worth the time and brain cells and I’m never going back. If I can help it.
It’s not a cure-all. But it’s a cure-a-whole-bunch.
Don’t let me make yourself feel bad
I am soooooooo proud of my pictures.
How many o’s can I use before it becomes obnoxious? So proud.
But you should know that I’m using flattering angles. I’m flexing and posing and exhaling to make it look as kick-ass as possible. Plus, I worked out beforehand to direct more blood to my abs.
I still have stretch marks and jiggles, wrinkles and sags. I have folds when I sit down and I’m soft when I’m not flexing.
No body is perfect. As long as you’re trying to get better, the only person you should be competing against is your old self. Embrace your body for what it can do. You’re in this together, so make the relationship a good one. If your relationship is not a good one, what are you trying to make it better?
And, let’s be honest. You could still kick my ass. The word you use to describe me to the police is tiny. If you did requirement #1 and #2, you could do so much better than me.