What’s Right for Aunt Sally Might Not be Right for You

If you have ever been through hard times (haven’t we all), you were probably given advice by so many different people. For many life situations, there often seems to be as many opinions as people giving advice!

We are all products of our experiences. Emotions and judgments are really the result of “where we were when”. The values we were taught as kids, the life experiences that we have had as well as current situations all come together to form our perceptions of reality.

Fitness and nutrition are no exceptions. Take any cross section of people, say 100, and ask their opinion on a particular fitness idea, and you will probably get 100 different opinions. This is the dilemma I see often with clients. Many, before I see them, have spent a period of time “trying out” this diet or that workout plan because it worked for their friend or their sister gave it to them and so on.

My favorite example of this is my last long term partner (spouse) used to be asked for fitness advice because he was fit and married to a fitness instructor! He had some good ideas. He knew what worked…. for HIM.

What works for one person may not work for another. Why? Physiologically, the science is pretty much the same. For optimum fitness and health, we all need a combination of resistance exercise (muscles and bones), aerobic exercise (cardiovascular, lungs), stretching (joint health) good nutrition (fuel) and enough sleep (rebuild). The trick of all this is the how to get these things and enjoy it.…because enjoyment leads to motivation.

Let’s say that Aunt Sally walks with a group 4miles, 3 times per week. She eats a healthy diet of lean protein, veggies and fruit and goes to yoga class 2 times per week. She loves her “program” which works for her because she loves it. Aunt Sally gets a lot of social time from her workouts, which keeps her going. The time she spends is more valuable to her than just fitness. She rarely misses her sessions.

Aunt Sally eventually convinces her niece Elizabeth, who thinks fitness is a necessary evil, to join her. Elizabeth begins with enthusiasm, but after a month she doesn’t feel like she is getting results and starts missing sessions. Why?

If we asked Elizabeth, she would probably say that fitness is “just not her thing and she doesn’t enjoy it”. But, maybe Elizabeth hasn’t found the activities that give her what she really needs beyond fitness. In this case, Aunt Sally meant well, but her “mentoring” was actually counterproductive to Elizabeth’s fitness success. Elizabeth has now reinforced her feeling that she doesn’t like physical activity.

The same thing holds with “diets” (I personally don’t like the term). Let’s bring up Aunt Sally again. One day Elizabeth who now thinks that a diet is what she needs since exercise is out, asks Aunt Sally if she could help her lose weight with a diet. Aunt Sally gives her the diet book that got her started on the road to healthy eating.

When Aunt Sally read the book, she knew that the diet was very strict with types of food and timing of meals. For her, it was great to have a structure to follow. It was all so organized, as she liked all things in her life.

Elizabeth, on the other hand, tried to follow the diet exactly as recommended. Within a few days, she was very frustrated because she felt that dieting is just too difficult and inflexible. She decided that dieting doesn’t work and she just needs to “cut way back” on the amount of food she was eating. This is good – except that most of the food she is eating is nutritionally empty to begin with! Now she’s hungry and inadequately nourished.

Elizabeth would be better served by learning about and following sound nutritional principles rather than following a rigid diet plan. It’s just not her style.

Are you having trouble starting or sticking with your fitness plan? Here’s an approach to get you thinking….

1. Look inside.

What drives you? What makes you happy? Why do you want to be fit? Why do you want to eat right? What activities do you enjoy doing (both physical activities and other hobbies)? Are you a social person or do you prefer to be alone? What are the limiting factors in your lifestyle? How much time do you want to devote to fitness? What type of job do you have? Do you like changing your activities often or do you prefer a more predictable routine?

2. Look outside.

What resources are available? Do you have sports activities you might enjoy available? Is there a gym close by? Is there a dance studio close by? Are there organized events like fun runs you could train for? Can you find books on the subject of fitness and nutrition? Do you know any fitness trainers or coaches?

3. Put it together.

A good fitness plan includes the elements of: muscle strength, joint flexibility, aerobic (heart, lungs) training, sound nutrition and rest. So, pick out the activities available to you that you like and see if the combination gives you all the elements in this list.

Elizabeth, when she goes through this process, is surprised to figure out that there are some fitness activities available she would enjoy. She knows she is social, wants to keep generally fit and healthy, has time after work, needs organized activities and likes variety (why Aunt Sally’s program didn’t appeal to her)

Elizabeth’s program looks like this: 1 day per week, join a football (soccer) league (aerobic) 1 day per week, yoga class or Tai Chi (flexibility, muscle, mental focus) 1 day per week salsa dancing class (aerobic) 1 day weight training (muscle) Some weeks: social dancing on the weekends (aerobic, relaxation)

She’s got a good plan….. FOR HER!

Copyright (c) 2006 Ainsley Laing