When I first started exercising in the early 80’s, I was hooked on the overall feeling it gave me: energetic, athletic, and strong. I remember feeling like I wanted to stay moving all day. I was in my early 20’s then, so…there was that youth thing in my favor and those endorphins were addictive. As I got into competitive bodybuilding, my mindset somewhat shifted to obtaining “the look”. My nutrition wasn’t for overall health, it was for looking and being lean and muscular. My workouts were primarily geared to build muscle or lose fat, depending on whether or not it was on or off season (ie; prepping for a contest or not). I was still very adamant about maintaining flexibility and never got the “puffy” off season look. I didn’t understand the huge swings in weight then, and I don’t understand it now. You have to eat more to gain muscle, sure, but some people take that to the extremes and find it difficult when it’s time to get ready for a contest. Up and down, up and down….the yo yo effect is not healthy…but I digress…
Although I never had huge weight swings and typically only started my contest prep 9 weeks out, I still could have gone about it in a much healthier fashion. During contest prep, I would get excessively lean, as expected, but my skin and hair would dry out and my face would look gaunt, even at such a young age. I would eat far too little fats. Back then we thought of all fat as the enemy. There was no such thing as eating “healthy fats” during contest prep. The mindset was, eating fats will make you fat, period.
But competitions came to an end for a long time due to some life changes and being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. At times it was debilitating and I never imagined I would be able to compete again, and honestly it wasn’t a huge concern because I had far more pressing issues to do deal with at the time. Having an autoimmune disease made me question where I was focusing my efforts. Was I doing everything to look fit, or to be healthy? Was I eating just for the macronutrients or was I also getting in the necessary micronutrients; vitamins and minerals? I hadn’t really considered true nutrition for my overall health. I had always thought by staying active and lean, meant I was healthy. With experience comes wisdom, and I have realized health has to come first and that being “fit” is NOT the same thing as being “healthy”. After-all, there have been some pretty fit looking bodybuilders who have dropped dead due to what they have put their bodies though for the sake of getting big or getting shredded for a show.
I appreciate and respect the fine balance of health. I have to be very proactive to maintain that balance. When my nutrition is off and/or I miss workouts (or overtrain), it undeniably has a negative effect on my health, and I have to chase away inflammation and pain. Through extensive research, trail and error, I’ve found specific nutrient support, coupled with intermittent fasting, gets everything back on track much quicker. My rheumatologist was amazed that my condition has actually improved. I can’t stress the importance of nutrition enough. It’s not just about macros!! So many fitness competitors only worry about their macros. I see post on social media #IIIYM meaning; if it’s in your macros you can eat it. Basically to hell with the micronutrients needed for overall health and any other additives hormone or toxins that may be in your food that adversely affect your health.
While most of us want to look in shape, being truly fit has several components, and they are not just aesthetic; strength, body fat composition (which is the most visually obvious) endurance, flexibility and balance are all important. And being healthy has far more components. I would advise any people just starting their fitness journey to consider the balance of being both healthy and looking fit. Be patient and take on daily healthy habits. It’s not just a sprint to “look fit”. Be consistent, be smart, be proactive about overall health/wellness. Being healthy versus being merely fit, includes having energy and a good immune system. But true health goes beyond just the physical; it reaches into mental, spiritual and social realms. Be Strong, Happy and Happy for LIFE!!