How to get fit/effect a lifestyle change
May 15, 2007 9:12 AM   Subscribe

How to get fit/change my life for the better

I was born chubby and haven't really stopped being chubby. I'm loveable and cuddly, and don't dislike myself, but I'm terribly unfit. I can remember halcyon days in my late teens when a stint at Weight Watchers left me slim, fit and also mentally tip-top. That lasted for maybe three years, before food caught up with me.

So here are the real questions: Bearing in mind I'm a sedentary person, how can I change so I become fit? How can I stop feeling down whenever I think about exercise? How can fitness become natural to me? How can I change the habits of a lifetime?

I'd love to hear stories from people who have gone from zero to hero in this way—from fatty to thinny, from slob to fit. How did you solve the problem?

Advice from natural born fit people is welcome, but maybe isn't that valuable in this instance.
posted by humblepigeon to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
How can I stop feeling down whenever I think about exercise?

Don't wait until you feel better about exercise to start exercising. Eventually, your feelings will change.
posted by yohko at 9:20 AM on May 15, 2007

I went from 250-260 to 180. Probably one of the biggest things that helped me was finding exercise that I enjoyed doing (for me it was biking) and food that I enjoyed eating (for me it was a bunch of yogurt and granola bars).

The one problem was, after another life change, I gained much of it back, and am now in the process of losing it again.
posted by drezdn at 9:23 AM on May 15, 2007

So how exactly did food catch up with you? Did you do any sort of exercise while in Weight Watchers?

I can't speak to this personally, but I have a friend who I often go walking with. She decided that she was going to lose a lot of weight and run a half-marathon. She monitored her food intake, lost a significant amount of weight though increased physical activity. She now runs more than I do, and for longer. Mind you, this took her over a year to accomplish - it's not an easy task.

Why do you feel down about exercise?

What about walking? Start finding ways to walk more. Talk walks after works, with friends, on the weekends. Do you have any interest in outdoor activities?
posted by canine epigram at 9:27 AM on May 15, 2007

Yohko is right. Seriously: stop thinking you have to feel motivated. Get changed into your exercise gear. Notice that you feel repelled by the thought of exercise; observe the feeling with curiosity. Then go to the gym anyway, feeling grumpy about it.

This is actually tremendously liberating. You begin to realize that needing to feel like doing something is in fact an enormous additional pressure you pile on yourself.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 9:30 AM on May 15, 2007 [16 favorites]

This is not an inspirational story; just two tips that I think will serve you well. They are not intertwined, so if one of them turns you off, don't let that stop you from doing the other one.

1) You don't have to become a workout nazi to get in some exercise. The best few bucks you can spend is on a decent pedometer, and then work up to the goal of walking 10,000 steps a day, and do it every day. (You don't need something this high end, but I love, love, love my Omron HJ-112.)

2. While what you eat is important, how you eat may be more important. If you don't already, learn to cook, and make balanced meals for yourself. (Mind you, I didn't say diet food; even if you eat relatively caloric foods, you'll consumer fewer calories and harmful substances if you start from scratch and balance with plenty of vegetables and roughage.)

Do these things, and everything else you want to do with your diet and lifestyle will become easier.
posted by j-dawg at 9:31 AM on May 15, 2007

I don't think that it's really very possible to control your weight in the long term with diet alone. So I think you're on the right track when you think about adding exercise into the equation.

I've been through periods of extreme fitness and periods of extreme sloth, but right now I'm in a period of extended decent fitness. The longest of my life so far. Here is what I think matters:

1) Find some exercise that you like to do, even if only somewhat.

2) Begin to do it, and pick a goal for yourself for the future. For me, it's running, and I pick a race I want to do.

3) Work toward the goal.

4) When the goal is achieved pick another one and plan to better your first goal.

5) Keep repeating.

6) If you notice weight creeping on/that you haven't been running or whatever, reassess and reconfirm your goals and get to work.

I'm not too much of a goal oriented person, but I've found it essential to have goals in order to keep running. You do whatever works for you, and you might need to search for that. For instance, 5ks and 10ks are kind of boring to me, in part because my participation in them is so middling, I'm never going to win or come close to winning. So, my goals are long races, 50 milers and 100 milers. There's something strange and wonderful enough about them that I can get motivated to do them in a way that I can't about 10k's. Here's my point: I don't really like running all that much. In the list of things which I do, it's up there, but I don't understand people who can run 100 miles a week, that bores me silly. So my goal, which is long races, is a strange one but one which balances the need for a certain level of fitness (although I'm a low mileage trainer) with enough interest to keep me going back. Does that make sense?
posted by OmieWise at 9:31 AM on May 15, 2007

Bearing in mind I'm a sedentary person

No. Sedentary is about what you do, not about what you are. Right now you are acting sedentary.

You do not have to be a not-sedentary person to exercise. You have to exercise to be not sedentary.

How can I change the habits of a lifetime?

Before March, you were not an Ask Metafilter user. Now you are one. How did you change that habit? Change this one the same way.
posted by mendel at 9:34 AM on May 15, 2007 [3 favorites]

Oh, the other thing I meant to write: there are communities of people doing all sorts of things. I do 95% of my running alone, but I'm tied into a community of people who do the same things. I sometimes run with a local running group, I have a couple of running friends with whom I am vaguely competitive, I'm on a few email lists. All of these things are key to keeping on. It isn't so much that I ever ask for external motivation, but the constant talk about who is doing what race next is always out there reinforcing choosing my own goals and races.
posted by OmieWise at 9:35 AM on May 15, 2007

The answers in this recent AskMe may be of interest.

I think the shortest of short answers is that you do it by doing it. That is, the divide between sedentary and non-sedentary is not attitudinal or motivational, but rather simply in an accretion of small decisions -- walking instead of driving, hiking instead of playing WoW, etc. Repeating these decisions over a period of time forms habits; these habits are supported or weakened through your choices of friends (are your friends inviting you on hikes, or showing up at your door with a tub of icecream and three new DVDs?).
posted by Forktine at 9:40 AM on May 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

I feel for you. I'm sedentary by nature, too. And yet I work out for an hour every morning, from 6am - 7am. I've found the closest version of being a couch potato that I can be while working out.

1. exercise bike in front of the TV
2. Netflix subscription.
3. from Netflix, I mostly rent episodic TV series with ongoing stories. I rent one-hour shows.
4. My rule is that I'm only allowed to watch these shows while I'm working out.
5. I ride the bike for an entire episode and then stop.

Sometimes I rent movies. I'll watch the first hour of them and then stop. But I'm not allowed to watch the second hour until the next day, when I'm on the bike again.

I've also banned snooze alarms from my life (which makes me happy in a bunch of ways -- snooze alarms are evil). The alarm goes off and I get up. If I ever found myself turning off the alarm and going back to sleep, I'd start putting my alarm across the room -- so that I'd be forced to get up to turn it off.

I'm NOT a morning person. When I wake up, I'm groggy. But my rule is that I go straight from bed to the bike. No stopping by the sofa first to wake up. I get on the bike, half-asleep, and peddle at a snails pace. Over about five minutes, I gradually speed up. (I find that this happens naturally.)

YMMV, but I don't do stretches or warmups. And I've never had a work-out related injury. My five-minute buildup must work as a warmup. I do a five-minute slowdown at the end.

And I work to eliminate excuses. There was a time when, if I found myself hating the movie, I'd quit working out that day. Now I make sure I have several lined up.
posted by grumblebee at 9:46 AM on May 15, 2007 [3 favorites]

Finding forms of exercise that pay off RIGHT NOW, rather than over time, helps a lot. Exercise might not be appealing right now, but there are plenty of fun activities that also happen to be exercise - think outside the usual examples of to things that really appeal to you. I suggest putting more emphasis on fun (than on getting a serious workout) to start out with, because it will lead into habits, which you can then ramp up into more serious amounts of exercise once you're past the lethargy phase.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:52 AM on May 15, 2007

I was born naturally fit and won't ever get heavy but for a couple of years I was completely out of shape and recklessly unhealthy due to boozing too hard etc. The trick to exercise is to start slow, really really slow.

Start with five to ten push ups today (this will take maybe 45 seconds) and then forget about exercise till tomorrow. Then do ten push ups again tomorrow and you can even skip a day after that. Eventually you will notice that doing push ups suddenly has gotten much easier and you can ramp up your routine.

In fact don't even count the repetitions, just stop when you feel like it. Do the same with sit ups. After a couple of weeks or months other exercises won't be as intimidating. I sometimes find myself stranded in downtown Boston and can't pay for the T so I walk home. This takes hours... but the next day I am even more sore than when I take a jog. The walking is easy, the being sore part is validating.

The main thing to keep in mind is that getting fit is not a race, its a lifestyle. Take your time!
posted by pwally at 9:52 AM on May 15, 2007

Speaking for myself, using something like a race to get fit would make me give up. I need smaller sooner goals.

I started out by saying I'd go to the gym for an hour 3 times a week, and I didn't put any expectations on myself as to how hard I'd work out each time- just doing SOMETHING was good enough. It worked. I've lost weight and more importantly I'm in better shape than I've been in in years, (although I'm probably in "normal" shape rather than "good" shape, going by the rest of my town).
posted by small_ruminant at 9:57 AM on May 15, 2007

Also, I made sure to go to the gym on the way home from work. Once I'm home there's no prying me back out, especially to go the gym.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:00 AM on May 15, 2007

I went from being sedentary to not-sedentary over a very long period of time, and I had a lot of periods when I regressed and became a slob again for a while. But basically, for me it's been about, on the one hand, committing to regular exercise and, on the other, cutting myself a lot of slack about what I actually do when I exercise. I need to show up at the gym three times a week and do some sort of cardio for a half an hour. It does not have to be terribly taxing cardio. The goal is not to feel like I'm going to die. Generally, what I do is alternate long periods of not-very-hard exercise with short bursts of more intense exercise. It's much easier to convince myself to do a minute of something hard when I know that I can have three minutes of easiness after that.

If I were you, I would start by establishing a routine. Find something very easy and enjoyable and exercise-like and do it for a half an hour three times a week. Then gradually make it a little more intense. Walking with friends might be a good way to start, or going to a pool and swimming in a very leisurely way. Or join a gym and walk slowly on a treadmill while watching T.V. or listening to something good on tape or radio.

A lot of people talk about incidental exercise, and I guess I do that, too, but I like the discipline of actually showing up and working out on a regular basis. YMMV.
posted by craichead at 10:00 AM on May 15, 2007

hiking instead of playing WoW

hehe that's exactly what I did! Well, am doing. Even if something gives you happiness, if it's in the way of your health than you should really stop doing it. I took a fun hobby (playing Warcraft) and replaced it with another fun hobby (photography) that was sure to get me outside and having fun while burning calories.

Forktine is right about a big part of personal willpower being other people. Make your loved ones realize that you need help in keeping you away from food or in falling into bad habits. Tell them not to bring home take-out for you, even if you get mad at them for not getting any when they get it for themselves. If they're really committed to helping you, they'll weather any food tantrum you might have for your own good.
posted by cowbellemoo at 10:01 AM on May 15, 2007

we're ALL sedentary by nature - it's called inertia ;)

but seriously, yohko is spot-on. exercise never gets easier or more fun until you keep doing it. like anything worthwhile in life, you have to practice, practice, practice.

so - don't expect yourself to automatically BE motivated just by magic. find something that works for an incentive and use it. (buy yourself a treat for going to the gym 3 days in a week, or whatever works)

but know that the more you do it, the easier it will get. the easier it gets, the more it becomes a habit.
posted by wayward vagabond at 10:18 AM on May 15, 2007

I don't always feel like exercising -- but I always enjoy the feeling of having exercised. Keeping that in mind is often how I get in the mental space to go to the gym or yoga studio.
posted by scody at 10:22 AM on May 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

I dislike monotonous exercise just for the sake of exercise. In the past, I played racquetball about 15 hours a week and was in great shape. At the time, I had about a dozen partners who all enjoyed it as much as me. After some relocations and life changes, I've played racquetball maybe 10 times in the past 5 years. So I've gotten fat, and am in the process of getting back in shape. I have a good workout partner, and this is a key to my success. On the days when I'd rather just go home, he drags me to the gym. And I of course return the favor sometimes. And when we agree to go running in the early AM, I'd hate to let him down by sleeping in. I've tried several times in the past few years to "get with the program" and just do the exercise, as several here have mentioned, and find that I slack off after just a few weeks. EXCEPT when I have a workout buddy who I don't want to disappoint.

I also (with my workout buddy) recently signed up for a mini-Triathlon. It's in a couple of months, and in training for it I've discovered that I really, really like swimming. Even though I'm very comfortable in water, and have been in a pool pretty regularly my whole life, it was always for horsing around and relaxing. The first time in the pool at the local college recently, I discovered that I could barely finish a lap without gasping for air, but I'm getting better slowly. My only goal with the mini-T is to finish. If I'm not in last place, that'll be a bonus.

You can do it.
posted by Bradley at 10:34 AM on May 15, 2007

Be tough on yourself. A little stress and pressure will go a long way. 90% of exercise is psychological - the actual physical acts are pretty easy. The hormones you produce with that state of mind will take you pretty far.

So, bite off more than you can chew, get your competitive instincts running. I didn't get really serious about exercising until I started racing go-karts. It's the most fun and most physical punishment I can imagine. As others have mentioned, find the activity that feeds the soul, so to speak, and gives you a good reason to work hard.

Don't worry about the food stuff right now. Don't change your diet... yet. Focus on exercise, it will follow naturally.

Good luck!
posted by milinar at 10:38 AM on May 15, 2007

I am really terrible about starting working out and doing it for a couple weeks, then getting really busy and making excuses. My fiance decided he wanted to start running, but neither of us had ever really run before. Couch to 5k is a really great guide to starting off easy and then challenging yourself more and more.
I also picked up the Nike+iPod kit. It only works with an iPod Nano, but you just plug it in and it tracks calories burned, distance, and speed. You can go on Nike's website and it will show you your progress and you can set goals and participate in challenges. I really love it.
(ps. Don't run with a regular iPod. The shaking movement of running can kill the harddrive.)
posted by Becko at 11:29 AM on May 15, 2007

I second the pedometer or nike+iPod idea. They're fun, and I find that fun is the best motivator for exercise.

That being so, one good way to start getting in shape is to find a physical sport or hobby. It doesn't have to be a very taxing sport (golf, bowling, or badminton counts, or standing sports like billiards or target shooting, or even crafts like cabinetry), just so long as you enjoy it and it gets you on your feet for a decent period of time. Bonus points for sports you can enjoy with friend(s) -- they will motivate you even as you motivate them. Once you start playing on a regular basis, you may find that physical activity is not so bad.
posted by vorfeed at 11:48 AM on May 15, 2007

The Fitness Ladder is what I'm working on right now. I'm slim like crazy and weigh next to nothing but not a pound of that is muscle. I get winded sprinting a block. So, I look fine, but I'm not in shape.

I figured out that I hate exercise for its own sake, so I'm not going to count on myself to do it. This regimen is minimal enough that by the time I start thinking "This is stupid", it's over. Also, I don't feel like total crap afterwards; I don't like the feeling after exercise that I'm totally spent and will be "feeling it tomorrow". To me that's effectively punishing myself for doing it, which means I won't do it.

Also, I let myself pick whether or not to do it on the weekends. Most of the time I laze out and then at about 4 in the afternoon I realize I feel like crap. Then I say to myself, "See? This is what happens when you don't exercise".

On the whole it's worked out well so far. I don't know if I'm pushing myself as hard as I could be, but I think it's useful to get myself to some kind of basic fitness level and at that point I won't be so intimidated by the kind of exercise people with muscles do.
posted by crinklebat at 11:50 AM on May 15, 2007

I've gotten a good deal more fit since January: lost weight, gained muscle, got lots more energy, improved my moods. Sleep better too. For a while I was going to the gym daily (and I've learned to enjoy weightlifting), but that's hard to do, especially if you're not a work-from-home freelancer (I love my job). And the gym is a weird place; the average gym is off-putting in a lot of ways.

I'm still carrying too much fat, but I'm not worried about it: the way I'm living, it's coming off. That was the hidden goal all along: sustainability.

Here's the low-hanging 'get fit' fruit:

* Losing weight means running a calorie deficit. Losing fat (rather than catabolizing muscle) means running a not-too-extreme calorie deficit, replacing bad foods with good ones, and training up your muscles and cardiovascular system.

That means you eat healthier (not less, healthier) and exercise more. Period. If you don't do both of these things you're wasting a lot of time and effort. Anyone who tells you differently is jerking you off or metabolically blessed. Do yourself a favour: write down what you eat for a week. Look up calorie counts. You'll see in plain black and white why you're carrying unnecessary fat.

* 'Thin' and 'healthy' aren't the same thing. You wanna be fit, you can't just lose fat. You have to replace fat with muscle. The more muscle you have, the more energy your body uses just getting through a normal day - and the easier it is to live actively. If you want to lose weight, in other words, you don't worry about getting the biggest biceps ever, you build muscle all over your body. Calisthenics, full-body weight training (don't pose in front of the damn mirror, just work up a sweat), playing a very active sport (golf is for zombies), these things are ideal if you're not interested in getting big as such.

Getting stronger, faster, less easily-winded, feels awesome. And the effects are noticeable in a couple of weeks. If you can't commit to a project that takes a couple of weeks to show results, then THAT's your real problem, and you have a whole different AskMe thread to start.

* DON'T EAT TWO OR THREE MEALS A DAY. Your body will respond better to smaller meals more often. If you're skipping breakfast you're ruining your chances of success. You should be getting most of your nutritional needs at breakfast.

* Take a multivitamin! Physical benefits aside, it imparts a neat bonus: you realize you're doing something good for your body, and want to do more. Handy trick, that.

* 20 minutes of cardio exercise is pretty easy. You don't start burning fat for about 20 minutes of work, so dicking around for ten minutes on the bike will waste your time (and gym money). Importantly, you needn't work that hard on a bike to burn fat - just go steady for 30 minutes and you'll help yourself a lot. The important thing isn't to kill yourself (that's for later), the important thing is to get your body moving and spin up your internal drives, y'know?

* If you're heavyset, the bike will probably be a hell of a lot easier on you than running (and more comfortable than rowing). Ellipticals take getting used to, I find, but they're also easier to start than running (hell on the knees and back and feet).

* Stop drinking soda (pop? Coke? cola?). It's the worst thing imaginable. Absolute poisonous shit. Drink lots of water instead - it's hard to drink so much that you cause yourself problems, so go for the gusto: drink water whenever you're thirsty, a glass or two with every meal.

* Get a blender, make smoothies. Bananas are yummy. :)

* Don't starve yourself. Eat better, not less. Veggies are good for you.

* There's nothing good on TV. Turn it off. Ride your bike.

Seriously: these things aren't hard, because they're all enjoyable. The first week of riding the exercise bike really sucks, but as soon as you get a knack for it - which doesn't take long - and learn how to pace yourself, it becomes a pleasurable activity. Riding a real bike is better - ride five or ten miles at a halfway-decent clip and you're burning fat whether or not you're drenched in sweat. Maybe not much, but you don't need to do much at first. You just have to get started.
posted by waxbanks at 12:31 PM on May 15, 2007 [2 favorites]

game warden has it right, by the way: as long as you're not totally defeated when you walk in (by goddamn Chelsea beating Man U, say), it only takes a couple of minutes of concentration and exercise to lose yer blues for the duration. You've got to trust yourself that way.
posted by waxbanks at 12:33 PM on May 15, 2007

you have great advice here. i have actually marked some of the answers as favorites.

i, for one, am going to give a somewhat difficult to accomplish advice. quit sugar. cold turkey. and, if possible sauces.

i used to have quite a few cups of coffee and tea, each with one or more sugar spoons. drinking unsugared made me slow down on the chugging, and i discovered i was having so many cups out of pure anxiety.

also, most of the time, sauces are just some kind of grease which just makes it easier for you to eat more, and faster. you end up stuffing yourself before you notice that you're not hungry, and worse, if you feel full you will find it harder to get on the bike a couple of hours after.

you will cut some calories, mantain a more stable sugar blood level, and somehow manage to eat less.

these are quit small and achievable changes, but not easy in any way. i know because i fell off the train on the sugar one after two months and now i'm in rehab again.

complement this with 20 or 30m of gentle cardio and a handful of pushups 3 or 4 times a week and you'll soon see your weight drip away. once you feel comfortable, just research some fitness websites and start including new exercises and rotating them to prevent boreness.

i enjoy logging my mileage and pushupage and extracting weird , totally unscientific statistics and facts, also.
posted by ArchEnemy at 2:41 PM on May 15, 2007

game warden to the events rhino: "You begin to realize that needing to feel like doing something is in fact an enormous additional pressure you pile on yourself."

These are wise wise words. You just have to do it anyway, with the certainty (and it is an absolute certainty) that you will be really proud of yourself after you've finished. This delayed gratification, I learned, is the reason people say exercise is so good for your mental health. And it really does feel fantastic.

Another thing that made me feel better when I started running was that everyone feels this way at times (or even all the time.) Even the most elite runners I came across found exercise a challenge, but they were committed and knew the rewards would follow.

I love running because you can do it anywhere with or without other people and only require good shoes. I would recommend it to any exercise newbie for three reasons:

1. It's something that so few people feel they are capable of doing, so there's an extra feeling of pride from doing something so challenging to most people.

2. You can sign up and pay for a 5k race months in advance and work toward it. The fact that you've paid and committed and told other people you're doing it will keep you accountable.

3. Running your first 5k might be the best feeling of pride and of fun that you've ever experienced.

Runners are also surprisingly inclusive and friendly. For some reason the tights had always made me think they were too elite for me!
posted by loiseau at 7:44 PM on May 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

Bearing in mind I'm a sedentary person, how can I change so I become fit?

Short answer: Stop being sedentary.
Long answer: Find reasons to move about. My family tends to the extra-large side of the fitness spectrum, and I've always been "stocky," but a bunch of events in my life led me to carrying 240-250 lbs. around on a 5'10" frame. I decided it was time to make a few changes, small ones at first, changes I could commit to long term. First one: Pack a healthy lunch. Failing that, if I had to eat junk food I'd walk there and back. The closest fast food I was willing to eat was a mile and a half away. That's a pretty big incentive to pack a healthy lunch, but I still found myself having to make the at walk a couple times a week. Then I decided I liked the walk, so I'd pack a lunch and walk to the shopping center and get a coffee. The coffee isn't especially good, but it gives me a reason to get out of the office for an hour, get some exercise and fresh air.

The next step was to broaden my definition of what I considered exercise. Take the stairs instead of riding the elevator. Take the long route. Getting up from the desk every two hours and stretching or doing some light exercise like lifting my arms over my head or doing simple squats. Get the blood moving, even if it's only for a minute or two.

Step three was join a gym. I couldn't really afford it, either the time or the money so I quit going pretty quickly, but I learned some basic exercises I could do at home. One of my neighbors moved out and left behind a basic barbell/dumbbell set, so I grabbed it and promptly hurt myself really badly. When you get to this stage, get a personal trainer! And start slowly.

Step four was observing what I ate. I kept track my weekly food with FitDay and was horrified to learn how out of balance my diet was and how much I was eating. I was taking in 1000 more calories than I needed. That sounds like a lot, but once you realize how many calories are in that burrito, burger, or Starbucks mochafrappelattechino it's easy to see how easy it is for a person to take in 3000-4000 calories a day. If a person is sedentary and eats 3000 they are fueling a 330 lb. body. There are a lot of resources onle that will give you a general idea of how many calories you should be eating to maintain your weight goal. These are just guestimates though, as a javasript applet is no sustitute for a professional's opinion.

So I started eating less where applicable, but eating more often. I was eating eight 200 calorie meals for rapid weight loss (that's 1600 calories, which would, eventually result in my body-weight resting at about 130 lbs.) but that's not especially good for the body over the long term, so I upped my intake to eight 200 calorie meals and exercising. I've recently upped it again as I found myself feeling fatigued all the time.

But I'm down to 185, and a good amount of that is muscle. It's also taken about two years. I took my sweet time and adjusted to the changes when I was comfortable. I'm not done yet, but any means. Take it slow and keep an eye to long-term success.

How can I stop feeling down whenever I think about exercise?How can fitness become natural to me? How can I change the habits of a lifetime?

As above, start slow. Every little change you make will be a positive one.
posted by lekvar at 2:50 PM on May 16, 2007 [3 favorites]

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