24 Oct 2010

Manage your body weight - the green way - part three. Exercise!

In the first article in this series, I had a look at a few underlying principles of managing your body weight, and tried to frame it in a more ecological and holistic context.
In the second, I explored the food side of weight management, with the underlying principles and a bunch of tips and tricks to consume fewer calories while still maintaining your quality of life.

And the same principle applies to exercise: any type of weight management that's going to work in the long run, shouldn't impose on your quality of life. It might itch a little here and there, but that'll be generously compensated in many other areas, feeling like an overall win.

Even though it makes more sense not to consume more than you need, the reality is that many of us don't want to resist or avoid high-calorie foods all the time. Or give up chocolate and stop going to cocktail parties. Does that mean we're doomed?
(c) Capt Kodak - cc

Not in the least. It's perfectly possible to manage your weight and still enjoy the good things in life. I know I do, and have done so for years now. You just need to be aware that it's a balancing act, and it requires making informed decisions. Fortunately, there's no such thing as failure. There's just learning, improving your strategies and moving forward.

First, let us get back to the 'green' basics.

When we consume too many calories, what we basically do is take in more energy than we need. That energy comes from somewhere. In life, there's no such thing as a free lunch, literally.
The energy comes from other life forms (the plants and animals that we've eaten, and indirectly from the sun), and we consume that life to continue our own.

When we take in more energy than we need for our normal activities, our well-functioning bodies store it as fat, unless (or until) we use it up. Until we do, it also means we are taking more from this world (in the form of food) than we are giving back (in the form of activity). That doesn't make us bad people, and we don't need to feel guilty about that. It's part of being human, but so is the ability to be aware.  

(c) sparktography - cc
Don't give in to guilt. It's generally not useful in a healthy weight management plan. Instead, we risk using it an excuse.  

Guilt makes us feel bad about ourselves, and often powerless, which then becomes another reason to remain sitting on the couch, wallowing in self-pity or self-reproach. 

Instead, what we really need is the courage to face the facts. Then we can start looking for useful ways to burn our excess energy. Giving back to where it came from. Look at your fat as potential, waiting for you to devote it to a worthy cause.
There's a huge difference between being overweight, and being someone who has been "storing energy up till now." That difference is made by what you decide to do, right now. You are not a victim. You have more control over your life than anyone else. It might not always feel that way, but it is true.

So let us look at ways to transform that stored energy back into meaningful activity. It has come from the world, it is now time to give it back. You have the insights, the energy reserves, and the motivation. You might not have the perfect knees, back or metabolism, but we can all work with what we've got. 

I want to make clear that I am not pleading against fitness or workouts. If you enjoy running on a treadmill and it makes you feel good about yourself, keeps you motivated, gives you energy and strength for other projects: great! Your health and well-being are what matters most.
(c) Ulf Liljankoski - cc

But if you're not getting much out of it, and you're just dragging yourself to the gym purely to lose weight, it might be time to find an activity that feels useful, that motivates you to go on, that makes you happy to be alive, that makes you feel part of the greater clockwork. 

Personally, I am a great fan of weight training (workouts with free weights). Yes, the heavy ones. Yes, like the guys in the gym, and no, it won't make you look like a body builder. (Lots of great information about that on http://www.stumptuous.com/).

Why weight training, and why it doesn't feel meaningless to me? Plenty of reasons:
  • It's great willpower training (everyone who's tried it knows how great it feels when you squeeze out that last rep)
  • It's a very efficient way to become stronger, which is useful for many other daily activities, from carrying groceries (or children), gardening or house work, helping friends move house to defending yourself or getting out of an emergency situation
  • It's something you can do at home, with basic and inexpensive equipment.
  • It doesn't take hours a day to build it up or maintain it.
  • You can start off slowly with a few simple exercises, two or three ten minute sessions per week, and build it up from there, together with your physical abilities and your confidence. .
But any other increase in physical activity will make a difference. It's important to take your starting situation into account, and build it up from there in a way that increases your overall health and joy in life. Step by step, changing and adapting along the way.

Don't forget: every time you wiggle your toes in joy or wave at a friend or neighbour, you are making your muscles work and you're spending energy. Every extra step you take, you're burning off calories. And if you've enjoyed that step and on top it has benefited friends, family, your community or the world at large, it pays off times ten!

Up next: a list of green and meaningful exercise tips & tricks.
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