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Mission Impossible? What do you do when fitness seems very far away?

Mission Impossible? What do you do when fitness seems very far away?

Being very overweight or very unfit often go together, and the two can produce an endless downward spiral. The prospect of getting back to fitness and a normal weight can feel overwhelming, if not impossible. What are the best ways out of this?

Magazines and websites love feel-good stories; let’s face it, who doesn’t? Tales of those who have lost a great deal of weight or gone from couch potatoes to high-level athletes are particular favourites. For anyone whose weight has run away with them, or who has let their exercise regime fall away, these stories should be inspirational. In practice those who are very overweight or very unfit can feel that the task is utterly beyond them. Looking beyond the articles - what is the mind-set needed to accomplish what seems impossible?

First things first – what went wrong?

Unless a problem is immediately life-threatening, it is always worth stepping back first to find the cause. Knowing that this has been eliminated is the first stage in restoring confidence. For someone who has lost fitness due to injury, the cause may have been obvious – an accident or illness. If the cause is unknown, for example an on-going joint or muscle problem that came ‘out of the blue’, it is a good idea to see if there was something that may have triggered it. For example, it might have been a change in exercise routine resulting in poor technique, or a longer-than-usual run or cycle ride that overstrained muscles and caused damage.

For those seeking to lose a large amount of weight, it is equally important to think how the situation arose in the first place. Weight gain has many causes. Common reasons include stress that causes over-eating, poor food choices, lack of time meaning that food has to be grabbed ‘on the run’. Some medications can cause weight gain. Pregnant women may not be eating for two, but will inevitably put on weight and despite what the celebrities would have us believe, real women are not usually back in their skinny jeans before the baby is a month old.

Lifestyle changes play a huge part in weight gain. A new job with lots of business lunches and long hours will quickly mean a tightening of belts. Being at home with small children can result in the fatal ‘finishing up the leftovers’, and being always ‘on the go’ may mean grabbing meals on the run.

Where do we start?

The normal phrase used for dealing with huge problems is ‘eat the elephant one piece at a time’. This may not be the most appropriate metaphor in this case, but the underlying message is good. Big problems cannot be tackled in one piece – they need to be broken down into manageable sections. This means that something can be achieved and there will be a justified sense of progress.

For those who are looking to lose weight, fad diets and extreme starvation have been repeatedly proved not to work. They may result in a short-term loss, but the key to weight control is a change of lifestyle. No-one can live on meal-replacement shakes or very restricted diets for long, even if the concept was not so demoralising.

Those who have been very fit and active, but find themselves recovering after a long layoff will also find obstacles to morale. A slow and steady approach is also essential here, with a realistic attitude to what will be immediately achievable. The concept to keep in mind is that all progress is valuable, even if it is in small steps.

What are some suggestions for tackling these problems?

For those seeking weight loss:

  • Don’t be obsessed by the scales! Weight can vary greatly from day to day. Make a rule to weigh yourself no more than once a week.
  • Don’t let food rule your life. No-one likes a diet bore, or someone who can’t enjoy a meal out or an evening with friends. Balance your food intake over a week, not a day.
  • Take some exercise! Every movement is better than nothing. Build exercise into your day – get off the bus earlier, take the stairs not the lift, walk the long way round to get somewhere.
  • Think about where you will be in six months or a year, not next week. That way all those little losses will add up to something significant.

For those seeking fitness:

  • Pay close attention to correct technique. Skipping a warm up or pushing yourself too far can set an injury recovery programme back by weeks.
  • Be realistic. Forget what you used to be able to do. Concentrate on what you can do now. This is especially important if some years have passed since your peak fitness.
  • Be flexible – not just in body, but in mind. Adapt your workout or be open minded to new sports.

Tasks may look impossible – but remember that how things look is often not how they are. Other people have fought back from lost fitness or being overweight, and there’s no reason that you can’t do it as well. Good luck!