The biggest lie you’ve ever been told about building a healthier life is that it’s easy.
Show me any fitness magazine and I’ll show you photos of models who are smiling like they just won the lottery, not a drop of sweat on their bodies, demonstrating “easy 7-minute strength workouts” before you flip the page to a collection of “super simple 20-minute recipes” that are “omg so easy to make!”
And you know what I have to say to all of that? Fuck off. Seriously, fuck off.
Let’s first assume that you have the time, the financial privilege, and the other resources necessary to focus on exercise, healthy food, and wellness. (And that’s a big assumption that very few, if any, fitness-minded inspirational people take into account.) But even after we use this assumption as a starting point, it’s time to be honest about what comes next.
Working out isn’t easy. Being mindful about what you eat isn’t easy. Meal planning and grocery shopping and preparing food and then actually following through on your plan to eat said food in between getting your ass off the couch to exercise (while also managing the rest of your life!) isn’t easy. It’s hard — and it’s especially hard in the beginning.
When I first started running, I wanted to die 100% of the time. When I first tried to hold a plank for more than 10 seconds, I fell on my face. When I began cutting back on sugar and processed foods and forcing more green things into my mouth, I couldn’t stop gagging.
Everything tasted like dirt and I didn’t want to chop so many vegetables and what do you mean I should be eating chia seeds? Isn’t that what chia pets are made of?! Get out of here with that nonsense. My tastebuds hadn’t adapted to the new foods and my body hadn’t adapted to the new exercise and I was sore and frustrated literally every single day.
Even now, more than four years into this lifestyle, there are still plenty of days when it isn’t easy. My running and salad-making habits are solidly on point, but there will never, ever be a time when going running and preparing a healthy meal is as easy and effortless as laying on the couch, binge-watching Netflix, and eating an entire sleeve of Oreos. Never ever.
Which is exactly why it’s so easy to do the cookie thing instead of the moving-our-bodies-around-and-eating-vegetables thing. And it certainly doesn’t help that we’re constantly presented with images that make it seem like being healthy should be the simplest and sexiest thing in the world, and that if we’re struggling so much it must mean that there’s something wrong with us. That’s how I felt at the beginning, that I was doing it wrong, that everyone else was more motivated and disciplined than me, and that I might as well give up. Looking back, I wish someone would have told me what being healthy really looks like. And sure, it looks different for everyone, but here’s how it looks for me:
I grab running clothes out of a pile and sniff them to make sure that even though they’re dirty, they aren’t too dirty. I get dressed, rub Bodyglide in weird places to prevent chafing, spray sunscreen on the ridiculous tan lines that will probably never fade, pull my hair back into some kind of oddly shaped ponytail, and sprawl out on the living room floor to do my warm-up exercises — all the while thinking about how cozy I’d be if I were still under the covers and how I’m a damn fool for doing this instead.
I leave the house and go running. Sometimes it’s terrible, sometimes it’s wonderful, but most of the time it just is. If it’s cold, my nose runs and I wind up with snot all over my sleeves. If it’s hot, I consider taking my shirt off mid-run until I realize that I’m too insecure for that, so I suck it up and deal with being hot. Sometimes I listen to music, sometimes I listen to podcasts and audiobooks, but sometimes, no matter what, I’m just bored out of my mind and the only cure is to keep putting one foot in front of the other so that I can finish the stupid run and finally go do something else.
After running, I come home and collapse on the floor to stretch (ouch) and do my strength routine (wahhhh) and even though the person doing the moves in the example video is incredibly precise and flexible and strong, most of my movements look like I’m a drunk baby deer on rollerskates — limbs flailing around in all directions, sweat collecting in a puddle underneath my body.
Then I’ll go to the fridge and grab a green smoothie that I made the night before, except the combination of ingredients I used made it a weird, murky brown instead of a bright, crisp, Instagram-perfect green. Because you know what you never see on Instagram? Photos of sweat-drenched women drinking sludge-brown smoothies, poking at their feet to try and decide whether to drain that annoying blister or leave it alone. No one is draining blisters on Instagram.
So I drink the smoothie and debate showering. Sure, I’m sweaty, but am I really that sweaty? Sweat dries, right? I’m tired, showering sounds like a hassle, and I have to start working. So some days I shower but don’t wash my hair. Other days, I just don’t shower at all. I pull out the baby wipes and deodorant and do my best before hanging my wet clothes in the bathroom so that they can dry enough for me to inevitably do the entire thing again tomorrow.
And remember: it took me almost three full years to even get here. At the beginning it was so much harder, because every moment was overshadowed by uncertainty: “What time should I run? Does it really matter if I skip today’s workout? Will I have time to run after work? Which foods make me feel my best? Why bother meal planning when ordering take-out is so much easier and saves so much time? Why does this muscle hurt? What’s the difference between bad pain and normal soreness? How hard should I push myself? Are other people having this much trouble with motivation? Is that a pimple on my chest? Why am I breaking out in weird places? Will I be able to stick with this for more than a week? WHO IS GOING TO DEAL WITH ALL THIS DAMN LAUNDRY??”
And this is exactly why change is anything but easy — because we’re shown image after image of how sexy it is to be healthy and we’re told how good it always feels to “make the healthy choice” when the real truth is that it’s hardly ever sexy and it often feels like torture. Why can’t we all just be honest and upfront about this? Why can’t we agree that changing your mindset and your habits and your lifestyle is hard? IT’S HARD!
But it’s also worth it. (Annoying, right? Oh, you guys, how I wish it wasn’t worth it.)
But it is.
Which leaves me needing to admit that yes, it’s hard. But you know what, that’s okay, because we can do hard things.
Something doesn’t need to be easy in order for us to be able to do it — that’s a myth. The choices that make me feel my best aren’t always the easiest choices (correction: they’re never the easiest choices), and they certainly aren’t the choices that require the least amount of effort, but what if I just let that be okay? What if I accept the truth that my life is better when I stop needing things to be as easy as possible all the time?
It’s okay that making healthy choices feels hard for me.
It’s okay that I will never be the star of an inspirational Pinterest board.
It’s okay that I didn’t shower this morning.
It’s all okay.