Fitting In
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Fitting In

I’m a fitness instructor, but you shouldn’t aim to look like me.

and not just because of my lack of a six-pack.

Photo by @shootcasey

I hate the phrase that you have to “earn” your food.

Oh, you “earned” those fries? That brunch? That burger?

It leads to a perpetuation of eating disorders — you didn’t work out today, so you don’t deserve to eat.

I used to measure every single calorie, used to wonder how many calories every single step burned, because I only knew the simple math: calories in have to be less than or equal to calories out in order to prevent weight gain.

It’s true that if you consume far more calories than you burn that you’ll gain weight. Yes, the math doesn’t lie.

But that doesn’t take into account the mental and psychological aspects.

The reason why diets don’t work in the long run is because counting calories is stressful and takes a toll on your mind. Over-exercising can harm your body. And the guilt that comes with feeling like you have to “burn off” what you just ate? Overwhelming.

I’m not saying that you have to be either happy or fit, but if it is mentally draining to get there, is it worth it?

You might just realize that all the time and energy you spend worrying about how you look, being unhappy about how you feel, and focusing on exercise and food instead of human relationships can never be gained back. Looking back, I wish I spent more of my life living and less of it ensconced in my own displeased thoughts.

So how about exercising because you love the way it makes you feel? Because you feel strong, empowered, alive? How about eating because you need to nourish your body and because it brings you joy (or should bring you joy)?

I’ve seen people pick apart their bodies during my time as an instructor. I’ve seen people get upset when their fitness tracker turns off during class. I’ve had people tell me they like my class because it burns the most calories, and while that makes me proud because I think that means the class was hard and that they worked hard, I don’t think that’s how they should measure how good a workout was.

Being involved in the food and fitness community, where people are looking, judging, and following every single meal and workout you do, I can tell you this right now: I’ve been at that place where I’ve let workouts and food take over my life, and it’s not a good place to be.

Even now it’s easy to fall into the comparison trap. Oh, xx person is only eating this much a day? Why am I having so much more? Oh, xx person worked out three times today? I feel like crap about missing my workout.

But the truth is, everyone is different. Every BODY is different, and we all have different needs.

Even so, we all should follow the same basic principle: to love, nourish, move, and rest our body as it demands.

So when you set goals, think about this: instead of aiming for a six-pack, why don’t you aim to be able to hold a plank for xx amount of minutes? Instead of aiming to eat less than 1800 calories, why don’t you aim to add more whole fruits and veggies into your diet? Instead of aiming to become smaller, why don’t you aim to become stronger? Instead of aiming to lose weight, why don’t you aim to gain muscle?

It’s all about phrasing and mindset.

A lot of marketing done as fitness studios or professionals is to sell weight loss. To sell a healthy life. To sell, in essence, ourselves:

“You want to look like me? Good, well do what I do.”

But that’s not what I aim to do.

I want to help people become a version of themselves that they were always meant to be. I want to help you become happier, more fulfilled; to bring more energy into your life.

Outside appearances don’t always signify any form of health—you can be muscular and still feel like crap; you can be classified as “overweight” but still be healthy.

I want to help you feel your best, and with that, your entire life will follow in that positive direction.

I’m not trying to sell myself. If you eat like me and workout like me, you won’t necessarily look like me. And you shouldn’t want to. Not because of my lack of a six-pack, but because you are you and beautiful, wonderful, strong, and amazing just the way you are — every single version of you.

We could spend our entire lives picking apart ourselves and our “little imperfections.” I looked in the mirror today and felt that my arms could be more toned, that my butt could be perkier, that my back could be more muscular.

And then I told that little voice in my head to shut up. There’s more to life than how we look—it’s about how we feel and how we choose to live.

Here’s a secret — I threw away my scale and it was the most liberating thing I’d done in a while.

We are works in progress; we are perfectly “imperfect.” It’s what makes us human, and that in itself is the most beautiful thing of all.

So today, choose strength. Choose happiness. Do what brings you joy, whether that’s taking a workout class, lifting heavy at the gym, making yourself dinner, or just sleeping — you do you.

Choose to embrace every single part of yourself, from what you hate to what you love. You only have one body, one life—make the most of it.

Written in 2017. Images updated 2021.



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Nancy Chen

author, fitness instructor & email marketer. I get weirdly enthusiastic about productivity ideas & human psychology.