I came across an excellent post today by blogger Tony “The Anti-Jared” Posnanski, entitled “Everyone Has A Bikini Body”. Tony wrote about Amini Terrell, a 260-lb. woman who dared to defy social prejudices against the overweight by strutting up and down Hollywood Boulevard wearing a bikini. Tony published a quote of hers that was particularly poignant. She said,

Because if people say you are too fat to wear one, then you will lose weight. Once you lose weight they will say you are too flat-chested for one and then get surgery. Once you have Double D’s they will say you do not have a butt for one so you will have more surgery. Then you will not be tan enough or tall enough or shapely enough.

I found this quite astute. Just about any woman will admit that there are parts of herself that she hates. That’s not “dislikes”, that’s HATES. The sad reality is that no matter how hard women try to look “good”, they are never good enough according to the unattainable expectations of our society. And those expectations are not driven by those who have our best interests in mind. They’re driven by those who have a financial interest in keeping us unhappy with ourselves.

But a reader’s response in the comment section was what really struck me. One particular woman wrote,

Well, I admire her for having the guts to do this. I wouldn’t if I was 135. That’s being said, I find it totally disgusting! That is what I would look like and fat women disgust me and I am one. I’m 56 years old and have given up ever being “hot”.

I read this through several times: “That is what I would look like and fat women disgust me and I am one.” That’s not just hating one part of your body, which is sad enough. That is hating all of yourself.

So, I wonder, what motivation would that woman have for choosing health-preserving foods or engaging in a life-improving exercise program? Forget looking “hot”. Hotness is a manufactured concept, superficial and inconsistent. I’m talking about respecting yourself enough to take good care of your body. It shouldn’t be all about losing weight so that you can fit into a certain size or style of clothing. It should be about keeping your body in a healthy state so that you can move freely and live a long productive life.

Would you do that for someone that you found disgusting?

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My kids have an extensive anti-bullying campaign at their elementary school. They’re taught to treat others with kindness. Ironically, sometimes the cruelest instances of bullying appear in how people treat themselves.

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Gee, I would have never known I was doing everything wrong if others hadn’t generously volunteered that information. *cough, cough*

I’ve witnessed a trend of attempting to “motivate” people by telling them everything they’re doing wrong. UGH. No matter how you slice it, negativity is not a good, lasting motivator for positive changes. As a matter of fact, there’s a form of “negative motivation” that’s called bullying, and schools, community organizations, social networking sites and even the media are working to eliminate it.

I see this type of “motivation” among health- and fitness-related professionals (and I include those not educated in the field, but who have a financial interest in having people follow their advice — MLM people, that’s you). Telling people who are making concerted efforts at changing their lifestyles that they’re still doing so many things wrong doesn’t get anyone anywhere — the focus is continually on the negative. C’mon, you’ve got to be able to find something positive for people to hold on to. That’ll be the lifeline that they use as they pull themselves upward.

So, for your reading pleasure, see below for a great set of guidelines to consider before you open your mouth or start typing. It comes from an elementary school class (thank you, Mrs. Morgan at Lindbergh-Schweitzer!), which is the age at which we have to start if we want to turn around the negative trends to which our adults have fallen prey.

So easy even a school kid can do it!

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Hey, I confess, I’ve done it myself. I’ve seen people engaged in so many injurious habits that I was convinced they were on the path to self-destruction. I felt the need to point out all the negatives, figuring that they needed to hear “the truth”.

Know what? I was wrong. What they needed more than anything was to be listened to. To be understood. There was something positive there, overlooked by everyone else — I just hadn’t tried hard enough to find it.

And once they knew I was listening, they started listening back.

Do you really know what you want? Do you know what steps you need to take to get it? If not, you’re going to be at greater risk of being swayed from your goals. What happens at the point when we’re faced with a decision whether or not to engage in a behavior that may or may not be detrimental to our goals? Our actions will depend in large part on how meaningful our goals are and how attractive the other option is. In a way, it’s a balance of those two factors. Knowing exactly what you want will help sway things in your favor and keep you moving towards where you want to be.

If most people have an opportunity to (1) eat a doughnut or (2) abstain in favor of their fitness goals, which one will win out?

Eat like Homer, look like Homer. (www.sfgate.com)

My money’s on the doughnut, and here’s why: most people don’t have a truly clear idea of what they want as far as fat loss goes. They want to lose pounds or “get into shape”. Some just want to “look good”. What do all of those mean? They’re very fuzzy goals, and as a result, achieving them will be difficult. How will you know you’ve reached the point where you’re “in shape”? What if you think you “look good” but then pass a mirror or see yourself in a photo and realize that you don’t look as good as the person next to you? What if you still “feel fat”? All these things make it hard to claim success…

And that’s why the doughnut is such a formidable opponent. In contrast to the uncertainties of fat loss, you know what you’ll get with the doughnut. The melt-in-your-mouth sweetness, the sugar rush…the desire for more. Those pounds you want to lose are so far away. The doughnut is here and immediate. It’s tangible. You can practically taste it.

Add to that, it’s easy to justify eating the doughnut, right? How much of a difference will one doughnut really make?

All of this is why it’s important to not only have clearly defined goals for fat loss, but also an understanding of the day-to-day steps you need to take to get there. Success is determined by your daily efforts. Your daily efforts are determined by your long-range goals.

When you know specifically where you want to go, and are aware of what you need to do every day, resisting temptation becomes easier. When the sun sets every evening, you can claim victory for another day, and the resulting changes to your body become your reward.

Sometimes we need a dose of humility peppered with a helping of “walking in someone else’s shoes.” This is especially true when dealing with someone who’s embarked on a weight loss journey but is getting nowhere with it. No amount of education will do a trainer any good if  they can’t find a way to understand a client’s difficulties, or even worse, refuse to accept that such hardships exist.

Some years ago I had the following exchange with an obese young man:

“Exercise is fun!” I chirped happily.

“That’s because you don’t have to do it lugging around 280 pounds,” he shot back.

And you know what? He was right. His answer caught me off guard because I was trying to help him maintain a positive outlook, but the truth was I really didn’t have anything to say to make him feel better. I was pointing to the benefits of exercise, but he was still working on bending over to put his shoes on.

I’ve never been obese, although I did peak at 181 lbs for a week or two, right before giving birth to my heaviest baby (8 lbs, 5 oz) – but even that wasn’t terribly dramatic for my 5’11” frame and barely nudged me into the “overweight” category according to my BMI. While getting back into the 150s where I remain now took some months, I was so preoccupied with caring for the new family member that I never obsessed about it. Couple that with the fact that I don’t have the food issues that plague many Americans, and you can see why I’ve had to work hard to relate to people who have been fighting their weight for years, even decades. Even so, a gap remains between their thinking and mine.

Apparently, I’m not the only one trying to bridge this gap. Australian underwear model and personal trainer Paul “PJ” James made big news last year for putting on 90 lbs in order to better relate to his overweight clients. What he found was that losing that weight was not as simple as he expected, even with all his fitness knowledge. During the process of weight gain, he also gained a sugar/fat addiction that was tough to kick. And carrying around that excess weight made exercise more difficult. His joints ached and every movement required more effort.

James noted that the first three months were the most difficult because he was doing everything right, following his own fat loss plan, and still the weight wasn’t coming off. Breaking his junk food habit took a good six weeks. All this, when he had the benefit of knowing what proper eating and exercise were. Once the pounds started dropping, however, he said he regained his motivation and powered through with his weight loss.

A number of people have weighed in on the pros and cons of his experiment. Some say he’s “been there” and will be able to relate to what an overweight client may be going through, particularly because he struggled in the beginning and had to fight a food addiction. Others say that his efforts prove nothing because he wasn’t subject to the same stigma that befalls many overweight individuals, gained the weight over a short period of time using extreme measures (not the way most people gain) and will cash in on the instant fame that this stunt afforded him. Both of these points of view are valid; however, I’d like to underscore something else.

James didn’t make progress for about three months. Wait, let me stress this: THREE MONTHS. He worked for six weeks to overcome his sugar addiction. How long would someone without James’ experience have lasted on a fitness program that didn’t show results for a quarter of a year? By that time they’d figure that if they’re doing everything “right” and still not dropping fat, there’s something wrong with them and substantial weight loss is a pipe dream. Furthermore, it’s doubtful that James would have had faster results if someone had been yelling at him to get his act together, or calling him a fat, lazy slob like a trainer on the “reality-show-which-must-not-be-named” feels is necessary to do.

So if James’ story has a lesson, it’s not that 1) it’s possible to lose weight (we know it is) or 2) that someone who’s heavy for several months will fully understand what it’s like to overweight for decades (we know he won’t)…but rather that if you focus exclusively on weight loss as a measure of success, your motivation may peter out with the first few obstacles you encounter. If you’ve spent years putting on weight, prepare to invest substantial time into changing the behaviors that got you there. Focus on your lifestyle, not the scale.

However, there’s warning here for those of us who’ve never had to wage that fight. Really, we have no idea what we’re talking about. We’re the quintessential car mechanic who can’t drive and would be well served not to pass judgment on those who are still fighting. Use our knowledge and fitness experience to offer solutions, yes. Provide needed support, yes. Lay down the law, yes. But not pass judgment.

How would you live differently if you found that you had only a year to live? When asked that question, most people say they’d do all the things that they were afraid to do before, they’d try to live out their dreams, no holds barred.

Well, why is it that when our days are not numbered, when we actually have time to plan and achieve great things, we don’t? Commit to doing something extraordinary because you have a long life ahead of you to enjoy it, not because you’ll be gone soon.

If you already have a fitness program in place and want the flexibility that home exercise equipment can give you, go for it. But don’t assume that you’re going to start exercising now that you’ve bought an expensive home gym or cardio machine. If your exercise “habit” has not been established, simply having the equipment available will not change anything. I know, it seems like it should open a whole new world of fitness possibilities for you. It should, but it doesn’t. The same excuses and justifications will still apply.

Likewise, don’t assume that the guilt of spending a lot of money on equipment is going to compel you to use it. True, guilt can be a very powerful motivator, but it’s a negative one and tends to result in avoidance. And before you know it, you’re trying to not look at that treadmill, elliptical trainer, etc. because it reminds you of what you’re not doing. The offending machinery ends up in the closet, basement, under the bed…or serving as an expensive clothes rack.

I’ve heard people say that the greatest “workout” they got from their purchase was carrying it into the house. Only to be followed by the second greatest…carrying it out to the front lawn for their garage sale. Establish a solid exercise habit before you complicate matters by spending money on expensive equipment.

A side note: if you want to get a good deal on equipment (and you have a plan to use it), don’t buy it in Dec/Jan. That’s when all the ‘resolutioners’ are buying. Yes, the stores will be having good deals…but probably not as good as the deal you’ll get on Craigslist/classifieds/ebay/garage sale starting somewhere between March-May when the sparkle of New Year’s resolutions has faded and everyone’s trying to make back some of the cash they lost.