Screw the Scale, Rethinking Health and Fitness

Several months ago, I posted a few entries about my plan to quit the gym and focus on calisthenics at home. In revisiting those posts, I realized that I hadn’t addressed the single most important aspect: mental health. I discussed my frustrations with the gym and the details of my new workout, but I never took the time to discuss my motivations. Rethinking my health and fitness boiled down to a few mental roadblocks, and getting over them allowed me to push forward.

First and foremost, I stopped using a scale. I have found this to be the single most stress-inducing aspect of maintaining health. Weight fluctuates constantly based on an endless variety of factors. Hydration, sodium levels, alcohol intake, even mood. You can sweat your ass off and wake up the next morning two pounds heavier. It’s not just about the calories, it’s about what your body is doing at any given time and why. You can swing several pounds in a single day just by, you know, being human. Thus, I stopped caring about that stupid number on that stupid contraption.

Speaking of misplaced focus, I have also stopped obsessing over a healthy diet. I despise the word diet. It has such a negative connotation these days. (Fun fact: “diet” actually comes from Greek, which means “a way of life.” Talk about perverting a wholesome ideal.) I prefer to use the term nutrition, which better encompasses my outlook on food. I eat well, but not perfectly, and I’m okay with that. I always have fresh fruits and vegetables on hand. A typical snack for me is a banana or a handful of cherry tomatoes. I also eat hamburgers and drink beer, just not all the time. You know that whole “everything in moderation” thing? It’s a lot easier to follow than a strict fad diet.

Another source of endless frustration was BMI. I decided to completely ignore my Body Mass Index, that asinine height and weight formula devised in the 1830s by a mathematician who had no medical experience. It was used for general census purposes until, for whatever baffling reason, insurance companies and health organizations adopted it as a measure of health. What’s especially screwed up is that it doesn’t even measure overall fat or muscle content. Worrying about proper BMI made no sense. It was like worrying about the best way to hit yourself with a brick. The base logic was inherently flawed.

In short, my health and fitness has become a balance of generals. I opt for general nutrition, not anti-carb insanity. I opt for general fitness, not beach body bullshit. Back in my 20s, I looked at someone like Brad Pitt and thought, that’s what I want to look like. Now that I’m pushing 40, I see that same chiseled physique and think, that’s way too much time and effort. My workout routines today are less about washboard abs and more about staving off heart disease.

And so, I stopped obsessing. I gave myself a mental reprieve, which in turn gave me all the motivation I needed. I eat well and workout because it makes me feel good, not because the scale guilts me into it. I go on a hike because it’s fun, not because I need to burn off some extra calories. If my pants fit a little tight, I’ll pass on the second beer. When they loosen up, I’ll order fries with my burger. It’s a simple balancing act, and the load off my mind is immeasurable.