The Psychology Of Fitness

Mindsets, Body Types and Everything In Between

Ever Complain that You Need to Lose Weight, But Don’t Workout? Here’s Why, pt 1.

Are you overweight or obese and say you want to workout, but don’t?  Or if you’re not, have you ever met someone who has, who continues to eat lots of unhealthy foods?  Ever wonder why you don’t work out or eat healthier?   This post will discuss the 7 factors that interplay with each other that cause people to remain their individual “status quo.” 

Last year I read a study that compared the adherence of two different diets.  Basically the study compared how long individuals were able to stick to a diet.  One diet was relatively simple, yet not as effective for weight loss, and the other was a bit more complicated to follow, but was “better” at weight loss.  What the study showed was that the more difficult the diet, the more that people preferred the status quo.  In this case, the “status quo” meant that the people went back to eating what they normally ate and didn’t adhere to or follow the diet.

If you were to combine Quick Tip #6 (on being overloaded with information) along with having most diets or exercise plans require too much change (or being perceived as too complicated), you will typically get people who don’t do anything and yet complain about their weight.

For a number of years, I have been trying to figure out why people who don’t work out and eat like crap will consistently complain to me, almost everywhere I go, that they need to lose weight.  I never understood it.  It wasn’t that I was judging them, but instead I never understood how they could say one thing and do the complete opposite of what they knew they should be doing.

After looking at the situation a bit more in depth, while also looking at my own life in areas where I complain and yet still don’t do the requisite things that I should be doing, it suddenly dawned on me – I’m just like them!  My problem area may not necessarily be with losing weight, eating healthy or working out, but in terms of saving money and paying off debt, I was doing the SAME exact thing.  I complain that I “don’t have enough money” and yet the things I know I should be doing, I simply don’t.  Why? 

I was reverting back to my status quo – which is in essence what all people do when they revert back to their comfort zones.  We all do this when confronted with complicated information or so much information that it’s overwhelming, and hence “complicated.”  We avoid making the changes, not because they’re necessarily hard, but because we get emotionally involved and say “we have to do this thing.”  We lose autonomy in our decision, but beyond that, we also judge the value of making that change versus remaining the same.  We judge that value, not so much by the real-world results of our changes, but on an emotional gut level.  Where does that emotional gut level feeling come from though?  It comes from our “comfort zones.” 

Most people’s “comfort zones” aren’t very comfortable though – they’re instead simply well grooved paths that we individually fall into.  Your comfort zone isn’t what you actually want to do, but you just perceive the obstacles to changing the habit as requiring too much energy, self-control, time, thinking, etc and feel that you don’t have the requisite energy to tackle all of the changes you’re currently perceiving in your mind. 

So what do you do?  You put off making the change.  You go back into that well-grooved habit pattern that doesn’t take much time or effort.  You go back to the foods that “taste good” but are unhealthy.  You go back to zoning out in front of the TV, although there’s “nothing ever on.”  While you do that though, you tell yourself that you’ll get around to making that change, when you “have more time.”   

You see, most people’s comfort zones were developed and engrained into their psyche long before they saw the need for any change.

For example, most people’s beliefs about exercise and pushing one’s self were developed in childhood or adolescence.  For instance, if you liked playing sports, the competitive nature of them or simply pushing your body when you were young, more than likely if you put on too much weight, you will fully realize that working out may be physically strenuous, but not see that as a bad thing.  Your body will remember that fatigue, accept it and allow you to accept the challenge of pushing your body past it’s current limits.  After a week or two, you will enjoy the feeling of pushing your body, day in and day out.  You have the belief that, “Working out will be physically strenuous, but that’s a good thing.” 

On the other hand, someone else who thought sweating in gym class was stupid because you then had to go back and sit down afterwards, might have a different reaction to the same exact workouts.  Despite, having the same types of physical responses to those workouts, this person may absolutely abhor it.  Why?  Because this person will have the belief that, “Sweating is not a feeling a like and I try to avoid it as much as possible.” 

This huge variance in perception of the same exact workouts are not because the feeling was any different, but instead because of the way the mindset, the beliefs that that individual has towards physical exertion.  This is despite the fact that many of those beliefs were formed 10, 20, 30 years ago.

So when you go to develop a new habit, a new body, you are fighting decades worth of beliefs.  Decades of beliefs are not the easiest thing to over come and if that was the only component in change, it would be difficult, but not seemingly insurmountable.

On top of that, new habits have to be developed.  Taking new actions and forming a habit, can sometimes be difficult, simply because of the mental activity needed to shift out of the well grooved habits that we’ve already acquired. 

Whether or not an individual has children, a stressful job and/or other responsibilities, the most common excuse that I hear from people not working out is that, “They don’t have time.”

How is it that a single mother will have 3 children, a full-time job along with other responsibilities, but still find the time to workout?  Contrast that with a single bachelor with a part-time job can not “find the time” to work out?

The difference between them comes down to the individual habits they’ve allowed themselves to acquire.  The single mother will be used to waking up early, getting her children ready, cooking breakfast, dropping her children off to day care and school, going to work, and while at work, going to a local gym on her lunch break.   Her habits were built up over time and were influenced mainly by life’s circumstances.  Despite her other habits being influenced mainly by life’s circumstances, her exercise habit was a conscious choice.  That choice though, is typically an easy one to make when you’re “busy” and want to add something of value to your life.  Why is it easy to make when you’re busy?  It’s easy because you are only focusing on the important aspect of that choice – when can you fit it in? 

Everything else that people worry about, “What am I going to wear?”  Seriously, no one really cares.  “Do I want to take the Zumba class at 6 am or the Bootcamp class at 6pm?”  Take Zumba the first week, Bootcamp the second and see which one you like afterwards.  “Should I have my protein shake there?”  No.  “Where’s my Protein cup shaker?”  I don’t know, find it when you get back from the gym.  “What sneakers should I wear?”  The first pair you see. 

These questions are what becomes front and center in the person’s head – NONE of which are of any importance.  The ONLY important question is, “When can I get to the gym?,” and then going at that time. 

This goes back to the amount of choices we have to make.  With more options, comes more decisions.  With more decisions, comes the tendency to overwhelm yourself with trying to make the best possible decision.   You get lost in the milieu of the details and never actually get moving (Something I do all the time). 

This is how the part-time worker, having to work 5 hours per day, Monday thru Friday will get overwhelmed with the amount of choices he has to make and revert back to his old habits.  On the days he works, he tends to sleep in late, head to work, come back, put on the TV while cooking.   After the food is finished cooking, he sits down to watch some TV and eat.  After he’s done eating, he gets a little tired and during a commercial break, asks himself, “Where are my sweats for the gym?”  He thinks about it and realizes they’re in the laundry.  This starts to overwhelm his decision to go to the gym.  So instead of taking any action, he finishes watching the TV.  When the re-run of Two and a Half Men is over, a movie starts that he really likes and hasn’t seen in a while.  So what does he do?  Does he do some laundry or figure out something else to wear to go to the gym?  No.  He watches the movie.  Two hours later, he realizes that it’s “already 10” and says, “it’s too late to work out.” 

His habits are also highly influenced by life’s circumstances.  In his case though, having too much time and therefore, complicating the decision and moving past the important question, “Can I go now?” 

Tomorrow, I will put up part 2 of this post and describe the last three factors that influence our ability to work out when we say we “need to lose weight.”

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