The Ice Storm

It’s hard to watch someone self-destruct. It can be even harder to watch someone leading a mentally, physically, and spiritually sedentary life, knowing there’s a great chance they will end up regretting the things they didn’t do, and choosing not to intervene.

A friend shared some personal stories with me this morning over coffee. It’s often surprising how relatable our experiences are with one another, when you really take time to stop and listen. We don’t do this often enough. All people have in common the pain of living, and the harsh realities of life. We all have the ability to tell, and listen, but sometimes refuse to do this because of fear of judgment and consequences. The simplest act of kindness, listening, can help immeasurably.

Something he said brought back memories of a particular moment in my life, something from over twenty years ago. An insignificant night I hadn’t thought of again until today. It was the dead of winter in Columbus, Ohio, and I was visiting some friends during the aftermath of an ice storm. We wanted to go to a local bar to see a band play, but because of the terrible road conditions (and, of course, we’d all been drinking), no one wanted to drive. Thick blue ice covered the city streets. So, we decided to walk to the show.

After my accident, ice was a major enemy; couple my instability on the slippery ground with drunkenness and it was a recipe for disaster. The bar was probably ten blocks away; I really didn’t want to walk, but told myself that if I didn’t drink any more during our evening out, I’d be fine. So we made it to the bar unscathed, and, of course, continued drinking as soon as we arrived. I justified it by thinking that although I knew it was making a bad situation even more dangerous, maybe my drunken lack of inhibitions would make walking on the ice easier.

I clearly remember taking a hard fall within moments of stepping out of the bar. My friends helped me up, as they had many times before. In total, I must have fallen full-force onto the ice at least thirty times on the walk home. Each fall battered my already fragile body. But, with the help of my friends, I laughed it off each time. The next day, I could barely move; my entire body was covered in colorful bruises and blood. The scene from the previous evening had played out many times before, and would play out many more times in the future. And my problem wasn’t because of my injury or the way I walked.

These memories make me appreciate how much I’ve changed, and also help explain why I’m dedicated to creating positive change in myself and others. It’s my turn to help someone get up off the ice.

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There is No Such Thing as a Perfect Body

Lately, I’ve noticed myself becoming more obsessed with body image than ever before. In the past, I never cared much if I was carrying a few extra pounds, as long as I felt fairly healthy. As I get older, I find myself wanting to be more and more perfect (whatever that means). Working in the wellness field makes it hard not to compare myself to other health coaches and personal trainers. Sometimes I worry that my clients expect me to have big muscles, ripped abs, a “body carved from stone”. This type of thinking can be dangerous territory.

I’ve lost thirty-four pounds in the past year, primarily through changes in diet. I’ve learned a lot about what my body needs to function at the highest level; I mean, this is what I do for a living, creating a mind/body connection with food and promoting a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. By cutting out processed foods, sugar, drugs, and alcohol, my life has changed profoundly; physically, mentally, and spiritually.

The problem is, I’m finding that the more goals I conquer, the loftier my goals become. When I decided I would be the at the healthiest point of my whole life by 2015, I didn’t have a picture of myself in mind. I’m now deep into my personal training certification program, practicing Muay Thai, and surrounded by peers in the wellness and fitness fields. I’m constantly seeing images of and hearing about being “cut”, “lean”, and “sculpted”. Is this supposed to be me, too?

I want to share some personal insight on the realities of “cut”, “lean”, and “sculpted” physiques, and how obsession with body image can become very dangerous.

Don’t believe every fitness photo you see

While it’s perfectly realistic to achieve a “ripped” body through training, training, and more training, it’s not necessarily practical, nor a healthy or sustainable lifestyle for most. Keep in mind, most fitness professionals work in a gym. They aren’t going to the gym for thirty minutes during their lunch break or at 5 am. Then, there are those blessed with amazing genes, allowing them to maintain athletic physiques without much work (although, this is a rarity). And it goes without saying, but many images on blogs and social media have been professionally shot and touched-up, and the subject may have manipulated their diet and routine in preparation.

Don’t listen to assholes

You will always have to deal with people who are “just giving it to you straight”, people who say damaging things about your weight, fitness, and lifestyle. Often this is just the motivation needed to push a person past their edge, encouraging them to try and do anything to get “that body”. Overdoing it can cause serious health problems, such as hormonal imbalances and metabolic damage. Is it worth it? There is no perfect body. Your individual health and fitness doesn’t have to mesh with society’s skewed vision of what a body should look like.

Don’t sacrifice everything

Achieving your health and fitness goals can take incredibly hard work, dedication, and commitment to proper nutrition, but if pursued in a reasonable manner, there’s no problem. Go for it! BUT, keep in mind that rigid schedules and restrictive diets can take a lot of the joy out of life. Is it worth it? By no means am I advocating that you eat what you want (all the time) and not exercise. Staying healthy and in shape requires balance; my suggestion is trying to hit your goals through 80% nutritional changes and 20% exercise.

You cannot change your body JUST by exercising

Have you ever noticed that guy (or woman) at the gym, the one who has had no visible change in physique over the two years you’ve been seeing them there? Or, the person you see jogging every night through your neighborhood, and you swear he’s gained weight? Physical changes begin with nutrition.

You don’t have to count calories

I don’t believe in calorie counting. If a trainer, friend, nutritionist, or family member tells you that you must count calories to lose weight and get in shape, ask yourself whether that is a sustainable lifestyle model for you. If you enjoy eating and the social aspect of meals, then the answer is likely “no”. Don’t be a slave to numbers (calories, or on the scale).

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Be well and be easy on yourself.

Fight or Flight – My Journey in the Art of 8 Limbs

Nothing could have prepared me for my first martial arts experience as an adult. The idea of a guy like me practicing Muay Thai is probably laughable (or even worrisome), but I finally decided to go for it. Sometimes I get really enthusiastic and throw caution to the wind, which doesn’t always help my cause. So, come along with me on my journey.

I coach others in health and nutrition, thus I’m well aware of the best ways to lose weight, build muscle, and gain energy. I’m also concentrating on corrective exercise and personal training. Nothing I’ve studied could have prepared me for my first Muay Thai class.

Based on recommendations and research, I chose to train at a well-respected, old-school Muay Thai gym called The Yard. It’s a place that would make Rocky proud; no-frills, just a lot of sweat, determination, and a palpable sense of solidarity. My first impressions: a beast of a human, kicking and punching on pads, sounding like a baseball bat hitting a tree. I was intimidated, and there was no turning back.

I put down my bag, took a drink of water, and approached the first available trainer. After some stretching and several failed attempts at jumping rope, he began putting me through intense conditioning exercises. I had hip resurfacing surgery three years ago, and I also wear a leg brace. The trainer suggested I run suicides, which, of course, I said “no problem” to, and then added push-ups and frog leaps. By the time a few minutes of this had gone by, I was exhausted, and it was only the warm-up.

From there we moved on to detailed demonstrations of proper stance and hitting technique. This portion of the training was a lot of fun, until I had a sudden urge to vomit. I took a break, then returned to the workout, then left the workout again when I began having muscle spasms in my hip. I had officially overdone it.

Although I cut the first session short, I assured the trainer I’d be back for more. He said he really wanted to work with me, and asked why I chose Muay Thai versus an easier, less intense workout. My response was simple: I craved discipline, mind/body connection, and I wanted to be able to kick ass (if necessary). With that, he simply said “see you next time, Chris.”