I was just the same – until I made a few changes!
When I look back on my 20s, I see just how insecure and unsure of myself, and my body, I really was. I have a feeling that this is common for a lot of gay guys. Surrounded by seemingly never ending images of unattainable male beauty, it makes sense to feel bad about the ever so mortal bodies we’ve been cursed with.
As I approached my 30th birthday, I had a sense that I really wanted to change the way I felt about myself and how I looked. I was over being the skinny guy, having the body of a teenager and not a man, and not even feeling comfortable enough to take my shirt off at the beach.
So, I joined a gym and started working out. Now this is something that I’ve done countless times during my 20s. The pattern went like this – join gym, go hard, go too hard, get injured (or become bored), quit gym less than 3 months after starting. I tried everything from personal trainers to protein shakes, and yet no matter what I did, I could never stick with it.
I promised myself that this it time would be different. And it has been. Here’s what I did:
Change #1 – Pace
Unlike every single previous attempt I made at becoming a gym goer, this time I deliberately chose consistency over quantity. Taking a long-term view, I started with a goal to go to the gym just once a week – but to stick with it over a whole year. This was actually kind of hard because when I first joined the gym, I was rearing to go. I could have easily gone 3-4 times a week during that initial period of excitement and enthusiasm. I was pumped and wanted to see some results! But I also wanted to avoid that inevitable 3 month burn out. So, I deliberately took it slowly.
The good thing about setting this pace for myself was that when I inevitably did hit my boredom wall (about 4-5 months into it), I was able to get through it. Going to the gym, even when you don’t really feel like it, is still relatively easy if you only have to go once a week. I made Monday or Tuesday my workout day. That way, if I missed it one day, I still had 3 days left to try and catch up that week. And it worked!I was able to get through the lull – and come out the other side, for the first time ever!
In the interest of full disclosure, there may have been about 2 or 3 weeks during the course of that first year when I didn’t go to the gym. But instead of giving in to guilt and giving up, I got over it, put it behind me and just went again the next week. Having gone to the gym for pretty much an entire year and getting through a boredom wall, really encouraged me. More importantly, it made me realise that perhaps I really would be able to stick with it.
Year 2 I upped my gym going to 2-3 times a week. It started to feel like a natural part of my life. It didn’t stick out as a dreaded event in my weekly calendar and I genuinely enjoyed the whole process. I went to a gym that I felt comfortable in, at a time of day where there weren’t many people there. I’d reward myself with a coffee after most workouts. I was doing something healthy – and having fun while doing it.
I’m now in year 3 and still going to the gym! That’s 3 years in a row – which is totally unheard of for me, and something I’m really proud of. I now go between 3-5 times a week, week in – week out. I no longer need to schedule it in, it’s become an intrinsic part of my day. I’m conscious of not getting bored, so I switch my work out up every now and then. I also pay close attention to form so that I avoid injuries. I’d hate to get injured and be be unable to work out for a long period after coming this far!
Change 2 – Expectations
I’d love to wake up tomorrow and have the body of a Hugh Jackman (Wolverine in X-Men) or Chris Hemsworth (Thor). But I know (and have totally accepted) that it just won’t happen. There’s a number of reasons for this. Those guys have personal trainers, dieticians and dedicate large portions of their day to working out. I don’t do any of those things.
Moreover, they don’t actually look the way they’re portrayed on screen, in real life. They often spend a concentrated period of time preparing for a role and then shoot it. Afterwards, while they maintain a fitness regime, it’s nothing compared to what they were doing before the movie. So, their bodies adjust. Sure, they’re still big and muscly, but they’re not as ripped as we see them on the silver screen.
As I get older, I learn that comparisons to others don’t lead to anything good. Sure, there’s an element of being inspired by someone else that can spur you on to good things. But often times, I’ve used comparison as a way of feeling bad about myself. And honestly, if I am going to compare myself to anyone, does it have to be to arguably two of the hottest guys of the planet? How realistic is that?
I actually learnt a valuable lesson when talking to a friend of mine about this issue a few years ago. He’s in great shape himself and I was lamenting how I’d never look like him. He responded by saying that’s a good thing. I was a bit confused but then he explained something I had completely overlooked. He was about 20cms shorter than me. Therefore, if I had his proportions, I’d look gargantuan. I’d have to eat like a horse (or several horses) and work out like a maniac. None of this sounded appealing to me.
I started looking around and comparing myself to guys at the gym who were my height. A lot of them were muscly, but it was a lean type of muscle. I began to realise that I’d never have that beefy, footballer look. I accepted it. Now, I’m genuinely loving the lean and progressively more muscly body that I do have.
Change 3 – Nutrition
The last change I made was to really focus on my health, as opposed to just giving it lip service. When you’re a skinny guy looking to get big, you’re told you need to eat – and eat – and eat some more. You won’t get big until you start eating huge amounts of food. There’s just no escaping this fact.
For me – that seems to contradict my genuine goal of working out to be (amongst other things) healthy. I’ve tried stuffing myself with food and protein shakes, and I hated it. It was awful. Eating is one of life’s pleasures. When it becomes a chore you dread, it really does affect your quality of life.
So instead of stuffing my face with food, I’ve chosen to make healthy choices that work for me, and my body. I used to drink protein shakes that made me fill sick and bloated. Not anymore. I get my protein from chicken, eggs and tuna – in small, regular quantities. I’ve eliminated fast food completely and minimised junk food (except for the odd cheat, of course). I love having a green smoothie in the morning, and am developing a taste for nuts, berries and other healthy, snacky foods.
I’m still learning so much about nutrition. As a culture, we’ve over-complicated food. Ironically, we’re sicker, unhealthier and fatter than we’ve ever been. I’m moving towards a raw, plant based diet in a way that feels right for me. If that means I won’t get the bulked up beefy look part of me wants, well so be it. I’m really OK with that.
Nutrition is a basis for real, genuine health. Now that I’ve got the exercise part of the equation right, I’ll start looking at nutrition, taking the same approach I have to exercise – small, gradual steps that feel right for me.