Why You Should Stop Taking Your Fitness Cues From Magazines

The reality is that such a level of fitness is unattainable for the average person, and we shouldn’t feel like failures if we aren’t “cover” material.

Pick up any health magazine and what do you see on the cover? Invariably, it’s a combination of beautiful face, perfect smile and chiseled body.

So many health promoters today are peddling a grossly unrealistic idea of “fitness.” The inference is that if we can’t wear a size 2 and wake up looking like we have 15% body fat, we’re not measuring up.

The reality is that such a level of fitness is unattainable for the average person, and we shouldn’t feel like failures if we aren’t “cover” material.

For starters, we rarely talk about the fact that women are naturally designed to have more than twice as much fat as men. We want to look like the model on the cover of Women’s Health and believe we can somehow workout for a week and look like her. (This applies to men, too.)

We don’t have honest conversations about the hard work and effort it takes for people to reach that level of fitness and how nearly impossible it is for most of us to achieve.

While those of us who are committed to fitness are working hard, we are likely not spending hours on end at the gym. Yet every article on fitness pictures elite bodies, implying it is within the average person’s reach.

Let me tell you a story about a woman who desperately wanted (and needed) to lose weight. This is one the most common health goals around, always has been and likely always will be. She and I consulted about her goals and after a series of questions she handed me a magazine.

“I want to look like this,” she said, referring to a photo of young, blond, athletic runner. When we live in a world where all we see is the expectation of fitting into the category of elite athlete it is quite dangerous.

She really believed she could be an athlete while also being a mom to 4, doing the grocery shopping, sleeping 7-8 hours a night and working a 50-hour-a week-job while spending just 2 hours at the gym. The reality is that it took her and I months of work to reach a realistic (and much more modest) level of health and fitness.

When I ask people why they haven’t reached their fitness goal, I often hear: “I missed a week and just gave up.” We treat our mishaps as complete failures and fail to recognize that errors are part of the process of being fit.

Here are some very basic ways to set a fitness goal and then reach it:

  1. First, what is your goal? I mean, really think about where you want to be. For example, if you smoke – do you REALLY want to quit?
  2. Why is this your goal? What meaning does it have for you? Are you trying to lose weight because your wife wants you to or is it because you want to feel better, fitter and stronger?
  3. Have you set a realistic expectation for yourself? Do you have the time and the commitment to really look like the model on the magazine cover? Can you commit to the two hours a day, six days a week required to have that body, or is 30 minutes twice a week more likely?
  4. Last, where do you pick up when you fall off? Are you able to hop back on the wagon when you hit a bump in the road? You ate three pieces of cake the third week into eating healthy, so now what?

That last one has been, in my opinion, the one that prevents us from obtaining the other three. We simply give up on ourselves when we error. We don’t accept imperfection as part of a very real life process.

We expect to workout faithfully and follow a regimen and when we fail we give the whole thing up. It isn’t natural to expect perfection from ourselves.

It also isn’t natural to look like the cover of a health magazine. An athletic woman has 14-20% body fat versus the average woman with 25-31% body fat. We can strive for a fitness goal of 21-24% but it’s likely not realistic or natural to achieve 14% body fat and conceive of any sort of life in between.

I am not discouraging anyone from setting that goal but be sure you have the time to commit and that you have really examined the four basic questions I have given you.

Make your approach to fitness a healthy one: Be realistic. Be hard working. Be imperfect and keep trying. And most of all, be encouraged!

photo credit: Pricenfees treadmill Exercise Fitness Model Workout Gym – Must link to https://www.pricenfees.com via photopin (license)

About Jennifer Kiernan

Jen brings a wealth of experience in the health and wellness field to the EA, and provides guidance and education to members and brokers on the wide array of wellness tools and resources available to EA members. In her spare time she is an avid runner and enjoys spending time with her family and friends.

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