October 02, 2008

Time to access my inner babysitter

Want to know what's really annoying about fitness? Okay, besides the really perky people who smirk while you're panting and sweating your way through an exercise class.

Fitness: three annoying truths

Three things about Fitness annoy me*

1. Buying a DVD doesn't make me thinner -- I have to actually follow the workout. I don't know how many exercise DVDs I have on my bookshelf, but it's an alarming number. Most of the time, the only exercise I get from them is the calories lost when I dust them off.

2. Working out doesn't mean it's okay for me to pig out. This goes back to Crabby's classic post on entitlement. For some reason I have firmly implanted in my head the idea that I earned that tiramisu by 20 minutes of aerobic exercise. Nyet. (Tiramisu calories = 420 calories. 20 minutes of brisk walking = about 110 calories. I hate it when math conspires against me.)

3. Fall. No, not Vanilla's problem re tripping over his running shoes, I mean autumn. It's annoying. I can't exercise outdoors after work because it's too dark out. Indoors it's either a DVD or Orlando Manuel.

Plus, autumn means:
- 29 days until I have to open those bags of Halloween candy
- 56 days until I'm faced with pecan pie and all that stuffing
- 81 days until that feast with three types of pie, two types of stuffing, and a chocolate santa

It's tempting to try to start training for Christmas by dipping into the H candy early.

*That is, annoys me right now. Ask next week and the list might have changed.

Time to access my inner babysitter

Sometimes you need to listen to your inner child. Other times, you need to be firm with the little brat.

(It's odd -- I would never refer to someone's child as a brat, but I have no hesitation labeling my inner whiner as such.)

Do I sound a bit harsh? Apologies if your inner child is well-behaved. Mine? Well... how shall I put this.

Yeah, exactly.

I'm no expert on parenting, but giving your inner child everything he/she wants is a great way to end up with a spoiled child who has rotten teeth and rotten manners. Sooner or later you'll have to be firm with yourself.

And when I say "you," I of course mean myself.

I tend to defer to my inner child entirely too damn much. I rely on short-term solutions. Feeling down? Grab that fast food or glass of red wine. Never mind that you'll wake up tomorrow with an extra pound or a headache (or both).

Even science is against me: Delayed gratification linked to intelligence.

Do bribes work?

Now governments are getting into the act of giving incentives to help people lose weight.

In England, an anti-obesity strategy has been started. It features ways to get people involved in living a more healthy lifestyle. For example, they want to encourage employers to provide 'leisure vouchers' or staff weight-loss competitions.
This gives me an idea for a new reality show: a cross between "The Biggest Loser" and "The Office." They could call it "The Office Loser."

In America, researchers are performing studies involving giving people money to lose weight.

A study of 200 people, carried out by independent researchers RTI International and the University of North Carolina, found that using money was the best incentive to encourage weight loss. They offered cash for each percentage of weight lost. (Don't get too excited: during the three month study, the highest payment was $14.)

Another three month study, undertaken ten years ago in northern England, gave people little motivational pep talks and in some cases offered 'leisure vouchers' to encourage weight loss. "At the end of the study, 55% of those who had six interviews plus 30 vouchers entitling them to free leisure facilities had increased their levels of physical activity compared to 35% of those who only received the chats."

Sounds good, but wait...

"However, when the researchers went back to people a year after the start of the study, they found that these short-term boosts in activity levels had not been sustained. One of the researchers, Martin White, said: 'We know how to get people active. The big challenge is to keep them active and to maintain that lifestyle.... If someone is obese, doing activity for three months will be good. But if they then go back to how they were, it won't really have helped them.' "

Some people, even Jillian Michaels can't help

What these two studies have in common, methinks, is that the incentive to exercise came from outside. Outer motivation isn't as effective. Even a professional trainer such as Jillian Michaels cannot help someone unless the person makes an internal decision to accept her help and do the necessary work.

It's like that guy who wanted to cheat on his girlfriend because she wouldn't lose 10 pounds. Incidentally, the other side of the coin, sidetaker.com has another guy complaining, but this time it's because his girlfriend has lost weight, and she's enjoying the fact that other men hit on her and find her attractive. It's tempting to try to set up the girl from the first post with the guy from the second, or something like that. If someone else is dissatisfied with your shape, but you aren't, then it's pointless trying to lose the weight. Or to lift the weight either.

My question to you is...
Crabby's post the other day showed that a lot of you are really good about working out.

My question to you is: What's your secret?

Are you all lean, mean, self-disciplined fitness machines who all access your inner nazi or whatever you call that part of you that screams "you will get up out of bed at 5 a.m. and run around in the freezing cold!" (Your inner masochist?) How do you do it? Bribes? Threats? Incentives? Outcentives? What's up?


  1. Hmm, I wonder what the outcome of that first study would have been if was food that was the reward rather than money.

    I think there are primarily two things that have kept me going this past year:

    1) Committing to exercising with friends, even if they are internet buddies. (Yes, Merry, I mean you, who helped me to get going this time around.)

    2) Seeing improvements, not so much in weight loss, but in fitness. Fitness improvments are so much more concrete. The Wow, I can run for 5, 10, 30, over an hour! phenomenon. Very motivating, especially when you've never been able to do anything like that before.

    Oh, and rewarding myself with stars on a calendar. Never underestimate the things that will please your inner 5 year old.

  2. I wholeheartedly agree with Theresa's list. Geez, I wonder why. ;)

    The only thing I would add is signing up for races. That keeps me up with my running because I really hate to waste money and I don't want to show up on race day and pass out (or worse).

  3. Ive said this way too many times (read: feel free to roll eyes and delete :)) but I definitely was theresa/xenia (especially the friends part---kept me SO GOING when I was working to lose) until latemotherhood.

    Being an older mom made a shift for me and it suddenly all became about longevity.

  4. Habit + Guilt seems to be a pretty good combo for me. Most of the time I "just do it," even though I don't feel like it, 'cause I've been doing it for decades. Of course then I inevitably start to slack. Which is ok for a few days, but if for some reason I can't get a good workout for more than that, I start feeling guilty and crappy about myself.

    Not the most psychologically healthy and positive method, but it seems to work.

    Of course "find exercise you love!" would be great, but I haven't found that yet.

  5. I think Theresa said it. I don't exercise for weight loss; I don't even think about weight loss-or-maintenance. I exercise for fitness, which equals feeling good. Fitness is its own reward. (Along with marks on the calendar: I use little x's for eXercise.)

    I've spent approximately the last thirty years learning just when I can push myself to do what I don't feel like doing, and when that make me crash instead of feeling better.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  6. Great post! I get tripped up on #2...especially when I'm running.

    And I'm not totally sure why I'm so committed besides the fact that it really makes me feel so much better about myself and my body. And that I've been doing it so long that when I don't, I feel off.

    Yes, I'm one of "those" people. ;)

  7. How do I do it? I don't like feeling like sh*t, so when the alarm goes off I tell myself, "you can either get your azz up and walk or you can feel like a failure ALL DAY LONG. That usually does it for me. Except for this morning - I was just too freaking tired. But it's all good cause I'll get back on the horse (treadmill) tomorrow. So yeah, channeling my inner drill sargeant is the best way to get me moving in the mornings.

  8. Ha Ha!! Yes!! For those who read the column, I owe it all to Rambo! That's what happens when you go to med. school in Rockey's home town! Fortunately, never picked up the accent :-)

    Nice post!!

  9. Great post! I love reading about studies like that. The whole cash for pounds thing was very effective in Italy - at least in the short-term. haven't seen any long-term results yet!

    Anyhow, how do I motivate myself to exercise? It is possibly the most fun thing I do with my day. I know, I'm a geek. But I get a break from my kids, I get to hang out with my friends and I get to try out a lot of fun fitness stuff:) Yay!

  10. My secret......although I have only been seriously working out for 5 months....is the high I get from doing it. The good feeling seems to stay with me most of the day. I have more energy and that is the one thing I am desperate for! My biggest motivator though......my 4 kiddos. They need a healthy mommy to stick around for a long time and if I had continued on the path I was on (over 100 lbs overweight and not very active) I know things would have only gotten worse. I want to live well---it just took me 38 yrs to figure out how and why :)

  11. Bribing people is bad all around to get them to do the activity on their own. They looked at children, and when given money as an incentive to play piano (and other stuff like that) they were less likely to say they liked it and less likely to continue later. I think it's easier to say "I was just doing it for the money" when you're bribed at least stubstantial amounts. If it's smaller amounts that wouldn't seem worth it that's a different story.

    Can't help with the sustaining. I'm trying to get my mind in the right place first (really...reading a book that's helping) so that I don't burn out quickly and give in to my inner child!

  12. The piano study sounds interesting. Hmmmn.... I'm suddenly drawing some very depressing parallels with other areas of my life, i.e. why do I go to work each day?

    Basically, it sounds like people make themselves exercise because they know how good they're going to feel afterward. Delayed gratification, is that right? (Crabby, I knew we had some smart commenters!)

  13. Why am I not at any of these UK offices with prizes for weight loss? I could have won them all :0(

    I made exercise my escape from a bad relationship, that was my secret at first. HE couldn't make me feel like cr*p if I was at the gym and he was at home. So I began to associate being at the gym with endorphins and happiness and time for Me and Me alone, and after I'd created that association it never really went away. I also used that trick with the showers (remember? You can go use the lovely power-showers at the gym if you just take your kit and go on the rower for 5 minutes first - oh look, those 5 minutes turned to 45. Worked like a dream every time.)

    Although I suspect my inner babysitter is a little too vocal and mean to me occasionally and I'm not so good with the rest days - can I maybe swap her for some of your inner brat?

    TA x

  14. Bribing people for exercise definitely isn't a long term solution. But I must say, getting a paycheck for teaching fitness (and exercising while I'm doing so) definitely is a motivator for me.

    Even before I was an instructor, I'd go to the gym for classes. I found classes to be motivating because they were always changing and offered something to keep my mind busy.

  15. The only way that you can expect cash to be a motivator is if you make additional payments for keeping it off (I'm sure that the contestants on the Biggest Loser don't stay that way for long when the show ends).

    For me, it's a combination of loving the way I feel, having friends hold me accountable, a sense of accomplishment, and the way I look (I'm naturally thin, which means that any muscle I get took a lot of time and effort, and I don't react well when I see it disappearing).

  16. Personally, I sign up for things that I think I can't do. Like triathlons. Then I print out a training schedule and convince myself that if I don't follow it I'm going to drown in said triathlon.

    Right now I'm training for a half-marathon. If I don't follow my training schedule, my knees will clearly explode and leave me sobbing on the sidelines. And so I train because I like having knees.

    The only downside is that once you prove you can do something, there's no more motivation to do it again next year, so you have to keep upping the goal until you turn into one of those crazy ultra-runners.

    I also reward myself by buying all sorts of things I obviously need, like new exercise clothing, that water bottle holding butt thing, and various gizmos for my bike.

  17. Similar to Crabby: Habit + Fear

    Exercise has not made me thin. But I am afraid that if I stop, I will gain more weight.

    In the beginning - 10+ years ago now - I used the stickers on the calendar thing. It was very visual; I could look at the calendar and see exactly how often I'd been working out. So when my inner-child started whining about how I'd been exercising forever and it was making no difference, I could look at the calendar and see that it had been all of two weeks.

    My other strategy: make it as easy on myself as possible, and find forms of exercise things that I enjoy (or don't hate). So, find the time that works best for me, find DVDs that I like, have exercise equipment at home.

    Eventually, it became habit. I did not get thin, but I do have muscles under my fat. :)

    So now, if a week or so goes by when I haven't been exercising - for whatever reason - I notice that I don't feel as good, so I start exercising again. Plus, I worry about losing the muscles, flexibility, stamina that I have worked so hard to gain.

    So, as Crabby said, I just do it.

  18. I just saw a study that Reuters published. South Korea is planning to pay to send overweight elementary school children to the gym:

    Wouldn't it be simpler just to make PE classes more like a gym?

  19. Working out regulates my moods. If I don't do it at least 5 days a week I become a crazy person no one wants to be friends with. It's self monitoring because everyone wants friends. :p

  20. To be honest, I got super exercise crazy when a boyfriend broke up with me in January. My motivation was very much "ha I'll show you and you are going to regret this". Cry over a tub of ice cream? No way. I was running and had perfect nutrition and everything. In a way I guess I should thank him for becoming a healthier person... lol.

    Did you hear about how Japan was going to start firing people for having waists above a certain number of inches? As an incentive for weight loss. There was an article about it over the summer but I never checked to see if they followed through with that concept...

  21. Oh you mean other than the self-flagellation? I used to sign up for races, but that hasn't worked in a while.

    I tend to just get up and do it first thing before anything gets in my way. Once you do this consistently for a while, it becomes a habit and part of your day. Holidays and vacations are the worst and that's when I tend to throw it all to the dogs. So at that point it becomes mental.

    I also stopped killing myself with exercise. I used to run every morning and the pain got so unbearable, I stopped. (I even gained weight.. hows that for irony?) Now I just move. But I move for an hour every day.

    Yes, it's a lot of time to devote, but right now I'm loving the variety and the low-impact and I feel so much better. And I've dropped some poundage.

    For now this is working.

  22. What I'd like to say is that I work out for the health benefits, the endorphin rush, the way it regulates my moods & my weight...but those are all the side effects - not the reason for doing it (still trying to figure out how to make them the reason). The reason I work out? I sign up for races, and I am super competitive- with myself. I have to beat my previous time, or my previous distance. Without those races, I would sitting on my couch downing a bottle of red wine (which is what I did last night...stupid PMS).

    If anyone can tell me how to translate benefits into incentives, I'd love to know. All those race entry fees get expensive.

  23. There are a couple of things that keep me going, exercise-wise: living in California (we don't do winter around here), and sanity. Exercise keeps me sane.
    You really do need to find something that's enjoyable. I also bought a bunch of workout DVDs thinking they would be The One: The Workout That Made Me Hot!
    I use many of them, but only because I enjoy doing them.

    They still haven't turned me into a hottie.

  24. Initially for me, it was fear. The whole reason I started to Do Something about my weight and lack of fitness was fear about sliding fully into diabetes and heart disease - my blood test results two years ago were making promises of that ilk.

    Now that I've gotten two years of weight loss and gotten to a point where I can say I've achieved a decent level of fitness, it's a combination of habit and a sort of competitiveness - not with other people, but with myself. That is, can I increase the weight on this lift just a little bit this time? Can I jog just 1/4 more mile?

    And I feel good physically now. That's amazing to me, and deeply pleasurable.

  25. What a great post. Staying motivated and keeping your self to a workout routine can be really hard sometimes. But its so worth, planning out my weekly workout at the beginning of the week helps me stick to it.
    I have been working on a site where people can find and share all sorts of great health information, www.peoplesmd.com. There is tons of information on exercise and fitness. I think you guys could find some great information there.


  26. Oh Merry. Your inner child and my inner child have spent too much time together I think. Mine is a huge whiny brat and she gets her way so often.

  27. That hour is MINE. I have 3 children...two of them are disabled. My hubby once said that maybe he'd get up with me and workout. I told him "Maybe you WON'T" that's MY time.

    Also, I get up at 4:30 am. The alarm is on my hubby's side..so I can't hit snooze. If I'm not going to workout, I still get up. Then, I usually wind up working out..you know, since I'm up :-)

  28. Got tired of being a typical, dumpy middle aged wife and SAHM. I hate exercise, but I hate being flabby and tired all the time worse.


  29. I was told that there would be cupcakes.
    The ratio of people to cupcakes is too high...
    I tend to rein in my inner toddler. 95% of the time.
    Occasionally tho I let her run free...especially lately as I've been overworked and tired I have let her have a bit too much attention I think. It feels good to reward yourself after a long 16 hour day...when there have been too many in a row, that's too many rewards.
    I'll have to start being more strict. Hopefully my husband doesn't kill her when she throws a tantrum...:)

  30. TYVM, I had SO managed to forget about the gyrations of Tonya Harding after all this time. Now that horrible burgundy outfit is going to start haunting my dreams again!!!!

    (BTW, I'm baaaaack. Hand surgery was not NEARLY so painful this time, and I'm already out of the cast, and thanks so much to all well-wishers.)

  31. OK, so motivation...I have it, but it always falls by the wayside. I told myself I was gonna be in a waaaaaay cute VS bikini by the time we went to Hawaii...well, I'm back and I wasn't even close. However, I'm not giving up. I will be in that thing sooner or later. It keeps me going, not to mention the boyfriend.

    He pushes me to do things that I never thought I could. 105 on the benchpress? Not a problem. 4 full plates on the leg press? Easy. And that gets me going and excited. Him seeing me push through and kick the other skinny ass prissy girls in the gym asses gives me that extra drive.

    I can handle the extra 20 lbs, for now, if I can bench your ass and get laid for it when I get home...

    Was that TMI?? Sorry...

  32. THANK YOU for that pic of Harding, it made my day! :D

    My "secret" is *some* good genes and a young athletic dog that my hubby and I walk a couple miles mostly daily (at the really fast forced march pace he sets), and a pretty healthy diet, pretty much all home cooked veggies and some meat, very low salt and fairly low fat. Last night was taco night, all fresh ingredients, but of course there was cheese.
    Because we are 50 and have beat our bodies up in sports when younger, if we don't walk at the minimum, we are afraid we will freeze up in our joints or lose what muscle we have.

    We were riding mountain bikes regularly, but I have not ridden much since I crashed and burned in June. I hurt pretty bad for quite awhile, the road rash and deep bruising made sleeping difficult, and our urban area is seriously dangerous for biking, even where we have "bike paths". We used to throw them in the van and hit the trails every weekend, but now he is so stressed he does not have the ability to do much without getting headaches, and he ends up hooking a finger in my belt loop and I pull him sometimes on the beach bike paths. I am still good for about 12-15 miles but used to do 30 a few years ago, and used to lift weights too, but broke some vertebrae in my lower back in 2002 and just had too much pain for years, undiagnosed, while they fused back up. It's better now, and I have been doing yoga for it for a few of those years. Since my wreck I have gained 4 pounds since June 1! About 1 a month.

    However my inner kid is eating Milano cookies right now with her coffee while immensely enjoying your hilarious post, and not feeling the least bit guilty.

    Part of my secret is regularly kicking my inner critic in the teeth.

  33. Three parts for me
    1) Habit, simply do it everyday and it becomes part of your routine.
    2) Running keeps me sane, honestly I don't know how to say it any better, I become a grumpy, stressed out person without it
    3) Fear of gaining weight, I eat everything in sight most of the time, so I'm sure if I stopped I would gain weight.

  34. Hmmmmm....

    1)Guilt - lots of guilt. If I don't go to training I feel like I'm skiving off work only worse

    2) Fear of getting my face caved in by my next opponent - that is a strong motivator to train

    3) Love of my sport. Whilst I've put that last, and it's often the last reason that comes to me when I'm bitching and whining about going to training, it's really the basis for my motivation as a whole. Training and competing are a massive part of my identity and without it I feel lost and somewhat hopeless.

    However, I still go through periods of not being arsed to train and putting on weight and having to lose it again. Rapidly ;p

  35. I am cheap. I know I have paid for a month's membership at the gym already, and it kills me to waste that money, so I drag myself to the gym. Then I work out (some days are a little lame, I admit) and feel better when I am done.

  36. "So when my inner-child started whining about how I'd been exercising forever and it was making no difference, I could look at the calendar and see that it had been all of two weeks."

    LOL!! JavaChick, I do that same thing, for the same reason!!

    Also, sometimes . . . I pay myself. Yeah, yeah, I know, but I don't pay myself by pounds lost or the amount of exercise I do; I pay myself for STICKING WITH IT.

    The most effective thing I found cost me $100 a month. It had to be enough "play" cash at the end for me to feel like, "Wow! I'm RICH! RICH, I TELL YOU!!!!"

    So if I worked out [x] times a week, I got $10 the first week, $20 the second, $30 the third and $40 the fourth week. If I missed a workout, I had to start back at the beginning. Since it was cumulative, right about the time I'd think about skipping, I'd remember, "Hey! If I skip I won't get my $30!" (It's always the 3rd week that's tough for me.) And since it stretched over the course of a month, at the end of the month I'd look at my calendar and feel like I'd accomplished something BIG, and that would motivate me to start the next ($10) week. (Because God knows $10 isn't enough to get me off my ass all by itself after that first week.)

    So yeah. It's expensive, but when I can afford it, it's TOTALLY worth it. And the really cool thing is that I can adjust what I have to do to get the money. I can make my goals harder, for the same amount of cash.

    Shallow, but it works. :)

  37. My motivators:
    1. I had Sleep Apnea and the prescription was exercise
    2. I've made good associations with exercise - it's my "break" and my "me time"
    3. I love fitness goals - I love running further or faster each week, lifting heavier weights, etc. I love the feeling of jelloid/sore muscles because I know I've challenged myself.
    4. I've made it a habit, like brushing my teeth. This is what I do at this time of day. Period.
    5. I self-define as a Sporty Chick. An Athlete even. A Runner. A Badass. It's part of my identity and so of course you'll find me working out - it's what I do!
    6. I really appreciate the changes fitness has brought to my body. I can do all sorts of things without sweating or getting out of breath. I have a spring in my step - I have tons of energy. I am more graceful. I've lost 100 pounds.
    7. I think about the future and I think about my kids. I think "Use it or lose it." I want to live to be a hundred! This is my health insurance.

  38. i have no secrets lately. a new job threw a wrench into my working out and i haven't worked out in almost a week. oops.

  39. Wow, I am overwhelmed with all the terrific comments! I've been busy taking notes on all the strategies you guys use. Very impressive :)

  40. I absolutely LOVE the bratty inner child. My inner child is SUCH a brat! I just didn't realise it until now. I'm going to have to give her some tough love before she turns into a slutty teenager...

    As far as my secret? Shit Merry, when I figure that out I'll let you know...

    (Great post. Loved it.)

  41. I work out five or six days a week and I thoroughly enjoy it. I'm not one of those naturally athletic people. My secrets are as follows:

    1. I used to aim to work out 3 or 4 days a week and it was always a struggle -- I always argued with myself over whether or not today was a work out day. When I started working out 5 days a week, I stopped having the argument (no choice) and pretty quickly started craving the exercise.

    2. I work with a trainer once a week. It means that I'm accountable and also that there's a strength training workout once a week that I don't have to think about. I love that he makes all the decisions for me and I get stronger.

    I have always liked working out and how it makes me feel -- what I used to hate was the internal argument about whether to do it or stay in bed. The argument was the unpleasant part. Now that I'm not having the argument, it's all good.

  42. Hmmmn... I kinda like that idea. Make exercise so automatic that the inner child comes to accept it as a matter of course.

  43. Constantly learning how exercise can help change your body and help you 'balance' out your life is a great motivator. Take some courses, read some books, make fitness something that you incorporate into all aspects of your life! i.e. exercise nutritional options, exercise your brain by challenging yourself at work (rather than performing the same old monotony day in and day out), and of course exercise your right to vote and be up to date on the issues in the world (there are a TON right now!) ...p.s. dont forget to exercise your biceps and quads too ;)


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