This is the most personal blog I’ve ever written.
There’s a reason why I preach a reasonable approach to health and fitness: I know how life becomes when fitness takes over.
Throughout my twenties, I was obsessed with fitness. I missed out on a lot of awesome stuff because, on most occasions, I chose the gym when others went to do something else.
I combined that with healthy eating taken too far, and it snowballed. Combining too much training with a strict diet adds up to a dysfunctional, unhappy life.
Here’s how my healthy fitness habits turned into an obsession. How it ran my life in a way that I can’t recommend to anyone. And how the penny eventually dropped, allowing me to become the healthiest and happiest version of myself. So yes, this is personal.
Fitness started as innocently as it does for most people. I dabbled in training in my mid-teens, but nothing too serious; my life didn’t revolve around it.
But like most snowballs, things evolved gradually and then not so gradually.
I remember travelling to Sydney five years later and training most days when my mates went to do what other travellers do: relax on the beach, drink, and, I don’t know, sightseeing. I should’ve been enjoying the warm summer days in a new city, but I decided to spend most of the trip doing bicep curls.
I didn’t feel like it was a good day unless I trained first.
The second time around in Sydney, two years later, I was training 4-6 times a week, close to two hours at a time. Everything I ate or drank was based on how much I would have to train to burn off the calories. No matter how much I trained, I was never happy with my appearance.
By then, I was getting compliments, saying I looked great.
Compliments acted as gasoline to fire—they fed my obsession.
So at that point, I was already well on my way to becoming an orthorexic, an eating disorder that involves taking one’s healthy eating to an extreme. Count calories, and only choose the “purest” of foods. Food selection became a moral choice; it was either “good” or “bad” for me.
Then I took my first personal training job in a gym full of bodybuilders.
Their definition of letting loose was putting a tablespoon of low-sodium tomato sauce on low-sugar barbeque sauce on Saturday nights.
I thought being a personal trainer meant having a six-pack and building your diet around poached chicken breast, steamed broccoli and Ikea mustard while counting every calorie you eat. I thought that life is all about how you look and how you value yourself and others.
But I thought I was doing everything right. My life revolved around my body fat percentage. And the environment that I was in was feeding all this.
Yet, I can’t blame others for my obsessions as it was something deeper that I was trying to reconcile within myself.
My life had no balance whatsoever, and I remember obsessing over eating and training to the point where it heavily affected other aspects of my life. My poor wife (girlfriend then) must’ve thought she’d lost her partner to the “health” industry.
I put health in quotes because, as you can tell, none of my actions made me any healthier. I thought that this was how my life would be if I wanted to have a career in the fitness industry.
I was constantly getting sick because I wasn’t eating the variety of foods or calories a functioning body needs. But I was not being able to connect the dots between my actions and how I felt.
I was avoiding going out because of how it would affect my looks. Eating was not enjoyable, but more like a math class of counting calories. Food was not fun; it was purely consumed for fuel. It wasn’t about flavours but protein, fats and carbs. If I didn’t eat out of a Tupperware container, I was freaking out as I had no idea what sort of evil intruders would invade my body.
In hindsight, this sounds absolutely fucking bonkers.
And as with most people who take fitness to extremes, I thought I was at the pinnacle of health. Do you think I am too skinny? Whatever, piss off.
I got deeply offended if anyone mentioned that maybe there was something wrong with my eating or training strategies.
Looking back now, I see that I lacked self-confidence, and I tried to compensate for it by making myself look as good as possible. It probably wasn’t that good of a look in the first place.
But when immersed in the situation, you can’t see the forest for the trees and other clichés.
I still remember the moment I realised that maybe I wasn’t juggling all the balls.
I went to the grocery store with a friend. He picked up a roasted chicken, and I grabbed a packet of rice crackers. I weighed all of 77kg at the time (I am 188cm tall, but let’s call it just shy of 190cm because it sounds better). His exact words were, “Dude, you shop like you are trying to lose weight”.
That’s when it hit me. What are you doing?
The difference to all the previous comments I ignored in the past was that this one came from a peer who was in better shape than I was (I mean, considering the mindset I had at the time, who wasn’t?).
Yet he still seemed to enjoy more things in life than just training. After that moment, little by little, I became more aware of what was going on.
Climbing back out required a major but gradual shift in thinking.
When you are new at something and still finding your feet, many of your actions are based on what the people around you are doing. When I started lifting weights, I thought the only reason to do it was to look like a bodybuilder or a cover model.
After years of this mindset, I gradually shifted my values to health and strength over aesthetics.
And over time, I found what feels right for me. I discovered what I value in life and based my actions on those values. And now, in my early thirties (Joonas from 2023 here, you’re not in your early thirties no more, mate), I look better than I did when I was obsessed with eating healthy and training.
Or maybe it’s just because I feel better and am more comfortable in my skin.
When you are happier inside, it affects how you look on the outside. Do I still sometimes struggle and base my worthiness on how I look? Yes, but those are brief moments passing by. I deal with them by stopping and asking myself, “What’s important?”.
I see a lot of folks going through the same that I went through.
I try to share what I’ve learned in subtle ways, but it’s impossible to force it. I remember how I reacted then, and I know it’s like pushing water uphill if I try to convince others now. Most people have to come to the conclusion themselves.
At some point, it will click. Maybe for you, it’s happening right now.
The bottom line is you want to be happy, healthy and feel good.
It doesn’t really matter how you look as long as you feel good about yourself.
After my experience, I honestly think that a life spent chasing the perfect body is a life wasted. It’ll never be enough, and you’ll miss a lot of great moments while doing so.
Do you want to be on your deathbed listening to people talk about how chiselled you looked every summer? Or do you want something more meaningful?
Yet, this is not a hall pass to ignore your health.
It’s about finding a balance. There are no evil foods; nothing is good or bad. It’s just food, and you can have whatever you desire.
Sometimes you eat a bit more of something, and sometimes you eat a bit less. You don’t have to exercise excessively or go on a detox after a massive Christmas meal.
You don’t have to diet to prepare for a big meal or punish yourself after eating ice cream.
Be mindful and slow things down, enjoy the moment and move on.
And use the same mindfulness in your training.
Do things that make you happy. You deserve that.