Fitness Addictions and the Importance of Other Goals

Within the last few months, as JCDFitness grows in readership, and as more and more download my No-BS Approach to Looking Great Naked, I seem to be getting a similar question multiple times over.

And while the question is usually varies in form, often accompanied with a small novel of background information, it usually goes something like this:

How did you go from the obsessive, neurotic fitness enthusiast you wrote about in your ebook to developing the relaxed approach you now practice?

While I don’t have a clear-cut answer as to exactly what happened, I am going to break it down as best I can and then answer any questions that arise in the comments.

The Beginning

The way I became involved with this fitness stuff dates back to about late 2005 when I graduated high school. After a very short thought of continuing my athletic career at a small college, I enrolled at the University of Arkansas for classes that I’d attend in the fall – I had no intentions of pursuing sports any further as I’d frankly had all I wanted.

As a former athlete, I had a passion for strength training; thusly over the summer, I joined my local gym and continued my strength training without any hard goals in mind. This was probably the first mistake that led down a treacherous road of obsession and neuroses.

Training haphazardly throughout the summer, I finally moved about 20 minutes down the road to attend University. I soon got involved on campus, made tons of friends and got acquainted with the training facilities. I also began reading lots of muscle magazines. This was mistake number two.

Over the holiday break, I also joined a best-body competition with some of my peers in which I got 2nd place out of 15 contestants. It was the first time in my life that I’d ever seen my full row of abs. I was skinny, but it didn’t matter. I accomplished a goal I was chasing and proved to myself that I could do anything I put my mind to. This was mistake number three and where I first started to discover my addictive personality.

To keep from writing the same story twice, I detail this experience more so in my original clean eating is a scam article.

Problems Arise

After my freshman year, I get a wild notion to apply to Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. I got in, moved back home for the summer and attended a small community college nearby to save money since I’d be moving 500 miles away over the next year.

In that time frame, I eventually broke down and realized my training progress was nonexistent ever since I participated in that competition over the winter break. It was about 7-8 months later and I had nothing to show for my efforts in the gym.

Now granted my “efforts” consisted of a low calorie diet, daily cardio, and weight training 3-4 times per week, so it’s no wonder I didn’t make any strength or muscle gains.

I eventually began perusing the internet, just as most everyone else does when they need answers. Having relationship problems? Simple – just google “how to break up with your girlfriend.” Need help getting your hamster to do backflips on command? Easy fix – just consult your favorite search engine.

In my case, I needed a solution to my problems. I read all the material on bodybuilding.com, t-nation, and some of the other popular outlets during the winter of 2006.

I luckily happened to come across someone by the name of Lawrence Hosannah, whom I detail my experience with here and he changed my life forever.

In fact, I’d venture to say he’s a big reason I am where I am today in terms of my personal fitness and what I’ve managed to learn over the years about this field during my self study. I probably wouldn’t have started JCDFitness if it weren’t for him setting me straight just a few years back.

So What Did I Learn?

During my time working with him, I had to revert to what I was so accustomed to – being coached. Over my entire existence, I’ve always had a coach or mentor in my life guiding me, telling me what to do, and keeping me from falling off the deep-end.

And this is what I desperately needed again.

I longed for objectivity. I needed a focus point. But most importantly, I needed to get out of my own way, let someone else do the thinking while I just focused on doing.

The concept is so simple, yet very hard to do on our own. As I stated here and as Martin Berkhan covered extensively here, the chances we will succeed on our own accords are slim to none. The main reason is because emotions are involved and it’s really hard to remain completely objective about your own circumstances.

And then, when we consider how important our aesthetic goals are to us, every ounce of objectivity flies out the window.

It’s harsh, but very true, and the reason many of us will never reach our full potential – we usually find the means to get in our own way.

I’m Addicted

I’m addicted to many things. Mostly, I’m addicted to what gives me pleasure (just as all of us are). However, I’m also addicted to results, setting and reaching goals, and continual progression. I’ve been a driver my entire life. When I want something, I push until I get results. Ask those around me. I PUSH.

As I look back over my life, I’ve come to the conclusion that I have a somewhat addictive personality. Keep in mind though, that it’s not debilitating as the actual disorder is. I don’t have problems with commitment, maintaining or building relationships, nor do I continually participate in destructive behavior.

Along with that, I’ve been plagued with perfectionism and while it’s nearly crippling with some of my endeavors, it’s also served me in some areas of my life.

While I don’t remember this far back, my mother told me I used to sit and draw for hours, but I would never finish a project. No portrait I ever created was sufficient in my mind, therefore I always tore it up and tossed it into the round filing cabinet. To this day, I still have problems finishing many things I start due to this obsession I have with perfectionism.

This carried on later in my life as I picked up new hobbies and interests. I’ve always been very critical of my own work and progress. Even if everyone else believes it to be amazing, if I don’t like it, I have a very hard time doing with it what I should.

But what about fitness?

This applies to my fitness lifestyle too. It’s the reason I’ve devoured all the material I have over the last few years and why I continue to read and research on my own. Most people are surprised to hear that I’ve never even considered studying nutrition or physiology at the college level. It’s just something I’ve studied on my own – one of those things, you know, I’m fairly passionate about.

And when passion is present, you don’t always need a formal education.

Back to addictions.

Something I’m dearly trying to figure out is how some of us do so well with our fitness goals and why some of us do not. I’m not sure I’ll ever know exactly why but I believe I’m getting closer to the answer – which will only make me a better writer, educator, and consultant.

What I’ve found is that while not everyone has a true addictive personality, many who approach their personal fitness, do so in an obsessive/addictive manner.

Whether they be obsessed with a certain weight or look, or a specific level of performance, I find that if left to their own vices, disaster and frustration is likely in the near future.

At some point, many fitness enthusiasts will find themselves spending ample amounts of time reading about training, nutrition and the best ways to optimize their approach. It normally starts off in small doses (30 minutes to an hour per week) and in some cases, increases to that much (or way more) per day.

For some, before they know it, every second of their time online is spent studying fitness information. While this may be okay for someone whose profession is based in and around the athletic/competition world, I don’t believe it’s necessary or even deemed as acceptable for the average fitness enthusiast.

And here’s why.

A Little Perspective

I want you to think about how much time we actually spend training and going to the gym. Unless you’re a competitive athlete, with a real need for extra training and practice, most of us are realistically spending anywhere from 3-7 hours per week exercising. That’s less time than the typical workday.

For people like myself, if I spend more than 4 hours in the gym, I often get burnt out and the irritation carries over into other areas of my life, those in which I really need to focus my efforts.

Another problem that may arise is the good, old paralysis by analysis. If you’ve been reading every single fitness article published since 2009, you will run into conflicting information. And when this happens, most stop dead in their tracks without really knowing what to do.

Consequently, most won’t ever stick with anything long enough to realize their goals and the vicious cycle repeats over and over; all because we let ourselves become overwhelmed and almost addicted to all the information at our disposal.

I was once this way. So I get it. However, there are two main factors that changed my life, and the way I think and feel about my personal fitness.

The first one is working with a coach. When you work with a coach, you no longer have to worry about all the details. They can be objective while you focus on doing as they recommend. Thusly, the time you’d normally spend worrying, researching, and reading about how to reach your goals suddenly frees up because there is no need. Your roadmap is laid out for you. All you have to do is execute.

I, as well as a few others, detail this experience in this article.

But, what I really wanted to talk about is…

The Need For Other Goals

As of late, the more I research and study why we fail or succeed, and why we do things the way we do, I’m fascinated by my findings.

Hell, just observing my own life and the changes I’ve made just amazes me. To know that I morphed from a once neurotic fitness enthusiast who worried about every macro of every meal, to someone who only eats when hungry, and still manages to maintain an athletic-looking physique, is mere proof that where there’s a will, there’s always a way.

But let’s dig into it, shall we?

What’s different? Why do I seem to have it easier than others? Why do I get mounds of emails from people who are struggling with a bad relationship with food, or from those who are addicted to training too frequently?

Frankly, I think our priorities are a bit messed up. It took me a long while for this to click but it finally did. The day I woke up and realized there were far more important things to worry about than meal timing, the perfect training schedule, or super supplements, I saw the world in a different light.

It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.

As I mentioned earlier – the fitness lifestyle is actually a very small part of who we are. My reasoning is because of the time involved. Most of us are not spending hours per day getting ready for modeling shoots, or fitness shows we have to pose at. At most, we’re spending anywhere from 3-7 hours per week.

When we compare the time we spend on fitness to the time we spend with our loved ones, at our jobs, or on other hobbies, I think you’ll realize fitness actually takes up a lot less time than everything else. And in my opinion, where we spend the most time should be a priority while fitness merely complements our other activities.

Let me give you an example.

I personally spend no more than 3-5 hours in the gym each week. I detest being there any more than that. Consequently, if I try to go more frequently, my performance suffers. I get grumpy and everything else in my life seems to take a punch in the face.

Another reason I don’t want to spend very much time there is because I’ve various other interests in my life I’d rather direct my focus.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m the web developer behind the new JCDFitness web design. I actually started a creative company with a few friends of mine here in Nashville to launch my freelance design work.

Many people have made the comment they’d never met a personal trainer/web developer before. I know it’s an odd combination but guess what? I love design. My inner geek loves to code. To me, it’s a very beautiful thing – it makes sense and gives me a sense of peace (major geeky-ness).

And I can assure you this – I spend way more time on web design, improving my development abilities, and reading nerdy books about coding languages than I do on my personal fitness routine.

Why? Because it’s important to me. It’s something I like to spend my time doing, and it’s another source of income for me.

Other Important Matters

Outside of my work in fitness and web development, something else I’m passionate about is building relationships. The only reason I do anything at all is because I love connecting with others. Without human interaction, my life is meaningless. It’s the sole reason I continue writing here at JCDFitness. My passion lies within my audience.

And this is what it’s all about, is it not? The time you spend with your best friends, family, or significant other should greatly outweigh the time you spend in the gym. They take precedence over the goals you have that merely complement your life.

The same goes for other endeavors or hobbies you have.

Let’s take my client Joe from The First Rule of Looking Great Naked. When I first took him on, he had some major issues with his dietary habits and the decisions he was making as a result.

Now Joe’s girlfriend is one hell of a cook from what he tells me. However, he used to refuse having dinner with her as he couldn’t track his calories because he didn’t make the food. He expressed to me that it was affecting his relationship with her.

So what did I do? I broke him down and got a bit nosey with my questioning. I got him to think about what’s truly important in his life and why he’s making the decisions he’s making. Everything kept coming back to his girlfriend, her feelings and how she was far more important than any diet or training regimen could be.

I then expressed that having a home-cooked meal with his girlfriend a few times per week was not going to wreck his physique, but more importantly, it would remove any lurking doubts in her mind she was having about his feelings toward her.

The fact is, she was hurt because Joe chose his aesthetic goals over her thoughtfulness. And the funny thing is while he was obsessing over her hearty food ruining his abs, she could care less whether he was ripped or not.

But that was a while back.

I will have you know, Joe never refuses his girlfriend’s cooking anymore, and he’s still managed to build a badass physique as a result.

While I helped Joe get his priorities straight, I practice what I preach. If I’ve been working all day long with plans to hit the gym at 6-7 p.m., and the girl calls because she wants to go out for a last-minute movie, you can bet your sweet britches I’m dropping my plans to work out and heading to her house.

Why? Because building that relationship is far more important than one training session will ever be. I can always train the next day. In the grand scheme, that connection and the things I will learn about her that night are far more meaningful than any aesthetic goal will ever be.
And she’s probably not too concerned whether or not I have abs. Go figure.

We Need Balance

We all need balance in our lives. Fitness is not the most important goal you could have – I promise you that. There, I said it. Having abs all year long is really not that big of a deal. Why? Because it’s usually a self-imposed standard we create out of obsession.

Now, I’m not off my rocker – I still hold true to maintaining an attractive shape, and taking care of our bodies.

I just want us to remember the importance of other goals and where our priorities should lie. Personal fitness is a wonderful thing and I’ve built this resource around a passion of mine – you and your fitness goals.

And here’s my challenge to you – if you’ve been putting a ton of focus on your personal fitness for a while, I’d encourage you to step back for a week or so. Continue as you normally would with your training protocol but make a point to focus on other areas in your life that are important. If you’ve been neglecting them because of an obsession with fitness, this is your time to get things back on track.

Maybe it’s the time to surprise your wife with a candle-lit dinner she isn’t expecting Perhaps it’s time you phoned your best friend for that weekend hiking trip you’ve been putting off. Or maybe it’s time to write out that business plan you used to be so passionate about.

It’s important that your time is occupied with interests that truly matter. Your personal fitness routine should complement and make everything else in your life more harmonious.

So what about you? Have you maintained a balanced perspective or is it time to rethink your strategy?

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Also, I just did an interview over a Propane Fitness – the blog has a great focus and it was a great pleasure contributing.  be sure to check it out.

Comments

  1. Jacob says

    I can’t say you didn’t strike true with some of the stuff you wrote. There are lots of factors at play but the bottom line is that I’m obsessed with it. I have lots of other interests but fitness is still a very big one. I might be excused somewhat since I’m in this field, but I’ll think about what I do and why anyhow.

    Thanks for this enlightening post.

  2. Rolando Real says

    Beautiful post JC. I really think this “put everything in perspective” is greatly needed today. This topic is something I have to keep touching with my clients. Specially the females! And I agree.Society has put a lot of stuff in their minds and is messing up their self image. I even have to say to one female “look either you eat some ice cream this weekend or Im not training you anymore!” I was half-kidding lol! Great post, we should train to live to the fullest, not live to train like maniacs.

    • JC Deen says

      glad you liked it Rolando.

      I’m just trying to write what others are thinking and what many might be afraid to say.

      cheers and beers.

  3. Mark says

    Why single out fitness? During my life I have seen people “addicted” to model airplanes, golf, Arabian horses, tropical fish, glass blowing, restoration of antique or old automobiles, excessive work, and the list goes on.

    For that matter, in the physical activity realm, no one accuses an Olympic hopeful of being addicted. Yet take someone who has lost 50-100lbs of body weight while increasing muscle, is interested in the science behind it, and has to be cognizant of what they eat and they all of the sudden have a problem.

    They may have one (who doesn’t?) or they may not. Perhaps a “little bite” really will hurt. Perhaps the significant other always whipping up treats is not trying just to be nice but to derail the person watching their diet. All of these things do occur. If the Olympic hopeful were watching his or her diet, everyone would understand. Why won’t they in the case of the person trying to maintain a large weight loss.

    One of the commentors wrote: “I used to spend hours searching through fitness forums and would justify it by saying it was a hobby of mine. Probably more worthwhile “hobbies” out there.”

    Define “worthwhile.” Is it the Arabian horses, the tropical fish, or the model airplanes. Perhaps it is the 16hr/day work at the expense of one’s family.

    Lest you all think I am an addict (and I suppose I am to an extent), I am a very 80/20 type person. People always ask why I leave the gym after 45min-1hr and I tell them that the first 20% of the work gets me 80% of the results. I ate with my sister and brother-in-law last week when I saw them for the first time in 10yr. And I had french fries.

    But I will be the one to decide when 1 bite won’t hurt and when it will and when I will not eat the birthday cake, not some blog.

    • JC Deen says

      panties in a bunch? I don’t know exactly what you’re trying to get at, so I won’t assume.

      however, I wrote this for a reason – people need to hear/read this message. It’s not for me to decide whether or not you have an addiction to fitness. It’s up to the individual. I was merely pointing out there are way more important things to worry about than nailing every fitness detail at the expense of the more important things in life.

  4. says

    I love it when I come across these ‘Real Life’ posts in the fitness world. As you know I am a big fan of keeping fitness flexible and in sync with real living. I have passed through a similar process myself. It took a serious relationship to open my eyes and realise that fitness was slowly engulfing my life and free time. So from my own learning experiences, I have found much benefit in looking at others close to me as a reflection upon my own strengths, weaknesses and addictions. Going to the gym and working out picks my mood up (as it does for most people) but as you mention JC you know you have gone too far when it no longer has that positive effect for you.

  5. Eric says

    I used to spend hours searching through fitness forums and would justify it by saying it was a hobby of mine. Probably more worthwhile “hobbies” out there. And it can be very paralyzing, both in your personal life and with what you do nutrition/training.

    I do get online still but don’t really spend time on any forum. Mostly stick to websites like this or others. Thing is that I like to learn about things and lot of it is quite useless information BUT I’ve been using this strength of mine to build relationships. This week I’ve talked to more co-workers and people off the street about stuff I’ve read about using that skill. I don’t just blurt out facts but they just mention something about a topic that I read and I extend the conversation with the facts I’ve learned. Been frequenting sites like artofmanliness, psyblog, dailybeast (need to find more). And I do twitter, quite a few interesting articles get posted up and are worth knowing.

    Great article JC

  6. says

    I’m kind of done being obsessive. I spend 6 hours a week in the gym because I love to. My body’s not perfect and I’m ok with that. I don’t need to “lean out” or compete or get a lot bigger. I don’t even need perfect abs. There’s a lot of people who’d love to have my physique. I thought about getting trying to bigger a few weeks ago, but it hurt my head. Bottom line, it has to be fun for me or I won’t do it.

  7. Blank says

    Great article.

    Yep. Check and check – can relate to the wasted time with my stint in fitness addiction. Now a simple 3x week lifting while bulking, ~2x week lifting while dieting setup is all I need for good progress.

    I doubt the fitness-obsessed will listen to something like this (I wouldn’t have back then), but hopefully it’ll sit somewhere in their memory to remind them.

  8. Jóhann Pálmar says

    One of your best…

    I used to skip trips to summer houses with my friends. Stay home at weekends et cetera to avoid alcohol and having fun. IFing set me free and your articles improved my mindset as well.

    It’s funny too look back. Being stronger and having a better body while enjoying life with the girl and friends. Man I love this. Almost as much as you love Fight Club.

      • Jóhann Pálmar says

        Haha that’s evident in your recent work.

        I re-watched the movie about a month ago and it was sort of an “aaaah” moment when I recalled your reference to sentences in the movie.

        Just goes to show how memorable your articles are, heh.

  9. says

    I really appreciate your perspective, JC. What you’re saying about fitness can easily apply to any other personal development goal too—getting organized/productive, meditation, finding a romantic partner, home improvement, and on and on. Let’s hear it for balance and moderation!

    • JC Deen says

      Thanks. this one has been heavy on my heart for the last few weeks and I finally just decided to get it out.

  10. Javier says

    This is a GREAT POST, im going to try this challenge, no more fitness/nutrition forums for a week.

  11. Zack says

    Nice article. I think that the neuroses comes from either end of the spectrum. If you’re a FFB you always tend to think of yourself as too fat, or if you are a Hardgainer you always see yourself as too skinny.

    It seems that we can only be free of our craziness once we’ve gotten to the middle of the spectrum- where the natural athletes/mesomorphs have always been.

    Personally, every bit of fat I see bothers me and makes me want to diet harder/do more walking, but I always have to remind myself that I have a detailed plan and that time (compliance) is the most important factor for fitness.

    Again, thanks for another insightful article

    • JC Deen says

      Sure, I agree with you. It’s really hard when you look in the mirror and see something completely different than everyone else sees.

  12. says

    You know JC… there were times when
    - I refused to take a bite of my own birthday cake ‘cos I was on a diet!
    - I’d pack little bags of low fat snacks anytime and anywhere I went on ‘vacation’! (Yep… I’ve eaten cottage cheese out of the carton with no spoon!)
    - I’d pop in a Tylenol, slather on some vicks, down NO Xplode and bust my chops at the gym so I didn’t miss a day!
    - I’d sit in a movie theater reading sadass fitness forums!
    - I’d never ever let my girlfriend surprise my with food ‘cos, well, my macros would be messed up!

    But thanks to understanding fitness & nutrition better and meeting/learning from legit folks like you (and Martin and Robb and Jason and others) those days are long gone and now I know better.

    Thank you for yet another great post!

    • JC Deen says

      Man, I can so relate to some of the things you mention!!

      I’m so glad I’m on the other side – and glad you’re spreading the good word as well.

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