Let's talk about personal responsibility when it comes to taking fitness advice.
First, what's personal responsibility?
According to Wikiquote, it's the idea that human beings choose, instigate, or otherwise cause their own actions. Because we cause our actions, we can be held morally accountable.
I think it's pretty well said, and I believe that we all absolutely need to take personal responsibility for whatever we're doing, including making health and fitness choices.
When We Ignore Our Personal Responsibility
I personally have done this personal responsibility thing wrong several times! Maybe you too?
Even as a personal trainer, who should know better, I haven't fully listened to what my body really wants and is able to do. Instead, I've done what other people around me have been doing, and taken advice that hasn't been right for me.
The result? There's been many of them…
Overtraining. According to the mainstream understanding, the more you work out, the better for you. I took that advice too.
Binge eating habits. Because we've told to eat less so we can get a better body! Eating much less than my body needed, lead me to binge eating, then restricting cycle, for years.
Knee and back injury. Heavy lifting is cool, everyone should do it! I agreed and took this advice. But I didn't realize that heavy weights were too much for my newly recovered body.
I'm not blaming anyone for giving me this advice. No one twisted my arm and told me to eat less and work out until I was exhausted. No one told me to put heavy weights on my barbell. And even if they did, it was still my personal responsibility to know better what's realistic for me.
These things would all have been avoidable, had I been more critical and asked myself what's actually good for me.
We Want to Be Like People Who Inspire Us
It can be hard to not take other people's advice, especially if it comes from someone who we look up to and want to be like. There are so many experts around us (although many of them aren't actually experts at all)!
However, sometimes this person whom we feel inspired by, can put us on a totally wrong path. If we blindly follow it, without paying attention to how our bodies react, things can go very wrong. We need to take personal responsibility and evaluate whether this advice is good for us.
For example, there are many female fitness influencers who speak out loud and say that it's time for ladies to put down those pink 2 lbs dumbbells and start working with real iron. I like the idea and I find it empowering. I took this advice… I was inspired…
But it was too soon.
Enter injury… Yes, the intention was great, the encouragement was great, but it was way to soon for me, and way too quickly!
We have to realize that it has taken years for those who inspire us, to get to where they are. There are usually no shortcuts to success.
What to Look Out For
Here are some things that we should look out for, before taking health and fitness advice from other people.
New workout programs
As I mentioned, seeing how someone pulls 300 lbs off the floor can be SO extremely inspiring! Similarly, we may get inspired by someone who is doing crazy yoga poses or runs a marathon in three hours.
But should we try to lift like the person who has been doing it for years, RIGHT NOW, if we can currently lift up only an empty barbell? Should we attempt a full split today if we can't even touch our toes? Start running 50 miles a week if we're currently running 5?
Of course not. It will absolutely cost us an injury very soon.
It's not to say that we can never accomplish big goals, but we need to be realistic and critical. We should always ask ourselves: Is this advice for me? How can I, very gradually, work my way up there? What's the next right step for me?
How to spend rest days
Another type advice that we see a lot, is how we should be spending your rest days. There are plenty of people who advocate really active rest days. But what is an active rest day? It can mean different thing for different people.
Some people go on a 10 mile hilly hike and do an hour long yoga session afterwards and call it the rest day. When they talk about it on social media, those of us who don't spend our rest days that way, may get an impression that we're doing something wrong.
I personally wouldn't call a day where I'm doing a 10-mile hike and 1-hour yoga a rest day, but maybe it is rest for a professional athlete? I don't know. Again, it's our personal responsibility to understand that if doing this much activity would usually count as a workout for us, then our rest days should look much lighter.
Yes, maybe we walk a few miles or do stretching on our rest day. But maybe we're so sore or tired that we need to sleep a few extra hours, so this is our rest. It all depends on our current situation, and no one else can tell us exactly how we should rest.
Going faster, harder and do more
For some reason, we have the hardest time to give ourselves a much needed break, even if we're extremely tired. Instead, we often add more workouts to our routine.
Our progress has stopped, so we think it must be because we did't go hard enough.
But just because someone who we like and admire, pushes herself hard 5-6 days a week, doesn't mean that we have to do the same, to get better results.
Yes, it's not impossible that if we have stopped making progress because we didn't work hard enough. If you're full of energy and know that you have more inside you, sure, you can try to work out harder. If you have big goals but have worked out just once a week, then yes, you're not getting there because you don't work out enough to make progress.
But what if we turn inwards and relize that we've given everything we have, we're constantly tired, our recovery sucks, our sleep is a mess? Then pushing harder is not the answer we're looking for. We need to have personal responsibility to REST, nit push even harder.
New diet programs
Right now, the ketogenic diet seems to be the biggest diet trend out there. Another one is intermittent fasting.
The more our influencers talk about them, share them and write books and programs about them, the more people want to try them. And let's be honest — even if they say it's all for health benefits, on the background, there always the hope to lose more weight, isn't it?
That's the number one reason why we keep trying diet after diet after diet. That's the very same reason why we hated fat in the 90s, carbs in 2000s, and so on.
Ketogenic diet, intermittent fasting and whatever the diet trend that pops up next, may have some health benefits for certain people, but they're not for everyone.
If we have an eating disorder, be it anorexia, bulimia, orhtorexia or binge eating disorder, or we have had in the recent past, we need to know that restrictive diets aren't for us. It doesn't matter what the diet requires us to restrict — food groups, calories or macronutrients — restricting has a great potential to send us back to the spiral of disordered eating habits. (Of course, I'm not talking about medical reasons to avoid certain foods. If you're celiac, of course stay away from gluten.)
The same is true if we have hypothalamic amenorrhea. There's no diet that helps us to recover from it. No single food or macronutrient that we're eating, is causing it. Eating more of one certain food will not bring it back either. We need calories, not a diet, and it's our personal responsibility to NOT get on a diet or detox if we truly want to recover.
I know that it's so hard to listen to our bodies when there are so many people around us telling us what we should be doing. But before we take any advice, we should evaluate whether or not it's right for us personally.
If I'm tired, should I really push harder or is it wiser to take a break?
If I'm already restricting several foods and eating only 1200 calories a day, should I really try the next diet and cut calories even further?
If I haven't strength trained for 6 months, is it really smart of me try a personal best the first week when I'm back in the gym?
Let's use our common sense and take personal responsibility when making any fitness and diet decisions!