Welcome, Nonathletes or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Discipline

One day in college, a classmate of mine mentioned an idea for a new student organization called “The Nonathletic Club”. Now, as an unabashed couch potato, this sounded great: a club celebrating the joys of dismissing the elitist institution of athleticism. After all, in high school I could barely make a shot in basketball, let alone dribble the damn thing down the court.

But as he continued, it became clear he had a different idea. It wouldn’t be about not playing sports, it’d be about playing them as best as we could. It’d just be us amateurs playing to learn, to improve our athleticism, and most importantly, to have fun.

“Oh okay, cool,” I replied, and gradually changed the subject. As I said, I hated athletics because I thought I was naturally untalented, but I’ve realized there’s more to it than that.

I hated them because I lacked discipline.

I used to play little league until I turned 7 but stopped caring about sports and running around in the fresh air. I became complacent; playing sports was hard, but watching cartoons and playing video games was easy! Besides, schoolwork was hard enough. I felt like I deserved to sit on my butt and do things I liked when I wasn’t busy.

Inevitably, my lack of discipline caught up to me in the form of added weight. When I turned 11, puberty hit me like a ton of bricks and I started gaining even more. Not to mention I LOVED to eat, particularly all those yummy comfort foods: sugary breakfast cereal, burgers, fried chicken, ribs, ice cream, nachos, LITERALLY the whole enchilada. Oh, and my 5-6 daily sodas and no water. Add that to a strict regimen of Nintendo 64 and watching South Park reruns till 4 AM and you have one unhealthy, obese young man.

This continued into my teenage years. In junior high, my poor decisions made me the target of jokes and insults, leading me not to change my ways, but to keep on eating to ease the pain. I eventually decided enough was enough and I sought to lose weight in summer 2003, and I did…through artificially sweetened meals, snacks, and sodas, but it was a step in the right direction, sort of. But that didn’t last long, since without a real long-term plan, I returned to my old ways.

When I was 16, however, I lost a ton of weight, probably due to a naturally heightened metabolism; I never worked out aside from the obligatory one day a week of gym class. I even lost a little more by graduation, finally making me a size large on a good day. Thanks to chance, I spent my summer full of confidence, and I felt amazing.

Then I went to college. I’m sure most of you know where this is going.

I became a full-time student with a part time job. I was introduced to the necessity of any college student not living in Amish country: alcohol! I experienced dating, and its disgruntled sibling rejection, which inevitably led to more alcohol! And because man cannot live on whiskey alone, add delicious comfort foods into the mix. Most of my meals seriously either consisted of McDonalds, Taco Bell, and wings w/ potato skins with hard liquor and a river of Coca-Cola. It doesn’t take a genius to know this knocked me up more than a few pounds and down a few pegs in terms of my self-esteem.

This culminated one summer evening as I was having dinner with a friend. I was attracted to her and not the other way around. She told me that while I displayed confidence asking her out before, she added that in order to show even more when talking to other girls, I should lose some weight. It offended me on a personal level, even though I didn’t let it show. She apologized but the damage had been done.

I told myself what upset me was that she called me fat, even though she didn’t. What really upset me was the fact that I actually was overweight, even obese, and I had refused to acknowledge it. To my own credit, I WAS a full-time student, and even if I could find time to work out, I’d have no idea where to start and I couldn’t afford a personal trainer. I could do cardio, that makes you lose weight, right? No weights; I don’t want to become a bodybuilder. I have to watch what I eat, but vegetables? Gross! I don’t want no discipline! I’ll just be obese forever, it’s in my genetics after all, so why not eat, drink and be merry?

Cut to February 2012, weighing in at 265 lbs. I hadn’t seen my friends since the week before Christmas break, and I was shocked to finally see they were both in noticeably better shape than before. I asked them how they did it, and both gave me the obvious yet overlooked reply of “diet and exercise”.

That’s when something happened.

Seeing my peers take control of their lives and embracing their own discipline sparked something inside me. Call it healthy competition among friends or a sudden realization of my own power and self-worth, but something within me told me to MOVE.  Stop making excuses. Stop going through the motions. Stop eating crap all the time only to feel like crap the next day and just MOVE. And so I did.

One cold February evening, I went to my college gym and got on a treadmill. And I walked. Then ran a little. Then walked again. Then ran some more. By the time an hour and 15 minutes had passed, I had put in more consistent physical work in that block of time than I had in months, even years, and I was absolutely exhausted and drenched in my own sweat.

And the weirdest thing was that I loved it.

Dopamine. Serotonin. Norepinephrine. Brain-derived neurotropic factor. All released, having a party in my brain. It gave me a high that eclipsed any swig of alcohol or any bite of comfort food. It was the sweet fruit of my harvest, and I felt absolutely incredible. Invincible. Powerful. On top of the world! So the next day, I did it again. And again. And before I knew it, I was walking and running multiple nights a week. It became my new “addiction”, which unlike drinking and bad eating, was actually really good for me.

I soon joined Planet Fitness and improved my cardio skills with their treadmills and ellipticals over the next 2 months, occasionally playing with the weight machines and taking a few personal training sessions. And lo and behold, along with a slightly improved diet, I was losing weight! I went from 265 to 235, and I experienced a surge of confidence I had never felt before in my life. Additionally, I noticed I had improved focus, and even started seeing the world in a more positive way. After all, when you like yourself, you like the rest of the world more. Discipline, something I had shunned for over a decade out of fear, was finally playing a role in my life and making me happier than I ever expected.

My college graduation gift was INSANITY, something I fell in love with after first watching the infomercial: a 60-day total body conditioning home workout, dubbed the hardest ever put on DVD. I was beginning to plateau with my routine anyway, and it looked like exactly what I needed: a rigid, well-designed routine with plyometrics and body resistance training, not just cardio. Even sprinters need to mix up their workouts, right?

INSANITY was the hardest thing I ever had to physically commit to in my entire life. I could barely finish half of a workout for the first few weeks! I found myself gasping for air and taking tons of breaks, calling the instructor Shaun T every insult in the book. But my body was transforming despite the pain and the fatigue and the weaning away from unhealthier foods thanks to its strict nutrition plan. Over the next few weeks, I noticed I could last a little longer each workout and perform moves I previously couldn’t. By mid-July, I lost around 25 more pounds. I had gone from pushing 270 to bordering 210 all in a few months through digging deeper and eating cleaner than ever before. Not bad for someone who used to down orange soda and burgers on a daily basis, right?

Over the next few months, I continued INSANITY and even added in weight training with resistance bands, which I learned aids with fat loss just as much as cardio. There were times when I slipped, sometimes for weeks, even recently, but what never changed was the fact that I had the knowledge I needed to pick myself up: exercise, proper nutrition, and of course, that stubborn little friend of mine, discipline. Starting next week, I am committing to 60 days of LES MILLS COMBAT, an MMA-inspired cardio and strength routine, and recharging my diet with 80-90% nutritious foods again, including Shakeology. I am also lucky to have the support of my family and friends, working toward their own fitness goals, and an amazing Beachbody Coach who has challenged me, inspired me, and kept me accountable every step of the way, reminding me of how strong I am when I don’t realize it.

So, why did I name my blog The Nonathletic Club? Basically, I’m using my colleague’s idea and putting it into motion for people like me: The nonathletes. The nerds. The “fat” kids. The awkward kids. People who were picked last in gym class. People who have an unhealthy relationship with food. People who don’t know the first thing about how to work out. People who used to work out but forgot how to. People who WANT to change their lives and their self-images and their confidence, but were never able to embrace their own discipline.

If you fit any of the above at all, I have this to say:

Despite popular belief, fitness is not just for the elite. It’s not for the athletes we root for on Sunday nights, the Abercrombie and Victoria’s Secret models plastered on billboards, the actors with money to blow on personal trainers. It’s for every single one of us, ready for us to take and use to become the best “us” we can be. We don’t have to be celebrities or people with 6% body fat and washboard abs who can crank out pullups and crunches like they’re going out of style. We are allowed to be “imperfect”. We can struggle with our workouts and our nutrition. We can have love handles and loose skin and (gasp!) even stretch marks. What matters beyond anything else, is that we follow as Tony Horton says: “Do your best and forget the rest.”

Most importantly, never, ever forget that you are beautiful, at your heaviest, your weakest, your leanest, your strongest. You are more powerful than anyone, including yourself, says you are. You have the ability to change your life, to do things you once thought were impossible. I don’t care if the only exercise you’ve ever done was run to the donut shop, you are capable of the infinite. You can take that discipline, that thing you always thought was a monster, and use it to transform your life. You can demolish your cravings and free yourself from the prison of comfort eating. You can get into shape and become the best athlete you can be. And I can help, because like you, I struggle more than I care to admit. But regardless, I pick myself up because I know I’m worth it, and so are all of you.

Thank you for reading, and welcome to The Nonathletic Club.

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