Thursday, October 16, 2014

Why I'm Not Doing My Gym's Paleo Challenge

I am a CrossFitter. My CrossFit gym is starting a paleo challenge on Monday. They’re encouraging 100% participation from members. And I’m not doing it.

The reason isn’t because I don’t agree with the paleo diet. Although I don’t follow a strict paleo diet, I do use some principles from it, including focusing on lean proteins and vegetables and reducing refined carbohydrates. I think the paleo diet and other similar programs are great guides for healthy eating.

No, the paleo diet is fine.

The reason is the way to challenge is judged. According to the gym owners, this will be an “old school CrossFit paleo challenge,” with the winner selected by the other competitors based solely on “before” and “after” pictures. The goal of the challenge is to “look good naked.”

While it’s nice to look good naked, I think this is completely the wrong focus for the challenge.

I believe in loving your body. In pushing yourself to be stronger, fitter, and healthier. And I believe in doing what you need do to be a balanced and happy person. The challenge’s focus on outward appearance misses the point of healthy eating, which is to be healthier. To fuel your body for the things you want to do. To provide the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that you need to live a productive life. Life is about way more than how you look naked. Some of the most beautiful people in the gym probably wouldn’t look like models if you took their clothes off, even after 45 days of the paleo challenge. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t focusing on health goals that can’t be seen from the outside. It doesn’t mean that they haven’t lost weight or gained muscle. It doesn’t mean that they’re not wonderful people who are dedicated to CrossFit, their jobs, their families, their communities. There are so many more reasons to eat healthy than just the way you look.

Further, I worry that the focus on outward appearance might be detrimental to the goal of building people who are strong in mind and strong in body. I struggle with perfectionism. In our society, it is so easy to find images of “perfect” bodies to compare ourselves to. It is so easy to find rules for how you “should” eat and train. A few weeks ago, I found myself searching Pinterest for “CrossFit bodies” to see what CrossFitters are “supposed” to look like. Looking at the pictures, I knew I didn’t have that type of body, and I felt myself starting down the perfectionism spiral of self-judgment. I started thinking of all the training I wasn’t doing and all the “bad foods” I was eating. But then I remembered that my body is not the same as the body of any CrossFitter on Pinterest. It is my unique body that I was given. It does amazing things, like carrying me up mountains, deadlifting more than my body weight, and allowing me to run computer models and build awesome spreadsheets. My body also looks pretty good in the mirror, at least sometimes.

Awhile ago someone posted a question in the gym’s Facebook group about how to set goals. Ever since then, I’ve been thinking about what my diet and exercise goals actually are. I sort of have long-term goals, like maybe someday running a marathon, and keeping active and healthy for as long as possible. But I don’t really set short-term diet and exercise goals. I’ve tried diets and exercise plans in the past, but I usually don’t last more than a week or two before something happens to upset the plan: I’m at a work meeting and the catered lunch isn’t “on the diet” but I forgot to pack any other food for the day. Or I oversleep and miss one of my workouts. Life gets in the way. But it is actually life that is the point. We only have each day to live, and I don’t want to spend my days worrying about whether I am following a plan perfectly so that I can have a perfect body. Instead, I want to focus on what I can do to be a better person all around right now. So what my short-term goal really comes down to is this: what do I need to do right now to be a healthy and happy person. Is it going for a run, going to gym, eating an apple, going to church, taking a nap, eating ice cream, calling a friend, working on a big project for work, or doing any of the other things I could choose to do? I try to ask myself this when I am feeling uncertain about what to do. Looking back, sometimes I make the wrong choice, but at least I am conscious of making the decision and I learn something for next time. And most of the time, I can figure out what it is that my mind, body, and soul need

So I’m not doing the paleo challenge. I’m not going to compare myself to other gym members in the hope that I will be judged to be “the best.” I know I don’t have a perfect body, and most of the time I am ok with that. I won't judge you if you choose to participate, because I don't know what your goals are or what you need right now. But I'm going to keep trying to figure out what I need, and right now I know I don't need to stress myself out about following the paleo plan to the letter and I don't need to compare  my body to others. Instead I’m going to keep trying to eat healthy foods, keep challenging myself in the gym, and keep doing whatever else it takes to be the best version of me that I can right at this moment.

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