Choose Discomfort

What a weird title, I get that, but hear me out. I’m not wrong, here.

We humans are programmed to avoid pain and discomfort. Our brains, the incredible super-computers that they are, ensure that we find solutions that involve the least amount of discomfort in any endeavor we set out to accomplish. The most incredible part to me is that we don’t even know it’s doing this. At incredible speed, we find the path of least resistance, much like a bolt of electricity does.

It should come as no surprise that it’s hard to take on a new diet, a new exercise plan, or a drastic change in lifestyle that brings along with it pain and discomfort. When we do encounter the discomfort, we recoil instinctively. Our brains go into troubleshooting mode and quickly works out solutions to extract us from the situation causing the discomfort. It does this relentlessly, as it’s been a great survival tool that has allowed humans to exist for millions of years despite the various harsh environments we have survived in.

While this has been a key to our success as a species to thrive on this blue marble we call Earth, when it comes to getting healthy and losing weight, it works against us. When you start planning on changing your diet and start cutting out grains, legumes, alcohol, and anything with added sugar, your brain cries out, “Don’t do that! It’s not natural! We need all that food!” Why? It’s not because it’s true; it’s because you know that it will cause discomfort and it will be difficult. The same holds true for when you begin planning an exercise regimen. Your brain starts feeding you doubt and dread. It remembers the last times you tried, and it remembers the pain and discomfort, so it does everything it can to subconsciously dissuade you from continuing on your course of action.

Did you ever notice that the dread before exercise is always worse than the exercise itself? Ok, maybe not for the first week or two. I’m currently experiencing quite a bit of discomfort in my legs that haven’t run in over four months, and it’s pretty dreadful. Then again, I push myself pretty hard, and my first run back was three miles instead of being careful and slow and going with a brisk walk or a jog. But I digress. Once you’re already in the swing of running, say after three weeks, it’s still common to experience dread for undertaking a run. I experience it almost every time I’m about to run. Even after three solid years of running, I still found myself dreading runs. Not until I actually started running did that dread go away, replaced by something much better: a feeling of accomplishment and success.

Almost immediately after starting on a run, I would already feel better. The dread and doubt would melt away, and it was quickly replaced by a burning desire to not only finish my run, but to actually push myself to get better. To get faster. To get stronger. That dread I had morphed into determination.

They say the hardest part of any change is the first step. Whether that’s actually cooking your first healthy meal or donning the running shoes and going out for a brisk walk or a jog. Regardless, our brains are masters at talking us out of doing things that are difficult.

Sunday was Day One for me. Today is Day Three. I already feel better. I’m doing “The Work,” as my cousin Sarah says. I’m eating right, I’m getting enough sleep, I’m hydrating, and I’m exercising. I even gave my legs rest yesterday by taking a rest day. It’s a formula for success I’ve used more than a few times (this is my sixth Whole30 in four and a half years), and I know what I have to do for it to work. Now, I have to use a skill I’ve never really talked about: patience.

I have to trust the process, and keep doing the work. I have to keep eating right, and I have to keep exercising. Now, don’t let the exercise part throw you off. I lost 130 lbs in a year before without a single drop of sweat in exercise. This time, however, I’m throwing it in there because I have to. I’m in the National Guard, and I need to be ready for some very physically grueling training I will be attending this year. But if I had to, I could still lose the weight without exercise because of one simple truth: weight is lost in the kitchen and strength is gained through exercise. I’m not exercising to lose weight; I’m exercising to get back into top shape for my job.

I had a nice conversation with a fellow Marine last night and he asked me about my weight loss. I told him that I’d lost over 150 lbs before, and that I’m currently in the process of losing 40 lbs. He asked what procedure I had, and when I told him I did it all through diet, he was astounded. It’s quite a common reaction from people when I tell them what I accomplished without anything more than changing my diet. I chose, what I believe, is the healthier option. Sure, it requires more time to lose the weight than a lap band or other procedures, but I’ve known people (two, to be exact) who died from complications of weight loss surgery. I won’t ever go through elective surgery for weight loss. Besides, from others who have explained to me what recovery is like from those procedures, my method actually is the less painful method.

With that said, choose discomfort. Choose to change your lifestyle. The best part of all this is that the discomfort and pain are temporary. After a few weeks, when your body starts feeling better and your mental clarity improves, you’ll wonder how you ever existed on the high-carb, sugary grain-filled foods of your past. Are they delicious? Of course they are! But they are also killing you, and keeping you sedentary and bloated. Nothing important or worthwhile happens without some kind of discomfort or pain.

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