What does it take to really be healthy? More pointedly, what would it take to physically transform oneself?

When I first wrote about Aamir Khan’s transformation, I ended the post by saying “You have to literally become a new person. Inside and out.” What did I mean exactly? It’s best explained by example.

Take the case of Jolly Joseph (JJ for short). JJ is a great guy, very likeable, great sense of humor, loved by his friends and the life of every party. He’s the one you call when things get boring. The guy that can drink everyone under the table and eat a whole pizza by himself while killing it on the karaoke machine. He’s what most would call “the jolly fat guy”. Which is just as well because JJ has a serious weight problem.

“You have to literally become a new person. Inside and out.”

Over the years, JJ has tried a number of things to combat this. Training programs, diets, motivational videos, heck even a hippie meditation retreat that one time. He makes a lot of progress but somehow keeps slipping. JJ’s motivation isn’t really the problem. He really wants to get healthy. But he just can’t figure out why he keeps falling off the wagon.

I’ve written about how “identity” can become a problem. JJ’s issue is only partly physical. The physiological problems are very easy to solve. The real challenge is his sense of identity. Like all of us, JJ has a nasty “identity demon” inside of him. In his case, it’s this idea of being the “Life of the party” and the “Jolly fat guy”. Those aren’t just fancy phrases, that’s his identity, his persona, his mojo, his thing. Take that away and what is he? Just another fat loser. Or so the demon tells him.

People ask me all the time about what the biggest misconceptions are about transforming one’s physical self. In particular, why do most people fail at it? In my experience, of the many myriad of reasons, two are the most prominent.

  1. Trying too much, too soon. (Changing your diet, starting a training program with zero prep, regulating sleep, eliminating alcohol etc, all at once. It’s overwhelming and often too much for most folks.)
  2. Not realizing what it actually takes. (This has little to do with exercise although it is an obvious factor.)

What it actually takes. That’s the big one.

Lifting 300 lbs on a lift? That’s easy.

Going to the gym/track/pool 4 times a week? Easy.

Eliminating sugar from your normal dietary patterns? Easy.

That hard part? That’s telling yourself your days of being the “life of the party” are over.

That hard part? That’s telling yourself your days of being the “life of the party” are over. It’s understanding that your social life will probably go down the toilet along with most of your favorite foods. It’s the sucker punch that lands with the realization that your “friends” are toxic. It’s the idea that you might have to change your job because spending four hours in traffic everyday is killing you. It’s coming to terms with the fact that who you are is incompatible with who you want to be. Working out is easy. Making it work is the hard part.

You can hear it now can’t you? JJ’s demon at work, whispering in his mind “These are your bros man. You’ve shared so much over the years. What kind of an asshole cuts off his friends just because he doesn’t look like a model with air brushed abs? How shallow are you?”

I’ll repeat this because it bears repeating: Training is easy. Hell, given time, it’s actually fun. Your body will quickly adapt to things you think are physically beyond you. Unlike your mind, your meat wagon wants to be healthy. The real demons lay in wait outside the gym.

It’s the voice at the back of your head urging you to go for that piece of cake. After all, you have been training soooo hard. Surely you deserve it?

It’s the phone call on the weekend, urging you to come hang out with your buds. “Just come over man. You don’t have to drink.” They are right too. You don’t have to. But once you are there, you know you will.

It hurts.

It makes you question everything. It urges you to quit. It makes you look at a picture of your favorite celebrity and go “Wish I had that kind of time/money/genes/steroids/magic lamp/whatever. That just isn’t me.” It’s what the demon does best.

It uses allies, some of whom you call “friends”.

It looks impossible to beat. But I’ll let you on in a little secret. That demon? It’s nothing more than a bully and a trickster. It uses smoke and mirrors. And doubt. It distorts what you see. It uses allies, some of whom you call “friends”. It distracts. It will do everything it can to make itself look scarier and bigger than it really is. The truth is that it is more afraid of you than you are of it. So, the second the demon senses a threat, it goes into overdrive. It will use every weapon at its disposal to target the weakest part of you. Your will.

“I grew up with these guys. I’ve known them half my life. I can’t just walk away.”

“WTF is this? I cant survive on salads. What am I? A fucking cow?!”

“I just don’t have the time right now. After this quarter, once I’m promoted. Surely then.”

“I barely get time with my kids as it is.”

“What’s the point? I mean really? In the end we all die, right?”

I get it. I’ve had variations of those thoughts at some point. I battle the demon everyday. Every. Single. Day. The only difference is that now, I see it for what it really is. A scared little bully that can and will get stronger if I let it.  It’s easy to give up and throw in the towel. But what choice do you have? Let the demon win? Because make no mistake, it’s no exaggeration to say this thing is out to kill you. Kill. You.

I don’t see how anyone can see that as an option. Yeah sure, we all die in the end. But there’s a difference between going away in your sleep and subsisting on a fistful of pills everyday for a decade after three bypass surgeries. Eventually we are all worm food. There is no dodging the bullet of time. The demon may be right about that. But I’d rather go down fighting. I’d rather rage against the dying of the light than bend a knee in the dark. And in the end, when my time on this earth is done, I’ll hopefully go with a smile knowing I’m taking the bastard with me.

I’d rather rage against the dying of the light than bend a knee in the dark.

I call that a win.

But victory does not come cheap. There are no short cuts here. There will be doubt. There will be pain. It will take time, effort and a LOT of humility. You will learn things about yourself, some of which you will hate. You will fail, constantly. But you will also find hidden reserves of strength you never thought you had. You will lose some friends and make new ones. You understand the difference between being fit vs healthy. You will realize what it means to be a student for life and you will relish it. Fight the demon long enough and you will, in the end, transform.

Here’s the bad news: The demon never really dies. You can battle it, set it on fire, stamp out the embers and piss on the ashes, but it will show up the next day just the same. You can’t kill it. Only beat it into submission. You can leave it whimpering in a corner the way it used to leave you. Over time, it will learn its place and stay there, in the darkest recesses of your mind.

That’s good enough.

Take heart. You are not in this alone. There’s a whole army of like minded warriors that would be honored to help you on your journey. They get it. They fight their demons everyday just like you and I. They will help you hone your skills and find your weapons. But you are the one that needs to do the fighting. The blade does not matter half as much as the hand that wields it.

The demon awaits.

Go fight.