The Weekly Challenge is a column that tackles self-improvement seven days at a time.
It's not surprising that when best-selling British fitness bible Run Fat Bitch Run (RFBR) is released next year in North America it will be published under a new title (Get Off Your Ass and Run). While harsh self-deprecation has always been a mainstay of British humour, my own this-side-of-the-pond sensibilities were a little incensed when I first heard about the book.
The basic message is as follows: In modern society we are coddling ourselves into a mushy mess. We get medals for just showing up. We're inundated with messages about the importance of loving ourselves the way we are. We are told to give ourselves a break. According to RFBF author Ruth Field, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it isn't much of a motivator.
My own exercise history is littered with pathetic tales of failure and fatigue. At least twice a year, I throw on a pair of sneakers and vow to start running regularly. In 2008, I paid almost $2,000 for a treadmill that was used three times before it became an incredibly space-inefficient clothes rack.
The traditional you-can-do-it approach to exercise has never worked for me, nor has signing up for expensive gym memberships or designating a workout buddy. I fantasized about hiring a personal trainer in the mould of the Lou Gosset Jr. character in An Officer and A Gentleman, who would harass, browbeat and berate me into physical perfection. RFBR instructs readers to administer tough self-love; I wondered if I could be my own drill sergeant.
True grit and tongue-in-cheek
At 6:45 on a Monday morning I stood nearly naked in front of a full-length mirror. As per the book's instructions (and far outside of my comfort zone), I grabbed a particularly fatty part of my midsection and called myself a lazy cow. I felt horrible, not so much because of my physical state, but more over concerns Gloria Steinem was about to pop up behind me and whack me upside the head with a copy of Ms. magazine. Still, if a dose of the Bridget Jones treatment was going to help eradicate my muffin top, I was willing to go there. Besides, as Ruth Field tells me on a phone call a couple of days later, the whole RFBR thing is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek.
Ms. Field says she is certainly not trying to destroy self-esteem, but rather help us get in touch with our inner "Grit Doctor" (the name of her insult-hurling alter ego), so that they can stop making excuses and just, well, start running.
And I do. On day two, just the thought of having to re peat the full frontal confrontation (required if you are trying to skip a run) is enough to get me into my sneakers and out the door. When I want to stop, I hear my own Grit Doctor (who sounds like a curmudgeonly marine from the south) calling me a pathetic sloth. And I keep going.
Morning three was brutal. Having been out late the night before, I accidentally slept until 9 a.m. The sun was burning hot and I was nursing a hangover. I tried to summon the Grit Doctor. I even stood in front of the mirror, halfheartedly berating myself before tumbling back into bed. I didn't run that day. Grit Doc zero, pathetic sloth 1.
Are we having fun yet?
Wanting to gauge the psychological validity of this tough-love approach, I reached out to Julie Norem, author of the book The Positive Power of Negative Thinking. "It's not very sound," Dr. Norem said of the negative affirmations aspect, explaining that most of us are least motivated when we feel depressed. She does, however, concur we would all do well to get over the notion that running is supposed to be fun. This, to me, was a revelation.
Because make no mistake, I hate running. I'd always assumed that I was different and somehow lesser than all of the other runners in the park who were clearly loving every second of sweaty, cramp-inducing hell. What a relief to hear that most of those suckers feel the same way I do. We run for our health, our appearance, the chance to have alone time, the sense of accomplishment, but for most of us, sliding into those sneakers will always be an act of self-discipline.
Aside from that one day, I completed a week of FB boot camp. I can guarantee I will never again stand in front of a mirror and call myself names. I will try to keep running, though. And if summoning that masochistic voice from within helps get me out the door, so be it.
I don't need a book to tell me to do that, my automatic inner critic does that constantly. The writer of this book needs to read Feeling Good by Dr. David Burns, who has proved with cognitive therapy and thousands of patients, that it is positive self-talk that works to encourage and reinforce behaviour. I would never in a million years try this approach.
– Sarah Moore
Sounds like a pile of crock. This is what we are going to teach ourselves after years of battling eating disorders?
– Alina Popkova
Tough love works for some people as a way to get real with themselves and stop denying or excusing their weight gain. I'm 65 pounds lighter because I looked in the mirror and told myself enough was enough. Everyone is different.
– Lindsey Munday Thresher
Next Challenge: It's gorgeous out and traffic is a nightmare, so leave the car in the driveway and get around on two feet (or two wheels). Public transit is okay, but cabs are a major cheat. Is this impossible? Or no different from your day-to-day life? Let us know at fb.com/globelifestream