Hobby, Addiction or Obsession?

315One of the interesting questions I ponder relating to myself, my clients and professional contacts in the fitness world is how far to take fitness in terms of life’s other priorities. It’s a huge topic, and I think the subject can be opened by considering three questions – how much time should you devote to exercise, how closely should you follow a mega-healthful diet, and how upset do you become if you own objectives on both if those previous points are not met.

Everyone has their own answers to these of course. The fact that the UK has an obesity crisis, with alarming rises in the rates of diabetes and other diseases which have an unhealthful lifestyle as contributory factors, suggests to me that far too many have fitness as too low a priority in their lives.

And there are those at the other extreme. Virtually living at the gym or heath-club, and sacrificing other social activities in order to do so, perhaps creating difficulties with family or friends on the way. The body may be healthy, but maybe the mind is less so. This is a much smaller group than the first – but there are significant numbers, I’ve met a few and there are times when I’ve been guilty of heading towards this route.

If you want to be good at the fitness game, and take it to levels beyond that needed purely for optimal health, the you’re taking it into a sport or competitive activity – even if that competition is only with yourself. To do this requires effort, dedication and time commitment way beyond the amounts most people would put in. But this is the case with any sport, you have to put the effort and time in, and remove or minimise distractions if you’re going to achieve success in your sport. I have t-shirt lurking at the back of my wardrobe somewhere that says ‘Obsession is a word used by the lazy to describe the dedicated’, a true statement but not one I actually choose to wear often these days.

The proper answer for most is somewhere in the middle. Certainly, for most of my Personal Training and Fitness Consultancy clients, they have no plans to follow me to the competition stage and be judged in a fitness, muscle model or physique competition. Most are keen in reducing fatness levels and increasing fitness levels, and to that end, I advise that they follow a decent nutrition regime and adhere to an appropriately designed exercise programme – and would realistically expect them to follow this for maybe 50% of the time. But those that choose to take enthusiasm for fitness activity to beyond the level needed to maintain or regain optimal health will decide to apply more.

Let’s look at my own approach. I try to keep to my nutrition and exercise goals in excess of 75% of the time. But I’m not so fitness-focused that I will turn down a social engagement, or a few pints of decent ale or good restaurant meal. I think this puts me in the ‘Addicted’ camp rather than ‘Obsessed’. But I do monitor my bodyfat amount and percentage, and if I find either creeping up, then I turn up the heat and move the devotion needle a little to the right beyond that notional 75% mark.

Does this make me obsessed? I hope not. I like to be at below 9% bodyfat for contests and professional photo-shoots, and to ensure I’m not too far off that my target is to keep at 12% or below year-round. I only take remedial action and move towards that ‘Obsession’ end once I hit that 12% number – then the pub and restaurant trips have to take a lower priority for a little while.

I mentioned earlier that I’ve been guilty of heading down the route of obsessed in the past. I think I’m good at spotting if commitment to fitness and sporting activities are taking over too much of my life, but it creeps up insidiously on you – well it does in me, anyway. To ensure it’s under control, I’ve given Jenny, my wife, a notional electric circuit with a big red warning light connected to a button under her control. The ‘obsession button’ is rarely pressed by her, but we keep it ready. It doesn’t really exist, of course, other than as an agreed concept between us.

There is an exception to my self-imposed rules. In the final four weeks leading up to a contest or pro photoshoot, by agreement with Jenny I de-wire the obsession button. That t-shirt also probably needs to come out at that time. But that’s only twice a year, and having won my last contest in April, the fictitious circuit is now back enabled for the next few months.

In reality, everyone will have their own levels of priority setting for fitness depending on their own goals and other activities they enjoy. Anyone who has a least a certain level of enthusiasm for fitness either as a hobby, leisure pursuit, sport or competitive activity may find it interesting to ask themselves those three questions I posed at the start, and ensure that the level of priority for this in their lives is where they want it to be.

Have a fitness-building but obsession-reality-checked, sunny weekend!