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Our Philosophy on Fitness and Wellbeing

person doing a chin-up at the gym

This long read is your gateway to physical wellness. All folks, regardless of body shape, income, or ability can integrate activity into their lives to be happier and healthier. 

Wellness: Why We Write About It

One of the common themes of men's publications is an emphasis on muscularity and masculine bravado. The goal of wellness for a majority of publications is to have big biceps, a wide chest, a narrow waist, and a powerful sex drive. If you think that's an over-generalization, do a quick search of "men's fitness magazine covers" to see what kind of stuff is getting written about. 

Headlines of "lose your gut," "get shredded," "burn fat," and "build muscle fast" emblazon the covers, which are plastered with muscular, traditionally masculine men– most of whom are white. We've said it before, and I'm sure we'll say it again, but there's nothing wrong with being white or traditionally masculine.

The problem comes from the fact that these are all that we get to see in men's publications. These magazine covers display a very specific version of what men's health looks like. 

The simple truth is that the vast majority of us don't look like Greek gods. Hell, even these guys don't look like Greek gods. Without photo retouching and strained flexing, they, too, would have less definition, more stray hairs, acne, stretch marks, and everything else the rest of us do.

Most of us have at least a bit of soft flesh in our middles, moles, freckles, acne, scars, tattoos, and tufts of hair that do as they will. Many of us aren't as tall as these men, don't have the income of these men, and don't have the same sexual identity as these men. 

If we're being perfectly honest, very few people have the genetics or the income to look like the men on fitness magazine covers. This isn't what most of us can aspire to with our wellness goals. But, regardless of what our bodies look like, wellness is important for each of us.

Fitness and exercise are critical for a healthy lifestyle and a necessary part of living a well-rounded life. 

Why Mental Wellbeing is Necessary for Physical Wellbeing

Before you pick up the first dumbbell or set your foot on a treadmill, it's important to start by examining your mental fitness. 

For starters, please note that being "mentally fit" does not mean being free of mental illnesses or seeing the world through rose-colored glasses. Your mind, just like your body, is a part of you that you can strengthen over time with regular application, but you can't magically make hardwired genetic traits disappear.

For example, I consider myself to generally be a rather mentally fit person because I devote a significant portion of my time to learning and introspection, which helps me to regulate my mood and general outlook; at the same time, I still need to take a daily medication for depression and anxiety. My brain may not be wired to produce neurotransmitters as it's supposed to, but I can still strengthen it and invest in mental fitness in spite of that.

It's just as how some people are more genetically inclined to be muscular, skinny, fat, have limited ranges of motion, or have limited use of some of their limbs. You can't magically rewrite your DNA, but you can still strengthen yourself by adapting your approach. 

When it comes to overall wellbeing, mental wellbeing needs to come first because it requires a great deal of insight to be able to understand your fitness goals and approach them in a healthy way. 

blake in collegeConsider this photo of me. This was taken during college– I believe it was my freshman year when a friend and I went to a Zombie-themed neighborhood party. At the time, I want to say that I weighed around 170lbs (about 77kg). Being 6'3" (190.5cm), that 170lbs meant that I was quite thin, as you can see in the photo. 

Around this time, I also started being very conscientious about the number of calories I was eating and I also started training to run 5k races. I did the math the summer after my freshman year of college, and on average I ate about 1,400 calories per day while also running 3 miles per day. I told myself and my family that this was because of my commitment to being able to do well in the specific race for which I was training.

I had never been much of a runner, and since I was making progress with seeing myself get faster and stronger, I doubled down on what I was doing. In reality, I was hoping that training for a race would lead me to reach a point of thinness at which I would see myself as acceptable or attractive. 

Another way to describe what I was doing to my body: I disliked it so much that I developed an eating disorder. While I may not have fit the textbook definition of anorexia or bulimia, I was actively depriving my body of nourishment because of a skewed view of self-image. What I saw in my own body wasn't what everybody else saw– even then, I was weighing my physical worth based upon what I thought others would think of me.

You can't determine the value of your body through abstract, social measures and expect to get anywhere. If your motivation to invest time and energy into physical fitness is purely so that you can look like someone you follow on Instagram or is coming from a place of shame and hurt, you may be setting yourself up for more pain than progress (and not in the "no pain, no gain" way, though there's a lot that should be said about that aphorism as well). 

Undergoing a physical transformation that is going to be healthy for your body requires being able to have the mental fortitude and grit to stick it out through the challenges you will face and the insight to understand your motivations and recognize your limits. Whether you're wanting to look like Mr. Olympia or just feel more comfortable in your own skin, you can get there through physical effort, but your outlook and determination will trickle down from the condition of your mind. 

Learning to enhance your mental well-being and get a clearer outlook on your life will have innumerable effects on the other areas of your life. That's why our wellness content is split down the middle nearly 50/50 between physical fitness and mental well-being content; the two go hand-in-hand and you'd be hard-pressed to develop one without the other. 

The Cost of Being Buff: Money's Role in Wellness Goals

One of the key details that is often left out of most mainstream fitness discussion is that being able to go to a gym, eat a well-rounded diet, and consume exercise supplements is expensive. So many men's publications start with the assumption that guys can easily afford a gym membership or otherwise have access to thousands of dollars worth of exercise equipment. Consider this cost breakdown for what someone might pay in a month to achieve the cultural ideal beach body: 



Gym Membership  $50
High Protein, Low Fat Groceries  $300
Workout Supplements  $115
Yoga Studio Membership  $120
Total $585

To be honest, that's being pretty conservative. Supplements, for example, could easily run $200-300 per month if you go for higher-end products, include things like BCAAs and Creatine, or add on additional vitamins to contribute to your progress.

If you throw in a personal trainer, you're looking at spending anywhere from an additional $200 to $1000 per month. And if you have sore muscles? Either tough it out or spend even more to see a massage therapist or chiropractor.

Ultimately, that's at least about $500 per month just to get into shape, and I don't know about you, but for me... coming up with an additional $500 isn't something I'm readily able to do. 

It's as though we've decided as a culture that fitness and wellness– and the ability to achieve the ideal physical form– is reserved for those with the time and funds to be able to achieve it. There's a double standard, especially for women, but for men as well, to be able to look a certain way, and those who can't due to time or financial constraints are often harshly criticized for it.

How often have you seen memes or posts on Facebook about how a heavy-set person can buy soda or junk food on public assistance? We've equated weight and diet with laziness, without recognizing the role that wealth, leisure, and education play in being able to live a healthy lifestyle. 

Assumptions about sexuality, race, and class permeate most discussions of wellness, which is why we at Self-Himprovement knew that this was a topic we needed to write about and integrate into our content. It's our belief that whether you're wealthy or poor, black or white, cis or trans, fat or thin– your body deserves kindness and care, and living an active lifestyle (whatever that may look like for you) is going to allow you to be happier and healthier. 

Setting Healthy Physical Fitness Goals

One of the most important things to keep in mind about fitness and caring for your body is this: your goal doesn't need to be (and probably shouldn't be) to match the cultural ideal about what a man should look like. We may all want to look like Chris Hemsworth, but the fact of the matter is that most of us never will, and most of us would be better off to pursue healthfulness over a Thor-like physique. 

Speaking on a personal level, there was a time in my life where I tried to pursue having a Thor-like physique. I ate an intense amount of proteins, avoided desserts like the plague, and went to the gym at least 6 times per week. As a result, I put on 10lbs of muscle in a month. Then, at the end of the month... I destroyed my shoulder, spent the next 9 months without having a full range of motion in my right arm, and had to stop going to the gym altogether. I was on my way to getting an ideal physique, and it ultimately resulted in quite a bit of pain. 

In retrospect, I recognize that if I would have put my energy into getting stronger, I would have been in much better shape. Instead, I focused on looking "hot," and in my pursuit of what I wanted to look like based upon cultural pressures. 

Now, one thing that I always tell other guys who are getting into a workout or weight loss routine is that if you want to make the most of exercising and getting in shape, learn to fall in love with the process. Don't get caught up in the end results. 

Injuries due to overexertion are exceedingly common. Damage to your muscle groups and joints is almost certainly guaranteed if you push yourself to attempt lifting too much weight at once, or if your form isn't correct. Short term, these injuries will cause discomfort and can keep you from continuing your exercise routine. Long term, you're faced with major joint pain, musculoskeletal complications, and may even require having reconstructive surgery in order to sustain your quality of life. 

Muscle-related injuries aren't the only risks, either. 

There's also a lot of pressure for guys to be in shape, and body shaming is unfortunately quite common. Bigger guys are taught to think of their fat as something shameful– in fact, we often think of "fat" as being akin to a curse word because we are taught to believe that there is something inherently wrong with being fat. Though popular media often portrays eating disorders and body image issues as a feminine issue, the pressure to be anything but fat affects guys just as much. 

The NEDA states that eating disorders are almost as common in men as they are in women and that an estimated 10 million boys and men in the United States currently deal with eating disorders They go on to say,

several factors lead to men and boys being under- and undiagnosed for an eating disorder. Men can face a double stigma, for having a disorder characterized as feminine or gay and for seeking psychological help. Additionally, assessment tests with language geared to women and girls have led to misconceptions about the nature of disordered eating in men.

From 1999 to 2009, hospitalization related to eating disorders for male patients increased by a whopping 55%, with gay and bisexual men being disproportionately affected. An estimated 15% of gay or bisexual men deal with some form of an eating disorder, compared to 5% of heterosexual men. While these statistics are not all-inclusive, they do paint a pretty clear picture: men of all walks of life are affected by eating disorders.

With these statistics in mind, it's important to remember that there's a very crucial distinction between wanting to lose weight and feeling compelled to lose weight by any means necessary.

Especially if guys have been heavyset for a while, they often find that exercising and losing weight can help them to have more energy, improve their mood, and decrease joint pain, among other benefits. If you're wanting to lose a few pounds in order to feel better or to improve your self-confidence, that's okay. Improving your well-being by losing weight is a perfectly healthy goal, with some important caveats taken into consideration.

If you start to feel pressure to go to drastic means to lose weight, or if your main motivation for losing weight is to look in a way that's more in line with cultural ideas of masculine attractiveness, consider taking a step back and reevaluating. These pressures and the pain that they can cause are very real, but that doesn't mean that you have to act on them. If you're struggling with an eating disorder, or if you're unsure of whether or not your current behaviors are getting into eating disorder territory, please consider contacting the NEDA support line or checking out their resources. Eating disorders are no joke, and they will do far more harm than good when it comes to reaching your overall wellness goals. 

If you want to lose weight or build muscle, you can and should. But you shouldn't feel pressured into doing either just because you feel like you don't look the way that you should. 

Building Muscle the Right Way

In my own life, I’ve spent a significant amount of time feeling insecure about not being very muscular. Everywhere I looked, I saw guys with bulging biceps and pecs the size of cinderblocks. As a teenager, I felt like my chubby physique was impossibly far from the ideal of male beauty that I saw. Getting older and taller, I went from being the weak, chubby kid who couldn’t do “boy” push-ups in gym class to being the scrawny, lanky kid… who still couldn’t do “boy” push-ups or pull-ups.

This insecurity drove me to focus on trying to build muscle when I got to college. As I mentioned above, I worked out so much and with such untrained intensity that I injured my shoulder pretty seriously. Through injuring my shoulder, and then subsequently through practicing yoga as a way to get back into exercising,  I came to realize that my desperate attempt at building muscle was just a byproduct of my even more desperate attempt to fit in with what I perceived to be the correct way that men should look.

Luckily, practicing yoga changed my perspective on what getting stronger meant. For so long, I had thought of getting stronger as being a matter of aesthetics– a matter of fitting in. But, the more I practiced yoga, the more I found myself setting goals to achieve difficult asanas (poses), and doing so required strengthening the muscles that supported those asanas.

While I doubt everyone would have the same yoga experience that I did, I first began practicing at a studio that was full of well-practiced, encouraging teachers who were careful to never push someone beyond their limits. They encouraged me to gradually strengthen my shoulders, my core, my back, and my legs, and they provided me with the knowledge needed to do so safely.

Before long, I found that I was able to do hold the poses that had once eluded me.

Armed with those experiences, I decided to move forward with my fitness goals keeping that mentality in mind. I realized that I could make my goal of getting stronger be intrinsically motivated: I wanted to get stronger so that I could be stronger.

I’ll confess that I still wish I had more ab definition or larger biceps or a rounder butt (and all those other things I’ve learned to think of as ideal), but I’ve taken it to heart to only push myself to my edge and not beyond it. I’ve learned to care for myself while trying to build muscle, and have invested time in learning to ask for advice or do research when I’m not sure how to do certain exercises.

All-in-all, these experiences have been my framework for determining Self-Himprovement's core tenants when it comes to talking about building muscle:

  • Being muscular is not inherently better than being fat. Muscles won’t miraculously make you happy with yourself. If you’re insecure with yourself now, being muscular won’t make you less insecure.
  • Building muscle is great for your health, but you also risk making it detrimental to your health if you overdo it or do it incorrectly.
  • Anybody who wants to can build muscle.
  • Working each of your muscle groups regularly is a great way to improve your daily quality of life.  

Because of this, one of the areas that Self-Himprovement is going to continue publishing content (and, in fact, publish more content) is going to exercise that helps you build muscle and do so safely.

Healthy Weight Loss

Much like building muscle, there’s a right way and a wrong way to lose weight.

As we’ve already discussed, body image issues and eating disorders affect men more than we typically realize. Many men are so desperate to lose weight that they end up hurting themselves, and if there is one thing that should never be a part of your wellness journey, it’s bringing harm upon yourself. Additionally, if you’re wanting to lose weight because of insecurity alone, keep in mind that losing weight won’t miraculously make your insecurities go away.

I firmly believe that addressing insecurities requires learning to love and celebrate yourself regardless of your outward appearance, and that’s not a skill that you’ll suddenly have if you lose weight. There are skinny insecure people, muscular insecure people, and fat insecure people because insecurity is an issue that comes from feeling like we aren’t enough of something and not a condition that’s inherent to any particular body type.

That being said, if you’re wanting to lose weight because you want to

  • Have more energy
  • Relieve back and joint pain
  • Follow your doctor’s advice about minimizing risks of cardiovascular, diabetic, or other medical conditions
  • Improve your stamina (including sexual stamina)
  • Sleep better
  • Set a healthy example for your kids or other loved ones

then you’re in the right place.

Moving forward, we’re going to be publishing more and more content about strategies, exercises, and lifestyles that can contribute to losing weight, improving your cardiovascular health, and unlocking the treasure trove of a happier, healthier life.

Diet and Nutrition

Diet and nutrition are key to a healthy lifestyle. No matter how much you exercise, if you're not fueling your body with quality foods, you're only addressing half of the issue. You'll probably also find that you're not making the type of progress you would like to make. 

This doesn't mean that we're going to be anti-pizza or encouraging you to say goodbye to fried chicken. There's a lot of truth in the saying "all things in moderation," especially when it comes to junk food. 

Instead, what this means is that at Self-Himprovement we want to encourage our readers to explore the potential benefits that they could get out of eating differently, and to ensure that you have the information and resources needed to make informed decisions about the foods that you eat. 

In modern, western culture, we view food in an odd duality. It's simultaneously something that we use to absent-mindedly avoid hunger, while also being something that we want to indulge in and see as a source of happiness. It fulfills needs that are both evolutionarily very basic and quite complex. For many of us, that means trying to complete both tasks (preventing hunger and indulging) at the same time. So, we stock up on and binge on foods that aren't nutrient-dense, and which are high in carbohydrates, fats, and processed chemicals. 

We want to promote a healthier view of food and eating that empowers men of all walks of life to find, make, and eat foods that will successfully allow them to both get full and indulge at the same time, while still fueling their minds and bodies to operate at peak performance.

It's Time to Invest in Your Wellness

The World Health Organization defines health as "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." 

When it comes to living a better life, your health and wellness are the foundation upon which everything else is built. Your physical well-being is the key to sharpening your mind, improving your mental health, and getting more enjoyment out of life. 

We believe that all guys– regardless of one's degree of ability, income, or race– deserve to have the opportunities to invest in their health, and we are committed to providing you with the tools to do so.


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