Are You a Former Fat Boy?
Building, and maintaining a better body is hard. It's even harder if every time you look in the mirror you see one thing: A fat kid.
Maybe you're not that fat kid anymore. Maybe you workout every day. Maybe you're ripped. BJ Gaddour, C.S.C.S., creator of musclemorphosis.com, the new DVD workout series from Men's Health is. So is JC Deen, strength coach, and founder of JCDFitness.com. They're also former fat boys.
In high school, Gaddour weighed 275 pounds and wore size 44 pants. "One spring break I gained 16 pounds in 10 days—I had to go get all new school pants. Those are things you don’t forget about," Gaddour recalls. Deen remembers asking his mother to put him on a diet at age nine.
Fast forward. Years later, you look in the mirror, and no matter what you look like, you still feel like a fat kid. That feeling's called "Former Fat Boy Syndrome," and it's a term Deen coined representing your battle with those skeletons in your closet if you once were—or still are—overweight.
After all, that fat kid in your head affects everything: your actions, your attitudes toward food or fitness, and your relationship (with yourself and others)—unless you learn to play nice with him. "There's this constant humility," says Gaddour. "You don't ever think you're in as good shape as you are. It can be a motivational push, sure, but you can become your own worst critic along the way."
The hard part? Helping your brain and body work together to use your past to fuel your current lifestyle, not stop it in its tracks (or worse, reverse your progress).
Rewire Your Brain
Certain situations—like having to take his shirt off—still irk Gaddour (who has one of the best six-packs we've seen). "Kids used to grab at my belly area. I've gotten super ripped and lean, but I still don't like being touched there."
It makes sense: Being overweight and battling that criticism is a traumatic experience, says Gaddour. And trauma—not just the PTSD kind—can rewire your brain. In fact, a 2011 study in Physiology & Behavior found that mice "bullied" by bigger, stronger mice had a surge in vasopressin receptors—which are associated with aggression, stress, and anxiety disorders in humans—in brain parts associated with emotion and social behavior.
The good news: Your brain is like plastic—though the memories may stick around, it's meant to be wired, and rewired. The first step involves a change of thinking: one focused on solutions, not problems.
"If you're coming from a fat mindset, every time you look in the mirror, everything is negative—something you want to get rid of. So you'll end up framing your goals as negative."
His suggestion? Forget the physique. Research has shown that "body checking"—scrutinizing your body in the mirror—leads to exaggerated feelings of fatness, an increase in self-critical thoughts, and even a decrease in successful weight loss in both men and women.
Instead, focus on your progress. Set small goals like one more rep per exercise, or 5 more pounds. Tracking your progress could push you to work harder too: When Harvard researchers analyzed 26 studies looking at people who wore pedometers versus those who didn't, they found that pedometer-wearers walked at least 2,000 more steps each day. The mere presence of the device increased their overall activity by 27 percent. "You're still chasing the same goals, you're just going at it another way," says Deen.
Keep Yourself Accountable
Human bodies are capable of a lot—good and bad; weight loss and weight gain. But remember this: No matter how far you come, there's always going to be someone fitter, stronger, and smarter. And Former Fat Boys know this all too well.
"You're always a chicken wing away from going right back to where you were," says Gaddour. Your body—hell, everyone's body—is simply waiting for you to make a series of mistakes. For most people, "exercise regimes and eating healthy is a normal part of your day-to-day, but in this case, it's a solution to a problem," Gaddour says. The result? You can wind up being a little OCD about it. Even Gaddour admits that he'd freak out if he missed a workout in the beginning.
And building towards that normalcy starts with never doing anything from a point of deprivation, says Deen. Being strict with a diet for six days and binging for one can be a disaster for someone who has a history with food. Instead, incorporate foods you like into your diet (so long as you're able to). Hit your calorie count and the right amount of protein, carbs, and fat each day, and it's okay if you have a burger for lunch, or a piece of cake at your girlfriend's birthday dinner. Then in the gym, plan ahead for things you can't back out of. "Sign up for a race, make a date with a trainer, workout with a friend," says Gaddour.
Make yourself have to do it, and you’ll keep things tight. As Gaddour puts it: "The real challenge beings after you achieve the goal."