In a more recent meeting for Weight Watchers, one of the ladies offering a personal testimony contrasted her own fitness to that of her son. She opened with, “My son’s a gamer. So, you know, he sits around all day and he’s gained so much weight.” At first, I was a little outraged by the statement. There I was, a gamer, and someone had the nerve to relate gaming to obesity. It’s a stereotype that I don’t see gamers overcoming any time soon, but there is a lot of reasoning behind that stigma.
I grew up in a very athletically-driven family. My parents were both in the Air Force and lived, breathed, and ate sports. As a child, few days that went by where I wasn’t dragged out to a soccer field or had to surrender the TV to my folks so they could catch “the game.” I never really cared what game it was. In my opinion every sport under the sun is a glorified version of “catch the ball”. My mom ran marathons (track), played soccer, swam competitively, and is a nationally certified soccer coach. My dad’s resume is less impressive, but to this day, he and my mom play soccer at least once a week with my youngest sister. My little brother, a Marine, is also absorbed in soccer. Growing up, I honestly tried to get into sports. I hated soccer, hated basketball, couldn’t stand volleyball, and swim team was no fun at all. The only sport-based accomplishment I have in my name is the completion of a marathon.
…and I was the literal last person across the finish line.
My family encouraged physical activity but I honestly couldn’t stand it. I’m stimulated by the adrenaline of chasing after a ball. Instead, I’m stimulated by defeating that final boss, leveling up, getting that legendary weapon, or screaming “WHY!?” when my best friend turned on me and my video games. My family hasn’t changed their tune at all. I can’t go a week without hearing about how useless games are, how they have no positive benefit, and so on. The statement made Weight Watchers was insulting, but hardly unexpected.
The problem is this: people are not cookie cutters of each other. My family may see a glorious challenge and exhilarating thrill in chasing a ball around a court whereas I only see a bunch of people running back and forth. They see me sitting on the couch yelling at a TV, “EAT THAT BEHEMOTH!” as vegetating. We’ll never agree. Still, there is some legitimacy in the stigma against gamers and health problems. Let’s face it; the Wii tried with its motion sensor technology, but short of getting sore arm and wrist, there’s really not much going on that’s beneficial.
Last year, I took a look at myself and I hated what I saw. I’ll be completely transparent here: I got up to 200 lbs. I was pushing a size 14 and xl shirts. I decided that enough was enough. As aforementioned, I joined Weight Watchers with my mother and one of my younger sisters. It’s expensive, and it’s not easy, but one year later I’m down 50lbs and sitting in a size 4. However, to find success in something that honestly blows the big one, I had to figure out a way to change my habits so I found some enjoyment in this new change of lifestyle.
Before I go on, I want to say something outright. There’s not one program under the sun that will work for everyone. I won’t be promoting Weight Watchers or any of the tools, apps that I mention over anyone else; these are just the tools that I found to be most effective for me. Not everyone is built the same, so going out for runs everyday isn’t an option for all. In the end, getting healthy is up to you and how hard you are willing to work for it. It’s honestly a question of mind over mater and training a new point of view into yourself so that something that’s collectively regarded as sucky can become at least tolerable.
Step 1: Build Your Character.
In any great RPG, character customization is a staple. You may get a set character, but as the game goes on, you get to equip the character how you like and tailor them to your unique tastes. Before starting out on any kind of fitness goal, you need to begin with yourself. Firstly, you need to figure out your “class.” The class of character often determines that character’s strengths, weaknesses, and how you allocate their stats. This can be translated into the fitness world as your body type.
A fun way to look at it is this: You have the ectomorph body type which can be translated as the thief/rogue/ninja class. This class is thin, less muscular, and excels at quickness. You have the mesomorph which is the generic fighter class. This class is well-rounded and tends to have a broad spectrum of strengths and weaknesses that ultimately balance out. They’re not the fastest in the party, or the hardest-hitting, but they’re pretty solid. Finally, you have the paladins and tanks of our world, the endomorphs. This class is more bulky, capable of taking hits and hitting pretty hard but they tend to be slower on their feet.
Knowing your “class” will give you an idea of what your body can handle. Gender also plays a role in both nutrition and activity as God created us with our own unique pools of abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. For example, men tend to be stronger in their upper-body so they can do more lifting and strength training. Women’s strength is in our lower body and core, so we tend to do well with running and balancing. Pushing yourself beyond your body’s ability is dangerous, so it’s good to know where you are. For example, I am a warrior class (mesomorph) and a female. As a side note, I also have a nerve condition in both my arms. Lifting is out for me. I get the most effective work outs by going at a slow, steady pace for an extended amount of time. If I were to try to push myself towards thief and run sprints I’ll injure myself. If I try to push myself towards paladin and do strength training I’ll hurt myself. Diet-wise, I tend to keep within 30 points daily (weight watchers) which is in the ballpark of 1500 calories a day. Any more, I’ll gain weight; any less, I’ll make myself sick.
It’s a great idea to do some research to figure out what’s best for you, but it’s also important to know your limitations. Some of us have disabilities and old injuries, and some of us just aren’t cut out for the “standard” workouts. Once you have an idea of your character , then you’re ready to start leveling up!
Step 2: Gear Up!
Before any hero sets off on their quest, they need to grab their gear and tools. It’s no fun running out of your starting point with no weapons or armor, and it’s equally as detrimental to run out towards a new health goal without any tools to help your way. Here are some essential tools for your quest:
A save point.
A save point writes down your progress and makes sure that you can continue right where you left off. In our world, this means some sort of tracker. In this day and age, there are literally hundreds of apps or devices that you can choose from, which means that you have the option to pick something that’s affordable and/or most effective for you. I personally favor the Fitbit. I started off with the basic one, but I was gifted a Surge eventually and I love it. Most devices will come with an app that will help you set goals, monitor your steps, and give you badges and rewards for accomplishing your goals. There are free and expensive options. Choose a save point and do not leave your house without it!
An exp device.
Your inventory in the real world is going to be some way to track your caloric intake. Let’s face it; we love food. It’s great, but like anything great, too much is bad. I was absolutely shocked to learn how much I was eating without thinking about it. Again, in this day and age, there are so many apps and devices that you can use for free or for a reasonable price. Shop around and find one that works for you. The most important thing is that you track everything. This will make you more aware of what you’re putting into your body and help you make better decisions. If you go over your allotted intake, you’ve lost exp towards your goal. Just keep that in the back of your mind and it’s easier to say no to the cookies at the bank or that jar of twizzlers on the counter top.
Armor, or fitness gear, is pretty essential. If you’re going to get active, you need to gear up into something that you are comfortable with. It’s pretty easy to drop a lot of money on good shoes and clothing but it’s possible to get them for pretty cheap. You don’t want to go out running in a pair of shoes that’s going to kill your feet and your motivation, so make sure that you pick up your armor that’s most effective.
No hero is going to get far without potions. Potions in our world translate into supplements to give you that energy and hydration that you need. Keep an eye on protein and energy bars, because they tend to be very high in calories. Use your exp device and figure what’s best for you. Personally, I am a fan of the neuro sonic energy drinks. They are low in calories, they’re not loaded with the chemicals of typical energy drinks, and they give me the get up and go that I need. However, make sure that your potions include actual water. Those are your health potions and you won’t get far without them, no matter how much mana you have from your energy drinks!
Parties are essential to most RPGs, and real life is no exception. You need accountability and people that will run this adventure with you. Even if it’s just posting your daily workouts on Facebook or wherever, you need to be held accountable. It’s great if you can get a party together for workouts or daily meetings, this way if you fall down you’ll always have your team mates to pick you up. You could easily turn this into a competition if that’s what it takes to fire you up, or you can be the escort for someone else that’s struggling to level up.
Step 3: Set Up Your Quest
Every great RPG has a long, difficult quest for the hero. No quest is going to just take a few days or even a few weeks. In-game, whole years can pass between the start of the game and the final confrontation. At this point, you need to establish your adventure and wrap your head around it.
Establish a “final boss.”
The final boss is your ultimate goal, and it should be a big one! It’s no fun if you do all this work and have no grand triumph to overcome. For me, I want to run another marathon and complete it in six hours or less—beating my time by at least a half hour. I really don’t want to come shuffling across the finish line while half the participants are already halfway home. There are so many final bosses that you can choose from, but everyone’s final boss is going to be a little different. Maybe your final boss is to weigh 100lbs less, maybe it’s to fit into your high school pants, maybe it’s getting into that wedding dress—it’s all going to be different. It’s going to be hard, but trust me, dealing that final blow is worth all the pain and effort. You’ll honestly feel like a hero that just blew away that arrogant, monologing baddie.
Set up mini bosses.
These mini bosses are your milestones and your trails before you can get to the final boss. I won’t be able to face the Grand Dark Lord Marathon until I have conquered his minions: Half Marathon, 10k, and 5k. If I stepped up to face Marathon right now, I’d definitely get a game over and likely injure myself to the point where I could never face him again. These mini-bosses should get progressively harder as you continue on your quest. Start small and work your way up from there. If your goal is to loose 80lbs, start with 5lbs.
Grinding sucks. I even hate grinding in video games so honestly, this is the hardest part of the whole process. You have to be willing to take time to go out and just grind your little backside off. Grinding could mean grabbing those weights and just pumping out dozens of reps while you watch TV. For me, I love to grind on a treadmill. I can walk or jog with my Game Boy right in front of me, trying to hatch that darn shiny eevee. With grinding, just like in games, it’s best if you divide your attention away from the task so it almost becomes mindless. Put on a TV show while you do those crunches, get some of your favorite RPG battle songs to run to while you’re out on the track, or even drag the treadmill or exercise bike into the room with the TV so you can play your games while you run or pedal.
Allocate points carefully.
This is essentially making use of your exp tracker. Think of your food as different stats. Sugars and fat are great and all, but they’re like rare candy in Pokemon. You can use the heck out of them, but the stats will come out so much worse in the end than if you were to carefully allocate proteins, irons, and carbos as well. Every hero needs a good balance of speed, defense, hp, etc. Try to think of food as stats to allocate, and give yourself a limit. You can’t allocate more than X amount of points in a single day. If you go over, you loose exp and fall just that much short of your goal for the week—be it a mini boss or just getting ahead of your grinding.
One thing that helped me a lot is finding healthy alternatives to things I was already eating. Instead of milk, I went with almond milk to save me that point for something else later. I get fat-free stuff which took time to get used to, but now I really don’t mind the flavor. I go sugar-free, eat lean meats, etc. I didn’t cold turkey into any of it either; I made slow changes until I was used to them and I’ve developed a habit.
No hero wants to knock around baddies unless there’s something in it for them too. We’re motivated by little things- and it’s very important to set up accomplishments for yourself. Rewards can be small, like getting that iced coffee if you go out for a run that morning, or large, like finally allowing yourself to buy a new game if you manage to drop 5lbs that month. Set aside money in a jar or a coffee can every day—one or two bucks—and when you feel you’ve earned a reward, be sure to make it worth your while. Weekly rewards for keeping to your diet go a long way. Allow yourself a big breakfast; go out for pizza; do something so you don’t feel stuck chewing on carrots and slugging down almond milk.
Give your game a good soundtrack. When you go work out, make sure that you have a good playlist set up that will keep your heart pumping and your head in the game. Grab some compositions from your favorite video games and let your mind wander while you run or lift. Don’t focus on what you’re doing in that moment, instead picture yourself as a hero fighting little monsters to get that little bit by little bit of exp.
Get creative. Raid the internet for tips, recipes, and advice. I’ve discovered so many affordable and low-cost recipes on Pinterest, and now that I’ve built up a web of supportive party members, we’re exchanging ideas all the time. Mix up a great drink to take with you, plan out a fun dinner, just do something that’s fun and new so you don’t get bored with the same ol’ same ol’.
Stick to It!
I know that there is a log of generic advice here, and honestly there’s no such thing as a fresh idea when it comes to keeping healthy. However, we geeks are not programmed to enjoy running around after a ball or finding fulfillment in the walls of a gym. We want to be heroes, we want epic quests with grand adventures. We want to earn an achievement for our efforts, pick up a great prize for slaying the boss, and to have our peers clap as we do so. Geeks are stigmatized so badly because our passion keeps us in one place. My weight crept up on me and it took some mental programming to get myself to do something about it.
It’s very hard. I won’t say that it’s easy, nor will I say I’m done with my quest. Every day is a struggle. Someone brings a box of cookies into work and I can justify it for “just that once.” I stay up till 4 AM trying to get a little further in the latest find from GameStop and I don’t want to get up and run in the heat of the day. There’s a million excuses, but I’ve found that we can use our greatest weakness as our greatest strength. If we take all that we know from games and apply it to our lives with us as the hero, it sets up an entirely different outlook. You can resist that cookie because it’s not worth losing the exp you’re building up to go out on the town with the girls that Monday. You can get up and run in the full sun because you’ll gain more exp and you’re just so close to leveling up, ie, losing a pound! You can learn new recipes to boost your exp without taking away all the points you have for that day. Sometimes we throw down the remotes when we just can’t get past a certain boss or quest, but we have to remember to pick it up again or we’ll never see the true ending to our lifes on earth.