Last week my husband was able to join me for my third childbirth class. He had been traveling for work and I had kept him filled in on the content. The class is deeply rooted in the importance of treating birth as a natural process (not a medical procedure) and they preach the importance of maintaining a positive attitude not only during labor but in the weeks leading up to the big day as well. Big plusses in our book. Most of the information and videos are very empowering, and remove a lot of fear that surrounds childbirth.
But then there’s the filler. Up until a certain point, I sort of ignored it because I was there to get the benefits of this course’s tenets, not to drink the kool-aid. I absorbed the things I considered to be beneficial, and the rest I threw out with the bath water. But having my husband present as we watched portions of a 90s scare-tactic documentary (complete with appropriate celebrity narrator, alarming background music, and intense sound bites) heightened my awareness. I could feel his eyes rolling as he mentally stored talking points for later. In my mind, I hit “delete” and the class continued.
It goes without saying that courses in nearly every discipline come with at least a bit of propaganda. This is nothing new. Even subject matters that really hold my interest (specific college classes, professional seminars, continuing education lectures, etc.) do it. Have you ever been in a class where everyone buys into what the instructor is selling? It’s contagious. Cult-like. Everyone feels energized, they are happy to discuss and share during the lecture, and you leave feeling pumped and ready to implement what you just learned. It’s sort of a little high, knowing that you and a couple hundred other people are all on the same page.
On the drive home, I reminded my husband to keep the commentary to a minimum. We completed a bunch of great exercises at the close of class and I was feeling calm and positive. I didn’t want a few critical comments to ruin my “buzz”. Fortunately, we were able to have a light-hearted discussion and I confirmed that I was glad to have him there for support. He may not have been into all the techniques discussed during class, but he was a trooper and was supportive of my reasoning for wanting to attend. As we discussed some of the extreme commentary from class, he said, “Why can’t normal people eat kale?”
I didn’t understand what he was talking about until he repeated himself later in the week. The point he was trying to make was along the lines of, ‘Why can’t I just eat healthy without having to drive a hybrid and name my kid Pheather?’ Or in the case of my birthing class, ‘Why can’t we strive for a natural childbirth without someone trying to instill a fear of western medicine (aka 'the man')?’
These types of situations exist everywhere, most notably for me in the fitness realm. Our lives are filled with a sort-of “beat ‘em or join ‘em” attitude. You run 5Ks from time to time? I don't care if you run a sub-6:00 mile, you’re not a real runner until you do a marathon. How about triathlon? Iron-distance is where it's at. You’ve been lifting weights for a few months? What do you bench? CrossFitters. They do everything…as long as it's CrossFit. Functional fitness fanatics. Of course they wouldn’t be caught dead doing bicep curls. You try to eat clean? Watch out for bashing from the macro folks. You track your macros? Watch out for the clean eaters telling you about all the sh*t you’ve been ingesting. And your neighbor, the natural food nazi? How many times has she told you that everything she eats is so much healthier because it is organic? Even that double cheese and sausage Amy's Pizza. I could go on and on. And we would all get a good laugh at the countless stereotypes.
My point is, there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground in fitness for a lot of folks today. That makes me unhappy. Many people feel the need to identify with a group, sport, or style of gym in order to experience "fitness". But the truth is, the average American just wants to be a little bit better, a little bit healthier, and become a little bit fitter. They want to be “normal”.
Consider a co-worker whose unspoken goal is to walk his dog a couple of times a week. Or your cousin that is trying to cut her soda intake to two a day. The gal you see at the gym who does more socializing that exercising. The neighborhood runner that does the same route on MWF, then double the distance on Saturday. Or the retiree who has been doing the 8:30 cardio step class for years. They are all just trying to make something happen. And honestly, aren’t we all? Most of us are not podium-takers, award-winners, or overly inspiring. We just need to move a little more and eat a little better.
Do these folks need some help and direction? Probably. And they would benefit from a little structure, for sure. But don’t mistake “normal” for weak, overweight, or unregimented. “Normal” doesn’t mean tying one on every Friday and Saturday night, or hitting the burger bar every day for lunch. “Normal” people don’t cut every workout in half, or skip out on their corrective drills. You don’t need to be a pro to understand that if your afternoon errands run long, you can still reap the benefits of squeezing in 15 minutes of ABC…even when it really should have been 30 minutes of XYZ.
Through countless interactions I have had with clients over the years, I discovered the happiest and often healthiest adults are those that meet one important trait: moderation. I know it’s cliché, but so true. Folks that live moderately understand that life happens, and they find a balance between living for others and living for themselves. Lastly, they don’t freak out if they miss a workout or indulge in an adult beverage (or two) or rich dessert. You’ll never see them shoving a ziplock of raw veggies into their purse before heading out on date night.
So, I return to the question, “Why can’t normal people eat kale?” The answer is simply, “They can. No tree-hugger-hipster ID required.” People who train/exercise and eat moderately understand that you don’t have to be committed to a particular label in order to succeed. You don’t have to compete every weekend, or be an ironman, or eat paleo, or lift five times a week. You do what you can to maintain balance and reduce stress.
People who live moderately incorporate a variety of healthy foods into their diet but still enjoy a boozy or creamy indulgence on occasion. They don’t feel guilty about eating dessert at a friend’s wedding, and they don’t feel crazy for squeezing in an intense circuit before lunch. They may only be able to squat 25 pounds, but that’s more than 6 months ago; they’re happy about that. They don’t feel “granola” for making a meatless meal that includes grains and vegetables that most people cannot pronounce. They enjoy healthy competition, but don’t win any awards. No matter how slow they move, they are still lapping the folks at home on the couch. They are “normal”.
Don't take for granted the importance of moderation. Some people struggle to make a single improvement in their health and fitness habits, hoping to one day reach moderation...their new normal.
How normal are you? Share your version below.