Q: Erika, I have to admit, I am miserable! I hate this, but I know I need it. I want to lose weight, but I stink, I’m always sweaty, I’m not eating what I want, I’m not doing what I want, I can’t go clubbin’, I can’t hang with my friends, I can’t go to restaurants with them… I am just unhappy!

Can I have my social life back? Or does this ever become fun?

Not really.

I mean, I’m just being honest. Let’s just say it’s complicated.

If an active lifestyle is in stark contrast to how you used to live, then it’s safe to say that this won’t be fun for you. If you’re used to being pretty and prissy in the “perfectly contoured face, every strand of hair straightened, dress sitting perfectly, breasts perched high, heels on point,” then no. This likely won’t be fun for you. The fitness-focused activity will feel like a burden, it will feel frustrating, it’ll likely feel like something you didn’t ask for. All you asked for was to “lose this damned weight.”

I get it. Trust me, I do. I have a wardrobe full of high heels, dresses, suits. I didn’t even wear jeans.

And, when all I was doing was going to the gym, watching an hour of TV on the elliptical while I ‘grinded‘ my ass off, I was equally as miserable. This doesn’t reflect me, it doesn’t represent me, it for damn sure doesn’t make me happy, and – to make matters worse – it was screwing up my hair. At that point in my life, those things mattered. As in, big damn deal.

When I got to the point in my journey where I really started making progress, it was because I began centering my life around fitness and eating healthily… but I did it mindlessly. I scheduled my life around the times I knew I’d need to be cooking. I scheduled my travel around which areas has the best grocery stores, the most realistic food service options, and the easiest access to walking/running spaces. My priorities shifted towards focusing on being active as opposed to being my kind of cute, and it paid off for me in a way that I’m thankful for.

But why?

What I was learning without realizing it, was that we have to be honest with ourselves about the fact that, more often than not, the way we live affects how fit we can be. Have you ever heard the phrase, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten?” That applies here, wholeheartedly.

When people approach weight loss as if they merely need to take a vacation from the way they used to live, they set themselves up for disappointment – sure, you can spend a few weeks “doing the right things” and losing the pounds, but the challenge is as follows: the thing that’s contributing to the unwanted weight gain will be waiting for you when you return to your old habits.

What lots of people miss about weight gain, maintenance, and loss, is the fact that the way you live contributes to each of those. And you can have components in your life that contribute to weight loss, and components that contribute to weight gain. When those two are balanced out evenly, you have weight maintenance – neither a loss nor a gain happening. However – when you have a lifestyle that promotes unwanted weight gain, in order to experience permanent weight loss, you have to change the components of your lifestyle that contribute to that weight gain and replace them with activities that can not only get you to whatever fitness/physique you desire…but also keep you there.

I feel like that’s a lot of words just to say “that’s why we call this a lifestyle change.”

It’s easy to see why the clubbing and the restaurants might need to go. Clubs and bars encourage drinking – that’s how they make their money; it certainly isn’t off the door – and women are prone to drinking fruity cocktails full of simple syrups (simple syrup is equal parts water and refined white sugar) and juices. Restaurants can be an easy problem if you’re going to places selling Loaded Potato Skins and Mozzarella Sticks and Buffalo Wings with Ranch Dipping Sauce or other kinds of “bar food fare.” If you’re out at a chain restaurant with a group of friends, the experience lends itself to lots of appetizers, big junky shareable orders, and lots of oily, fatty, entrees.

It’s also easy to see why hanging out with the girls all the time can pose a problem. Are your girls active? Do they regularly work out? Do they take walks, eat healthier, and so on? More importantly, do they snark on you when you do those things? It’s perfectly okay to realize that your friends aren’t compatible with the new shift in your life. It doesn’t mean you have to cut them out completely, but it does mean you have to shift some things around: would your friends be willing to do an activity instead of going to a restaurant? Would they go to an event somewhere instead of a club? Would your friends be equally as willing to be more active as you have been?

If the answer is no, then you have to be more judicious with your time, and you have to be okay with that. More importantly, if your friends genuinely want the best for you – and have decided that what’s for you might not necessarily be for them – they’ll support you and not take it personally.

Everything up to this point sounds like bad news, right? I know. It sucks a little bit.

Here’s the upside.

If you’re miserable with what you’re doing, do something else. There are spin classes, regular boot camps, aerobics classes, crossfit, boxing, cycling, dance classes, pole fitness, twerk classes, and damn near everything under the sun that you can use to your advantage to help you get into the shape you want. I chose running because it was cheap, I could do it anytime, it gave me some alone time and peace, and I didn’t need anything other than the great outdoors and some good kicks. I cannot stress that cheap part enough. Not only that, but it burned a ton of calories. When I was celibate and had a little more money, I started taking pole fitness classes so I could still feel like I had my mojo while also getting in a little burn (and bruise, oy) while boosting my ego by learning a few new tricks.

As much as I recognize how happy the average aerobics class makes some people feel, I’d be miserable in them. If my journey into fitness consisted of Jane Fonda videos, I would’ve been said a swear word and reached for my old favorite chips (Ruffles, in case you were wondering.) And, if anyone would’ve told me I had to run any faster than the 17-minute mile I was originally pulling off, I would’ve been miserable then, too.

Just because it works for others, doesn’t mean it will work for you. And, just because it helps you burn calories doesn’t mean it’ll make you happy. This isn’t your job – it doesn’t pay your bills. It is something you choose to do on your free time, and it needs to contribute to your happiness. And there are too many activities out there that burn a bajillion calories for you to stick with one that leaves you miserable. Even better? When you’re consistent with your new activity, you start to make friends who have the same fitness-centered interests as you, and….

….it finally starts to become fun.

All in all, the goal is to find a way to make an active lifestyle work for you. Find different kinds of classes in your area, and vow to try a few of them every once in a while so that you can see which ones make you happiest. Look for a gym that has a monthly fee where there’s a plethora of classes available every day so that you can save on the expense. Look for healthy renditions of your favorite meals – lower in fat, lower in refined carbs, high in veggies with a good amount of protein – and don’t be afraid to have a little portion of your favorite ‘splurge meal’ – for lack of a better phrase – every once in a while.

The entire point of calling it a “journey” is to reinforce the fact that this is about you learning what kind of healthy lifestyle makes you happy. There are infinite and endless combinations, and it’s up to you to find the ones that work for you best. And, when you find yourself sliding into unhappiness again, move on to the next activity. It’s truly about finding what works best for you. Once you do that, you’ll be fine. I promise.

Oh, and as for the stink, regular showers & Mitchum or Primal Pit Paste. Trust me. If it works for my 8yo, it’ll work for you.