Mentally Obese?

Understanding mental fitness through the analogy with physical fitness

When I signed up for weeks of chicken breast and cucumbers diet, I thought the body I had at that time was not truly mine. I needed to reconcile it with what my body should have been. Long story short, within six months, my abs did not need angles or light to show the definition.

Here’s a problem, though:

I still did not feel like my body belonged to me! It was actually the opposite: my body ruled my life. Within the time I was rapidly moving from one level of physical fitness to the other, something in my head remained the same. My mental fitness stayed shitty no matter how visible my muscles became. I was mentally obese.

The concept of mental fitness (very different from mental health!) was unclear to me until I looked at it through the prism of physical fitness. Mental fitness is the state of your mindset that allows you to be resilient to small or large challenges of everyday life. You can put your mental fitness to work or you can get mentally obese. The funny part is that while mental fitness and physical fitness are intertwined, one is not a prerequisite or a condition for the other. You can smash your weights daily and be a candidate for the most aesthetic physique award, but remain a good impersonation of a potato sack mentally.


Physical Fitness

Mental Fitness

Macronutrients of the food we eat

Information we consume

The combination of protein, fat, and carbs helps us make a decision whether we include something in a diet or not. Ever heard someone saying they quit watching the news? This is an example of mental fitness diet.

There is a complication, though!

We can say with some certainty that binging on chocolates at 12am is definitely not the wisest nutrition choice. Hence, knowing how macronutrients affect your body, you can select an appropriate diet relatively easily. This is not the case with mental diet. Does flipping through the beautiful fitness images on Instagram make you feel like a can of paint stuck in your kitchen cabinet – useless and stale? Or does it make you throw out the last cookie in the house and run to the gym immediately? How different information affects your well-being takes much longer to understand and has no straightforward blueprint to work with.


Physical Fitness

Mental Fitness

Vitamins and dietary supplements we add

Mentors and encouragers we surround ourselves with

To perform well in physical fitness, we often need additional supplements. From vitamin C to spirulina, we pick and choose the additives that we might not die without but certainly feel better with.

A human being can have that spirulina effect on you, too! Those are the people whose presence makes you feel like you are making a first step towards being better. You could listen to them and get an urge to take an action right then and there. You would be fine without this conversation, but after it, you felt like you could conquer the world. Daily motivation and inspiration, a gentle nudge in the right direction or a magic kick in your ass – people who give you that are your supplements and vitamins.


Physical Fitness

Mental Fitness

Medicine to relieve the pain

Actions to soothe our suffering

We all get sick or hurt. Whether you are in the homeopathic camp or just reach for Tylenol, you use various types of painkillers to escape the pain and get back to feeling well, a pre-requisite for physical fitness. Painkillers, however, are not supplements. They are a fix, but not a solution. We’d rather not have to take painkillers.
Similarly, there could be a number of things that numb our suffering. The all-encompassing name for them is “escapism”. For some, it is comfort food, for others, it is watching a show. Making you feel better in an instant, escapism does not address the core reason for suffering, but rather just numbs it.


Physical Fitness

Mental Fitness

Gym and cardio

Visualization and meditation

You build your muscle in the gym by repetitive movements that lead to micro-breakages in the muscle fibers. Healing, these muscles grow longer and stronger. Cardio exercises train your heart muscle and help the body get rid of the toxins through sweat.
Analogically, mental fitness requires exercising of your mind. Visualizing positive things, you mentally condition yourself to move towards a desirable outcome and grow more resilient to challenges. Meditation, on the other hand, helps you focus and clear your mind from the toxic thoughts. Practicing both, you make your mind more agile to switch between relaxation and alertness, just like exercise helps switching between resting state and performance states.

Metrics and signs

Physical Fitness

Mental Fitness

Body composition, level of fat, energy, and mobility

Life disposition, self-regard, attitude, and behavior

Physical fitness usually reflects in the observable signs, like a level of fat and a level of energy.
Similarly, how a person behaves in social settings and how she treats herself are the signs of mental fitness.Here’s the catch, though:

Here’s the catch, though:

External fitness signs can easily diverge with the internal health. For example, someone with low body fat might be struggling with a major hormonal disbalance. Similarly, the observable behavior is not always reflective of the internal battles we are fighting.

External fitness signs can easily diverge with the internal health. For example, someone with a low body fat might be struggling with a major hormonal disbalance. Similarly, the observable behavior is not always reflective of the internal battles we are fighting.


Deceiving signs

Physical Fitness

Mental Fitness

Obsessive exercise and dieting

Forced positivity, outspoken stoicism

There are things that our society takes as fit at a face value. A gym rat might be someone who keeps their fitness at the highest standards and strives to inspire others. Not always! Non-stop workouts, admired among the bystanders, may be simply a sign of a battle with the negative body image or an attempt to overcompensate for other behaviors, like overeating.
In the same ways, non-compromised positivity and outspoken stoicism can be just a facade for a real struggle or a denial of a problem. In other words, someone with a smile on her face that always made you feel like “at least someone always has her shit together” may be just a good candidate for an acting award.

Bandages and gimmicks

Physical Fitness

Mental Fitness

Express diets and crush fitness courses, magic pills

One-time meditation, shopping

A one-time workout that leaves you sore for weeks is better than no workout at all. A week of dieting, provided that it’s not followed by a binge, is better than no diet. Yet, all or nothing approach will never result in fitness. A magic slimming pill or a tea, sold to you by an Instagram beauty, may feel like a step toward fitness, but it’s really just a gimmick that you sooner or later discover not working.

Similarly, there are a lot of bandages available to make you feel good about yourself for a moment. That feeling when you check a box in a self-care section! Once in a blue moon meditation, a new book on personal growth, a spa day, shopping – they all give shots of dopamine in your system but don’t last and make no difference for the overall mental fitness.

You can certainly be physically fit while your mental fitness is in a bad shape. Well, at least for some time until your unhealthy mindset finds its way to show up in your physical appearance. Gaining weight despite exercising, plateauing, insomnia, mood swings – are some of the signs. So even if you got your physical fitness fix, maybe your mindset needs a rigid workout program and a revision of a diet. Get it to work!


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