Average to Athlete: The Problem With “Skinny” (& How to Set Healthy Goals)

by Jacob Warwick
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Average to Athlete: The Problem With “Skinny” (& How to Set Healthy Goals)

There I was in Europe with my athlete buddy and his personal trainer, making a life decision. I was the subject of a personal health intervention, and trust me it wasn’t any fun. It was made worse through some of their ribbing while I tried to eat healthier. I often heard taunts from the group, like “Are you on a vacation or a diet?,” when I tried to pass on a round of beers.

The fitness trainer had been asking me about my goals, and in reality, I only had one: Be skinny. “You want to be skinny?” he asked. “Yeah, like, not fat (Duh.),” I had replied. I thought this was a dumb question—doesn’t everyone want to be skinny?

The real answer is no, but I just didn’t know any better. I wanted that chiseled look, like the men on the covers of magazines. The trainer asked me to re-evaluate what I really wanted, and to check back in with him in a few days.

I really should have known better—I once Photoshopped my face on a taut, 6-pack-abs body back in high school, it’s really not that difficult to create a “perfect” image of yourself. Yet, I never stopped to think about whether or not that cover model had himself really been that perfect. Or whether that perfection was really the end-all-be-all goal I believed it to be. Clearly, the trainer was challenging me to see the truth.

A few days passed, and I succumbed to the enjoyment of the trip by going out every evening and indulging in over-the-top experiences. Waffles, wine, big, cheesy burgers, German beer—man, what a party! I certainly wasn’t working toward that “be skinny” goal.

We traveled to London, Paris, Pisa, and a number of places I still can’t pronounce. And I noticed that my friend and his trainer never quite participated in the eating and drinking to the same extent as I did, and yet they still seemed to be enjoying themselves. I began to realize that, although faced with the same temptations, there was a bit of self-control being exercised, and healthier decisions were being made.

During this period, I struggled through some crazy gym sessions, but steadily I gained confidence. I discovered how impossible it is to drop 40 to 50 pounds all at once (you know, to “be skinny”), so I began to make smaller goals that I could achieve daily to stay on track. Some of them seemed miniscule, but they helped me develop healthy habits that I could stick with even after the trip. Things like: reducing my soda consumption by drinking more water, looking for healthier options on menus, and spending 15 minutes a day reading up on healthy eating and nutrition. Here’s how you can set (and achieve!) more realistic fitness goals, too.

1. Start with one big, ambitious goal Pick something that drives you. This should be a long-term goal that will be obtainable over time. Perhaps you’d like to run a 5K, lose 10, 50, or even 100 pounds, or maybe you’d like to climb Mount Everest one day—you name it, with concerted effort and long-term focus and training, you can achieve this goal!

2. Create intermediate goals What can you reach for this month? I found that achieving the mid-level goals, helped to keep me moving forward. To be honest, I learned more during the process of dropping those 50 pound than I did from the actual accomplishment of it. (Yes, stepping on that scale and finally seeing the number I wanted felt great. But all the little milestones I hit along the way felt even better!) Make a plan, and figure out the processes that need to take place in order to achieve your intermediate goals—the results will surprise you.

3. Set small goals daily to stay motivated Whether it’s going to the gym or pushing yourself to hit a PR, I’ve learned that accomplishing something every day, no matter how small, adds up to greatness. The idea is to challenge yourself to be a little bit better today than you were yesterday. Sometimes that means grabbing a heftier dumbbell at the gym, other times it means listening to your body and taking a rest day. It might even mean something even smaller, like serving yourself one scoop of ice cream instead of two. You set the bar!

What are your big, intermediate, and small goals? Share your strategies for reaching them in the comments below!


  • Celida

    Great article! It finally hit me that I will be 40 years old next month and that I need to start making some changes if I want to be around for my family. I have struggled with my weight my whole life. I have been able to lose up to 50 lbs in the past by dieting only. However, I was never able to stick to any fitness routine. This time, I started with the big goal of working out for 6 days a week, for at least 1/2 hour per day and for a whole year! I started waking up early because it is the only way I can get the workout in because I have a very hectic schedule. I am a mother, I work full time and I commute to work for an average of 2.5 hours per day. After a few weeks of working out (my workouts were following the “Walking at Home” of Leslie Sansone), I started setting little goals like eating more fresh fruit, then I started adding a green salad a day. I didn’t check the scale at all until after 1 month of starting this personal challenge. I started to feel great and more energized. My next intermediate goal was not to gain weight during my 3 week summer vacation. Historically, I always gained weight during every vacation. I not only managed not to gain weight but I actually lost 8 pounds during my vacation. Some of my next little goals included not to cheat as much during the weekend and downsize it to one meal instead of a whole day of cheating. I slowly increased the intensity of my workouts and I started to add weight training by following the Fitness Blender videos on YouTube. Today, I feel very accomplished because it was my goal not to overeat at the Food Day at work. Food Days are a regular thing in my new department and I was never able to stop the temptation of so much food next to me. I am proud to say that I only had one donut hole and that I was not tempted at all by anything else, in fact, I was turned off. Long story short, it has been 4 full months and I have lost 30 pounds, gained more confidence and muscle. My journey is still undergoing so any other tips that you can provide would be much appreciated!

    • Celida, I will keep posting tips! You are doing an incredible job. Be sure to keep your head up when you are unsure. I find myself questioning myself. I will write an article on being positive and striving on!

  • ScottysPearl

    My big goal is to lose 95 lbs. I have been told by many doctors that my situation is hopeless. I refuse to accept this. First we talk about PCOS, and they tell me what an uphill battle I have to fight. Then we add my hypothyroidism, and they tell me it’s unlikely I will ever get results. Then they hear about a total hysterectomy at age 32 and the next thing they always say… “Have you considered gastric bypass surgery?” It’s devastating. Well, I am happy to say that I didn’t give up, kept trying new things, and have now lost 16 lbs! I searched for gastric bypass diet without the surgery, and found an article about Sweden changing their national healthy diet curriculum after much research. It sounded insane because it goes against everything we were ever taught in health class, but I read on. Turns out that the food pyramid concept was written by a lady in the 1800’s with no special education or research. She just decided what she felt was good and right, and she happened to have the ear of someone in a position to push her agenda.

    Well, I feel fantastic on it, and against all odds and after so very many failed and often costly attemps, I am loosing weight and not going under the knife! It isn’t easy, and it isn’t for everyone, wit it worked for me. Between the L.C.H.F lifestyle and myfitnesspal, I am doing the impossible.

    • sandra

      Very good job! I, too, struggle with PCOS. My doctor put me on merformin and recommended a low carb, low fat diet, high in whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables. Have lost 20 lbs and am still going. I do yoga and light weight training mixed with light cardio.


    • Becky6621

      You are not alone! I have PCOS, Hypothyroidism and have had a hysterectomy so boy do I relate. My big goal is to lose 56 more lbs I have lost 22 since August. What I want is to no longer be considered obese or over weight on any weight chart. I want a 32 in waist. If I get to a 32 inch waist and haven’t lost the 56lbs, I will be happy.
      It is a battle every day. Some times I win the battle, some days I lose. But as long as I keep battling I will win the war. Because losing the war is not an option. We have to work harder than younger people who have less working against them. But, that doesn’t mean we cannot win, it just means we have to fight longer and harder to attain the goals that others can achieve much easier.
      But with every pound lost I feel so much better. Its nice to know I am not the only one out there battling away and winning.

  • I think it’s so important to mix big goals in with little daily ones. When I signed up for my 1/2 marathon, knowing that I had to run 13+ miles on xx date got me out of bed each morning to do my runs – no matter what. But having small achievable goals each day helps prevent burnout and keeps your spirits high when they are easy to accomplish… Thanks for sharing Jacob!

    • You’re absolutely right Meg. Small goals can help us everyday, in fact, I need to get 3 miles in today!

    • Ed Taylor

      This is so true. I did the same thing training for a half. But, one thing I did NOT expect is that when I was training – running 5-8 miles a day, I was hungry ALL the TIME. Burning like 800-1000 calories a day in exercise, I was fine, BUT when I stopped training for the race (which I did complete), I had lost many of my healthy eating habits that got me to the point of being able to train for a marathon in the first place. Put all of my weight back on (70 lbs.) 🙁 Now, I’m back to fundamentals – re-tooling my diet and nice, healthy exercise goals.

  • ellie

    thanks for this post. I like the idea of a big plan with daily goals. as a long-time runner, I know this works. And it never hurts to add in other activities, like swimming and biking, for variety and extra challenge. Great tips, thanks!

  • Pika67

    Like others have indicated, I too have struggled with my weight my entire life. While I have recently starting being more active – working out a couple times a week and running on the weekends – it always comes down to the food I eat.

    I love to cook and I love to eat, especially junk food. I don’t know what it is, but it comforts me on some basic level. I can manage it for a few weeks, lose a few pounds then completely fall off the wagon.

    Your description of “self control” and “healthier decisions” seems deceptively simple. Any specific tactics that you’d like to share?? I’d welcome any and all thoughts on this!!

    • Self control is a day to day struggle really. I do my best to limit temptations by simply avoiding it. (Not purchasing anything bad) – The challenge often times comes from work. Seems that there are always donuts and crap around. Yikes! Keep your chin up and do the best you can everyday. The little changes will ad up. Just don’t feel like you are depriving yourself.

  • Tracye Spears

    1/1/15: I will find a new job this

    1/1/15: This year, I am going to
    continue losing weight. By summer, I will be at my goal weight of 150 lbs. I
    will be successful by:

    1. Logging my foods

    2. Continuing to exercise 2-3 times per week (on my days

    3. With-staining from alcohol, starting with the month of

    4. Continuing to eat right

    The last 2 months have been a little slower because I have
    let myself indulge over the holidays. However, the holidays are over! It is
    time to get back on track and make sure that I am treating my body the way that
    it needs to be treated!