Fear and insecurity can turn physical fitness into an addiction. While most of us consider the pursuit of physical fitness to be a great habit, for me, it was a painful cycle disguised as a healthy practice. The more unsatisfied I was with myself, the more strenuous, restrictive, and consistent my exercise and diet became.
Looking back, it’s clear to see that dissatisfaction, not poor health, was what propelled me to dedicate more than twenty years of my life to fitness. I strongly believe that the reason fitness and fit people are so popular is because most of us are attracted to the idea of having a “healthy distraction” from our inner conflicts.
Although it is true that exercise and physical attractiveness can improve our overall health and lift our self-esteem, using these methods to hide our pain can also result in increased, unnecessary suffering. I don’t know anything healthier than having the courage to dive deeper into our own hearts for answers.
To be healthy is to be loving!
The links between my painful past and fitness became clear to me after a period of major inner turbulence. I knew that most compulsive behaviors had their roots in traumatic experiences, but I never connected my obsession with fitness with my lingering inner pain from the past. I believed I was a strong person who had overcome pain because I had a fit and healthy body to prove it, as well as a life that seemed to be driven by (and built on) authentic and exciting experiences. However, the truth was that my fitness habits, to a great extent, were escapism.
To be healthy is to be loving.
Given how exercise, diet, and even therapy can become traps for a painful emotional reality, it’s crucial for us be aware of the fundamental causes of our suffering.
Think of how we might sometimes consciously (or unconsciously) believe that we are not good enough or not worthy of happiness. When this happens, we then begin to work hard in pursuit of this worthiness.
As a result, anything external that gives us the illusion that we deserve happiness for our effort will also become our own created prison.
This cycle of sustaining habits out of fear turns exercise and diet (or whatever our external source of happiness is) into negative forces, thus compounding the root problem as we live for our bodies and for conditioned emotional stability through abusive mechanisms.
This can cause disharmony within the heart, creating a state of mind where true happiness cannot exist.
To be healthy is to be loving.
Susan had a session with me at two in the afternoon. I was not feeling well after Destiny’s encounter. During lunch, my thoughts had been much more centered on love and kindness, and this reflection was hovering over me when Susan arrived. She’d been training with me for a couple of months.
I began chatting with her about these tender reflections. In the middle of our session, I said, “Susan, you know what I’ve begun to realize?”
“What?” she asked.
“That the foundation of health is love; how can we feel comfortable in our bodies if we are not in love with life? Does that make sense to you?”
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She looked at me as if she was thinking about it. Then she said, “Valeria, can you please get the mat for my next buttocks workout?”
We continued with the session as if I’d never brought up the insignificance of a fit body without a loving heart and a happy mind.
Karen was my last client for the day. We met at seven sharp, right after Steve.
Karen was an obese woman I trained twice a week. She was thirty years old, weighed 250 pounds, and was 5’ 2”. However, these numbers don’t say anything about her as a person. She was a painter who owned her own gallery in Manhattan. The serenity in her eyes and the way she smiled for no reason introduced her to me before she even told me her name.
She had been married for more than five years to someone who was in good shape. I knew this because her husband came to pick her up after our sessions. The conversation we had the first day we met left me pondering about life for days.
I asked the same question I asked every client before we began the program: What are your three main fitness goals?
Karen said she only had one goal: to enjoy the workouts.
I recall looking into her eyes as if she had not understood my question. I rephrased it, and this time I was more specific.
“I understand, Karen, and I will ensure that the exercises will be fun, but what I meant was, how many pounds do you want to lose?”
Again, she answered with a smile and said she didn’t care about the weight; she just wanted to feel good during and after the workouts. Furthermore, she said it didn’t matter if she didn’t lose any weight at all. Her peaceful eyes and joyful smile reinforced the truth of her words.
I could not believe this woman and how out of touch with reality she was. She was obese, for God’s sake! She could actually die of a heart attack at any moment, and my mind refused to believe that anyone could be at peace with a body like hers. It couldn’t be possible.
I insisted. I tried to force her to make a deal with me, and asked her to agree on losing one to two pounds per week.
Once more with the same serene, happy look on her face, she replied that I didn’t understand her. Patiently, she repeated that she was fine with her weight and that she enjoyed her work. She was a person who loved and was loved by her family and friends. Her life was a blessing, and she was grateful for what she had. There was nothing else to be added or removed to make her happier. The workouts with me were just to get her body moving while she had some fun.
I wasn’t amazed by her attitude, because I neither understood nor believed in what she was saying at the time. Nevertheless, after our encounter that day, I went home thinking about her, and I remembered a thought I’d had when I was a teenager, one that had returned many times throughout my life.
I would die young.
I believed I would not reach the age of thirty, despite being physically healthy.
Perhaps intuitively, I knew that my heart could fail at any time because of my lack of understanding of what life was really about: love and kindness.
I am convinced that Karen became my client for a reason—to teach me that to be healthy is to be loving. She trained with me for almost a year, and never lost any weight.
Karen was the healthiest client I ever had.
A simple practice we can engage in to cultivate peace and harmony is to give up hope and replace it with aspiration or motivation from the heart—that is, to stop waiting to be happy when something happens. Instead, rejoice in this very moment because what you are doing now should already be the realization of what you want to happen in the future.
The moment we choose to recognize our experiences in the world as lessons of love, life turns into a lucid dream. This recognition can come from the depths of our hearts or from spiritual awareness—brought about through the senseless suffering caused by our minds. Either way, the main difference between a nightmare and a lucid dream is a shift of our perception grounded in love. In the dream of life, there are many mountains to climb every day, and they might crumble, the dust might blur our vision, fear might replace our hope, but if we have faith and recognize our own essence, WE will never fall again.
We know that the best way to lose weight is to eat less, especially of foods that are high in calories. Sugar is a well-known adversary of weight loss. But before depriving ourselves of healthy fats and sweets, it’s wise to try to understand the real reasons we eat more than necessary. I believe that wishful thinking and fear are subconsciously operating in our minds when it comes to our eating patterns. Food can become an addiction, often stemming from emotional triggers when we wish our lives to be different. Steven Pressfield, the famous writer, once wrote: “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us.”
The way I see it, having the courage to realize the unlived life within is essential to our physical and psychological health. Trusting this moment for what is—this is courage. Feeling grateful for what we have can empower us to follow our hearts, thus making each moment fulfilled and joyful. The happier we are within, the less preoccupied with food we become.
The perfection of this moment embraces us with unconditional love for our spiritual wealth, for who we truly are—there is nothing lacking.
KIND HEARTS...STRONG BODIES...PEACEFUL MINDS.... Fit for joy!
Much, much love!
Nothing in the past can hurt us when we have learned a lesson from it. Nothing can happen in the future that is not happening now. Our job is to recognize in the present moment the peace and joy in our hearts.
We have the choice to change our minds when we can't change the situation we find ourselves in. Instead of perceiving a commitment to finish our work with dreadful anxiety, we can live in these moments with a sense of excitement.
Embrace the challenge of being creative, thus tapping into the unborn parts of the mind that are not habitually conditioned to perceiving external events.
The main difference between anxiety and excitement is the energy behind these feelings: one is driven by negative thoughts (anxiety), and the other by positive ones. All of the unnecessary suffering in our lives is self-created, and so is our happiness.
When we are able to perceive reality with an inner “eye” that can’t see itself, our hearts will have become the source of unconditioned joy.
I now see that my "fit and healthy" lifestyle was made up of a series of these kinds of experiences. I was very disciplined, but this discipline was turning me into the opposite of a loving and happy person. I came to realize that the pursuit of a fit and healthy body could only be a positive thing if we’ve already recognized our spiritual hearts as perfectly fit to provide us with a life of happiness and peace. In other words, although a fit body can improve our health, earn compliments that boost our self-esteem, and give us a temporary “high” of accomplishment, without a content mind and joyful heart, our happiness won’t last long. When our health and feel-good states depend on external conditions and constant hard work, this can propel us into an endless, destructive cycle.
From my experience with fitness, I can confidently say that the motivation to have a healthy body should not be based on fear, but on love. One of the hardest negative mental habits to break is the constant need for the approval of others. This habit can result in physical and emotional abuse (as happened to me), by propelling us to overtrain our bodies so that we will be accepted and complimented by others. The more I abused my body at the gym, the more people praised me, and the more I was motivated to keep doing it—to the extent that I even signed up for competition shows. As you can see, this was not that different from a drug addiction. My lack of self-respect and self-love was great enough to keep me open to doing anything that gave me that “approval-acceptance” high.
After many insights and lessons, I’ve learned to have self-love without selfishness; to recognize which behaviors are motivated by love rather than fear; to see how closely connected my past is to my present; and that love, joy, and peace are at the core of our true nature with regard to how we relate to others and the world. My new spiritual understanding not only gave deeper meaning to my life, but it has also caused external changes I could never have imagined.
"Bravo’s dusty roads were still paths for bull-driven carriages, which squeezed between the houses in a cloud of dust. The carriage conductor would scream loudly to give directions to the bulls. He wore leather pants and a leather jacket under the fierce sun, and whipped the bulls with two dirty ropes. From far off, I could hear the loud creaking of the carriage’s dry wooden chassis carrying large bags of beans and corn.
The sound grew louder and louder as it approached our street. It was a bit scary at first, but it always became the attraction of the week. I would rush to the window, covering my eyes with my fingers so as not to be blinded by the dust. I couldn’t open my mouth to laugh or scream either, unless I wanted to have dust for lunch.
I still enjoyed the passing of the giant, creaking carriage dragged by bulls and whipped by a wild man. Bravo seemed not to care about its bull-driven carriages making loud noises and clouds of dust. It was simply the space that allowed a bull to be a bull and a man to be a wild conductor."
"After days of dwelling on my detached feelings and memories of the past charged with discontent, there was a moment of silent melancholy and then a question. This question would change everything: ‘What would you do if you were still alive?’
I knew the answer well.
I’d listen to my heart..."
Below you will find a sample of the diet that I was on for about two years before I competed with WBFF – World Beauty Fitness and Fashion. This dietary system, combined with weight lifting, can be of great help for losing weight, staying in shape, and building muscle and strength. But as I have mentioned throughout my book, Fit for Joy, this type of regiment mainly focuses on the physical body, which is only one aspect of our being. We are so much more than just our bodies! The approach to fitness that works the body in isolation from our mind and our spiritual heart is not what I do today, professionally or personally. My work at the moment is about integrating conventional physical fitness with spirituality.
These meal suggestions are only to illustrate what my personal journey was like. They are not approved meal-plan recommendations.
BREAKFAST Option One
8 oz cold water with a probiotic supplement
1 tablespoon matcha green tea + ½ lemon
1-2 whole eggs
BREAKFAST Option Two
1 salmon filet oven-roasted with coconut oil
BREAKFAST Option Three
Steel-cut oats, almond milk, berries
Any lean meat of your choice: white fish (sole, cod, flounder, or halibut), grass-fed red meat, tuna fish, wild salmon, chicken breast, turkey breast, sardines in water.
Eat with steamed veggies or a green salad.
Avoid sauces; instead use olive oil, apple cider vinegar, and avocado oil for salad dressing.
Snack - Best Options:
1 tablespoon spirulina shake with ½ oz. frozen organic berries and a teaspoon of coconut oil
Green juice (no fruit added)
Protein shake (whey protein)
Nuts (walnuts, macadamias, pecans, Brazil nuts)
Raw coconut flakes
Celery, cucumber, or carrots with almond butter
Kale chips or dried seaweed
Raw cheese (unpasteurized)
Sweet potato chips (homemade)
The same options as lunch
*Important – Avoid:
All sugar and sweets
Regular fruit, except for berries and green apples
Starchy carbs such as pasta, bread, rice, wheat wraps, white potatoes, etc.
Kombucha drinks or tea
All kinds of tea, but especially green tea (no sugar added)
Coffee (no sugar added)
Sleep 8 hours or more per night
Drink a gallon of water every day, as well as green tea
All vegetables and fruit should be organic
Adding lemon to your meals is great – it alkalizes the body
You can have a small piece of dark chocolate 85% cacao or higher, but not every day
Use stevia powder as the only sweetener