How disbelief in other’s achievements underscores our own ineptitude and unwillingness to work for real results
(Dear Reader: this is another long read, hopefully with a good payoff. This is the other side of the coin from what I’ve written lately about how we are fooled by fake photos and movie images.)
“What are you on?”
“What pills are you taking?”
“You HAVE to be using something to get those results.”
Honestly. This is where we are as a society.
Lemme back up here to yesterday morning, Friday, March 19th, 6:43 am. Genuine Fitness, Eugene, Oregon, just my fitness trainer Ryan and myself.
Ryan’s got a lot of energy. He makes a point — usually while I’m grunting out something painful on the floor, but I’m still attending- often by moving around or leaping from side to side. He’s moving all the time. I can see why that might drive some people mildly nuts. He’s the Energizer Bunny on steroids.
Ryan and I are a lot alike. We get along perfectly because we don’t see each other’s energy levels as manic or bipolar or out of the ordinary. We exude that spring-loaded energy of people who exercise a lot, eat well, drink a lot of water and feel like a billion bucks on most days. Comes with the territory.
Ask Joseph Geary. Warren Nelson. Vienna De Vega. I could go on. Those are among those folks who, like me, are inching towards eighty, in superb shape, and none of us pound chemicals to be where we are or do what we do. We just do the work, and in that community are those of us who have been at it for our entire lives.
That coiled energy for Ryan is the result of spending the last 24 years in the gym, never drinking, never doing drugs, eating carefully for his body, and marrying someone of like values. He and I both have very similar Jungian personality styles, which is another piece of the puzzle. In this case, our mutual intense energies, which are natural to our type, are also fueled by a lifetime of healthy habits.
That’s why he’s my personal fitness trainer. He knows who I am, he knows my values. And by god, he also knows that if I tell him that I have incorporated his last Hairy Beast exercise into my regular routine, he bloody well knows that I did, because when we meet once weekly, he can see the improvement. We don’t bullshit each other, because we are similarly committed to health. No drugs, no supplements, no enhancements (okay okay, the boobs, but they have a purpose and it ain’t muscular). What we are and how we look are the result of years and years of hard work.
While I did some stupid shit to my body with eating disorders, I still have consistently spent some 47 years in the gym, focused on eating well especially once I healed myself, never drinking, never doing drugs. I smoked as a teen, quit as a teen and that’s all she wrote.
We are peas in the same pod.
Not a crowded space. The longer you and I continue this journey of health, the more folks assume we’re “on something.”
Will you just PLEASE.
Here’s the problem. During our weekly workout session, while Ryan was giving me some new torture to build leg strength post-Covid, he was telling me how when he was twenty, none of his pals believed he didn’t drink or do drugs.
Of course you do, they said.
That’s the least of it.
Fast forward many years later. Ryan’s been a member of the very strict drug- free bodybuilding association for years. If you get caught doing any kinds of drugs, you are banned for life, if you used those drugs to win a competition. If you are a current drug user, and you want to compete drug-free, you have to wait….wait for it….
You read that right. So Ryan’s been at it since sixteen, I’ve been at it at the gym since 21 or so. Neither of us has ever used drugs, illegal or unhealthy supplements or any kind of chemical enhancement. My supplements are a B-100 and B-12, a probiotic since I am no longer allowed yogurt or fermented products, and lutein for eye health.
But nobody believes that. It’s not in their wheelhouse. They don’t do it themselves, so nobody else does it. You can see how ridiculous that is, but this is what we do as a society. We box others into the same egg carton we fit into, limiting who and what they can be, simply because we cannot countenance other’s excellence, commitment or much of anything else.
I’ve posted a photo of my home gym, above. You can’t see all the weights, all the gear, but you get the idea. There are pullup bars and weights all over the damned house. Including just to the left of my office chair. A pullup bar on my office door. I use this stuff.
And people don’t believe me because in their world, 68-year-old women aren’t athletes.
This is confirmation bias in practice.
Ryan told me that some photos of him at competition weight from a few years back were circulating in the family. That got snorts of derision and disbelief from a brother-in-law, who argued strenuously with Ryan that there was no way in hell he could get those results without chemical help.
This is what those who do not work out, who do not possess the discipline, who have not put in the decades of consistent effort say about people who do.
My father accused me of precisely the same thing years ago when I first began to throw myself into very serious training. Six days a week, three hours a day. Overtraining, by any measure, but I got bigger. Too big, eventually, so I ratcheted back. However, Dad flatly accused me of juicing.
Not. On. Your. Life.
My sports chiro yesterday morning, the guy who puts me back together after I crank myself out of alignment, also gets accused of using juice. He’s a lifetime competitive athlete. He’s also compulsive about tracking his workout programs and his progress, so he has detailed spreadsheets showing what he’s done for decades. No juice. Just sweat equity.
Which is why, at 48, he can jump higher, lift more and run faster than he did when he was a competitive decathlete.
Oh but you HAVE to be on something.
Given that Plummer has kept detailed records for years, it’s awfully hard to argue with the facts. Still.
You just HAVE to be using something. Some secret sauce. Some diet pill or plan or whatever.
While answering such ridiculous accusations only takes a simple blood test, none of us owes any of you that kind of proof.
I run into this with doctors all the time. No 68–year-old broad they know can do what I do, so either I’m lying outright, or by god I’m on something.
Sure I am, Sparky. Here’s proof for ya: how about you meet me at Planet Fitness at 5 am on Monday Wednesday and Saturday mornings, and walk with me to the open weights section. Then you can hit the floor with me and punch out 100–120 pushups in a row, without stopping, without breathing hard until the last ten or so? How about that, Skeezix? Then you administer a blood test, get the results, and discover that the only thing I am “on” is the caffeine fix I had that morning?
The only enhancement I use is a cuppa coffee. But nobody wants to believe that.
Look. I’m going somewhere with this. Something Ryan said as I was doing Hairy Beast slow lunges got my full attention.
He said that in his experience, there are so few people who have done the long haul (as in 47 years in the gym, or 24 in his case) that they cannot possibly relate to people who have put in time, the dime and the extraordinary sweat equity. In their limited experience, which they (because we are all know-it-alls, let’s face it) consider to be comprehensive, nobody can possibly get those results without cheating.
Well, if you will forgive my pointing out the obvious, just because it isn’t true for you and yours, Sparky, doesn’t make it true for those of us who do indeed go the long haul, eschew chemicals, dope, alcohol, sugar and and junk food, and do the hard work of maintenance, constant improvement and endless tweaking as we age.
Two days ago, in response to a piece I did on the fake nature of the photos we see online and the movies we watch, one Medium commenter wrote me this:
But putting in the amount of time necessary to get “ripped” naturally can be considered obsessive behavior and mentally unhealthy.
If you knew someone spending as much time cleaning as you do in the gym, wouldn’t you question that behavior?
What I so love about this idiocy is that first, I have never in any of my articles anywhere said how much time I spend in the gym. EVER. Not once. So, said writer is making a pretty interesting assumption based on nothing but his own incredulity and bias. The answer is, about six hours a week. Three days a week, just under two hours a pop. Not only is that hardly “obsessive or mentally unhealthy,” the writer also, in his second challenge, assumes two utterly ridiculous things: first, that I would spend a LOT of time watching, assessing and calculating how much time my gym mates spend working out next to me… and second, that I know why they’re there.
Since I don’t stand at the door of my Planet Fitness with a clipboard 24/7 and monitor who comes and goes so that I would know such a thing, and since I have no effing idea what anyone else is trying to accomplish, all this does is underscore the arrogance of the comment. Perhaps someone is coming back from a terrible injury. Perhaps training for a show. Perhaps. Perhaps. I don’t know why they are there, and besides, it’s none of my business.
Given that I myself have had to come back to full health time after time after terrible accidents, I know what kind of intense commitment it takes. Who the HELL are you or anyone else to place judgement on my commitment to retrain my body after a smashed pelvis or broken back?
See what I mean? Plummer, my chiro, spends about as much time in splints and casts as I do. Are we mentally unhealthy? Or just focused, committed, and well-informed about what it’s going to take to return our aging bodies to full health? And who set you or anyone else up to judge that effort, simply because you yourself can’t relate, don’t live that lifestyle, and can’t imagine doing that work? What part of mentally unhealthy is that kind of uninformed, biased judgment, rather than seeking to get the whole picture?
Based on this person’s comments, I get the distinct impression that a) this guy spends NO time working out, b) he has no clue about body types (in other words, some people have a far easier time getting and staying ripped than others), c) he has a terrible time understanding that someone can get ripped without spending eight hours a day working out, and d) he just has to call it out and demonstrate his White guy superiority based on his own, clearly vast and informed opinion.
Which, to this writer, is a fine way to demonstrate a combination of one’s a-hole quotient, which unfortunately is far more the norm than its opposite: being open, soft and curious about what you Don’t. Effing. Know. Anything. About.
You could argue, and I would do it with you, that the Cult of Incredulity applies across the board (kindly, of course it does, I have another article under construction about that very thing, but I have a Statement of Work to complete today). But this article is focused just on physicality and the knee-jerk denial that someone else’s fitness results could possibly be the result of real work.
Here is what many if not most people think of when they envision an aging man:
This is the kind of “aging man” I hang with:
If you populate your world with focused, energized, energetic people, that will change your perspective. AND it will by god change what you think YOU can do. That is the whole point, and why, after moving to a new town, I went to work right away finding people of like mind, like commitment. People who would constantly push me beyond my limitations.
Ryan summed it up this way:
So few people have any experience whatsoever either in their own lives or in those around them with examples of consistency over decades: in the gym, to eating well, sustaining good habits, relationships, etc. Therefore, since they don’t do it, it can’t be real. Since they aren’t capable of it, it can’t happen.
One of the ways that plays out in real life is with my primary care provider, who keeps telling me that I need to get involved with the VA’s Wellness Program. Said program teaches nutrition, diet, exercise and meditation.
Okay, right. I can think of lots of folks who could use that. However.
Three times she’s pushed this at me, and three times I’ve pushed back, because this:
I started studying meditation at the Maharisjhi Mahesh Yogi Institute in Washington DC in 1975. I was using a mantra and meditating long before she was born. I have multiple meditation stations in the house, a meditation bench and even a sanctuary for when it’s warmer, with a Buddha, bench and trees. Not likely to invest that kind of money and trouble just for show, since I have nobody around here to show it off to.
I picked up my first Buddhist text in an Australian bookstore in 1984, along with my first copy of the Tao de Ching. I’ve been teaching personal development seminars (like EST, but NOT that) since 1985.
I spent eight years studying with a Gurdjieff Fourth Way Master, a line of spiritual thought that is almost brutal in its focus on personal responsibility, meditation and learning how to practice mindfulness. Focus on practice.
I start every single morning with spiritual readings, and do my level best to put them into practice daily.
I lost 85 lbs in 1987 and have kept it off 34 years, using informed nutrition practices, discipline and constant dietary tweaks for four decades. I update my nutrition as my body changes. Conduct a raid of my fridge any time day or night, you will find NO sugar, NO processed foods, NO cakes, candy, chocolate, breads, chips etc. etc.. You WILL find veges, fruit, chicken, fish, some dairy products, and the allowable nuts on my low-oxalate program. The only sweets in the house are honey and fruits. Period. The last time I had chocolate was July 2020.
I’ve been a body builder for 47 years, have 9% body fat, extraordinary strength and endurance, have been a certified spin and aerobics instructor. At this point I may know more exercises and more about perfect form than some fitness instructors today. I’ve trained with one of the top female heavyweight champions in Colorado.
I write and blog on this because I do it. My PCP said to me, in all seriousness, that "we health pros tell others to exercise and eat well but we don’t do it ourselves" She was in effect telling me that I of course write about it but I can’t possibly be practicing what I write about because, well, that’s how SHE lives.
That, with all due respect to my PCP, is utterly and totally out of integrity.
You do not get a body like this in your sixties by being a schlub.
I’ll bet you can relate. If you’ve excelled somewhere in your life, and those around you, or strangers, or your family cannot, will not allow for the truth in your claims, you get it. If you ever went back to a high school reunion the triumphant hero, and your classmates try diligently to stuff you back into the nerd box, you get it.
The photo above? Some dimwit on Newsbreak accused me of putting my own head on someone else’s body. Well, Sparky, since that dress still resides in MY closet, and I can still zip it up, and I still have THOSE arms and THAT body, and I also have forty thousand photos from all my adventure travel showing THAT head attached to THAT body, kindly….
Again, you see what I mean.
But my much younger PCP thinks I need help with nutrition, diet and exercise and mindfulness training. What she sees, and ALL she sees, is poor aging female veteran. Her world view does not have space for anything outside her experience. As nice as she is, she is hobbled, as are most of us, by confirmation bias. Older female veterans in her experience, ALL of them, need the Wellness program.
No. We don’t ALL need the Wellness program. Because I would challenge the person who advises those veterans on exercise to join me at Planet Fitness and keep up. Starting with those 120 pushups.
See what I mean? It’s not bragging if you do it. It’s just fact. If others see your facts as fake, or false, only as the result of enhancement, that bullshit sits in their bucket, not yours.
Try being a Black PhD who speaks multiple languages. But I digress. You see my point.
Confirmation bias cripples all of us in one way or another, for most of the time we don’t know we’re guilty of it, and if called on it, we deny it.
The Cult of Incredulity is a natural outgrowth of airbrushed photos, fake influencers, the majority who lie on their resumes and their online profiles. When you and I are truthful, and we really did do what we said, and we really are what we are, increasingly we are met with incredulous denial.
But you have to be on something.
Yeah. On the bench doing presses, on the floor doing pushups, on the pullup bar…but not all day every day. Just consistently, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade. Doing what others don’t want to do. The long haul.
My primary care provider is welcome to join me any time.