When I first started to workout really consistently for the first time since I stopped skating, my entire motivation was derived from vanity and ideals that I felt that I had to fit into to be happy. Every tough interval or last mile I had to push through, I reminded myself of my non-negotiable size XS/size 0 that I just had to get back to after getting terribly out of shape during my old job.
I was scared to lift heavy because I thought I would get get arms and legs like Arnold Schwarzenegger the minute I did.
After all, I was a pair skater where every pound actually counted- and for that sport, it didn't really matter if it wasn't all pure muscle. We only strength-trained the minimum amount necessary to make us strong enough for our sport. Legitimate in this case, fine. Every pound of me had to be lifted over my partner's head, so putting on unneeded muscle was not encouraged. This was drilled into my brain for years.
I was your classic cardio bunny.
I got a gold star from my coaches if I decided to do an extra hour of cardio on top of my 8-hour skating training days. This method of thinking naturally carried over into my post-athlete life. Dominated that elliptical all day, every day.
I did lose a few pounds this way. Then the scale just stopped. And yo-yoed in a range of 3 pounds no matter what I was doing with my nutrition. Fed up with this, I decided to finally listen to the fitness pros and tentatively try lifting heavy.
Thank the lord.
The first few weeks, the scale didn't budge, which initially concerned me, with my brain still being hard-wired in my old ways. But I could visibly see my body changing. Clothes started to fit looser. Then all of a sudden I started leaning out that body fat due to my new gains of lean muscle mass. This made my oh-so-vain motivation very, very happy.
But an unexpected shift occurred. I actually started to really love lifting.
A barbell just started to feel natural in my hands, and I got a thrill of power and confidence every time I whipped a heavy kettlebell around. Get up from lying down on the ground holding 35 pounds over my head with one arm? Pretty cool feeling.
New goals of mine started to develop- none of which had anything to do with the way I looked. They were to lift heavy, more efficiently, and more powerfully, and more more more!
As those goals started to take priority in my head, I instinctively started becoming finely attuned to my stomach's needs and my nutrition in the framework of my training program. Oh, I was squatting heavy tomorrow? Loading up on the protein and some carbs the night before for dinner. Had intervals early the next morning to improve my speed and power? A banana was my perfect pre-workout morning snack that gave me just enough carb and energy without making me nauseous from a full meal.
I started to train like a healthy athlete for the first time in my life.
And I wasn't even an athlete anymore. My eating became synonymous with fueling up for each day of my training program and I trained hard. I didn't diet and exercise. I put more stock into my balance of macronutrients, not calorie count.
I found myself sliding on those same pants I longed to fit in again. Same size pants I wore when I skated. But they fit differently- better, and I wasn't starving myself to be at that size like I did 10 years ago. This may come as a shock to some, but I was about 15 pounds heavier than my skating weight (this is one of the best examples I can think of to explain how muscle takes up far less room on the body than fat).
The pants fitting was great and all, but it was nothing compared to the feeling of getting my first big personal record of a 185lb back squat, about 1.7x my body weight at the time.
Focusing more on athletic performance and improving my strength delivered far better results for me than focusing on the way I looked.
Everyone is different and has different motivations to get fit or lose weight, but this I have found to be the most consistently successful phenomenon while working with my clients- when they transfer focus from the scale to performance progress, that's usually when the magic happens.
A primary goal of vanity isn't wrong by any means- it absolutely does work for some.
But even bikini competitors and bodybuilders, people who technically work for aesthetic results, usually say that their favorite part of competition prep is seeing how much they can push themselves and the mental strength needed to build that goal physique- looking good is the cherry on top of the sundae.
As for myself, I like to think of it as the stick beating the horse whereas performance tends to be the carrot. Both get the horse moving, but that performance carrot has it running towards something great like a performance goal instead of running away from something it doesn't want to be. I know I'd much rather be running towards something amazing.