How to break the cycle of comparison

Akash Vaghela - May.14.21

At Reflex Nutrition, we value mental health just as much as physical health. We've been chatting to our PTs, influencers, colleagues, friends and family to get some real life stories and break down the stigma attached to mental health!
We wanted to share them for Mental Health Awareness Week in the hope of starting a conversation, breaking down barriers and coming together as a community to support each other.  Here's Akash, a Reflex PT, with his story.  

I remember seeing Arnold in Pumping Iron and thinking that was the ideal physique. I remember being in the local weight room and thinking the ‘ripped dude’ with a string vest had the ideal physique.

 I remember being told by a notable authority in the fitness industry, ‘you won’t ever be taken seriously unless you’re 85kg shredded’.

 I’m sure everyone’s experienced the first or second. Yet it was the third that left a lasting impression. The connotation? Get bigger and get leaner, or you’re not in good enough shape to do this. 

For a few years, I was obsessed with achieving this goal. I was determined to stay natural (which I still am), and I wanted to prove everyone wrong that I could defy my genetics to be 85kg and shredded, which for anyone who’s been around natural bodybuilding, will know that at 5’10”, very, very few men with ‘average genetics’ will be sporting a physique like that.

 A few years later, I became more educated on what realistic expectations were for the male physique. The bottom line? Completely different to what is shoved in our faces every day on social media and mainstream magazines.

Without this education, it can be demoralising for your mental health. You’re putting in the work, you have this ideal to work towards, but it’s never actually going to happen. So you diminish your self-worth, self-esteem, and self-confidence, and spiral into attaching your success to a specific identity.

It creates a vicious circle where people fall into eating disorders, obsessive compulsive behaviours, poor social skills (from never going out, and committing to a ‘hermit life’), and mental health disorders. In some cases, it may lead to steroid abuse, and all the dangerous health side-effects that may bring. In others, a lifetime of body dysmorphia comparing yourself to unrealistic ideals.

It’s shocking just how instilled into our fitness culture this now is, especially with men, who never talk about it. 

It’s time to reset the bar.

It’s time to realign expectations.  

And it’s time to make this about what it should always have been: You Vs You.

 The most liberating thing I ever did for my own body image was to stop comparing myself, educating myself on what was realistic, connecting to a higher purpose beyond my body, and understanding what being in shape for life actually meant.

Stopping comparison syndrome is easier said than done, especially when it feels like every guy on social media is ripped, muscular and strong.

A few rules of of thumb if they fall outside these weight ranges are they’re probably either genetically blessed, been doing this a very, very long time, or on steroids. For the average person with average genetics when ‘photoshoot lean’, I’ve found these guidelines to be almost fool proof: 

Having worked with thousands of people, this has eased so much pressure in having an attachment to a scale, or wondering why you aren’t as ‘jacked’ as the guy on social media.

(Article that will be of useful reference: https://www.rntfitness.co.uk/how-heavy-will-you-be-when-lean/)

Another rule of thumb is if you tie your identity and self-worth into an ideal image, and perhaps more importantly, if you only train and eat well in order to look good, you will probably end up falling short. A better way to approach this lifelong journey of self-care is to connect to something bigger than yourself. A bigger reason for self-care. For me, it’s all about feeling amazing, having an anchor to my day, having ‘me time’, relieving stress, and being able to be at a high cognitive level so I can push forward my bigger purpose in life: to empower people to lead healthier lives.

Because this journey is a positive one. It has the potential to change every facet of your being and life. Looking after your body is non-negotiable, because we only have one, and it’s the chariot to our mind, brain, heart and soul. We have to look after our bodies in order to make an impact in the world, be present in our relationships and stay healthy.

When fitness is all about the look, as social media often makes it, it becomes diluted, and something else altogether. 

Fitness is about so much more than the physical.

When you take this view, you also realise that being in shape for life is not being shredded year round.

It’s the sweet spot of body composition where you’re looking, feeling AND performing at your best. It’s not one without the other two, or even two without one. The trifecta is required to be in the shape of your life.

For reference, I’m ‘bodybuilding stage ready’ at 70-72kg. But I feel horrible at that weight and I have no strength. Having experimented over the years, my sweet spot is actually between 78 and 82kg, and that’s where I now spend all my time between.

If I want to get leaner, sure I can do it, but it’s not because of any other reason other than I want to be leaner. The same goes if I wanted to bulk up for some more muscle mass (though I have no intention anymore). If I want to stay in the shape of my life, this is my sweet spot. This is where I feel, look and perform at my best. 

This is where I’m still in love with my body, and it’s a place which I find effortless to maintain: no food focus, no excess training or activity, and no worry about eating a few extra calories. It’s a sustainable lifestyle solution that works for me, and I encourage everyone to put in the work to find theirs, so the next time you see a massive dude with abs selling you the protein shake that got them there, you can smile and move forward.

Because it’s now about You Vs You.

About the author: 

Akash Vaghela is an author, entrepreneur and educator, who's spent the last ten years transforming lives around the world, and in May 2017, founded RNT Fitness to serve this purpose. His vision is to see a world where everyone experiences the power of the physical as the vehicle to unlock their potential, and do something remarkable in their lives. He’s the author of Transform Your Body Transform Your Life and host of the RNT Fitness Radio podcast, where he talks with his team, students and industry experts all about the truth of transformation, and striving for extra 1% growth. Follow him on social media here.