If I work out just four hours in four weeks it means I contracted Ebola. My warm ups take longer than eight minutes in the morning. In as little as 20 minutes, three times a week I might burn off one piece of pie. I’m curious what happens on day 18 of a 17-day diet. What exactly are six-second abs?

There is a word in fitness/health/weight loss marketing that is toxic. Sometimes it is blatant, other times implied. I hate this word. The word is “only.”

You must work out only this teeny bit to get amazing results. You only must take this pill to lose all the weight you want. You must cut only carbohydrates to achieve health and fitness.

The underlying message is this: “We know you hate this, so we’ve come up with some mythical, miracle fix that minimizes the amount of time and effort spent doing something you detest.”

Never mind that the fix is often bogus and could cost a couple of mortgage payments: It also puts forth the idea that exercise and healthful eating are punishments to be endured to achieve a desired end.


This kind of marketing gets you thinking about nothing other than getting results from minimal or no effort. So, let me ask a question: When has anything worthwhile in life been achieved without serious and sustained effort?

The answer to fitness woes is not going on some pseudo-reality, weight-loss game show or buying a battery-operated belt that electroshocks your abs. The answer, it turns out, comes from John Lennon. Sing it: “All you need is love. Da — da da da da.”

Love gets you out of bed early to run or hit that 6:30 a.m. fitness class. Love prompts you to lift heavy and lift often. Love makes you embrace the effort and see your calluses as a badge of honor. Love is all you need.

Perhaps you’re on a quest to lose weight and/or improve your fitness. If so, it helps to remember that there are no quick fixes. There is no such thing as easy.

Americans spend more than $40 billion a year on weight-loss products and services, and, according to the Federal Trade Commission, much of this stuff is bogus. The FTC has conducted numerous surveys of consumer fraud over the years and determined that Americans were more likely to be taken in by weight-loss scams than by any other type of fraud. On average, 5 million people are victims of weight loss fraud each year. Survey respondents stated that 20% didn’t even use the product, 34% lost no weight, and 28% lost just a little weight.

Time to fine-tune your male-bovine-droppings detector. You can’t feel the love for a lie.

There’s no need to be in a hurry to get fit. Love of exercise often takes time to develop. And like any good relationship, it must be nurtured if it’s to grow. It also requires spending at least a little money, because those old “Magnum P.I.” shorts from high school attract funny looks and chafe when you try to run in them.

Yes, money. Maybe you need a little more than love. (Sorry, John.)

That cash needs to be spent wisely, especially in this economy. Packaged meal plans and unpronounceable berry juices won’t help anyone feel the love, and I bet most of those millions of Shake Weights sold since they vibrated onto the scene were picked up as gag gifts for bridal showers.

I’ve spent thousands on gym memberships, trainers, Saucony, Nike and Reebok, and my ski equipment and bicycle rival the cost of my car. Like flowers, date nights and the occasional sparkly rock, this is money well spent. It keeps my relationship with exercise healthy. And because I enjoy being fit, I’ve also learned to fuel appropriately to achieve lasting weight loss.

How you decide to spend your money and your time is up to you, but remember the all-important quest to find love and keep it forefront in your mind. Search for your exercise soul mate. Or three. In the fitness context, polyamory equals cross-training.

The Internet can help you find love, and not just the eHarmony kind. It’s a great way to get informed about diet and exercise — if one’s cautious. We all need to learn how to separate the good information from the bad, just like life (hopefully) taught us to separate good relationships from bad ones.

Get informed about which gyms have complaints about automatically renewing memberships. (I never give bank or credit card information to a gym; I pay cash.) Watch out for high-pressure personal trainers who tell you you’re broken and only they can fix you if you buy this 50-pack of sessions.

Most important, if something sounds too good to be true, it’s as reliable as a Pinto blowing blue smoke.

Did you date a few/several/dozens of people before finding Mr. or Ms. Right? That’s OK with exercise too. It’s fine to keep searching for what works for you. Something may be a great calorie-burner, but if it doesn’t fulfill your emotional needs or is just not available, then it makes sense to move on or at least relegate it to the B list of your rotation. Desert-dwelling Romeos can’t make cross-country skiing their Juliet. And it’s hard to consistently stick to doing something long-term if you don’t enjoy it.

There are a host of factors to consider: finding something that works and is affordable, accessible and makes you feel good. But there are more options than you imagine — a world of physical activity is out there waiting to be discovered.

Click image to visit my T-shirt store.

And with proper instruction, you’re more capable than you think. Running stores have clinics for every distance, finished off with a race for extra motivation. Cycling clubs help you discover great routes and push you to show up and go hard with new friends. Want to try kayaking? If they rent it, they probably instruct you on how to use it too.

You’ve got to be willing to experiment and find your thing and then work on getting good at it. When you develop competence through training and practice, this elicits a feel-good sensation. I tried getting my wife into weights, but she just didn’t dig it. Then, on a whim, she tried karate — and six years later, she had her black belt and I had an extra reason to behave.

But it’s also true that love can arise where you least expect it — if you want it to. I used to hate running, but after several failed efforts we finally found each other, in a “When Harry Met Sally” kind of way. (Gak.)

I wanted to become a runner because I knew how practical, efficient and effective an exercise it is. So, I tried. And I hated it, and I quit.

Then I tried again, and I hated it, and I quit.

Then I tried again, and I hated it, and I did not quit. And one day, I was running through a Canadian winter snowstorm and U2 was on my iPod telling me it’s a beautiful day, and I thought: “It sure is.”

The days and years will tick away, second by second, no matter what we do. So, it makes sense to approach this as a gradual, incremental progression toward awesome. The Venus de Milo wasn’t carved in a day, and neither shall be the new you.

Be patient, and consider Lennon’s words. When it comes to health and fitness, you can learn how to be you.

In time.

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James S. Fell, MBA, CSCS, is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, and author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada. He is head fitness columnist for AskMen.com, and a contributor to Men’s Health, Women’s Health, the Guardian, TIME Magazine, and NPR.