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Before I started working out, I’d look at pictures of bodybuilders and figure competitors and cringe. How on Earth could someone do that to his body? Who could find the tight skin, bulging muscles, and prominent veins attractive?

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Jay Cutler, Mr. Olympia

After I started my own fitness journey, I started to understand just how much work it took to get to that point. It requires discipline, dedication, and a boat load of patience to get yourself to the point where you can compete, to say nothing of win a bodybuilding competition. Dropping your body down to single digit body fat percentages is incredibly hard. I grew to admire the tenacity of the person who could push her body to that point.

Yet when I say this to people outside of the fitness world, I get a look that says, “Girl you cray cray.” It’s hard for people to understand that you can respect and admire the work, without wanting to push yourself to that extreme level.

As I walk the path of a returned to the fold Catholic, I get much of the same vibe. From my non religious friends I get incredulous looks, and scathing comments.  How can I participate in something that sucks the brains out of normally intelligent people? How can I condone the actions of the Catholic Church hierarchy regarding abuse, gays, women’s rights, and the list goes on. How can I as a sane, rational person listen to the tripe spewed out on Sundays?

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Change it around and the questions are remarkably similar to questions I got while losing weight. It boils down to a discussion of faith. When you start a weight loss journey, it’s an act of faith. The research shows that there’s no predicting who will maintain weight loss over time. Almost 90% of the folks who lose weight, regain it within five years. So stepping out and making the changes is an act of faith. You believe, without concrete proof, that you will be successful. It’s really not that different from a willingness to believe in a higher power without concrete proof of existence.

Faith is an exercise in fidelity to your own promises, and that’s something that is vital when you are working to improve fitness or lose weight. There are many different ways to lose weight. In the same way, there are multiple ways to look at the world around you. At some point in time, you select systems of weight loss and fitness which work with your lifestyle and personal values. Religious faith is similar.

In both cases there are things you may not like or agree with. I don’t have to like the fact that cardio is an element of my fitness program. However if I want to do a half marathon, I do need to accept it. I may not like parts of Catholic doctrine, but I do need to accept that it’s part of the system. In both cases I struggle with integrating various elements into my life.

Notice how both religion and fitness talk about practice? I can look at a bodybuilder and admire the work it takes to get there. I can look at a religious and admire the oath of obedience, even if it’s something I’m not at a point where I’m willing to tackle it.

Life isn’t perfect. If you look to live a perfect life in any aspect, you will be let down. Fitness and religious faith are good reminders that life is not perfect, and that you can be perfectly happy learning to live with that imperfection. Learning to let go of a constant desire for perfection is one of the keys to finding a happy life.

Admire those who have skills and strengths you don’t. Accept that you don’t have to have those skills and strengths to be happy.

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