So. Many. Bananas.
The guy above is fitness influencer Derek Simnett. A few years ago, one of his videos was suggested to me on YouTube.
Dude is jacked. (And I will be putting jacked in italics because every time you read it, I want you to imagine that Kali Muscle is saying it)
I wanted to be jacked too…I’ve always wanted to be jacked!
Ever since high school I’ve operated under the assumption that it was my duty as a young male to acquire large muscles. This was backed by very little reasoning outside of the fact that I was sure it was help me procure female attention. Outside of that, there was not much consideration.
So yeah, jacked. Let’s go.
Plus, this dude was vegan. And I had I just watched a documentary on how eating vegan was the only moral/smart thing to do. PERFECT!
Tell me what to do ‘oh jacked vegan one!
You may notice in the image above that he’s holding bananas. About six of them. His recommendation for the “Best Recovery Smoothie” included all six of these bananas plus huge scoops of peanut butter, seeds, almond milk, etc. Adding up to svelte 2000 calorie smoothie.
“The calories have to come from somewhere” was his rationale on the banana-heavy recipe. (In hindsight, a weird thing for a fitness instructor to say…if we’re just looking for calories, Butterfingers have calories too…)
Anyway! Anything for jacked-dom, let’s go.
Without really thinking about it, I decided that this rationale made sense to me. I had always struggled to put weight on my ectomorphic frame (I know, good problem to have) and assumed it was because I wasn’t eating enough. I felt assured that these bananas and the 2000 calories I was going to jam into this smoothie each day was my one-way ticket to the jacked life. And what a wonderful life that would be!
So it began. I bought hefty bunches of bananas at a time from the grocery store plus staggering amounts of peanut butter, yogurt (not vegan, I know), spinach, blueberries, chia seeds, flax seeds, coconut oil and pea protein. Smoothie mania was on!
Every morning I’d drag my butt to the local gym where I’d battle the sleeveless throngs of weight-lifters for the equipment needed to complete my 5×5 routine, discovered when searching for the best bulk-building routine from another jacked YouTube influencer. Frustratingly, the overly-crowded gym frequently did not allow for the completion of my intended workout.
Right, I’m getting jacked. It’s fine. Push through.
Then I’d come home, pack those six bananas and all the fixin’s into my Vitamix and blend that bad boy up into a goopy, green-ish 2000 calorie smoothie that filled the entire 64oz container. Plus, because a 2000 calorie smoothie wasn’t enough, I decided to pair it with a huge heaping of eggs blended with spinach (turning them a lovely green) mixed with black beans. Nom city.
Typically, it would take me over an hour to drink the entire thing. Towards the end, the smoothie had started to crust over towards the top and I had to fight back my gag reflex as I forced the last bit down.
I’d have already started my work day and within thirty minutes of finishing the smoothie would feel an intense spike in my blood sugar as a banana tidal wave hit my bloodstream. This would be followed by a complete collapse in my energy levels as it crashed back to earth.
This crash paired with my persistent exhaustion from the weight-lifting routine would frequently result in an early nap.
Post-nap I’d still be feeling a little nauseous as the smoothie slowly slimed its way through my digestive tract and I often threw in the towel in the late afternoon and watched Netflix the rest of the evening.
This went on for months.
Yes, I was putting on weight. About 10lbs over a three-month period…but it came at a significant cost.
Between the extra shopping every week (.5hr), meal prepping in Tupperware and freezer bags (.5hr), making the actual smoothie (.25hr/day) plus the time it took to muscle down each of these things (1hr/day), I figure I had dedicated about 8-9 (!) hours per week to these things.
So conservatively I was spending a full day-and-a-half per month (32-36 hours) on these smoothies.
Plus, I felt like garbage! My energy levels came in like a storm and dissipated like a apparition.
Looking back at my journal entries, I was struggling to determine the root of this energy shortage. Meanwhile, in the same entries I’d complain about the ‘banana smoothies being too sweet’. Hm.
Sleep, meditation and writing, all habits I know contribute significantly to my happiness, started taking a nosedive.
Meanwhile bad habits, mostly centered around compulsive media consumption, became a daily occurrence.
My appetite for sex even withered as my energy levels plummeted in the evenings. Wait….wasn’t my initial goal to do this for girls?
SO WHY WAS I DOING THIS??
What the hell does that even mean? Was I trying to enter a bodybuilding competition? Was I trying to look like Kali Muscle??
What was the ultimate purpose of all the time and effort I had invested??
Truth was, I had no clue.
Letting Others Define Your Happiness
It wasn’t long after I began asking these questions that I unearthed a startlingly simple revelation.
I had let others define happiness in my life.
The reason I was making myself miserable with 64oz smoothies, workouts I loathed and unrealistic expectations for my body was simply because I had unconsciously subscribed to the belief that becoming jacked was a turnkey method of becoming happy.
Years of idolizing athletes and gawking at beautiful fitness celebrities had made my mind up for me. In order to feel good, I had to look otherworldly good. Jacked.
But the truth was, that didn’t make me happy. In fact, it made me miserable.
Now, I want to be clear about the fact that the methods I chose to achieve this goal were downright stupid. Eating six bananas a day is a recipe for Type-2 Diabetes and I could have certainly found a less-crowded gym with a lifting buddy and had a much more enjoyable experience.
Of course, this is not to say that sculpting a massive, defined physique doesn’t make Kali Fitness happy. Or Derek Simnett (who must have the metabolism of a jack-rabbit to look like that eating six bananas a day).
But what I am saying is that my mistake here was not thinking purposefully about what makes me happy.
Happiness is theoretically the reason why we take much of action we do. It’s why we want what we want. Because we think whatever we want will lead to happiness in some form.
But if you don’t take the time to honestly think about what brings you fulfillment, someone else is going to do it for you. Sometimes that ‘someone’ is an individual but more often that ‘someone’ is society-at-large.
If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.Greg McKeown
Our society, really most societies, send very clear messages on how you should behave. Some of these are universally helpful, like not throwing axes at people in public. Others are not so universal, but will nonetheless guide your life unless you thinking purposefully about them.
Messages like how young men should look jacked and young women should look skinny.
Messages like how your should follow [insert trendy diet here].
Messages like how you should wake up at 5AM if you’re serious about productivity.
Messages like how you should watch football on Sundays.
Messages like how getting hammered at bars is fun.
Messages like how information work is more important than vocational work.
Messages like how you should stay in touch with all your old friends.
Messages like how you should strive to be rich.
Maybe some of these things do make you happy. Maybe you really like getting together with friends and watching football on Sundays. Maybe you enjoy hitting the bars every Friday and Saturday night. Maybe you really enjoy eating 2000 calorie smoothies and 5×5 workouts. Maybe the pursuit of money leaves you awash in fulfillment.
And if those things are true, GREAT. Seriously! You’ve found things that truly make you happy. And you should pursue them with vigor.
But if they don’t or, MORE IMPORTANTLY, if you haven’t thought purposefully about how they are impacting your net happiness, you run the very serious risk of living a life pursuing things that don’t make you happy.
And that can be a brutal way to live.
What Actually Makes Me Happy
After my realization that the pursuit of a jacked physique does not make me happy, did I start crushing Dunkaroos and mainlining Mountain Dew? (Although that’s probably not far off the sugar intake from my smoothie)
NO! Just because I didn’t like bodybuilding doesn’t mean I don’t get value out of being fit and healthy.
In fact, through this process I’ve realized it’s absolutely one of the bedrocks of my happiness. Just in a different form.
These were my three revelations:
#1: I realized how much value I get from group fitness
I’m social to the point where my introvert fiancé wants to send me as a substitute to her own social commitments (and I’d consider it). So having my fitness take place in a social setting is crucial.
l love long bike rides alone but when it comes to an hour of HIIT training, I need to have others along for the ride or I will quit. I understand that’s an indictment of my willpower but it’s also the truth. And that’s what I’m after.
#2: I do NOT like spending a lot of time worrying about diet and fitness
I love spending my time reading and writing. I love having coffee with friends to discuss ideas. I love going on dates with Jenna. I love meditating in the park early in the morning. I love gardening. I love long bike rides. I love working on my business.
But what I don’t love is stressing out that every meal has enough calories. What I don’t love is planning my own workouts.
Call me a lazy millennial but I’ve realized that when I’m happiest, I use the absolute minimal amount of brain cells on diet and fitness.
Again, this is absolutely not to say that I don’t eat a healthy diet. I just eat the same healthy things over and over again. And only when I’m hungry. Chipotle, salmon, spinach, veggies, eggs, beans, peanut butter, apples, yogurt, quinoa…that’s literally 90% of what I eat. It makes me feel good and I don’t have to use brain cells on it.
And this is also not to say that I don’t have an active lifestyle. I still engage in regular, vigorous physical activity, centered around the aforementioned hour-long HIIT classes which I take on Zoom with friends from Denver. This in addition to foam rolling and stretching on off-days.
All I have to do is sign-in to my coach George’s Zoom class M/W/F and execute the workout that he’s already drawn up. Each class we repeat three circuits, three times each and I frequently find myself not remembering what exercises I did just five-minutes before! My brain is pretty much shut down outside of actually executing the routines. This is exactly how I want it.
#3: I’m finally at peace with my body
I’ve decided that I value how I feel over how I look.
The HIIT sessions can be vomit-inducing but I enjoy them immensely. I get to share in the struggle with friends, make noticeable progress in fitness development and have never felt better. I feel great and I actually feel strong. As I described to George, “I feel like a god damn 19-year-old”.
And how do I look? I look like myself. Like a loud and proud ectomorph.
- Flat chest
- Small shoulders
- Lean muscle mass
- Finds it hard to gain weight
I still remember the final nail in my body-acceptance coffin coming from The Hybrid Athlete by Alex Viada. I had been trying to rationalize how I could be both an endurance athlete while also being jacked and came to the section on ectomorphic body types:
Understand that your streamlined frame is built for speed and endurance, not for brute force, and accept that certain movements may be initially uncomfortable, and you may find yourself struggling with weights that even the average Joe off the street can handle.Alex Viada
This statement certainly does not say that you can’t be a strong endurance athlete (you absolutely can be), but it does remind you to accept what your body allows you to do. And for whatever reason, that hit home with me more than the hundred previous times I had read the same thing in different forms.
What Actually Makes You Happy
For me, I realized, fitness and diet are a means to an end. They are tools that help construct the foundation on which my happiness is built. They are nothing more than that. I don’t enjoy them in a vacuum.
Since coming to this realization and letting go of the lifestyle I’d assumed would make me happy, my days have been immeasurably more bright. Not only because my energy has shifted towards other activities I find more fulfilling, but because I’m being my most genuine self. And not much feels better than that.
So what actually makes you happy? Are the activities you’re participating in on a daily/weekly/monthly basis stemming from your own purposeful thinking, or from a societal message you’ve unconsciously subscribed to?
Do you actually feel better when you practice some form of intermittent fasting? Or does it just sound good in theory when in-fact your overall sense of well-being has suffered?
Does waking up at 5AM every day lead to amazingly productive days? Or are you just making yourself sleep deprived because you can’t get to bed early enough?
Do you like watching football on Sundays? Or do actually not give a shit what happens in this week’s “Must-See Matchup” between two teams from cities you’ve never been to yet feel obligated to watch because all your friends are watching? (run-on sentence, minus 2 points)
Do you like going to bars? Perhaps you like the camaraderie it gives you with friends? Perhaps you enjoy visiting new places or trying new drinks? Or do you consistently feel dirty and depressed at the end of each weekend?
Do you enjoy going to work most days? Or do you get nauseous on Sunday nights because you’re dreading it so much? If that’s the case but you’ve rationalized that the money is worth it, have you thought about why exactly you need that money? What you’re going to use it for? Or will you always just need “more”?
Do the people you see on a regular basis make you a better person? Or do they contribute vast amounts of negativity into your life? Are you simply interacting with these people out of social obligation?
None of these are rhetorical. Different things will make some people happy and some people miserable.
But the key is that in order to know for sure, you must think about them honestly.
So I’d encourage you to take a look at the activities and people you engage in on a regular basis.
Do you enjoy them? Do they bring you value? Do they play a significant role in making you happier?
Or are they draining you? Draining you in the pursuit of something that you didn’t consciously sign-up for?
Take a minute to think on it. And make sure you’re not slamming six-banana smoothies if you don’t want to.