Being Johnny Bravo was never the goal by Chris Hein

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Chris Hein is in his third year as a Resident Director at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. He is originally from Nebraska. He got his B.S. in Psychology and Sociology and a M.S. Ed. all from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. He love the outdoors and enjoys spending free time fishing, hunting, disc golfing, hiking, and camping during the summers.

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I want to talk about a topic of health and well-being that is often overlooked. I think it is fair to say that many health blogs consist almost entirely of articles regarding how to lose weight and get skinnier. While these blogs and articles are useful for a large number of people, some of us have the opposite problem. Some of us want to get bigger. While most people probably see this as a blessing, for some like me it can be akin to a curse.

I realize I’ll probably catch flak from a number of people for writing this, but hear me out. Not everyone who is thin wants to be and trying to gain healthy weight can be just as difficult as trying to lose unhealthy weight. Here’s my story:

As long as I can remember, I’ve always been a pretty skinny guy. I never really had to work at it either. I’ve always been able to eat pretty much whatever I want without really gaining any weight. Believe it or not, that’s not as wonderful as it might sound. When you’re over 6 feet tall, weighing as little as 165-175 pounds still makes you a skinny guy…a very skinny guy.

There is nothing about lifting that I have ever enjoyed. My previous experience with lifting was in high school. I ran cross country in the fall and went out for track in the spring, and that was about the only time I lifted. Being a skinny guy, I felt awkward in the weight room because I couldn’t lift much compared to the guys around me. It seemed like every time I lifted I ended up next to a football player who was lifting more than twice the weight I was. That rather emasculating feeling I got in the high school weight room stuck with me for a long time.

It wasn’t until about 7 months into my professional experience that I finally made a conscious decision to do something about my build. I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew that if I wanted to see some changes I needed to do something different (or rather, that I just needed to do something.) It started by first overcoming my insecurities about going to the gym in the first place. I had some major reservations about working out on campus with the students I work with (especially the large student athletes), but the fact that I’m cheap and the gym on campus was the most cost effective option that’s I decided to go for it.

I’d be a liar if I said that my first few trips to the gym weren’t awkward. I was self-conscious and convinced that everyone else in the gym was looking at me and thinking to themselves “This skinny guy doesn’t belong here. He can barely lift.” Moreover, it didn’t help that I wasn’t certain how the machines worked or what lifts I should have been doing to get the results I wanted.

Eventually I realized how silly it was of me to think that anyone was watching me. And even if they did, it didn’t matter; I was there to do something for myself, not for them or anyone else. It took time for me to realize this and convince myself of it, but once I got that through my head, my trips to the gym got easier. Instead of worrying so much about the people around me I turned my gym time into my daily me time. I stopped dreading my daily trips to the gym. Instead I began to look forward to them as my time to get away from work for a bit and focus only on doing something for myself.

Now for the task of getting bigger. Like many guys, at first I bought into the idea that I just needed big arms. I’m not sure how or why this has become a cultural standard for guys, but I bought into it. I went to the gym 3 days a week and do nothing but benching, curling, and anything else that looked arm-intensive.

Sadly, this terrible workout routine of mine lasted for the better part of a semester. During the summer after my first school year as a professional RD, I supervised our summer hall. One of the RAs I supervised had lifted competitively in high school and had continued lifting regularly in college. I’d seen him in the weight room a number of times previously and he looked like he knew what he was doing. I swallowed my pride and ask him to help me and he took me under his wing. I quickly learned from this RA that benching and curling 3 times a week was never going to cut it if I wanted to gain some weight and not look like Johnny Bravo.

What was probably the most difficult part of this entire journey for me was the fact that I had to eat more. Right about now you’re probably saying something like this: “Just go grab some McDonalds and you’ll gain weight in no time!” or, “I wish I had your problem and had to start eating more.” I heard these sentiments quite a bit from friends and family. Eating more sounds great, doesn’t it? I suppose it can be for some, but doing it right is a lot more work than you might think.

I’ve never been a big eater, so making myself eat more was a struggle. Moreover, my goal was never to get big by gaining extra fat. Gaining healthy weight takes more planning than just grabbing a burger at McDonalds. I bought a great deal of chicken, turkey, eggs, nuts, and vegetables and cut a lot of fats and sugars out of my diet. I also started drinking protein shakes as a supplement to my meals. The whole process of eating more was pretty uncomfortable at first, but I eventually worked my way up to eating 4-5 big meals a day and snacking in between.

It didn’t happen over night, but eventually I started to see some bigger numbers on the scale. As the numbers on the scale got a bit larger and my clothes started to fit a bit differently, I was encouraged to eat a little more chicken and push around a bit more weight at the gym. After roughly a year of some serious lifting and diet changes, I was able to hover around the 200 pound mark and I was pretty happy with all the progress I had made.

I think what I learned most from this entire experience is that although the journey was a tough one for me at times, facing my facing my fears of the weight room and pushing myself to do things I wasn’t comfortable doing before were all worth it in the end. I think these thoughts hold true for both those looking to lose a little and those looking to gain a little.

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