What Not Learning Spanish Taught Me About Fitness and Nutrition

I took my first Spanish class the summer between the seventh and eighth grade. In high school, English was the only class I took as much as Spanish. In college, I took four semesters of it. And as I sit here today, typing this post, I’m as far from speaking the language as you may be from accomplishing your health and fitness goals.

Although I still don’t know how to speak Spanish, having now been in the fitness industry for nearly 20 years, I’ve concluded “learning” how to be fit and learning how to speak Spanish are very similar. Apply the five following principles and when in Costa Rica (or any of the other 20 Spanish-speaking countries) you can ask, “¿Qué dirección de la sala de ejercicio?” (“Which way to the weight room?”)

1.) Start small, not big.

When I began taking Spanish, the first thing we learned was vocabulary. We learned how to say the rooms of a house, what to call a boy, a girl, a cat, and a dog. We learned colors, direction, and the months of the year. We learned articles and prepositions. We learned how to ask questions and make commands. And ultimately, at year’s end, we were able to answer the age-old, Spanish-speaking question “¿De qué color es el lápiz?” (“What color is the pen/pencil?”)

When it comes to fitness, people wanna skip vocabulary and jump right into composition. Instead of beginning with First Year Spanish Part I they try sitting in on Advance Spanish Composition. They become overwhelmed and ultimately drop the class.

So how do you keep from dropping out? Start small. If you’re currently as active as a lamp, move more. Commit to walking three times a week for 30 minutes, or five. If you’ve not eaten a vegetable in a while, reintroduce yourself. Commit to eating three veggies a day, or one. If you do enough of the little things (vocabulary), you’ll ultimately improve the composition that most matters—your body composition.

2.) Understand it’s HARD!

Learning Spanish was hard. It was like learning another language. (Oh, wait!) There was a learning curve. I made mistakes. I forgot pencil is masculine and pen is feminine (which, unlike humans, serve the same function). I put the adjective before the noun. I incorrectly conjugated my verbs. I had (and still have) difficulty trilling my R’s (“RRRuffles have ridges!”).

When it comes to fitness, though, we seem to expect more in less time. If we haven’t lost ten pounds in two weeks like the magazine says, we give up, frustrated. But, like learning another language, there’s a learning curve (it looks more like a roller coaster). You commit to not eating desserts during the week but do. You commit to eating a salad each day for lunch but don’t. You commit to exercising in the morning but instead sleep in.

We hold ourselves to a standard [of perfection] we can’t meet, nor should we. If we commit to not eating sugar and we do, we tell ourselves we’ve failed. Guess what? You did. And you will fail . . . a lot. But failure is not the opposite of success—quitting is. People who succeed fail many, MANY more times than those that quit. It will be hard, but it will be worth it.

3.) Practice, practice, practice.

I don’t have much to say about this other than I didn’t practice speaking Spanish. How the heck did I think I’d get better at speaking Spanish without practicing?!

To become fluent in Spanish, or fitness, or anything, you must practice. What does practice look like? You do it. You fail. You learn (hopefully). You do it again . . . better. Rinse and repeat as needed. Although clichéd, practice does make perfect. But so too does imperfect practice make perfect (yes, I typed that correctly). Commit to doing something—anything—and do it until you get good at it. Practice eating slowly to 80% full. Practice eating a lean protein with each meal. Practice exercising daily. Practice until it becomes not only something you do, but a part of who you are.

4.) Immerse yourself in the culture.

Perhaps my single greatest regret in my scholastic career was not studying abroad. Those I know who are bilingual all “studied” abroad, whether formally (school) or informally (school of life). They simply immersed themselves in another’s culture. They spoke their language. They read what they read. They did as they did. They ate what they ate and drank what they drank.

Do you wanna be fit? Immerse yourself in the fitness culture. Find like-minded people to hang out with. Spend your time with those that share a common interest in health and fitness. Speak their language. Read what they read. (Be careful not to become just a reader, but a doer.) Eat what they eat and drink what they drink.

5.) Be consistent.

Studying abroad would have helped me be consistent. I would’ve spoken Spanish everyday, all day (most of the time). Through repetition I would’ve better learned the language. In school, I spoke Spanish for three hours weekly (inconsistent). During breaks I spoke it not at all (nonexistent). There was no consistency, no repetition. Thus, there is no Spanish-speaking me.

If you want to be fit, you must be consistent. It’s not enough to eat “right” occasionally. You must do it consistently. It’s not enough to bust your ass every few days and sit on it the rest. You must do it consistently. Nuclear engineer (and Spanish speaker) Richard G. Scott said,

“We become what we want to be by consistently being what we want to become each day.”

As I conclude my five principles I’m reminded of a sixth . . .

6.) It must be a priority.

Why didn’t I learn to speak Spanish? It wasn’t because I didn’t have the opportunity. I had no disability that kept me from learning. I had the means.

Frankly, it was because I didn’t want it badly enough. Sure, I had some level of interest, but it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t important enough to me to do the things that needed to be done to learn Spanish. Right or wrong, good or bad, other things were more important to me.

If you want to accomplish your health and fitness goals, they must be a priority. You must create the right environment, develop the right strategies, and surround yourself with the right people. Your goals won’t just happen on their own. Make them a priority and act. If something’s worth doing, do it every day.