Ted Talks: The Consequences of Comparison

By Ted Spiker

As I was getting dressed at the gym the other day, a fellow locker room attendee sat in the space next to me. He sat only in his boxers, still panting (after de-panting). He looked relieved. And ripped. He was lean and muscular, for sure. Half of me was jealous, while the other half stewed. This gentleman appeared to have zero fat on him. Me? I lick peanut butter from a spoon and it is an instantaneous felony committed against my waistband.

As he took a few swigs from his sports bottle, he pulled out another container of post-workout fuel.

Chewing tobacco.

(In the interest of transparency, I cannot say with 100 percent certainty that it was chewing tobacco he shoved between his bottom lip and teeth. It could have been couscous for all I know. I do not, however, believe it was couscous.)

I had two internal reactions.

One was admittedly more judgmental than it needed to be: OK, fine, maybe my body is the consistency of a marshmallow, but at least I don’t dip — unless it is sour cream and onion.

Two, it made me stop to think about an arena of health I have given more brainpower to than I would like to admit: comparing myself to others.

There is always someone who is slimmer, who is healthier, who has lower blood pressure, who runs quicker, who lifts more, who has faster metabolism.

And it can be frustrating when you try to put their lives in your mirror — what they have is what you want. But what if — as was the case of my chaw-loving locker-neighbor — things are not as they initially appear? We all have our own demons, own poisons, own addictions, own battles — whether they are clear to the world or not. So why on earth should I try to put the complexity of my health and my body against someone else’s?

I shouldn’t.

So I’m done. Done with artificial comparisons to others that have nothing to do with my own health and fitness. Done with being bummed when a buddy can slurp four beers and somehow lose weight. Done with beating myself up that the only race I can ever win is a speed-eating contest. Instead, my only foil will be the one it should have been all along.

From here on out (he declared!), I am not going to compare my body, my running pace, my pants size, my blood sugar, my tight hamstrings, or my anything to anyone — except to yesterday’s me.

Ted Spiker (@ProfSpiker) is the chair of the University of Florida department of journalism, as well as a health and fitness writer. He is the author of DOWN SIZE, a book about the science and soul of weight loss and dieting.