When you’re working out regularly, it becomes more than just part of your schedule, it becomes part of who you are. For better or worse, being that guy or girl in your office that leaves for your lunch break in sweats and comes back with a half-drank shaker full of chocolate protein chalk informs the way people perceive you, but more importantly, it informs the way you see yourself.

But then something happens — you get hurt, you have a family emergency, you have a baby or start a new job and, like it or not, fitness falls by the wayside in favor of working your way through whatever obstacle arose. Days turn to weeks, and then seemingly all of a sudden, you spot yourself in the mirror and realize that it’s been six months since you put an honest hour in under the weights, on the trail, or on the mats and, worst of all, you don’t look like you anymore.

I’ve got a whole folder of “before and after” pictures. If I were always on my game — I’d really only have one.

Fitness, at its heart, is about improving your life — but after a few months of trading the bench for yourthose couch, getting back at it doesn’t feel like it would improve anything. Sure, you want to get that gut in check, but there are a million things you’d like to improve about your life, and spending an hour drenched in sweat and trying not to throw up doesn’t sound like that much fun — especially if you have very little time to set aside for yourself.

When you’re working out, taking a day off makes you feel crappy, but when you’re not working out, getting back into the swing of things can sound downright awful. I’ll admit it — I may love the gym, but there are number of things I love more at times: sleep, tacos, decent vodka in cheap glasses … none of which require a wardrobe change or a babysitter (depending on how much of that vodka I drink).

“Yeah, I was going to work out but …”

Your body, by nature of evolution, is conspiring against you to make you fat. We’re hard wired to crave calorically dense foods, to avoid unnecessary physical activity, and to establish and maintain habits. In a survival settings (like the majority of human history) that default programming can keep you alive – gorging when the opportunity arises and resting to conserve that calorie-sourced energy. When you aren’t sure when you’re going to get to eat again, it makes perfect sense to pile on the calories and nap the rest of the day away, but in the edible utopia that is the United States in 2018, these same predispositions run counter to the very idea of intentionally making yourself experience physical hardship for the sake of fitting into a bathing suit.

Taking time off from the gym is a totally normal and healthy thing to do — and some may even find themselves coming back a bit stronger or more capable after a week or two off for general recovery but if you give yourself the opportunity to break your habits, to dispose of your discipline, you’ll likely find yourself lacking the motivation that once sustained you in favor of the comfort your body can’t help but treasure. It’s not because you’re lazy, it’s because you’re human.

With the problem clearly defined, the remainder of this piece should be all solution but there’s the rub. It’s different for everyone. Some people need a catalyst to get them back in their running shoes (“we’re going on vacation this March”), others may need a wake up call in the form of things like spotting your belly hanging over the seatbelt at a stop light. There’s no magic bullet to slay the Taco-Bell-and-chill dragon, and that’s why so many of your former gym partners are now knocking on diabetes’ door. If it were easy, we’d all look like Christian Bale in “Batman Begins” — but it’s not, so by and large, we tend to look like Christian Bale in something else…

“I’m gonna stay here and finish this pizza, Alfred. You take the Batmobile and go on ahead.” (Columbia Pictures)

If fitness is important enough to you, of course, you’ll find your way back to it eventually, but it may take a bit of trial and error. I face this challenge with cardio on a regular basis — steel reinforced knees and a 250 pound frame mean I’m not going to be setting any records at the Boston Marathon. In fact, nothing in my fitness regiment hurts more than prolonged cardio. Even after an hour on the recumbent bike, I find myself limping and wincing as my knees re-adjust the weight bearing world. I won’t sugar coat it, with enough injuries on your resume, cardio plain old f*cking hurts.

So when something comes up that cuts into my workout time, you can bet it’s the first part of my schedule I’m happy to sacrifice on the alter of looming deadlines and social obligations. Then, days turn to weeks, and weeks start to add up. Before you know it, I’m getting a wake up call in the form of my gut hanging over my seatbelt.

Do I look like I’m enjoying myself?

The easiest way to overcome the sin of sloth, of course, is to never allow yourself to fall completely off the wagon. If you can’t get your full workout in today, get 15 minutes of something in. Staying active will prevent your body from settling into a new leisurely routine, and keep you from getting too attached to your couch.

But if you’re already there, amid a long pause in your fitness journey that looks like it has no end, I have one more bit of advice for you:

Stop reading this article, get up from your seat, and go do something right now. You’re only 15 or so workouts away from re-establishing the habit and an hour from now, that number could shrink to 14.

Before you know it, you’ll be using pictures from today as your “before picture” when showing your friends what you’ve accomplished. Before you know it, you’ll be crushing weights and miles again.

Before you know it, you’ll be that guy or girl in the office again, heading out to lunch in your PT gear.

Start now, and the rest will come.

Images courtesy of the author unless otherwise noted