Two years ago, I was eating out with some friends at a burger place. It was my first time there, so I asked the waitress what their best appetizers were. The sweet potato fries, she said. Oh, and also the onion strings. You can get them split half-and-half because they really are just that good. She went on excitedly about how they were just about her favorite food and that she regularly ate a whole order in one sitting. Mind you, she had far from the leanest figure; in fact, she was morbidly obese and had difficulty walking. After we’d placed our orders and she walked away, I shook my head and remarked that I hoped that woman would take better care of her health before something happened. A girl - let's call her Sue - sitting at the table with us stared at me long and hard. I knew she had some choice words just itching to burst their way out of her mouth. “They can’t help it that they’re obese!!” she spat, disgust written all over her face.

Oh, really? That’s funny, because the last time I checked, people weren’t force-feeding each other greasy, artery-clogging food or demanding that lean protein and veggies be shunned in favor of nacho chips (although there’s no questioning what tastes better) lest I lose my head.

It just doesn’t work that way.

Constantly placing the blame onto others and life circumstances only perpetuates complacency and mediocre results at best. [Tweet "“I can’t help it” is not a valid excuse."] There’s no way those frickin’ m&m’s danced their way into your mouth while you were sleeping. Trouble putting on weight? “There’s no way I can possibly eat more!” is a flat-out lie.

I understand that there are certain variables that you can’t necessarily control - the food available in your vicinity, what you can and cannot afford to purchase, etc. Sometimes it’s not always going to be entirely your fault. Using a scapegoat in order to take the easy way out may seem enticing, but you won’t make any progress. Don’t forget that the mind is a tricky thing; it will engage in all sorts of acrobatics to convince you that your excuses are logical. Most of the time... they’re not.

Recall that there was a time in my life when I was waist-deep in bulimia. I remember that just about every other day, I’d find a reason to inhale an entire box of cereal or crush unreasonable amounts of yogurt pretzels in one sitting. I’ve been on my feet all day; my body really needs the calories. Oh, this is a refeed. Following every episode, I’d vow to myself that that was the last time and that the next day I’d start dieting - “for real” this time. It never worked. Making false promises to myself was an exercise in futility, and my weight fluctuated wildly up and down. I hated looking at myself in the mirror and especially despised being photographed. I was miserable and I knew it. But it wasn’t until I woke up one day and decided that I’d put up with enough of my own bullshit and that I’d stop accepting my lame excuses that I kicked my ass into gear to effect real change. That was when my life was transformed.

Or take, for instance, the life transformation story of Sam Hyun, baseball pitcher at Allegheny College and athlete at Cressey Performance.

"I once was a teenage boy who believed he was invincible. I could engulf meatball subs dripping in grease, leaving a small puddle below. I crushed one beer after another because obviously it was the cool thing to do. Bad calories? Nutrition? Who cares! I was a young varsity athlete and had been more often than not compared to the Greek god Zeus. That was the fantasy I lived in. In reality, I was 6’1, 227 pounds, a borderline alcoholic, out of shape, and delusional. Being able to reminisce on my former self, I can now come to terms with the old me. The Sam Hyun who faked being confident, sometimes lacking a sense of self-worth. The pressure stemming from expectations on top of the failures began to weigh me down, sometimes making me wonder why it was that I existed. I was drinking too much and disregarding my health. Don’t get me wrong - I could lift with the best of them, at least on the high school level. However, when it came to overall fitness, I was a catastrophe. My vegetable consumption solely consisted of the lettuce on my steak bombs.

Sam Hyun (left) - before 
Sam Hyun (left) - before

One day during my freshman year of college, I had a sudden epiphany. I barged into my friends’ dorm, blurted, “Yo! I’m going to get ripped!” and marched out of the room. From that point forward, I dedicated myself to maintaining a healthy nutrition plan, and have cut out all soda, decreased my alcohol consumption to the point where my friends call me lame (which, in all honestly, only made me want to drink less). It was like a flip had been switched. I have since lost 45 pounds and feel as if I’ve been reborn. My entire perspective on life has evolved. No longer do I make excuses for failure. Instead, I use my failures to fuel me. Because after all, I make the decisions in my life. I am the one choosing to eat ground turkey rather than fried chicken.

Sam Hyun - After

The most important lesson I learned was if I put my heart and soul into whatever task, I can accomplish even my wildest dreams. And if I could make such a drastic change after living recklessly for 18 years to become a whole new person at age 20, so can anyone else. Just believe in yourself, fight to be better, and never settle for good enough. Be the best you.”

We can sit here all day and come up with a million and one different reasons why fixing up your diet - either for healthy weight gain or for fat loss - is not feasible right now. Why going to the gym or even getting in a quick bodyweight workout in your living room is impossible. When it all boils down to it, though, it really comes down to making the most of your current circumstances and keeping your mouth shut long enough to do what you need to do to get where you want to be.

So actually, Sue, people can help the way that they look; they simply choose not to.

You always have a choice.