Book Review: “Disaster Fitness: Make Your Demons Do the Work”

“If I neglect yoga, I am troubled by dreams of killing everybody.”
— Ann Sterzinger

Disaster Fitness: Make Your Demons Do the Work

By Ann Sterzinger

Ann Sterzinger’s “Disaster Fitness” holds that trauma and dysfunction can be harnessed for good and turned to our physical advantage. Pain and turmoil can be used like flamethrowers and grenades against the forces of over-eating and sloth.

“I’m crazier than a shithouse rat inside,” Sterzinger writes. “And yet I’ve never been overweight. Some of my frenemies think I have some magical metabolism thing going on, but if I do it’s only because I’ve never been on a starvation diet, and I work out every day—without struggling with willpower or motivation. This book is about why I’ve managed that, and about how you can do the same.”

The Disaster Fitness approach asks you to navigate the cosmology of your fear, anger, or abandonment issues — or whatever forces gnaw away at you — and generate a positive outcome. “It’s time to stop bemoaning the metabolism fates,” Sterzinger writes, and…

…start learning to use the advantages that you, as a crazy person, secretly possess.

This is advice I can get behind pretty easily, since I’d wager that 25% of the people I encounter call me “crazy,” and not necessarily in a flattering way.

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder? Got it.
  • Nonverbal learning disorder? Check.
  • Extreme social anxiety? Ditto.
  • Moderate-to-severe depression? Got that too.

So how do I weaponize these demons? The short answer: It’s a process, of course — but to know the “Disaster Fitness” method is to know the payoffs include such rewards as free drugs. i.e. endorphins. “Your brain makes the best drugs,” writes Sterzinger. “All-natural, free of charge, no social stigma, no one hassling you with their bullshit, no diabetes, and no hangover.”

That resonates with me. A lot of this book resonates with me. A lot of it is me. In a chapter describing the benefits of being present, Sterzinger writes (emphasis added):

The first step to being present for the people in your life, and actually enjoying them, is to identify your emotion (does this sound familiar?): to realize that the uncomfortable feeling you get in social situations is fear, not boredom. I used to confuse the two constantly. And while some people really are boring, I also felt “bored” around people who were objectively fascinating. But it wasn’t really boredom; it was a low-level anxiety. I wasn’t bored so much as I was exhausted by being nervous. Instead of completely listening to what they had to say, I was scanning the room to make sure I had a clear path to the exits. I could only feel close to people after I’d had too much to drink to judge anyone’s character anyway.

This is not dissimilar to how my mind darts around in pained conversation with others. I’ll take any tips on how to enhance my ability to be present. And I appreciate the commitment in “Disaster Fitness” to addressing these topics in a way that doesn’t reek of New Age blather. In fact, “Disaster Fitness” approaches most of its topics in profane and aggressive language. This is not a novelty bug that wears out its welcome; this is a feature that blends seamlessly with the prose. There’s something magical about seeing words like “shit” and “motherfucker” in close proximity to “yoga” and “bliss.”

So, yes, I like this book and I relate to it plenty. I’m not a puns guy, so I won’t say “Disaster Fitness” encourages you to “exercise” your demons. A more apt description might involve adorcism, which — unlike exorcism — involves a potentially positive union with a demon. (If you happen to believe in demons, that is, which I don’t, but they’re fun to imagine, to the extent they don’t become too much like real-life demons, e.g. addiction or suicidal thoughts.)

Anyway, I think Ann’s on to something here, beyond the general understanding that neuroses and pain can fuel one’s betterment. “Disaster Fitness” is an idea that has some legs. It might be fun to watch it advance across other mediums, for instance, YouTube webisodes. A Disaster Fitness “brand.”

Michael Cade

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