Warning: Long ramble ahead.
I spend a lot of time thinking about health.
When I was younger this all started because I was, like the majority of American women, obsessed with body image and how to try to attain it through dieting. I read scads of diets–fad and otherwise. I tried all kinds of get skinny quick methods–pills, sprays, shakes, detoxes. I did Weight Watchers for the first time in the 6th grade and lost 18 pounds. When I was TWELVE. Anything to try to combat my body’s natural tendency to hold on to weight period, particularly around my butt, hips, and thighs. I get it from my mother, who got it from her grandmother. My 6’2″, skinny-as-a-rail father only saw fit to pass on his big ass feet, not any height or superior metabolism. Unfair, but them’s the breaks.
I grew up in a household where I had two conflicting messages. My dad is a runner. Always has been. He routinely ran 10ks every year. And he ate junk. Lots of it. I always used to look on with envy because damn it, I love ice cream too. My mother and I resented the hell out of the fact that he insisted on having his junk food in the house because it was a big temptation to us. Never mind the fact that we both overlooked the running. He had to be genetically blessed, the jerk.
On my mom’s side I definitely picked up the whole cycle of yo-yo dieting. We ate healthy most of the time, but there were always periods of falling off the wagon that led to massive gastronomic indiscretions in a “well I already blew it, might as well” kind of way (what the heck kind of logic is that, really?). It was totally a regular occurrence to find hoarded caramels or chocolate (hers, not mine). She mostly didn’t exercise. For various stints of my life she was a walker, and for a long while she had a gym membership (does again and is actually USING IT–GO MOM!) but she’s never been a natural athlete and absolutely doesn’t seek out physical activity. She doesn’t like it and I learned (that’s a key word there) that I didn’t either. My brief stints into park and rec league sports didn’t go well because I have no natural athletic prowess and my mental makeup means that I tend not to stick with things I suck at. That included softball, dance, and gymnastics. I felt no compulsion to get outside and do stuff because, dude, I live in Mississippi. It’s freaking HOT HERE most of the year and I hate getting hot and sweaty and stinky.
So between my love of food, my apparent inability to control my portions, and my general abhorrence of physical activity, I hit high school pudgy. I was probably smaller then than I am now but I was definitely overall SOFT and did not have anything approaching what was considered an ideal build. I had lousy self esteem. Boys didn’t like me (I hadn’t yet figured out that my brain intimidated them). And I continued with all kinds of poor choices in terms of how I attempted to lose weight through diet. Because it was all about how I looked and what size my jeans were.
But I did one great thing and joined a gym. And went religiously. I got introduced to weight training, which I LOVED. This was an activity I could get behind. I could lift, get tired, feel like I did something, and not smell like something that just got mucked out of a stall when I finished. Win win. Plus more muscle meant I burned more calories naturally, which was better support for how much I wanted to eat. YAY. Over high school I gradually got more and more into exercise. I added in swimming and walking, sometimes jogging. But I didn’t like those things. They kept the pool freaking hot for all the old people who walked in the water, and walking and jogging made me sweat. I just did them because I had to do something, right? By my senior year, I whittled my way down to a 2. This was less because of diet and exercise and more because of a massive case of chronic bronchitis with so much drainage I flat didn’t want to eat most of the time. Not what you’d call healthy. But I was a freaking 2! Boys were starting to NOTICE ME!
Off to college where I stayed tiny, despite a steady diet of Super Sonic Cheeseburgers. Between the massive depression I was mired in due to my parents’ divorce and my membership on the university taekwondo team, I stayed thin and in the best shape of my life. TKD was the first experience I had with something that made me hot and sweaty that I LOVED. This was a big mental shift for me. It was also during college that I discovered yoga. And got to a point where I could run and it didn’t feel like I had ice picks stabbing me in the gut. The whole concept of finding physical activity that I LIKED was eye opening. And it really helped to shift the mental stance that I wanted to do it all with diet. And I think that’s when it started to become more about health than about being skinny. I still wanted things fast (who doesn’t?), but I began to recognize the difference. I felt AWESOME. I was in fantastic physical shape, I looked good, and I enjoyed what I was doing to stay that way.
Then I got out of college into the real world where suddenly my free time was microscopic and I didn’t have as much time or access to as good a gym with programs that fit into my schedule. My weight crept up. And up. And up. I still did SOMETHING, but it wasn’t enough to balance out my eating habits (which had morphed when I met my husband-to-be because I didn’t feel it was fair that he should get to eat more than me–even though he’s twice my size–back in college I actually took pride in the fact that I could eat more pizza than him–a 5’4″ woman should never be able to eat 5 slices of a large pizza and not die). I felt lousy. I was tired. Constantly busy (and God, what I thought was busy then is nothing to my daily life now). I’d cycled through the Atkins Diet. (Epic fail). Southbeach. (Success but hard for me to stick to as a carb junkie). Sonoma. (Great success, but expensive). Tried Weight Watchers again, but they switched from the old system they were using in the early 90s to this points thing that was more work than just straight counting calories.
By the time I hit my high point after one holiday season about four years ago, I finally accepted the fact that I just can’t eat as much as my 6″ spouse. I felt this injustice as deeply as I did the fact that my dad could eat crap and stay skinny. But I felt AWFUL physically. It wasn’t about being skinny–or not entirely–it was about the fact that I FELT LOUSY. And I was desperate to get back into my favorite jeans. So I finally started counting calories and eating appropriately for my size. I also got my Wii that year and discovered fitness games, which, as it happens, are something else I totally LOVE.
My personal health research shifted to the exercise front. What would be the most effective. I discovered Tom Venuto’s work. Read scads of information on building muscle and high intensity interval training. And I applied it all. I made exercise an integral part of my everyday. I started feeling better. But I stayed STARVING. All the time. My weight was going down (which was a yay), but I was constantly hungry and miserable, and social situations were like mine fields because one meal out or with friends would blow my progress for the week. I was getting healthier, no question, but at the expense of a psychologically healthy relationship with food.
Then hubby broke his leg. And again it was stress that got me down to a low weight point. I was actually able to start eating more because of how much I was exercising. I felt better, was back in single digit jeans. And then the holidays hit and I went up again. Didn’t get all of it off that year. Then another holiday season came and went (this past year) and I was 10 pounds up from that low weight. And PISSED. Because I’ve been working my butt off and the weight loss is so so slow and inconsistent and I am just flat not willing to starve myself anymore. I love food. It’s one of my chief pleasures in life, and I have turned myself into an ACTIVE, physical person in order to try and support that love.
Then I started running. I’ve talked elsewhere about this strange transition. But the amazing thing that happened is that I could do it. This morning I pushed my mileage from 2.25 miles to 2.5. I didn’t have ice picks. And I didn’t feel like I was going to die. I am in good physical shape despite the extra ten pounds or so I’m carting around. My doctor declares me healthy as a horse. I feel better. Now I still want to get that ten pounds off. And I’ve declared war on the bat wings (after hubby’s grandmother told me at Christmas that my arms are fat–thanks Granny–can you bench 70 pounds?). But I’m healthy.
Instead of wasting time railing at the hand I got dealt in the genetic lottery, I took responsibility for my body and my life. I stopped the cycle of yo-yo dieting, stopped dieting all together. Diet was, first and foremost, simply what you ate. It didn’t used to be this ugly 4 letter word that screams deprivation and starvation. I stopped dieting and I embraced a lifestyle change. I found physical activity I liked and I stuck with it. These things are key.
We all need to STOP THE INSANITY. Get off this hamster wheel of dieting and recognize that only long term, lifestyle changes are going to keep us healthy, stave off diabetes, heart disease, and all the myriad of other health conditions related to extra weight. In the end we all have to take responsibility for our bodies and stop expecting somebody else to do it for us. We have to stop expecting a magic bullet or a pill to make it go away fast. We didn’t get fat fast and we’re not going to get thin and healthy fast.
It’s hard. I get it. When you’re way up there and you’re exhausted and the last thing you want to do is EXERCISE. You have no energy and the temptation is to just try to lose some weight through diet first in hopes that that’ll help. I’m gonna let you in on a secret. It won’t. You aren’t going to wake up one day and suddenly have energy. And if you’re waiting around for that moment to start exercising, you’ll be waiting until hell freezes over. Start today. Do something. It doesn’t have to be a marathon. But do something. Walk the dog. Play a game of Kinect Adventures. Find something to get off your fanny and get moving, even when you’re tired. The energy isn’t going to come until you move because an object at rest is going to stay at rest unless something prompts it to move. That something has to come within you because you can’t count on your spouse or friend or a zombie invasion to come chasing you with a cattle prod to make you do it.
You matter. You’re important. Treat yourself as a goddess (or Spartan if you’re a guy) in training and give yourself the gift of a lifestyle that will lead to better health.
I think this tome just might count as one of my exercise rounds for the day…