Monday, November 25, 2013
I'm afraid of heights. Even standing on a balcony with a sturdy railing to hold onto can set my heart racing and head spinning. But this past summer, while spending a month in Greece, that fear became less a crippling roadblock than a minor inconvenience. When there were mountains to climb and unimaginably gorgeous views to take in, fear just didn't seem worth the attention. The picture above is from late in the trip, a little over a week before I flew home. By then, I'd climbed more mountains than I could count, I'd stood precariously on tiptoe at the edge of a cliff, twisting off balance to take in the Acropolis against that impossibly blue sky. In this picture, you can see my feet crossed casually as I wait for the sun to set over the water. What you can't see is that the rock underneath me stops just where my heels are and below it is a sheer drop down to waves crashing against rocks below. The peacefulness of the image leaves out the deafening stream of wind blowing over me. Imagine Jack on the prow of the Titanic and you'll get an idea of what it felt like up there. One wrong step, and beauty turns into tragedy.
Why am I telling you this? Why am I staring at a picture of my feet in dusty sandals kicked out towards a not-quite-setting sun? Because November has been a tough month for me. In an effort to bang out a draft of the novel I'll be using for my Master's thesis (due this spring!) I've spent most of the month holed up in the library or my favorite cafe, slumped over my laptop. My heart raced from anxiety and too much caffeine. I panicked about getting the story down on paper while also preparing the research portion of the thesis and readying applications for a PhD next fall. I paid almost no attention to what went into my mouth; chocolate, chips, salad, or pastries, it was all the same to me. My gym must have wondered if we were breaking up.
Writers will often tell you that when they're working, the story comes first. The dishes can go unwashed, the laundry remains dirty, and food consists of whatever's convenient, so long as the words arrive on the page. For the better part of this month, I've completely thrown myself into this approach. But a funny thing happened. I'd be spending hours and hours at the computer, but the words were beginning to dry up. I started the month by writing one or two thousand words in an hour or hour and a half session. But as the month progressed and I let the rest of my life (socialization, exercising, showering...okay not that last one but you get the idea) fall by the wayside, I fell behind in the story. My imagination gasped for air and I felt the inevitable burn out coming on.
Last Thursday, I went back to the gym. A quick 30 minute walk on the treadmill followed by a movie I'd been looking forward to. I didn't write that day. Friday, I ran and then went to my best friend's house for dinner. I didn't write that day either. By Saturday I was beginning to worry that I was in avoidance mode and had given up on the story completely. But I went to the gym again and hit the elliptical hard. I came home and wrote 4,000 words. Sunday was the same: gym, library, thousands of words. The fog of fatigue in my brain began to lift and I looked at my goal (50,000 words by the end of the month) and laughed. Of COURSE I could do that. Never mind that I was a bit behind schedule. With my new routine, I feel strong and inspired again. I've climbed mountains! Of course I can do this.
And then I thought about the scale, which mercifully hasn't moved terribly since the beginning of the month. Not nearly as much as I might expect from not exercising or following my eating plan. I thought about how each time I've tried to lose weight in the past, including this time around, I've become frustrated by not hitting my marks. Not losing a pound a week, not falling within my calorie range every single day, not being "on track" all the time. It's the number one cause of my giving up, of saying I'm always going to be overweight, of telling myself I might as well get used to this body and this weight because it's not going anywhere. Today, I'm laughing at that me. I say to that me, "Honey, you've climbed mountains in that body. You've written 40,000 words in a month; more than you ever have before. You have a habit of being late to EVERYTHING. You go through cycles of single-minded focus followed by burnout and recharging. But if this is something you really, REALLY want, not even fear can stop you."
I've climbed mountains despite a fear of heights. I'm on track to accomplish one of my most cherished goals: writing a novel. This weight doesn't stand a chance.
Thursday, October 03, 2013
We all know how weight loss works: calories out must exceed calories in, right? So we exercise a little more and eat a little less. We track our calories and even out the balance sheet. But sometimes the math doesn't quite work and a mysterious element enters into the proceedings that we can't quite account for. Our straightforward math problem gets complicated by other factors like sleep, water intake, and stress.
The way I used to lose weight was by focusing on the equation. Track how many calories I burned, track how much I ate, and work hard to make the balance come out in my favor. But inevitably I'd have an off day or an off week and the equation would slide out of balance or the scale wouldn't move despite the math working out. I would get frustrated and quit. The weight would inevitably pile back on and I would be even more miserable for "failing".
Tracking is important of course and expecting to lose weight without knowing your calorie balance is like trying to buy a house without knowing how much money you have in the bank. But I went out for a short run yesterday--only about twenty minutes at a fairly easy pace--and began to think about this weight loss process in a different light. It wasn't an intense run and it wouldn't tip my calorie balance for the day very much, but it broke up a day of heavy workloads and refreshed my mind so that I could go back to work stronger and more focused. For the first time in awhile, exercise wasn't about the calorie equation, it was about the mind/body/soul equation.
As I explained in my last post, one of my biggest issues not just in weight loss but life in general is dealing with my anxiety and depression. My aching soul and hurting mind often get in the way of what I know I need to do for my body. But I was so focused on what my body needed in order to lose weight, I wasn't thinking about the important role of my mind and soul. When I went on that run, I felt my body working in tandem with my mind which was sorting through ideas for the novel I'm writing, and my soul which sucked in the beauty of clean fall air and changing leaves. I came away craving a fresh, healthy lunch of salad and lean chicken, my soul refreshed and hopeful, and my mind sharp and focused.
The body is an important part of the puzzle and the calorie equation is important to that piece of the puzzle. But it's time to look at the forest, not just the trees. And there, calories are only a small part.
Monday, September 30, 2013
Depression and anxiety have been a problem for me for a long time. Since before I knew what the problem actually was. All I knew is that it makes everything just a little bit harder, shifting my priority list down a notch so that eat well, exercise, work hard, comes after breathe, function; don't freak out. My mind becomes like a little child which must be kept busy with little tasks so that it doesn't get in the way of the grownups in its attempts to "help".
Every once in awhile, I have a kind of relapse. My medication keeps me on an even keel most days and it builds a floor through which I can't plummet even when things get really bad. But that floor still isn't a happy place to be. It's a place where I'd much rather curl up in bed with a jumbo bar of dark chocolate than get to the gym or fix myself a healthy meal. I "know" that exercise and good, healthy food are exactly what I need most at those times to make me feel better, but somehow knowing and following through haven't quite synched up. So I make bargains with myself. If you go to your job interview in the morning, you can spend the rest of the day watching reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and eating whatever you want. If you go to the gym, we can have tacos for lunch. If you finish your homework, you can spend the afternoon on the couch reading a book and not moving except to go to the bathroom.
It's not the healthiest reward system and thankfully I don't have to use it all the time. A day or two at a time while I haul myself back up the slope to "normal". But it's a long climb and I need all the help I can muster.
Saturday, September 28, 2013
This is not day 1. It is day 100 or 1,000 or 569, I'm not really sure. I've had dozens of day ones. I've had "this is the last day 1 I'm ever going to have" day ones when I SWORE it would be different this time. I've had "Everything is going to be different now" day ones and "we'll start small" day ones and everything in between. There's always a day one and it can happen any time you like.
This isn't day 1, not really. It's a day that follows a bad day (isn't that so often the case). It's a day that caps a week that felt like one step forward, three steps back. It's not a day of boundless enthusiasm as day ones so often are. There is no grand plan or lofty goal of a certain number on the scale or size of my jeans. I have goals of course, but this day one is not about them. It is about the journey. It is a serious look at how I will get to the goals and the barriers that get thrown up in front of them. My goals are not just physical, not only about health, fitness, and looking good. I want to lose weight, of course. I want to love my body and be proud of its accomplishments. But over the course of so many day ones, I've realized that in order to get to those goals, I can't simply focus on eating less and exercising. I have to look at the totality of my life.
Here are my problems as I see them:
-I love to exercise. I love going to the gym and running and lifting weights and pushing myself physically. It's my me time and I work hard in my zone. But when I don't have time to exercise or when I don't feel up to a full cardio and strength workout, I get down on myself. It feels like a day wasted.
-My diet is not balanced. I don't eat enough vegetables or fruit. I always have dessert. My approach to eating is not strategic or planned but random and often guided by cravings or what I 'feel' I should eat, which isn't always healthy. I am at a loss in the kitchen and grasp randomly within my comfort zone.
-I am not where I want to be with my career or my life as a whole. I worry about it a lot. I panic about money and where I'm going. I am not enjoying myself.
-I know what my passion in life is: writing. But I haphazardly pursue it, make excuses when I don't dedicate time to it, feel guilty for not doing more, and worry that I will never be able to make it a career.
-I fall into funks and dark places that inevitably include the endless motion of hand to mouth as unconsidered calories of untasted food is used to quell the doubt, fear, and unhappiness. I often find myself uttering the words, "It doesn't matter" or "What's the point?" "I'll do better tomorrow, or next week, or whenever."
-I feel stuck.
That is where I am right now. That is why it is day 1: because I'm figuring out how to be unstuck. And I hope that you can help me.
Thursday, July 11, 2013
People talk all the time about their "ah-ha moment": that smack-you-over-the-head moment when everything changes and you know you need to make a change in your life. You need to lose weight and get healthy so that you can live long enough to see your kids grow up, beat a life-threatening condition, play with your grandkids, whatever the case may be. My personal favorite is Dietgirl, who saw her her "giant" knickers floating on the line to dry and decided it was high time to shrink them.
I never had an ah-ha moment. I had "okay seriously, you need to lose weight" moments. I had "I am miserable and need to change" moments. But never that born-again, enlightenment, spark moment. Until now....sort of.
I just came home from a month-long study abroad trip to Greece. A month of climbing mountains to visit historical sites, a camera slung across my chest, and a pack weighed down with guidebooks and water on my back. A month surrounded by a group of girls all younger than me, fitter than me, "prettier" than me. Or at least, more willing to have their pictures taken at every site we visited. I, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with the business end of the camera. I wanted to take the pictures, to capture the immense beauty of what I was seeing. But when we crowded into group shots, or when someone insisted on taking my picture in front of a monument or mountain, I concentrated on twisting, sucking in, and shrinking.
It was at the top of yet another mountain, surrounded by gorgeous landscape and panting from the exertion of getting to the top (in sandals and a maxi skirt no less) that it hit me. All the other girls were taking selfies and handing off cameras to get a shot of themselves in this amazing place. And I...I took pictures of them. I could tell myself that it was because I didn't quite trust anyone with my expensive DSLR or that I was too busy capturing the moment from behind the lens. But I knew that it was simply because I would not like how I looked in the resulting image. I would focus on my belly pooching over my shorts, my less than toned arms and legs, the general lumpiness and lack of definition. And how sad was that? I wanted to hand my camera off to someone else without a second thought and strike a pose, thinking only, "take a picture of me so everyone can see what I accomplished".
That was my first ah-ha moment in a month of ah-ha moments. I vowed to myself that I would come back, or go somewhere else extraordinary and I would not hesitate then. I would have my picture taken and my first thought would not be for my belly or thighs or body in general. It would be the experience captured in a single frame.
Later in the trip, I would find myself slicing through the waters of the Mediterranean with a strong freestyle stroke and suddenly think, "I want to do a triathlon." I stood on a cliff looking over the water and thought, "I want to start hiking again". I walked across the plain of Marathon and remembered how much I used to love running. And I swam naked, nowhere to hide the body that I'm not exactly proud of...and I made a grudging kind of peace with it.
I came home to find that I had gained back some of the weight I'd lost before my trip: a final week of lounging on the beach and eating ridiculously good food erasing any of the weight I might have lost climbing all those mountains. I hadn't weighed myself since I'd left and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little disappointed in the spike. But it also wasn't that important to me. I had a vision of how I want to live while I was over there: good healthy food, lots of movement, mountains to climb, races to run, and a whole new outlook on my body: appreciating it for what it can do instead of hating it for how it looks.
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