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What Does Long-term Progress Look Like? This. It looks like this.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Today, I was tidying up my bookshelves and ran across a stack of journals, including my "fit binder". It was interesting to put these documents in chronological order, and to think about what they meant to me.

First, I was reminded that I'm terrible at keeping a journal. I write when I'm interested in writing, to capture a thought or mull over an idea or to test out what a concept looks like in words. When forced to write every day, my writing gets extremely dull. When I begin to bore myself, the journal dies.

These journals told me an interesting story. It's one that could be interpreted in different ways. I could look at them as evidence that all of my previous attempts to start a diet or exercise program or to "finally get fit" were failures. And some of the journals start out that way: full of hope and charged with optimism, or they're angry, fatshaming, and full of self-recrimination. The superficial pattern of starting and restarting and restarting again *could* be read as serial failure - why did I never follow through? why did I never achieve my goal, reach my destination, and "finally get fit"?


But reading more carefully and closely, what I saw instead was that each journal begins further down the road toward better fitness. The first journal talks about starting a walking program. Another starts with my workout plan from joining a local gym. Another includes notes about working out on weight machines. The last item is the binder filled with things like exercises from PT, clippings of yoga routines, and recipes to try. It's got magazine/journal articles, booklists, and notes on favorite books about diet (and the persistent comment that the diet and fitness industry is riddled with scams, lies, baloney, fear-mongering, and messages that stimulate anxiety and self-hatred...but that's another blog post, I think). The binder picks up where the journals leave off: it's not like there are "entries" per se - it's a resource created because I was and am actively thinking about and working on living a healthy and fit life. (I'm bad at journals; I'm great at research!)

Yes, there are gaps between the journals, and each was started because it had been "too long" since I felt I was paying attention to my weight, diet, or fitness level. But over time, those gaps get shorter. And the things that triggered journaling change, too, as alarms about being above my "ideal" weight get lower (I learned that while it sucks to lose the same 10 lbs over and over again, it's sucks more to lose the same 30 lbs over and over again), and my body sense of "it feels like I need to do this" get more finely tuned. The entries change, from focusing on diet fads, to eating healthfully and planning practical everyday fitness, and building a life that supports healthy goals.

I know some of these changes are just, well, maturity...but I also see from the pattern that each time I started, I started from a place I'd gotten to because of the work I'd done before. I may have lost interest in each journal and slacked off from the good intentions that started it. But every time I paid attention to eating better, exercising more, and changing my habits, *some* good habits took root. "Two steps forward, one step back" is still progress.

These journals don't reveal failure - they're the record of my progress over the long haul. Eating right and being fit isn't a destination, it's a journey. And I've made a lot of progress.
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