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Small Steps

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Suddenly I’m excited about my weight loss plan. I did something today I wasn’t sure I would ever do again: I danced a reel.

Almost 14 years ago, I took up Irish dancing. As I struggled with a difficult divorce, I focused steadily on my keeping my children’s routines – school, dance, sports – as consistent as possible. My daughters, then 10 and 8, took Irish dance lessons and were very involved with it. We had all found that there was something magical about dancing the steps of our forebears, the steps that had been handed down so carefully, a tradition that stretches back over hundreds of years. So when my friend Kathi suggested I join the adult class, I thought I’d give it a shot.

I was hesitant, of course. I wasn't feeling great about myself, and I had gained weight juggling single motherhood and a demanding job. I worried about looking like one of Disney’s dancing hippos, hopping around in a Celtic costume instead of a tutu. I consulted my doctor, who was a big proponent of exercise. Was I being ridiculous, a 40-year-old woman, jumping around thinking she could do Riverdance? He just laughed at me. Don’t worry about what people think, just do whatever floats your boat, he said. Exercise needs to be a lifetime habit, and it’s hard to build a lifetime habit if you don’t love what you’re doing.

And it’s been a love affair ever since. Yes, getting up on my toes for the first time meant months of shin splints. I had some issues with plantar fasciitis until I dropped the extra weight. But this was a small price to pay for the absolute joy of moving to the rhythm of the music. I’ll never star in Riverdance, but I did have a satisfying eight-year run of competition, winning over 100 medals in solo and team dancing. It was exactly what the doctor ordered, so to speak, because I not only gained a much-loved habit, but it helped heal my self-esteem, as I spent time with my children and my friends in a community activity as old as time.

When I left the Bay Area to move home to Michigan, I left my community and competitive dancing behind. My job kept me extremely busy, and learning to deal with winter all over again was a challenge. But we all know what happens when you focus too much on a desk job and not enough on your health. I ballooned to 216 pounds. Dance was just a memory.

Last October, I decided it was time to do something about it. I’ve been on a weight loss journey since then, and I’m proud to say I’ve lost 46 pounds, and I’m back to 170, the weight that I last danced at. I’m running a lot right now – a lot for me, anyways, about 18 miles a week. I joined SparkPeople last week because my weight loss has slowed to a crawl – the last couple of months have been pretty much a constant plateau, cycling from 170 to 176 and back again. In the last couple of days, I’ve been reading a lot. I upped my caloric intake from 900 calories a day to 1300 and added a goal to drink a gallon of water every day, and for the first time the scale is showing some positive movement. I’m preparing to add some strength training soon, but I had another idea tickling the back of my mind: a return to dance.

Then SparkGuy posted “Hit Like if you will take any small steps to reach your goals this weekend.” SMALL steps?? I thought? I had been thinking more along the lines of a BIG step. It has been a while since I thought about taking a small step – but I realized, maybe that was one of my problems. Maybe I needed a small step. A small step to shake things up.

So today I pulled out my old warm-up routines. I opened iTunes and sorted my Irish music to pull up a selection of reels. I knew I couldn’t dance “all-out” yet, because it will take time to get the muscles back. But I got through the warm-ups. It didn’t take long to remember the footwork; I already have a step of reel and a step of slip jig back in my feet. Boy did I sweat! I’d forgotten exactly how much energy it takes. And I can already tell that I’ll have to strengthen those abs to compensate for all the lower-back strength that Irish takes.

What I learned today is that starting with something small can make a huge difference. Thank you, SparkGuy, for your insightful question. I’ve spent the afternoon floating on a cloud, remembering good times with close friends, remembering successes – and remembering that nothing stops us except ourselves.
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