The Disembodied Head Protests

Friday, November 16, 2012

My profession is one where I am little more than a disembodied head. Most days, I work from home in my pyjamas, spending hours and hours frowning at a computer screen. Sometimes, an entire day will pass and I will have spoken aloud to no one, except maybe the cats. As a consequence, occupational hazards include eye-strain, backache, carpal tunnel and a stupid refusal to drink water so I don't have to go upstairs and use the bathroom, as it interrupts creativity and work flow. Ironically, these symptoms are not the worst fallback from my sedantary job. It is the years of agreeing to be only half a person, one with a brain but no body to speak of. For far too long I perpetuated this myth singlehandedly, telling myself I didn't need a physical presence. I was a strong, independent, thinking woman who refused to be judged (and judge others) on their appearance. Physicality was overrated anyway. I considered a regard for 'self' as shallow, anathema to the person I strived to be - that is, a mind that produced ideas, met deadlines and was all around a dependable colleague who could get things done.

The same way it was shocking when I started incorporating bacon, cream and butter to my daily diet, I had to recalibrate my prior beliefs and tell myself it was OK to care about my body.

It is still something I'm struggling with. Take last week, for example.

I was doing really well, but out of nowhere, it's as if someone pushed a big red button and all the great feelings I'd been experiencing, suddenly came to a halt. In reverse 100mph to zero, I went from James Brown I FEEL GOOD mode to miserable flatline. OK, I'm exaggerating a little and the overall sensation was more of a 'so, what of it?' attitude, complete with shrug. But let me tell you, after weeks of high energy and a YES, I CAN attitude, 'so' was not cutting it.

If I have to point a finger, it started a few weeks ago as a niggling worry about the amount of exercise I was doing. I'd already had a few concerned emails asking me if going to the gym so frequently wasn't a tad counterproductive. In my mailbox were various articles on the dangers of too much cardio. Spark was telling me to increase my calories. FitBit was giving me outrageous burn numbers. Family members and close friends were wondering when I was going to move my mattress into the gym. As if to prove everyone's point, I pulled a thigh muscle during yoga, right above my bad knee. It was painful. I lay in a little heap on my mat, terrified i'd done serious damage. Fortunately, it wasn't anything a frozen bag of peas couldn't fix and I limped home feeling like a total idiot.

An annoying voice, one I'd not heard in some time, promptly took up residence in my head. It said all the usual stuff. How I didn't know anything about anything. How I was championing exercise but still managed to get hurt. How the actions of my body weren't something we were interested in anyway, so why even bother?

Over the next few days, I decided to take it easy, give in to the nagging voice and let my muscles rest for a while. I went for a massage, had a facial, took a few naps. I even finished two books on my to-read list. On the food/exercise front however, things were looking bleak. The annoying voice started talking about new projects to distract from the current one - the Get Me Healthy NOW Plan.

For the first time in weeks, I didn't religiously log in every morsel of food into Spark. I was also consuming more calories than usual. On a few occasions, I even found myself with the urge to stuff myself with unhealthy foods, even though I didn't crave them. I was angry with my body. In fact, I blamed it for all the problems. Here, I thought we were done with boredom eating, so what was happening to me?

Easy, said my mind. My body was a little twerp that wanted nothing more than to sabotage me. It had no will power, no intelligence of its own, and no consequence of right or wrong. It only understood 'stop' and 'more food, please' and one of those it didn't really listen to. It sounds crazy, but I felt betrayed. I thought I was doing well, figuring things out, eating the right foods, exercising, even a succesful rejection of all things lattes. Out of nowhere, failure was back in the picture, its beady little eyes waiting for me to falter. But why? Why the visit from the failure demon when everything was going so well?

My mind didn't reply. Instead, it made excuses: Yeah, sure it works for Robb and Mark of paleo/primal fame, but what about us normal folk? Low-carb isn't for everyone. After all, I'm not a woman who loses weight easily. I'm too big to exercise properly. I miss pizza. I have knee problems. I have low blood sugar. I hate cauliflower mash. But Thanksgiving is coming and Xmas around the corner! I can't afford a gym membership as well as grass-fed beef. AGH!!!

This continued for a few days until it finally hit me.

What started the crash was my initial doubt about exercising and all those underlying feelings of ineptitude. I had jumped eagerly into it with both feet, thinking I'd found a path that worked for me. One that got me going in the mornings, that was competitive enough to motivate me, but still independent enough that I wasn't comparing myself with everyone else. So why were my friends and family so concerned? Had I changed into one of THOSE PEOPLE? You know the ones - gym bunnies, cardio clowns, guys and gals in lycra standing in front of the mirror, pumping and preening and thinking only of their bodies. Gasp.

My doubt nagged and grew from a loose baby tooth into a full-on, embarrassing blacked-out tooth gap, so that I was forced to cover up and stop smiling in public. Yes, folks, shame entered the picture.

Maybe I am doing too much, I told myself, slowing down so much I came to a complete grinding stop.

One of the things I've learned from extensive reading is that diet is the most important single factor in getting healthier. It is instrumental for weight loss and the main thing that's going change the way a person feels and looks, as well as the crucial health markers. A lot of us our unfortunate products of bad eating and propaganda. I grew up with breakfast cereals, lunch boxes stuffed with twinkles and microwave dinners. The good news is that most of it is reversible. Once you have the proper knowledge you can make better food choices and ignorance can no longer be used as an excuse.

Avoiding excess carbs and sugars is challenging, but exercise, and subsequently body awareness, is infinitely more so, as it forces you to look at yourself. REALLY look. While nutritious foods help mend an unhealthy body, fitness can also transform you from the inside. You read that correctly. Body can finally united with its lost long companion, improving much more than muscle tone or strength. You see, for a former disembodied head, exercising is more than moving a recalcitrant muscle, it is a silent dialogue between your mind and body. In a healthy person, that dialogue can take on the form f questions, with a call and response action that for years I ignored completely. I don't say this lightly, but I feel that my physical transformation is not complete without a true understanding of how important body is to the entire process of becoming a more balanced and healthy individual. That is anything but the shallow merit I afforded it.

I'm so glad for Spark because I am able to read about different challenges and how people overcome them. I am especially grateful for having friends that motivate me and make me believe that I too can succeed. Although, sometimes I am so preoccupied with juggling these emerging nuggets of truth, that I lose sight of my goals and feel compelled to strip away at the very thing that could make me happy. There is a lesson here about humility (which I could do with more of), but especially about understanding that I am not simply a disembodied head, a brain in a jar, like on Futurama.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    What wonderful insights!

    The mind IS a physical construct, a part of the body, and affected by everything we do or don't do to our bodies.

    The body IS a mind of its own, adjusting, controlling, and being controlled by compounds that our conscious minds know nothing about.
    3076 days ago
    My mother in law worked from home for years (no computer). She sold a line of clothing and had lots of mundane business stuff at home. She said the key for her day to go right was to get up, eat a decent breakfast, clean up, put on her face and clothe herself as if she was going "out" to work. It helped regulate her day even though she didn't leave the house. To spend the day in your pajamas is not a good thing I think. Kills the diet/exercise "work ethic" so to speak. I can often rot away a morning in my skivvies in front of my computer. Even in the short run, it is not a good thing for me.
    3077 days ago
    Do not let others (especially your family) plant the seeds of doubt in you. I was stunned by how people who I know care about me ridiculed my new way of eating and my exercise. In the case of my family and friends, it is because I am now a reminder to them of time lost getting on the road to health themselves. Sometimes people who are living in denial can become extremely aggressive when reality knocks on their door.
    Listen to your body. Your physical activity is making you feel better. Even professional athletes who have trainers and physical therapists at their disposal get injured.
    You've made amazing progress on the road to good health. Learning to eat well and exercise requires practice every day. Some days the practice is easier than others. The more you practice the better you will play.
    3077 days ago
    wondering if any of the problem is premenstrual? That has been getting to me something dreadful the last week.
    3077 days ago
    You seem very in tune with yourself and will find the best way forward for YOU!!!
    3077 days ago
  • no profile photo CD9922996
    You're getting a lot of insight into a troubling and complex process. I agree with your conclusions regarding the primary means of weight loss (what one eats) as well as the connection that is forged between the body and the mind through exercise.

    The way I think of it is: the weight loss occurs mostly through diet but the non-scale rewards occur mostly through exercise.

    How much is too much? One idea is that if you are exceeding 4,000 calories per week, you may have hit a level of exercise that is working against your fitness goals, but that number is also an average -- your mileage may vary.

    In the end, I guess we are left to our own conversations with our own body to determine what works for us. The good news is we both seem very interested in that conversation.

    3077 days ago
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