I’ve been so good since last week (don’t judge me that I’m wanting pats on the back for six days’ effort). I’ve tracked everything for a week. I embarked on a physically intensive cleaning project over the weekend. Yesterday was the first day in more than a week that I didn’t hit 10,000 steps, and I swear to you on the 9,229 steps I did get that I was working on it until the very stroke of midnight. I came home from a truly bad choir practice and cleaned the kitchen and then did 2500 steps while I brushed my teeth and standing next to my bed.
Jen Hatmaker always asks “what is saving your life right now?” on her podcast. It’s quoting Barbara Brown Taylor.
On a day after a frustrating choir practice with a new director (that will be fine, it’s just transition pains plus mansplaining), looking forward to two days of being talked over and patronized to at work starting this evening, and a holy day of obligation on the heels of eight hours of being talked over tomorrow and another four on Thursday, what is saving my life this morning is the garden.
When I was in high school, the BFF had an Alaskan Malamute. She’s a neatnik, and when I asked her about it, she said the dog made her one, because if she ever left anything laying around, the dog would eat it.
I swore I’d never find myself here again, but I’m back, despite everything I thought I learned.
Eight years ago, I did a triathlon. I’d had a break-up at the end of May that year, and decided my weight was part of what ended things (he didn’t say so, but I definitely weighed more than he did, and when you’re in a dark place, you know what the whispers would be like, whether you’re sure they’re happening or not.) I signed up for another short sprint triathlon, to channel some of those feelings, and quite frankly, to feel better about myself.
I worked hard. I had done the same tri two years earlier with a time of about 3 hours. (swim half mile, bike 12.5 miles, “run” a 5K). This time, I was just under 2.5 hours. I was so proud of myself. I stepped on the scale a couple of days later (letting my body recover from the stress of the day). I had never weighed more.
I was sure there was something wrong with me, metabolically. There’s a family history and some indication I’m predisposed to thyroid trouble, plus I have a family history of diabetes. A friend has more than suggested that I might have PCOS, though I’ve not been diagnosed with it. I was so frustrated that I wanted to go to my doctor and have them figure out what was wrong, that I could work so hard and be so heavy.
But logic said that I had never tried the first step— tracking my calories in and calories out. And I thought that would be the first thing a sensible doctor would have me do. I decided that I’d make a more compelling case if I could show them that I wasn’t eating too much and I was exercising a ton and still gaining weight.
So the following February, I went on the restrictive phase of the South Beach Diet. I tracked calories in and worked out. And the weight fell off. I was eating more than I thought.
I kept it up (mostly on the less-restrictive phase of South Beach), losing 35 of the 55 pounds I wanted to lose, between then and the following summer. And then I got dramatically sick with a virus. I lost even more weight. I stopped tracking my calories, because I couldn’t work out and I wasn’t eating much more than saltines and ginger ale that summer. I’m sure I lost a good foundation of muscle I’d built. I lost 5 more pounds.
When I finally started to feel better, I didn’t mind that my weight went up a little. I needed to rebuild the muscle. Having an appetite again made me relieved. Unhealthy weight loss is no bueno.
But my weight has crept steadily higher. I’m still about 10 pounds under my worst, and I’m about where I was three years ago. I’ve lost 5 or 10 pounds, here or there, and regained them.
It’s been a picture-y summer— my niece and nephew’s graduation, a big family reunion. And I hate the pictures I’m in. Although my size hasn’t gone up too dramatically (I’m wearing a pair of capris right now that I bought 9 years ago, that I’ve worn at every point along this journey— undeniably tighter now than 20 pounds lighter, but not uncomfortable), my body is definitely not where I want it to be.
I was thinking about it yesterday. Yesterday was a 17,000-step day for me, and I also got in a half-mile swim. I’d done 10K steps and about .75 miles the day before. I’ve been tracking my calories some— maybe three days in a week, maybe five. But I’m not tracking them on the days when I know I won’t like what I see.
The truth was last time, I could work out 24/7— until I monitored my calories honestly, I was just going to gain weight.
Also, eight years ago, I was in my 30s. I’m in my 40s now. Metabolism is not on my side, here. It’s going to be harder. Particularly because my habits are not as bad as they once were—I eat fewer processed foods. I’m already getting 40 minutes of walking the dog most days and swimming about three times a week over and above that (more recently adding some higher intensity stuff).
But the psychological battle is very similar. Today, at Toastmasters, I evaluated the speech of someone who demonstrated an Instant Pot. I said, honestly, that it’s something I thought about getting.
The woman sitting next to me got all excited when I sat down. “I really want to talk to you about that— I got an Instant Pot and have lost 30 pounds, because I mostly eat soup now.”
We did chat after the meeting. She’s apparently gone vegan (though she ate the chili my speaker made in the Instant Pot, which had turkey in it) and was selling me on the health benefits— her cholesterol dropped 60 points in 3 weeks, and got her patted on the back, after she’d been fired by her two previous doctors for refusing to take statins. It hit me where I am— I have a doctor’s appointment I should schedule for a month from now, and I’m wondering whether to put it off (last year, the scale weighed me 12 lbs heavier than my home scale [and I have a friend who doesn’t have weight issues who goes to that doctor and says it weighs her at least that heavy], and I got a lecture about metabolic syndrome. I don’t want to be on medications to regulate these things, but part of me was thinking “listen— you don’t want to fail, so you’re refusing someone who could be a helper and an ally in this situation. Maybe you need to change your outlook on it— if you need to be on medication to help, maybe that’s not the failure it feels like to you. Maybe you should go to the doctor and let her help you.”
This lady and I talked about getting vegan food together. She said she and her husband and me and my mom should go for a vegan burger together. I said I’d be happy to go for a vegan burger, but my mother is never going to go for it. My fish-and-chips-loving mother can’t make it through most Fridays in Lent because it makes her feel deprived. I’ll let mom know about the invitation, and she’ll be flattered, but no vegan burgers for her, thanks!
But after all the self-loathing inspired by all those pictures and then being given unsolicited diet tips at today’s meeting, my weight feels like an emergency. Which meant that although I had an eating plan for today, I grabbed a quarter of a donut when I got to work. And then I took another quarter of the same donut, because clearly, diet’s got to start tomorrow and boy am I gonna miss the fraction of a donut I eat once in a blue moon.
I think the plan I landed on yesterday was a better one. I’m going to have to go back to tracking everything. Even on the days when I know I’ve blown it… or I’m likely to blow it… or I really don’t want to think about it. Frankly, I’m a person who’s just always going to have to think about it.
Exercise was not my problem then, and it’s probably not my problem now. I was planning on bringing my bike to work and riding on my lunch hours while the weather holds before the emergency lights started flashing. I’ve been experimenting with short-duration workouts and/or weight-lifting in the mornings and thinking about winding down with yoga at night. Any and all of those are fine. Active is good, it’s just not the whole enchilada.
I have to tell you— no lie, as I was typing that last paragraph, my doctor’s office sent me a health alert— it’s time to sign up for the appointment. Timing, man! I should probably not avoid the doctor, even if I don’t like what s/he has to say. (I don’t actually see a doctor, anyway— I think I see a nurse. And she was awesome last year and talked about my lifestyle, though she did not adjust it when I said the scale was off.) And as I wrote that, my doctor’s office sent me an email reminder. I feel a phone call coming. They’re making this tricky for a rule-follower like me to blow off.
And the truth is that although I mostly forgo donuts and some of the other sweet treats around here, dessert is a more regular thing than it should be, for me. I’ve convinced myself that lightly sweetened chai is something I can have even though I know better than to drink my calories (and even full-test chai, if it’s at Panera and I’ve “earned it” by getting through Toastmasters meetings.) Mom likes fast food, and so we have maybe one meal of it a week, and another of fast-casual. “Homemade” pizza has been in heavy rotation this summer, and I hide the chopped broccoli in lots of cheese. Mom likes hot dogs and food from boxes and cans, and I make a meal from more processed foods almost every week. And every hot day in the summer has found me bringing home ice cream treats or frozen lemonade or something. I’ve been telling myself that these things are the exceptions, and not the rule, but they’re far more frequent than I would prefer to believe. And that’s what the calorie tracking forces me to confront.
I could go vegan— someone I respect did that for health reasons, and gave up sugar, and it transformed her body and took a lot of the lifestyle issues off the table, despite the metabolic slowdown we all face in middle age. I could get that Instant Pot ordered and eat nothing but soup, which sounds terrible to me. I don’t mind the idea of the Instant Pot, but I do mind the idea of eating soup in the summertime, and frankly, while soup on a cold day or when I’m sick is just the thing, I don’t want to eat it much more than once a week. It’s just not that interesting to me without a lot of bread and butter and maybe some cheese, which I think is where eating soup as a weight loss strategy falls apart for me.
I’m going to start with the science today (half-donut notwithstanding.) I’m going to round down on the number of exceptions to the smart things I know to do. I’m going to round down on what I can eat “because I’ve earned it.” (I’ve avoided the work candy-bowl by keeping fair trade or organic chocolate in my desk, and eating a serving a day. I’m moving to a half-serving.) Gretchen Rubin would call me a Moderator, instead of an Abstainer (she’s an abstainer, so she’s given up sugar and most grains because it’s easier for her to avoid them altogether than to have just a little. The idea of giving them up altogether has me thinking about going back for that half-donut I left in the employee break-room.), so I’m not giving up gluten, going vegan, or embarking on an all-soup campaign (and let’s be honest, neither is my friend who is talking to us about how great it is to be vegan while she eats turkey chili.) I will go to the doctor more or less as scheduled (I’ll be honest, probably not entirely as scheduled. I’ll probably push it to late September or early October and see if I can’t drop 10 or 15 pounds first, since I’m up 5 or so from when I saw her about 49 weeks ago and her scale may weigh me heavy, still. I’d like her to be an ally, but I don’t entirely trust her to be one if I don’t show progress.) And most especially, I won’t panic. My body is not a problem to be solved. My health is more important than I’ve treated it, but it’s not an emergency. Treating it like an emergency doesn’t tend to help me to be calm and make incremental progress, it tends to make me find the bottom of the nearest chip bag. I always had some stuff around eating (as protection against aggressive attention from men that started super early for me and only got worse as I developed, and emotional eating in response to frustration or sublimation), and that has only gotten worse (now, I associate getting close to my goals with getting really, really sick, and I’d rather be fat than chronically ill. My body is not so good at separating correlation and causation. Also, I’ve some flavor of dated [actually dated or just talked to until I realized they were doing this] some guys recently who fetishized my extra weight in a way I found super-icky. Fetishized (aka objectified) is not what I’m after, no matter my weight, but it’s a lot of what I’ve gotten, no matter my weight.) So it sounds like I’ll also add this to the list of topics I take on with my therapist.
Making right choices, most of the time. That’s the path for today. Wish me luck!
The other night, I heard a song by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, about how “You Can’t Make Old Friends.” It’s a lovely song. I have some old friends I value highly… but I’m struggling a little with some of my old friends.
I spent the last couple of weeks in New York for a family reunion. It was a grand occasion, with more than 100 of the descendants/related by marriage of one of my sets of great grandparents in one place for at least part of a weekend.
When we weren’t in the Catskills for the reunion proper, we were at the home of my aunt, on Long Island. My mom is the oldest in her family, and this sister is the second eldest. The last several times I’ve been to New York, she’s picked me up from the airport and provided a base of operations, at no small inconvenience to herself.
This time was no exception, if you don’t count that most trips, I’ve stayed with other aunts or cousins as well— this time, it was mostly on the one aunt. The other LI aunt did step up and pinch hit a fair amount during the day, but we slept at second-eldest aunt’s place and ate breakfast and/or lunch before we saw her most days.
Every time I stay with the second eldest aunt, I’ve said “you don’t have to entertain me. I’m happy to take the train into the city…” at which time my aunt says “Are you kidding me? You’ll be killed! Your mother would never forgive me.”
One of the podcasts I listen to always asks guests “what is saving your life right now?” It’s a good question. Frankly, a better question than I’m about to answer.