I had to go into the office Tuesday afternoon (typically my work from home day) to process our payroll. Throughout the few hours I was there, no less than 6 associates asked me if I had hurt myself (or my leg, hip, foot – something about the way I was walking caused concern). Not hardly. You guys try a few sets of 1.5 Bulgarian split squats and see how you are moving about afterwards. Said with a smile, because I do appreciate the concern. But the minute I said “I was doing Bulgarians” their faces changed and understanding dawned. Then I said 1.5 Bulgarians and eyes widened just a smidge.
I was touched by their concern and ridiculously excited that they understood what a Bulgarian split squat is and therefore knew precisely what I was talking about. I mean, in my world doing 1.5 Bulgarian split squats seems a tiny bit impressive for a woman older than many of their mothers.
When my associates asked me if I was limping, it got me thinking about all the ways I have been hampered in my better health journey. That train of thought was reinforced and expanded in a text conversation with trainer J last night. To be clear, I have been extremely fortunate thus far in avoiding injuries beyond the occasional muscle tweak or soreness from digging deep into various muscle groups. Another conversation with an east coast friend recovering from an ankle injury and slowly returning to his regular exercise routines, I got to thinking about limping, muscle soreness, injuries, and how that impacts motivation. It is the start of a new year. Resolutions, goals, renewed commitments to health and wellness abound. Yet I wonder how many of those commitments will still be on to-do lists 30 days from now? And this is not me being cynical; this is reality as we all know it.
I am not someone who sets goals much less makes resolutions for the new year. I have aspirations; I have hopeful objectives. But at my core, I am flying by the seat of my pants, mostly crossing fingers and hoping for the best. That said, I have had plenty of time this last year to think about why I am more successful with improving my health this go-round than other attempts to manage my food intake and get up and off the couch. A big part of it is making the choice to get up and to the gym, to the yoga studio, out for a walk, or all of the above. Every. Single. Day. Same is true of healthier food choices, although in truth I have not put the gazelle-intense focus on my eating and ruthlessly said no to any and all less desirable choices. Besides those obvious things, though, I believe we have become conditioned to not being realistic about managing expectations. Marketing worms its way into our psyches no matter how much we consciously resist and reject the idea. My examples:
- Anyone or anything that tells you getting into better physical shape is easy is lying to you. From firsthand personal experience, I am here to tell you that it’s hard, it’s painful at times – and that means just about all the time at first – and medicating with comfort food only makes it worse.
- Anyone or anything that suggests it will happen quickly is misleading you. Probably they are outright lying to you, but I soften my stance on this because you may be significantly closer than anyone I know undertaking such endeavors right now.
- You are a unique individual and your experience trying to improve your health is going to be unique to you. Beware of comparing your journey to anyone else, because unless they are your genetic clone, their experience will differ from yours in zillions of minor to major ways.
These are mistakes and missteps I endured in the beginning (and still stumble with on occasion) and see all around me. I am fortunate – M is an OCD addict about his running and has leaned out significantly, gotten injured and fluffied up again, and I know soon the struggle to get back into shape will begin along with the bitching, moaning, complaining, and whining about pain. I completely understand it, and having this ringside seat to what happens when one gets injured probably feeds directly into my paranoia about doing something wrong and landing on the sidelines doing my time in the healing box.
Again, from direct personal experience, I know all too well how easy it is to become discouraged at first, when you have huffed and puffed and lived on rabbit food for a couple of weeks. The scale is barely budging or clothes fit exactly the same way, or worse, feel snugger. Our instant gratification culture has conditioned us to expect some immediate, verifiable results for our efforts. And while we all know we did not wander off the healthy living pathway last week and gained weight or became diabetic overnight, somehow we expect things to turnaround in a far shorter period of time that the gradual decline. I can blame marketing and our thin-obsessed culture until the cows come home, but it does not change the reality that it takes time and consistency of effort to feel or to see results. And unfortunately, the results we desire may not be realistic based on genetics or biological factors well beyond our individual control.
Putting my focus on my health rather than the scale, the tape measure, or comparing my progress to others completely altered my outlook, self-esteem, capacity to be happy with myself. Accepting that I am doing my best, doing the work to the best of my ability in the present time period makes it okay that I am not half my starting body weight (as an acquaintance very memorably said to me a few weeks ago) or even down a higher number of pounds lost. I stopped tracking weight loss because in the big picture it does not matter to me at all. My daily blood sugar readings? My quarterly A1c? My blood pressure, cholesterol, iron count? Those matter A LOT to me, and I am paying attention when blood test results are released and I am discussing them with the doc. It is really difficult for him to tell me that I should drop some weight (he is always intentionally vague when we discuss it) when my overall health is excellent. But for the record, he does suggest better control of my diet and modest weight loss would benefit me in the long term. However, most important to him is that I not backslide back into the sedentary lifestyle and lose the muscle added to my frame. My docs have been some of my biggest cheerleaders in my overall lifestyle changes to date and encourage me to continue those efforts in the strongest terms possible.
To be absolutely fair, I know not everyone can afford the services of a personal trainer or even a gym. I also know that I won the trainer lottery by landing in J’s tribe, because trainers of J’s talent and integrity are not as common as I would wish in most big box gyms. In fact, getting my hair done yesterday my stylist and I were discussing her recent attempts to utilize her gym membership, including making and paying for an appointment with a personal trainer. From what she described – answering the woman’s questions, watching her plug the answers into a computer, having it announced that she needed to lose a ridiculously high number of pounds and only eat 1200 calories per day – the appointment sounded like an appalling, embarrassing waste of time. I actually felt a little guilty and responsible for this excursion, because she continually compliments me on my subtle body changes and I tell her all about what J is teaching me and encouraged her to try getting some instruction on the machines at her gym. Then THIS happened. I am both embarrassed for and angry with her big box gym for overpromising and massively underdelivering.
My point here – despite having a village that includes trainer J and my docs and a registered dietician (morphed into a personal friend) and a few others – I am the one who has to do the heavy lifting, watch what and how much I am eating, and get myself to the gym regularly to practice between guided training sessions or to the yoga studio to stretch my muscles in hopes of increases my flexibility. J’s job is not to motivate me or police my activities and food consumption; his job is to teach me how to do the work safely and sanely and keep supplying me with activities and exercises that closely match my expanding skills and abilities. Same with my stable of yoga/pilates instructors, dietician friend, and my docs. While they can share their knowledge and teach me things that will ultimately help me, I am the one who chooses to exercise and eat healthier food. Or not.
It really does come down to taking responsibility for ourselves and our choices. Our genetics may beyond our control, but choosing to move our bodies rather than sit behind our computer screens eating cookies is well within our realm of opportunities and choices.
Writing about this stuff is a form of accountability for me as well as a study habit that helps solidify the things I am learning or trying to retain. Just like I had to learn correct form to do a basic squat or a hip hinge (big mysteries to me the first month or more of training with J), I had to teach myself to stop comparing my progress to anyone else I saw in the gym. If I refuse to feel superior to someone because I have no idea about their journey, I should not be feeling inferior because my own progress seems to lag. I had to learn to compliment myself, and to celebrate my small wins. I had to learn to turn away from the negative mindset. Believe me, it was not as easy as just saying no or just doing it.
Habits are tough to break or alter, but not impossible. Unfortunately, no one else is able to do the work for us. We can point fingers, stomp feet, have tantrums because we hate exercise (that was me – first meeting with J, I told him how much I hate exercise) or make excuses about how we do not have time because of our kids, our spouses, our families in general, our jobs, our social lives, etc. Okay, so what do you propose should happen instead? Shall we all stand around wringing our hands and saying “poor us” for lacking resources or will to try? Maybe we try wishcraft to will the weight or diabetes or high blood pressure or heart disease away?
I am being facetious, because I have used many of those same reasons as to why my health has declined through the years. I have stood around wringing my hands. For a very brief minute considered faith-based intervention service for my issues (no offense to the spiritual or religious readers in my midst – this was several years ago and there was an actual faith-based weight loss group in my area). If I am unwilling to take responsibility for myself and make the lifestyle changes necessary and recommended by my healthcare team, I certainly have little room left for complaint when I become more and more dependent upon drugs and medical procedures to try and manage my conditions. And I certainly cannot blame external parties for my shortened life expectancy if I stay sedentary and eat crappy food.
Again, improving our health, transforming our bodies into the healthiest they can be, the primary responsibility for those changes lies with each of us and the choices we make. How much we are willing to sacrifice, how hard we are willing to work has an immediate and direct impact on how successful we are in these endeavors. Whether we are willing to ask for help, seek out support, be a little (or a lot) uncomfortable adjusting to the process can quickly become another hindrance in our individual journeys.
Walking 30 minutes a day may not be enough to have the impact you desire. But if that’s all you can do right now, if that’s all the time and/or energy you have to invest, it is something and much better than being completely sedentary. That is me, my opinion, my experience, and there are a lot more authoritative sources than I available out there. I cannot urge you enough to do your research, ask your doc for recommendations, or simply start reading and digging into the underlying research and authorities cited in the articles. And if the promises made or projected outcomes seem too good to be true, most likely it is another disappointment waiting to happen.
I talk a lot about my mental and emotional health, because changing my mindset was a huge component of my success to date. However, in no way, shape, or form do I ever discount how much time I spend in the gym or the foods I have drastically curbed or eliminated from my diet. But to get myself into the gym and to eating better, I had to adjust my attitude and check my ego, however fragile it seemed at the time. I want to do better, be better. I want to be able to look forward to however many days I get knowing that I made changes that have a direct impact on my quality of life.
Maybe you won’t fall in love with exercise as I have. While I still hate being sweaty and gross, it’s a no-brainer trade-off for the better balance I enjoy now. Yoga friends talk about the Zen and peace that comes with regular practice, and I get it. Mine mostly happens to come from the work I do in the gym most days, but the concepts are the same. I accept that our journeys are different, but the desired end results are very similar if not the same.
Bottom line: the best resource to take care of me is me. I am trying hard to learn, in and out of the gym. I do read a lot health articles, fitness experts, food and healthy eating blogs and such. While less so now, it is still challenging to do what I know is necessary to stay on track. And while it sometimes still feels as if I am walking into fitness with some sort of metaphysical limp, at least I am getting there under my own power.
When it comes to motivation, I had to learn to trust and to believe in myself. Whatever it is that works for you, in this brand new year, I am genuinely hopeful you all seek out and find the resources that will make achieving your goals and aspirations a reality.
I am a fantastic spectator, so count on me to be here, cheering for you and your success from these cyberspace sidelines.