Last summer I finally hit the wall of being so unhappy with my body that I had to take action. For years I’d gained weight and become more sedentary. I thought I ate pretty well and figured that genetics was against me and there was nothing I could do about my round little apple dumpling shape. And I didn’t care so much. I’ve never been terrifically concerned with beauty aesthetics and I am genuinely concerned with the way our society raises young women to starve themselves. I have a couple friends who underwent bariatric surgery to great (over 100lbs) weight loss and each of them told me that at the end of it, they were still who they’d been before and whatever demons they had still needed to be faced, skinnier or not. I knew none of my demons had to do with my weight so why fight a losing battle with my body?
But as I age my body becomes more my enemy. Aches, joint pains, longer recovery times, many new problems. Everywhere you look there’s a new study saying that exercise will cure everything. I got into physical therapy for my chronic, severe shoulder pain. I worked on my posture, I diligently did my recovery exercises twice a day and I decided to get fit. I mean if I was already doing some sort of exercise twice a day, why not add more? I determined the the optimum, most convenient exercise for me (indoor rowing) and set to it, with long series of staggered goals. The biggest one being “turn 40 being in the best shape of my life.” I rowed and rowed for weeks and the weight almost immediately started falling off. Exercise with a surprise benefit! I wasn’t just becoming healthier, I was visibly changing.
Fitness minded friends encouraged me to count calories and really look at my diet. I insisted I didn’t need to do that because I knew I ate pretty well: no gluten, mostly whole, fresh foods, very little packaged or pre-prepared food. But I caved pretty quickly and started using My Fitness Pal, initially to just track exercise but my use coincided with discovering my recent weight loss. I was encouraged so I started tracking what I was eating every day for a few weeks and yes, according to the general consensus, I was eating too many calories for my height & age. Sure they were “good” calories, but they were still too many.
Armed with numbers (weight and calories and energy expenditure) I didn’t quite understand, I read up on nutrition and on nutrition and sports medicine. There’s a mountain of information out there and lot of it is wrong. I sorted through message boards and essays of advice and I eventually made a standard for myself. Maybe some of it is wrong, it’s hard to tell, but for me it’s reasonable, practical and makes sense. I eat a low carb, high protein, high fat diet, still avoiding most processed foods. I spent months altering my diet slightly and recognizing what was making me feel better and what was making me feel worse. And the weight continued to come off, slowly but steadily.
In the last few months I’ve been pretty uneven about exercise. My consistent routine was upheaved by moving and the demands of the new house and my job, by not immediately creating a new routine when my circumstances changed. Days shy of turning 40 I’ve nearly met the weight loss goal I set when I started tracking calories and I feel great. I can’t stress enough how much pain I was in before and how much simple weight loss helped me feel better. But even when I was heavier I felt much, much better when I was exercising regularly. I’m small and relatively fine boned and extra weight was literally dragging me down, so yes, I feel better with out it. Exercise however has a threefold improvement: the satisfaction of accomplished a single task set out to do (row 30 mins, walk an hour), you get the immediate rush of improved blood flow, it’s calming and over time you physically feel stronger and more capable. It’s like this door to understanding has opened for me. Yes, of course we’ve all heard “it’s just diet and exercise” for ever. But I can’t state strongly enough how true that really is for me. It is hard work, not because it’s hard to do, but because it takes commitment and dedication and sometimes the returns are slow to show. But really unless you have a major medical problem, six weeks of dedication, to diet, exercise, or both should show you what’s possible.
Still I’m not nearly to where I want to be. Halfway there. I’ve got diet figured out, as long as I stick to it I should be fine (“it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle change”). But exercise I’m still learning, it still feels forced some days and I don’t love it. Yet. I’m going to get there. That’s my goal for the next year. I know I need to work harder because just like my friends, here I am at goal weight for my height, age and build and I look in the mirror and I don’t see much that’s different than where I started (in fact I can only see the difference when I compare pictures side by side). Lumpy, poochy, misshapen belly, weak arms, shoulder pain that flares up when I’m too sedentary, aches that could otherwise be controlled. I am so much better than I was 11 months ago, but I’m not great yet and I want to age into greatness, into fitness and most importantly into strength. So I will keep working, keep striving and never set an end point, because I want to have a good relationship with this body and like all relationships, you have to keep at it, keep listening and keep trying.
And because no make over story is complete without pictures: