The Shallow Slippery Slope

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from years of developing and abandoning fitness routines and changing my eating habits, it’s that stopping falling down the slippery slope is as easy as putting my foot down. No matter how far I fall, getting back up only takes one step.

If there are two things I’ve learned, it’s that, and that I have come to loathe the taste of oatmeal after having it for breakfast every morning whether I wanted it or not for something like two years. Variety keeps you interested, kids!

My shoulder was feeling poorly last weekend, so I said, “I’ll give it a little rest.” I went 24 hours without stretching at all. “I’ll rest it some more. One stretch, then all the internet. And all the new fall TV shows.” I did half my stretches the next several days and didn’t do my 45-minute workout at all the rest of the week, opting for the much more exciting option of sitting on my butt for 6 hours every night.

I slept on my bad shoulder part of yesterday morning, and while it felt fine for a few hours, everything felt tight enough that I stretched it out while over at a friend’s house early in the evening, and again a few hours before I went to bed. “Ahh, crap,” my brain said. “What have I done?” I finally did my 45-minute physical therapy workout this evening. While taking some progress photos afterward (which I meant to do on Thursday and did not do), I stretched out my arm to see how far I could raise it above my head. Predictably, I haven’t given it any additional flexibility by taking the week off, and I may have even let the muscles tighten up again a little bit.

Last Thursday, we had a friend come over with fast food for dinner. I passed on the Dublin Dr Pepper (if you’ve ever had it, you know what kind of sacrifice this is) but otherwise had a meal of battered and fried foods. I baked cookies for work; on Friday, some of my department members threw a party, and I had a lot of food that was heavy on the sugar and fat. I kept up the bad eating that night and the next day.

Every day, I said to myself, “This is the last time I’m eating badly. Tomorrow, I’ll eat reasonably, I’ll do my stretches first thing in the morning, and I’ll work out in the evening. And then, I will start writing that book. And paint my nails. And cure malaria by killing the Ur-mosquito.”

A cartoon of a determined-looking woman holding a cookie. It is poorly drawn.

"You know what we have can't last, Chip. I can put you down anytime I like."

By the time today rolled around, eating badly and not working out had translated into not tracking my food for several days. And this, I know, can be the first sign of quitting a fitness effort.

A cartoon of a woman with a half-eaten cookie in hand and crumbs on her mouth. It is even more poorly drawn.

"Oh, god, Chip, what have I done?"

But I don’t really have a choice. I have to keep exercising, if I want to continue making progress on those ligaments and muscles, if I want to get my left arm working as well as it can. And I have to lose some of the fat on my body. If nothing else, I would really hate for so much effort to have been wasted. Being accountable to the online weight loss and fitness group I joined two weeks ago helped me be responsible each day for not following through on my plans.

It was so easy to fall back into bad habits. However, it was also incredibly, incredibly easy to type all those food entries into my phone for each day and be honest about how much I thought I’d eaten. It was easy for me to seclude myself in my workout room and get to work with my home gym equipment, my tracking notebook, and my music. It helped me be more excited about my workout that I upgraded some of my equipment and was excited to test it out – I picked up a new resistance band and a 5-lb. kettleball on the cheap.

The best and worst thing about trying to change your life is that every day is a new opportunity to make choices that have a cumulative effect on your health and lifestyle. The past doesn’t matter. This makes me sad when my workout reminder goes off on my phone, and all I want to do is sit in front of my keyboard and play the Sims on Facebook. But at least it means that if I silenced my alarm and kept refreshing the internet instead of working out yesterday, it doesn’t affect my ability to do what needs to be done today.

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