Welcome to a very word-vomity post that got a little philosophy-ish. Finally, I’m putting my college major to use!
Back in February 2012, my doctor gave me a goal of losing 26 pounds to get myself down from “obese” to “overweight” status. When I went back to see him in the early summer, he didn’t remember that he’d asked me to lose all the weight he recommended (which I did!) and given me a diet plan to follow.
I don’t expect him to perfectly remember everyone he sees, much less a woman he’s seen in his office perhaps 3 times over the course of a year. But it amazed me that he didn’t remember me at all after he’d so drastically changed my life. He also seemed amazed that someone had taken his habit-changing advice to heart. I don’t know that I saw his advice as a choice; I saw it as a prescription, and my mind was made up to do whatever he told me to do.
My goal has been to lose even more weight since that visit. With that idea in mind, I try very hard to stick to the diet he prescribed to me – lower carb, lower sugar, skip things like potatoes and corn. Temptations are all over the place, though. And there are times I score what feels like a major victory (“I will have the green beans and no bread, please”), only to cave in and deliberately eat things that he advised against, sometimes later in the same day. It’s times like these that I ask, “Is it really worth it to try to eat well if this is what I’m going to end up doing anyway?”
As the title of my blog insinuates, getting healthy and improving your fitness is an ongoing process, and it can feel like futility dressed up as an eternal curse. Like Sisyphus, we have no finish line, but unlike him, our work is circumscribed by our mortality and the fallibility of the human body. We wonder sometimes if we’ll ever be able to do “enough,” and if we can’t do enough, then why bother in the first place.
“Why am I even pursuing health and fitness? Why should I bother working on this body or this weight when I am unloved and lonely, beloved and popular, have so many other things going on for me in my life, have nothing to live for, am perfectly fit, have injuries or disabilities, have no time to work out, can’t put on weight for anything, can’t lose weight for anything, am depressed, feel fantastic all the time, know that ultimately, trying to improve my health won’t stop every disease and won’t keep me alive forever?”
These are a lot of doubts to have echoing in your brain when you’re someplace that allows you meditation, like driving, taking a walk, easy exercise, or repetitive physical labor. I got a lot of thinking done the summer I spent loading inky bundles of advertisement inserts into a sorting machine in the printing press building of a newspaper.
There are many opportunities for self-doubt and despair of compulsion: when you’ve hit a plateau, when you’ve hit your goal, when you feel like you’re treading water instead of making progress, and when you’re not in a great mental place.
I hit my weight goal this summer, and I’ve stayed close to it for several months. My 2012 has been rife with upheaval. Despite the chaos, I’ve striven to stay at my goal and limbo under it, but I’ve self-sabotaged more times than I can count and chalked it up to various disasters and a lack of true stability. My main support structure, my boyfriend, is still there to be my voice of reason and my conscience, but he’s not my babysitter, nor should he be held to that responsibility. I’ve tried to rebuild other routines for myself since I’ve been here, particularly when it comes to food. I provide a regular influx of fruit and healthier options than candy and carbs for snacks, hunt down foods to be my new favorites at a new grocery, and pick out vegetable options at the local diner. I also walk the dogs often and for decently long distances to give us all an exercise boost.
While I believe I’m at a fitness barrier at this point in my life (still having a little abdominal trouble when I exert myself too much), I could be doing more to lose weight by really reining in my food intake. I tracked my food for several days last week before losing patience with the exact accounting required versus my imprecise measurements, and how the hell do you account for a breakfast burrito at Sonic when you scrape out the inside and throw away the tortilla? And why am I eating at Sonic when I know it’s not an ideal food provider? Why the hell do I even bother?
I could cite the benefits of being healthier and thinner. I love smaller clothes, I’ll admit. I like being ambulatory and having the hope of retaining my mobility as I age. It’s a joy not having breathing problems, working on my snoring so I don’t disturb my boyfriend’s sleep, not having high blood pressure, not having type II diabetes.
Sometimes, it’s just keeping on with what I’m doing that helps me cope when life is less than ideal, or when I’ve made myself so busy that I can’t concentrate on figuring out what really makes me happy. Exercise can be a great meditative tool and is one of my favorites. Going out with the dogs or going for a walk or stretching my arm because I don’t know what else to do with myself has helped my anxiety in the past. When things are going to hell, there’s something comforting in knowing that I’ve got a gorgeous apple and some carrots waiting for me in my lunch bag, and that if I keep eating the same healthy, nutritious, filling, calorically-appropriate portioned foods every day, I’ll get to my goals so much more quickly, and these methods have worked before and will work again.
You have to put your faith in the method and the routine. Maybe your existential despair is only related to your current mood. Don’t wallow. Be pragmatic about your routine. “Well, maybe things suck, or maybe there isn’t a burning desire for me to hit the gym tonight, or maybe it feels like everything I do is a gesture in futility… but I might as well do this healthy habit anyway to keep my routine stable.”
I’m a creature of habit. Most of us are creatures of habit. We have the ability to take wanted behaviors and build habits out of them, then reinforce them, without giving into the despair that causes us to throw up our hands and stare blankly at the bottom of a bag of powdered donuts or the blinking cursor in an empty browser address window.
Inertia and relapse into damaging behaviors are habits, too. Practice your wanted behaviors and make them habits.
You are the only true agent of change in your own life, and choices you make, actively or passively, shape your destiny. And that can be daunting and seem scary at times. Now that I’m out from under my doctor’s care, I don’t have someone telling me exactly what to do or to offer guidance. But I do have the vast resources of the internet at my fingertips (as well as its disinformation and trolls, but also helpfulness and humor). I do have family and friends who are health and fitness-minded who are cheering me on, reinforcing my good decisions, marveling at my results, and reminding me to live a little if I see fit to do so. I have a sense of self-preservation nurtured by my choices to take better care of myself both physically and emotionally.
There is no one reason for changing your body and health. There is no magic fitness form that is attainable through a single push of hard work that allows you to then coast on autopilot and stay at the same peak. There is no body that will not eventually break down and die. Eventually, all this work we do on ourselves is futile – on a long enough timeline.
But with rare exception, there is no one who cannot actively choose to take steps to change their lives for the better through food choices, fitness routines, medical consultation and care as needed for mental and physical illnesses, and self care. You still have to live in your body.
The beautiful and frightening thing about freedom is that it is perpetual. Every day is a new opportunity to screw up everything. But every day is also a new opportunity to rise to the responsibility of choice.