Tag Archives: mental health

Mothers and Daughters: Legacy of Body Image

I love xoJane and the thought-provoking articles that its writers tend to put out into the world. This post was inspired by a comment I wrote on this article. The comments are a trove of first-hand testimonials from other people on the same subject.

When I was a preschooler, the story goes, my mom told me I could only have one cookie because I was putting on weight. I was so sad that my slightly older brother took an extra cookie to give to me in secret. We weren’t that subtle, so of course my mom knew about it and cherished the memory as one of sweetness between siblings.

As I got older, my mom never said anything to me about my weight. I was a chubby kid, presenting as a purple-and-silver-sequined cylinder in my ballet recital pictures, and an overweight teenager, hiding my body as best as I could with oversized shirts and weird fashion. She said she loved me no matter what and never criticized my body, supporting me in my academics, my art, and my writing. But she talked negatively about her own body all the time and still does today.

I know that like a lot of privileged first world women, I have spent a lot of my adulthood thinking about my weight. These days, I look back on the experience of growing up and living my adult life overweight and mourn all the time and mental energy spent by people like us fretting about our weight. Do I wish I had lost weight sooner so I could get on with my life? Perhaps, but I know that I wouldn’t appreciate my body as much if I didn’t feel pride in losing body fat, improving my health by stopping snoring almost completely and taking weight off injured/stressed muscles and joints, and increased self-esteem by conforming more to social norms. But what if I had been able to focus my gifts on something other than myself and self-improvement over the last 10 years? Would I have done something more “meaningful” with my life?

I realize this perspective and this question are both from a place of privilege – I largely feel like my struggle with being overweight is over, and I’m on autopilot as far as my food intake goes. I can afford to buy nutritious food, and I’m getting into running (despite approaching the nitty gritty of winter and me with no indoor gym access). Other people are less able-bodied, less able to access the kinds of food I can buy and dietary information my doctor gave me, still working on themselves, not in the same mental frame of mind, and have legitimate concerns and health problems that I have no right to dismiss and do not presume to.

I mourn my own potential – what things could I be writing about instead of concentrating on gaining 7 pounds in a month? – and the potential that my mother had and still has. When I was in high school, she was pursuing her masters in education with a focus on special needs education while working delivering pizza and raising 3 kids. She also wrote works of fiction on lined notebook paper she kept in binders under her bed, with several unpublished drafts of novels to her credit. And she, like all of us, was constantly bogged down by the everyday worries of life, including her body. I constantly heard her saying how upset she was that she could no longer fit into the clothes she wore when she was younger; she is short and used to be quite thin during high school. She dropped the “fat” word to describe herself on an at-least weekly basis. “If only I wasn’t so fat.”

Being thinner is a privilege in this society, and she may have been more kindly treated by the world at large. But I wonder how fully her gifts might have come out if her self-esteem hadn’t been hampered by her self-criticism, which always seemed so unforgiving.

My having the same body type that she did probably had some influence on how I viewed myself. It was a while before I came to a truce with myself over my looks, worrying about everything from my acne-prone skin to my large nose to my weight. I was ashamed of my body after the start of puberty, uncomfortable with male attention that I received in 7th grade, and down on myself for my many failed attempts at losing weight, even as an adult. I dieted for months, then fell off the wagon. I exercised hard for several months, then took half a year off. I came to be more accepting of what I looked like, but my health began to suffer as I aged. I was smart; why wasn’t I smart enough to figure out how to change my body and stick to a weight loss plan?

Losing weight was not the answer to all my problems. I’m still thinking about my body – still moderating a self-improvement community, still occasionally blogging about my pursuit of fitness, food, and health – but the rest of my life’s problems persist. It’s easy for us to fixate on having a great body and see it as the answer. “If only I wasn’t so fat.” If I wasn’t so fat, then what? I would get everything I wanted out of life automatically? I wouldn’t have to pay my car insurance? I would finish cleaning out the shed? It never stops unless we reframe the way we think about what’s important, whether losing weight or shaping our body into a more pleasing shape is a self-serving, endless goal, or if it’s a stepping stone to happiness, a facet of our existence.

Sometimes, chasing the ideal body or an improved version of ourselves seems so futile in the long term. I think back on my amazing, beautiful, business-smart, no-nonsense, hilarious stepmom; she was in my life from preschool until last year, and when I was younger, I remember that she was always trying low fat diets, Weight Watchers, the grapefruit diet… right up until her diagnosis of colon cancer, a disease she fought for 9 years.

I helped sort out her enormous closet of clothing after she passed away; she had clothes (some with tags still on them) in US size ranges 6-18 from where her body size fluctuated so much during years of chemo, surgery, remission, and relapse. There’s a despair in that part of the legacy of mainstream, straight, adult ciswomanhood in the U.S. What good does it do to fret so much over what size we wear and how many carbs we eat and whether our butt looks arbitrarily too big and that we can’t fit into that exact pair of pants anymore?

It’s easy to get lost in the moment and the present-day, easy to obsess over weight or unflattering photos, but now and then, life smacks you in the face again with the fact that it’s precious and short; your health, your ability to function as an independent person, and the degree to which you are able-bodied are things you can take for granted. The gift of perspective is precious, if hard to take. My stepmom spent most of her last decade working at the business she and my dad built together, baking cookies and sweets with her grandchildren, going on vacations with my dad, and enjoying herself as much as her health would allow her to do.

Sometimes when I’m out running, out in the middle of the country where nobody can see me, I imagine I’m passing my stepmom on the sidelines of a cancer charity race or some other event, and I give the air a high-five. I’d like to think she’d be proud of me for taking up a new sport. I hope she’d say she’s never seen me so happy in my own skin

It Is Still Fresh Air, Even If It Smells Like Manure

The out-of-doors in the summer. It’s gorgeous! It’s covered in bees! It’s covered in kudzu, wildflowers, horses, crops, and cows, too, as far as I can tell.

Ahh, the countryside.

Ahh, the countryside.

The temperature has been more than reasonable most of this week – 75-80F (24-27C), partly cloudy, breezy. The place where I live has gentle, rolling hills and shade trees and farmland all mixed together. It’s ideal.

I haven’t been walking much the last 7 months, ever since I moved into my own house with a yard that didn’t leave dog-walking as a necessity anymore. Moreover, I took my dogs out a few months ago, and we were attacked by a dog that came off its chain down the street. So there’s been precious few dog-accompanied adventures, and until recently, precious few adventures undertaken solo.

I have enjoyed walking down to the flat bridge over a nearby creek. I’ve only been on that walk a few times, though. Part of that is the mental battle I have with that steep-ass hill that leads down to the creek. The 1.3 miles down to the creek is almost completely downhill. The trip back up is not really a lot of fun. The creek is usually lovely and enjoyable to watch for a few minutes. I have rediscovered my love of skipping stones on the water, and I usually come away with a memento, such as a little geode I plan to clean up and put on my desk at work.

Flat bridge ahoy! So beautiful and calm! And at the bottom of a mile-long steep grade! Bleh!

Flat bridge ahoy! So beautiful and calm! And at the bottom of a mile-long steep grade! Bleh!

The main problem with walking down the main road to work out: traffic. I’m not very keen on sharp hill crests and turns where I could be a surprise object in the roadway. I try to cross the road, or walk in the tall grass in ditches on the side of the road, if I hear a vehicle coming. But there are a lot of ticks in this part of the country, and they sometimes hang out in the tall grass, waiting. Planning. Scheming. Hungry. The ticks and I are at war. There are no survivors once they are found in my house, on my pets, and especially on my person. The first line of defense is a good offense, and that means walking on the road when I can.

Being an explorer and a self-preservationist, I decided to walk in the opposite direction of the bridge the other day, opting for a nearby single-lane, paved, quiet road that winds through the main Mennonite settlement in my county. It was a good choice. I mean, the county where I live is just chock full of natural beauty anyway; it’s really nice to be able to walk slowly through it and appreciate it up close without fear of being run over by an F-250 every two minutes. While on this slender thread of pavement through lush farmland and riotous green woods, I gave directions to some lost folks in a pick-up and waved politely at anyone who passed me, whether they were in work trucks or open-air horse-drawn buggies. I felt that I looked out of place, walking along a road mostly traveled by farm workers while in my bright teal workout shirt (get your rear in gear!), headphones, hiking boots, sunglasses, and knee brace. But I was also very at-home in my surroundings. I spent some of my childhood summers on a sprawling farm just outside of town: riding bikes down dirt roads, looking at the cows, trying to rescue birds from oil ponds bubbling up next to little-used derricks, and picking blackberries. I’ve always loved the outdoors, and living in a place where I can more easily appreciate it year-round is a gift I will always cherish.

Wide open spaces and a seldom-used fork in the road.

Wide open spaces and a seldom-used fork in the road.

Meeting house, complete with water pump and hitching posts.

Meeting house, complete with water pump and hitching posts.

I photographed all kinds of wildlife while I was out earlier this week. I was delighted to find a small waterfall lurking behind foliage, trickling slowly into a creek that wound under a bridge and into a pasture where several beautiful honey-colored horses grazed in the midday sun. I marked that bridge as my halfway point to make an approximate 5k (~3.1 miles) from my starting point. When I reached that point again today, the horses were gone, and there was something very dead by the creek. It smelled terrible, and it persisted for a tenth of a mile. Then, on my way back to my starting point, the wind had shifted to where I was upwind, and I managed to be in the path of the breeze after it had passed over every single pile of horse manure on the road. I took it in stride in the name of better health.

I had a great couple of walks, though I know my calves are going to be sore for a few days. Months of activity followed up by three 5k walks in a single week? Not without consequences. At least I had the foresight to wear my ankle brace and my knee brace both. And sunscreen, most of the time.

Future home of freckles.

Future home of freckles.

Now, it is time to talk tragedy. My amazing hiking boots that I got last fall, which have seen me through many miles with my dogs and on my own, suffered an eyelet loss earlier today. Quel dommage!

ALORS. Now my laced-up boot looks ridiculous.

ALORS. Now my laced-up boot looks ridiculous.

I’ll figure out a fix – it may involve heavy-duty glue, or an awl, or something. The boots are otherwise fine, and I might even be able to get away with still wearing them in their current, stupidly-laced state for a while yet to come.

Another lesser tragedy: my old sports bras are now in dire need of replacement. They are not structured at all; I bought one at Target, another on sale at a sporting goods store, and I bought them both to wear to physical therapy when I was 40 pounds heavier than I weigh now. It’s going to be a while before I can afford a really good underwired upgrade, so I may either tailor one of them or buy something inexpensive to get me through the fall at a big box retailer.

My less-than-sturdy body parts are doing well; little ankle soreness, no knee complaints to speak of, and even my surgery scars are all right. I am still ever-mindful of too much exercise straining my abdominal surgery scars. No pain so far after my third walk in a week, but it could take a day or two for that to still happen.

Links: xoJane Articles on Body Policing

I love me some xoJane, having grown up reading my sister’s copies of Sassy as a preteen and following the career of founder Jane Pratt for years. Her current website is a wonderful collection of opinion, confessional, and storytelling pieces by a variety of writers who cover the spectrum of the experience of young women in the United States. I particularly love the pieces that center on issues around weight, society’s view of women, eating disorders, fitness, and how these topics intertwine.

Don’t read the comments is the universal rule of the internet when you want to keep your faith in humanity. S.E. Smith has read the comments for us on an online article written by a law student bothered by an eating disorder-promoting t-shirt (banned when originally released) worn by an alumnus to a university gym.

Being fat in public is hard enough, the way our society works, and xoJane author Lesley gets annoyed along with the rest of us for the concern trolling and revulsion some critics have expressed recently over Melissa McCarthy and Chris Christie. Keep your fat-hating to yourself. It’s not making the lives of the overweight and obese any better; it’s not motivating them to lose weight; it’s not helping them in any way; it’s just poison put into the air, and it’s extremely entitled thinking to believe your opinion should and will make any difference to anyone else about their own private lives. And nobody would like it if someone started policing you on your habits – I don’t care if you live on carrots, kelp, and free-range tuna and run 19 miles a day, you would be pissed if someone started bossing you around, ridiculing your appearance, making you out to be less of a person, and criticizing you for everything you put into your body if the body ideal was something other than what you have.

Basically, these articles boil down to “shut your hate hole” to those who feel the need to police the bodies of people around them with hate disguised as humor, hate expressed in a movie review, or hate dressed up like unsought medical advice. Thanks to xoJane for helping to boost the signal of voices that say you’ve got a right to live in your own body without being told you have to hate it based on the opinions of people who aren’t you.

Roller Coaster of Food

Whee! I’m eating healthy!

Just kidding, chocolate oatmeal cookies and sugary cappuccinos forever!

No, wait, carrots for dinner. Nothing but raw carrots. 40 BABY CARROTS.

Woman from the fake Nutrigrain ad "I Feel Great."

CARROTS EVERYWHERE. (If you recognize this image, you’ve been on the internet too long.)

OK, if I could just figure out what my body wants and stick to it, that would be great. Thanks.

I’ve maintained my weight through the month of December through the power of never wanting to eat, not stocking food in my house, going on long walks with the dogs, and eating more at holiday meals than I mean to do. But it is now January, and people have stopped cooking for me out of some sense of familial obligation and holiday spirit. Well, fine, I didn’t want to eat their delicious bacon-wrapped Parmesan and avocado cracker sandwiches. I’ll just go look at my condensed beefy mushroom soup and not think about Danish wedding cookies and soft bread covered in cheesy spinach dip.

Listening to my body is something I have historically had a hard time doing. I’ve tried to develop that skill for my own good and my own health, as lately, I have found myself ignoring hunger pangs and letting my anxiety tell me that everything is terrible and nothing will ever go right again because of some uncontrollable factor.

So if I see a plate of freshly-made dessert things in the kitchen, and if I haven’t had much else to eat that day, sometimes, I just say, “All right. Let’s do this.” At the grocery, I try not to police myself so hard on the food items I buy for myself. “No, soup is fine. Get more vegetables to put into it. And get a different type of apples this time. Eggs! Get some damn eggs!” And then, I prepare these foods when I’m hungry.

I had a dinner of foods that were not on my usual eating-stuff list on New Year’s Day. The ham was pretty much fine, though I ate a lot of it; I also had baked corn, hoppin’ john, homemade mashed potatoes, and peanut butter cookies. How many peanut butter cookies? Hmm. Maybe, like, 5 or 6. Worth it. I hadn’t eaten a lot in the days leading up to that day, and I had two plates of that food. It was pretty awesome. I felt so much better.

I worry sometimes that I’m restricting my foods too much with my lower carb, paleo-ish diet. I worry, too, that my lack of consistent weight loss, my plateauing, and my public straying from my declared eating lifestyle will come back on me as judgment from others and from myself when my body turns all these marvelous things into fat and re-glues some weight to the parts of me that have gotten smaller since last year.

A cartoon of an alien accusing a remorseful human woman.

JUDGED FOR FOOD CHOICES. No amnesty.

There’s letting your diet go completely by the wayside as you eat nothing but sugary snacks and non-nutritious foods. And then, there’s rebuilding, learning new limits, and eventually, eating foods in moderation. I like to think I’m engaging in the latter and not the former.

Some days, it really does feel like I’m riding a roller coaster of food choices. I have to remember that life has peaks and valleys, and self-care is no exception. Nothing is smooth sailing forever. If you learn to recover from the valleys and take them in stride rather than freak out or give in to the temptations completely, you’re more likely to enjoy yourself in the long run, stick to a plan that works, and learn to live with the choices you make rather than learn to begrudgingly tolerate sacrifice for the sake of ephemeral physical transformation goals.

Anxiety: After The SSRIs Have Worn Off

Last year, my doctor prescribed me sertraline after diagnosing me with anxiety. I was a little skeptical, but I was also badly in need of a better way to live. I went off my meds several weeks ago, and I hope that the way I am aware of and deal with my anxiety now will prove my decision to be a good one.

Anxiety is a coercive thief. I was codependent for years, taking on other people’s problems – problems I couldn’t do anything about – and living their anxieties as if they were my own. For example, when a family member’s divorce turned ugly, I imagined people were eternally trying to break into my house. I covered my head with blankets one night, wide awake in the wee hours, imagining that I heard breathing on the other side of the shut bedroom door. From then on, we slept with the bedroom door slight cracked, wedged open enough to let the animals come and go as they pleased, closed enough so that I had a measure of protection against the people who were coming to get me. I regularly got up and did one or two laps around the house with a 2×4 at 3am. I slept with my cell phone by the bed in case we were trapped in the bedroom and I needed to call the police. Any time my boyfriend left town while I was off work, I stayed awake until dawn, hypervigilant, then slept during the day.

Anxiety held my hand and told me I didn’t need to go to the doctor when I stepped off the bed funny in the middle of the night and possibly broke a bone in my foot. I say possibly because I never got it fully checked out. Not even staying home the next day in bed, unable to walk, was enough of an alarm of “something is WRONG here” to penetrate the fog. “It’ll get better on its own,” I said. I’d like to get a time machine and go slap that version of me in the face, because now I experience foot pain anytime I try to ride a bicycle. I rode a bike around my college campus, then around the city of Memphis during the summer after graduation, as my main mode of transport. I bought a bike on Craigslist several weeks before my foot problems began. I then had to sell it after riding it perhaps a handful of times. I rode it in the summer in Texas, too. You know that’s devotion. My boyfriend bought an exercise bike, which we also sold when I found putting pressure on the middle of my foot was too painful. “But no, I can’t get my foot looked at, even if it has robbed me of the ability to ride a bike. What if something is horribly wrong, and I have to have surgery and spend a lot of money? Nope, it will get fine on its own!”

Anxiety was the one telling me my frozen shoulder would get better, there was no need to go to the doctor for that, even after two years of increasing pain and the inability to wear bras that put strain on my shoulder. It told me it was OK to internalize all slight criticisms as blanket condemnations of my character, all offhand remarks as set-in-stone rules by which to live my life. I was convinced I was responsible for the bad moods of others. I was subsumed by the drama of other people’s lives. I was empty of myself.

It all started to turn around when my gallbladder tried to kill me in late 2010.

Suddenly, I had a health crisis of my own. I was the one who was having surgery, in pain, recovering, waited on hand and foot by an amazing man, the topic of conversation instead of assuming the role of blank conduit.

My gallbladder surgery was the first in a long line of events affecting me and the people I love that are probably familiar to a lot of people in the U.S.: foreclosures, job loss, serious illness, death.

When I went to my doctor last year with my little list of bodily ailments I hoped he’d help me with, I broke down crying in his office while telling him about what was happening around me, what I put myself through worrying about them. He screened me for anxiety, then sent me home with a prescription for sertraline.

I endured just a few side effects as I eased into dosage and quickly found that the drugs were effective in curbing my anxiety. My friends said I was more “myself” than I had been for a while. I felt much better, too.

I also did some reading on codependency. It’s a way of wanting to control the situations around you by putting yourself in charge and making yourself responsible for everyone else’s feelings, the outcome of everyone else’s lives, etc. And it’s both selfish and unproductive, and it robs you of wholeness of personhood.

There are many things in this world we can control, but there are so many more that we can’t do anything about. It’s important to come to terms with this and realize where the boundaries lie, and how to judge those boundaries when they aren’t clearly outlined. But for the most part, the only thing you can control is your actions and reactions, not the actions or reactions of others. You can feel guilt for things that you genuinely are responsible for, empathy for bad things that aren’t your fault and you couldn’t have prevented. But another important aspect of wrangling anxiety is forgiveness. You have to forgive yourself, especially for things you’re not responsible for or you couldn’t change. Even the things you’ve done wrong, you have to start to let them go if there’s no lasting harm, if you’ve made it right with the harmed party. Guilt and anger only hurt the person who holds onto them long after they are useful.

This last year has been, in many ways, both better and worse than any previously experienced. My life has changed dramatically; I moved across the country, lost a family member, changed jobs, lost a beloved pet unexpectedly, regained range of motion in my left arm, endured a health crisis. I’m stronger in some ways. I’m sure I’m weaker in other ways. But I think that I’ve found enough avenues through which to channel negative feelings and ways to work through, work around, or negate anxiety before it starts to be a problem.

A little anxiety before jumping into something with both feet is normal, and I was anxious before the move. But everything turned out fine. And if things hadn’t turned out fine, I don’t think my anxiety would have prepared me to deal with them in any useful way. Things will happen, for better or worse, regardless of how you feel about them. I’m not saying you must be blase, uncaring, some kind of robot. You can still have feelings, and you will still have feelings, because that’s the way most humans are built.

It can be hard to control your anxiety, and not everyone will have the same success with just over a year of medications, productive reading, exercising self-care, embracing forgiveness, and a firm support system. I’m only a few weeks out from going off SSRIs, and I may relapse into a state of uncontrollable anxiety as things get even busier for me when my job starts to get more labor intensive.

For now, I feel in control of my feelings. I know I can’t control the feelings or actions of others. Letting go of that self-imposed responsibility is wonderfully freeing.

Stability and Existentialism on the Treadmill

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.