There is a scrap of paper that I’ve been keeping hidden in the zippered pocket of my purse for well over a year now. On it is written the beginnings of a blog post that never got finished:
Every day I ask myself the same thing:
What am I going to do today to make it different?
Every day – literally every day – I promise to do better. To not snack, to not drink. Every morning, I remind myself that nothing tastes as good as thin feels. I think of all my friends – most of whom used to be bigger than me – who are slim and fit and defying age, while I, simply, am not.
Every night I lie in bed and listen to my heart beat, quickly – too quickly, I think. I imagine my blood pushing too hard through my veins, question the salt and fat that I have fed my body that day. I think about my liver, processing alcohol almost every day, and I think abstractly about the absurdity of drink.
From time to time, I would look at that paper, often stumbling across it by accident while cleaning out my purse or looking for a postage stamp, but sometimes seeking it out deliberately to inflict some measure of torture and self-loathing, hoping that doing so might move me to action. It never did.
And then, one day last winter, for reasons that will always be unclear to me, I started on this road completely independent of self-loathing and torture.
There are all kinds of arguments about the basic principle of “calories in-calories out” but I stand behind the fundamental theory. Sure, there are some people for whom the “calories-out” side of the equation is more challenging; those with hormonal imbalances, mobility restrictions or other medical problems, but in general, I think that losing weight is actually very simple.
Simple, but definitely not easy.
Temptation is everywhere. Food has for centuries been the centrepiece of social and familial gatherings, but in the last 3 decades dietary globalization has offered us so many new and delicious options with which to fall in love. Prosperity and/or credit cards give us nearly unlimited access to things that only a generation ago were kept for special, occasional treats. The food industry has recognized the time limitations of dual-income and single-parent families, and has responded with easy, caloric foods ready to pop into the oven or boil in a bag.
It is no wonder we got fat, and it is no wonder it is so difficult to get thin again.
It takes dedication. It takes control and a willingness to make difficult choices. We all know it; we’ve heard it a hundred times, and maybe that’s why we give up.
Over the past seven months, I have learned some things more important, more valuable. Secrets more closely guarded:
It takes patience. The standard quip is that ‘you didn’t put it on overnight; don’t expect to take it off overnight’, and we smile and nod in dreamy agreement. The truth is, most of us have a goal weight and a goal date in mind: a high school reunion, a daughter’s wedding. I did it myself a dozen times: “If I lose 2 pounds a week, I’ll be down 10 pounds before we leave on vacation.”
The trouble is you don’t lose 2 pounds that first week and so now you have to lose a little more, and a little more quickly. And then week two rolls by and you didn’t make it to the gym, or Sally brought timbits into the office (9 timbits equals one donut, right?) And suddenly you only have 3 weeks left to lose those ten pounds and it becomes unmanageable and inconceivable so you just give the hell up for this year.
Patience means there is no end date.
Patience means that when you say you’re making a “lifestyle change” you really mean it. ONE timbit here, a bike-ride with the kids there. Every positive change is an increment towards a healthier life, and every fraction of a pound lost is better than gaining.
It takes forgiveness. Forgiveness is different than surrender. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you give up and accept that you will always be fat.
Forgiveness means that when you make a mistake, you grant yourself the power to acknowledge it and then move on.
If one cookie turns into three turns into five, you stop. You accept what happened and you start again. Not tomorrow, not next Monday, but now. If you talked yourself out of going for a walk yesterday, you allow yourself that, and then you put on your sneakers and get outside today. Because forgiving a mistake and moving forward is better than standing still.
I went looking for that piece of paper today. It is the first time I’ve read those words in seven months. I was going to run it through the shredder, ridding myself of those feelings of defeat and worthlessness that I’d carried for so long. But instead I think I will keep it. Tuck it back into its private hiding place, as a reminder to me that I can succeed. I can – and have – beaten a worthy adversary, but I know he is always preparing for a comeback and I want to be ready for him when he comes.