So this might be on the long side. Bear with me, I’m trying to work something out here.
I’ve written before about a mild obsession I have with getting “enough” exercise. As you may know by now, I used to be really overweight. The tale is a long and scandalous one, which I hope to someday do literary justice to, but the short of it is that I gained over 100 pounds during college so that by the time I was 21, I was obese and miserable. Eventually I lost the weight through diet and exercise – all 115 pounds of it – over the course of a couple years.
I didn’t have a good relationship with my body when I was heavy. (Duh.) I don’t mean that I didn’t like my body or didn’t take care of it (though I didn’t), I mean that I didn’t know how to listen to my body. I didn’t know when I’d overeaten, if I’d eaten too much, if I’d gained 2 pounds, 10 pounds or 50.
This has often led me to wonder if other obese people suffer from the same biological inability I did – the inability to realistically interpret physical cues from the body. Or perhaps the malady is that there are no physical cues being generated to begin with. The waves or neurons or whatever it is just don’t connect – the message is not being sent.
For instance, a person of a normal weight eats a large meal, notices physical cues that tell them they’re full and so they choose to stop eating because it would feel bad to continue. Conversely, when I was heavy I’d eat a large meal, maybe semi-notice cues telling me that I was nearing fullness, but I certainly wouldn’t choose to stop eating, and most times I wouldn’t even notice those cues at all. In other words, food is good and I’ll take all of it please.
A person of a normal weight will neglect their gym membership for a month and notice a little roundness in their belly that wasn’t there before, while I never noticed any additional roundness when I was heavy. And I’d gained over 100 pounds, so there was roundness. Sure, every once in a while I’d walk by a mirror or try on a pair of pants and be able to tell that my body had undergone changes, but day to day, I didn’t know they were happening. A barometer somewhere within me was broken.
And just because I’ve lost the weight and maintained that loss doesn’t mean that the missing sensor has miraculously appeared. It’s taken me almost five years of eating well and tracking my food intake every. single. day. to teach my body to become familiar with the feeling of eating only as many calories as I need. For a very long time, the only way I knew I should stop eating each evening was because my little notebook told me so.
Eventually, I actually began to over-compensate for my lifelong lack of natural awareness by working to become tooaware, almost obsessively, of any physical information available to me. Having been such a deadbeat parent to my body in the past, I flipped the switch and forced myself to become an overly protective soccer mom. I’ve never been someone who obsessively counts calories, skips meals or spends hours and hours at the gym. And you can see from the daily dessert feature that I let myself enjoy the things I love. But I figured if I’d been able to gain 100 pounds without noticing (so to speak) I was now going to create from scratch whatever awareness I was formerly lacking, no matter what it took to do so.
Sometimes I’ve taken it too far: I’ve beaten myself up mentally, forced in workouts when I don’t really have the time or energy, and fixated on things that are truly inconsequential. It’s no surprise, really – people who have weight problems have them for a reason and anyone who has the lost the weight will tell you that the problems don’t go away just because the weight does. (I can think of a few friends from my weight-loss-days who can relate very much to this.) You still have to reconcile with your broken brain.
Luckily, as I got better at maintaining my new weight and lifestyle, I ultimately decided it wasn’t worth it to abuse myself about any of it. It took a long time to get there, but I just got sick of hearing myself think on it constantly. Instead, I chose the perspective that I’d lost the weight and should be incredibly proud of that fact. No one is perfect and I didn’t need to be either. I use the word “chose” because it was absolutely an active choice I had to make. I will never ever be cured of whatever it was that made me fat to begin with, but I’ve learned to manage it and that’s the most I can hope for. It’s taken me a long time to steady that pendulum of self-awareness from either extreme to a healthy mental place.
So this is my very long-winded way of trying to say that I’ve been struggling lately with old anxious feelings about exercise. It’s one voice I’ve never been able to sufficiently quiet since I lost the weight: If I don’t exercise as often as I think I “need” to, I notice inches creeping onto my hips, a softness coming into my arms, a fullness to my waist. Those things may or may not be happening, but I’ll hone in on even the slightest perceived fluctuation and it can be maddening. And really? Inches are not being added to my thighs because I skip a workout. But my brain doesn’t know how to be automatically realistic with it all and I cannot shake the worry. Where I once had the capacity to notice nothing, I now have the similarly insane-making capacity to notice every single detail.
I recognize intellectually that exercising 3-4 times a week, instead of 5-6 times a week is NOT THAT BIG OF A DEAL. I mean, my God, it seems even crazier when I write it out like that. My butt is not growing plumper by the second. And I do not need to feel guilt or shame about my lesser efforts. But still, I fixate. Then, like a recovering addict, I make promises about how much I’m going to exercise next week (all the time! every day! you won’t even be able to reach me!) and then I don’t keep the promises because who the hell could and it happens all over again. It’s not some huge dramatic thing, just a quiet but crazy-making conversation that’s going on inside my mind constantly. And it takes me away from real life.
I’ve combated this in the past by simply exercising more. If you don’t like the color green, don’t wear green things; If you obsess about your body when you don’t exercise, exercise. But it hasn’t been so easy lately. As you, dear readers, are all well aware, my schedule is tight. I used to fit in workouts on lunchbreaks, nights off from comedy rehearsals, or on weekends, but now that I’m starting a small business those times aren’t always available to me. And lately, other priorities have piped up to say that they’re sick and tired of being neglected – stuff like cleaning the apartment or the very essential Laying By The Pool.
Besides that, I was brutally ill with the stomach flu two weeks ago, then I got a little sinus infection, then I got busy, then we bought new furniture – all assembly required, then my mom came to visit, then, then, then. And I haven’t been working out as often as I’m used to. (Eegads! Death is eminent!) And you know what else? I also kinda don’t feel like it. Whoa. I truly do love to exercise and I’ve been working out 6 days a week for as long as I can remember, but right now? I kinda don’t feel like it!
How bout that, body?! You didn’t account for that, did you? Well it’s where we are right now. Let’s see if we can get the brain to catch up.
Interestingly, it’s not out of a concern for how I look that I obsess about this stuff, it’s out of a worry for how I might feel: lazy, unproductive, uncommitted, unhealthy. But maybe I need to listen to how I feel right NOW instead – which is: I feel like I don’t wanna work out so often. And for once in my life I’m trying with all my might to let that just Be Okay – to curb the instinct to drop everything and fit in a workout right away even if I don’t wanna, but instead to sit with the fact that my body is requesting some down time, to recognize that I look the exact precise same I did three weeks ago, to trust that 3-4 times a week is just fine and that I WILL get back into my usual routine when I want to, like I always have, and to fully believe that there are ebbs and flows to life; it’s best not to fight them. The bottom line is that I know this is an unnecessary brain drain about something so minor it’s nuts. I’ve got to get over this once and for all because I have a long way to go ’til I die and I really can’t see logical value in spending it upset with myself over how often I exercised during July 2009.
How does this relate to the journey to leave my desk job? It just does. It’s all interconnected. The biggest stress in my life right now is finding a way to balance it all – the job, the other job, the third job, the exercise, the boyfriend, the cats, the friends. And this particular problem could really use a little balance thrown at it.
Through the catharsis of writing this, I may have just convinced myself to take a chill pill about it all. Maybe it sort of feels nice to have softer thighs. I’ll let you know how it goes, assuming I don’t skip town and force myself to enter an Iron Man race first.