Monday, October 8, 2012

The Timer in My Head

The timer in my head first started blaring when I was 24.  It was my last year of undergraduate study, and I woke up one morning with this alarm blaring.  It made a noise like this, "If I do not make a change, I will not live to see 30."

After graduating with my B.A. in Religious Studies, with a double minor in Criminology and Women's Studies, I moved to NYC where I began my master's degree.  It was the perfect time to make a change.

It was excellent timing for a number of reasons:  new place, new people, new opportunities, new culture.  It was also a simple reality that everything was within walking distance of where I lived.  Nothing I needed was more than a mile away.  Being loathe to spend money, I never took a cab and avoided public transit when I had the time and energy to walk.

By the end of my first year, I had dropped three dress sizes.

Then, I got a dog.  Suddenly, walking was not optional.  It was mandatory.  I was also determined to feed my dog the healthiest of fare.  It occurred to me as I researched pet foods, rejecting any product that contained artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors, or preservatives, that it was ridiculous to feed my dog better than I fed myself.  If I was not willing to feed Willy Wonka unhealthy food stuffs, why would I eat it myself.

By the end of the first semester of my second year, I had dropped another 3 pant sizes.

At the beginning of my second semester that year, I decided that while walking and eating healthy were great, I wanted to up the intensity.  I began running, lifting weights, and doing yoga.  Nothing major, just enough to feel a burn and sweat.  A lot.

By the end of the second semester of my second year, I had dropped another 4 pant sizes.

At the beginning of the first semester of my third year in graduate school, Tim died.

I couldn't see past the pain.  Everything hurt all the time.  I couldn't get out of bed.  I couldn't exercise.  I couldn't take care of myself, let alone my poor dog.

Not being able to function, and living once again in the Midwest, old habits returned.  My sedentary lifestyle was once again in full swing, and highly processed, high fat, high sugar foods with zero nutritional value helped me regain 7 of the 10 pant sizes I'd lost.

After two years of this, I went back to NYC.  I finished my degree.  In January of 2010, as I entered my final semester in graduate school, the timer in my head went off again.  And I dropped two pant sizes by the time I graduated.

Graduating, however, meant losing my rhythm, my routine, my home, my community, my life(style).  It meant that in an ever tightening job market with no real prospects and no experience, I moved back to the Midwest.

I regained a pant size.

But I wanted it to stop there.  I wanted to take control of my health and not have my weight and activity level be dictated by the place or the culture in which I lived.

This didn't happen.  I failed.  Oh, after a year, I found a job, and I was diligent in the first 8 months.  I dropped that pant size.

But then Christmas came, and as I began making gifts for others, there were delightful treats around.  The first bite is what does me in every single time.  Having not eaten refined sugar in months, I was suddenly eating it all the time.  A square of fudge here, a caramel there, a cupcake, a cookie, or 6.  And I regained that pant size.

Once the holidays were over, I decided to get back to the lifestyle I wanted.  But I couldn't.  It was too hard.  There were too many pressures.  At home, at work, at church.  There was always something to snack on.  The snacks were never healthy.

God knows how, but I managed to stay within the same pant size.

Then, a few months ago, the timer in my head went off again.

I knew it was time.  More exercise, less processed food.  But I hit the snooze button.

I tried.  But the task seemed daunting.  It seemed like too much.  I had worked, and worked, and worked before, and failed.  I had worked and worked and worked again, and failed.  I just couldn't try and fail again.  So, I put it off.  I'd try for a day.

Eat healthy.

And revert to old patterns the next.

Take the dogs for a walk.

Once a month.

Life felt out of balance.  I felt like an awful doggie mommy.  Just downright evil.  More than failing to eat well and get exercise, I was failing to take care of my Magpie and Lilidog.  A horrible human being if ever there was one.

And all the time, more than the smaller clothes (the purchase of which was traumatizing) and attention from men (which was always uncomfortable at best) and fitting in a smaller space in the world (this was great on airplanes and in movie theaters), the thing I missed every single day...was running.  Because when I run, the whole world disappears.  It's me, and nothing else.  The one-two of my feet hitting the asphalt.  The inhale-exhale of my breath.  The heat and sweat and looseness of my muscles at the end of 3 miles.  Every.  Single.  Day.  And there complete bliss of an utterly empty mind.  Because running was the one thing that required such single-minded focus that I didn't have space in my head for anything else.

It came up this weekend.  This conversation began about health and choices.  In the last few months, as I've made many false starts, I've realized they haven't been for nothing.  Rather than 6 cookies, I eat 2.  Rather than a "bigger" bag of chips, I eat the actual single-serving bag.  When I don't have the energy to cook, I choose salads, hummus, and veggies for the most part, over burgers (no bun) and french fries.

But it still wasn't enough, I realized.

What was missing in all of these healthier food chooses, was the intention and single-minded focus I had when I was determined to make healthy lifestyle choices.

What was missing was that I was prioritizing everything in my life but me; so that when I got home at the end of the day, I was drained, tired, exhausted, and didn't have the energy to care for myself or my doggies.

So, no more.

Intention.  Single-minded focus.  No more snooze button.

First on my list:  walking my dogs 2 times a day, 1 mile each time.  It isn't much, but it's all I can commit to right now.

Second:  mindful eating and a food diary.  This helps with portion control and ensures that I am getting what I need both in regards to calories and nutrients, generally speaking.

Third:  new shoes.  My current shoes are at least a year old.  I need new ones.  And I'm buying them Friday with my next paycheck.

I've made it thirty.  I want to see forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty....

And I want to run again.

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