We all have something that we struggle with throughout our life. For awhile we may overcome it but maybe it creeps back into our day-to-day life. For me, since I was around 11, it’s been weight and dieting. I spent my childhood not worrying about weight or looks but out playing, exploring and riding my bike. The only time I was ever on a scale was at the doctor’s office and that number was simply something the nurse noted down or told my mom and that was that. Weight wasn’t a focus in my life.
Then I spent one summer with my weight-obsessed maternal grandmother who was always on a diet of some sort. She worshipped the scale as if it had some magic power to make her into the person she always wanted to be. At the time, I lived in Missouri near my paternal grandparents and that grandmother was too busy doing chores, feeding livestock and milking cows to even care about weight. She was a bit on the heavy side but I never once heard her talk about a diet or not having a cookie or being upset she couldn’t fit into a pair of slacks. But in 1981, my parents shipped my sister and I from mid-Missouri to eastern Ohio to spend the summer with my mom’s parents.
My maternal grandparents lived in a small two-bedroom, one bath ranch house built in the 1940’s which was crammed full of antiques and furniture they collected. In the small hall that connected the bath and two small bedrooms was a dry sink and one day my grandmother led me into the hallway and pulled out a digital scale which was very new-fangled back in 1981. I was simply fascinated with the red LED numbers that would show up. She would step on the scale but I was not allowed to look at the number. I really didn’t know why but she was my grandmother so I obeyed her wishes. Then I stood on the scale and looked down at the number that didn’t mean a thing to me. I couldn’t even tell you what it was any more if it even stuck in my mind then.
After that, every day the weighing ritual began. I didn’t really pay much attention to it, just did as she asked. The scale just seemed like a toy to me. Things changed though after a few weeks. My grandmother had been feeding my sister and I like we were starving kids in China. I always only ate until I was just full, well except around holidays when the tables were full of so many delectable foods, I would stuff myself until I was sick. Then my cousins and I would go run around the yard whether it be in shorts or snow suits. Since it didn’t feel good to stuff myself like that, I only did it around holidays.
Except now, my grandmother was getting upset if I didn’t eat more. So to please her I was eating beyond my comfort zone. It was like a holiday at almost every meal. Then the number on the scale started creeping up. My clothes started to get tighter and tighter. Soon they had to take me and buy me new clothes, except now I had to shop in the women’s department rather than the girls department. I remember feeling sad I had outgrown my regular size which was toward the high-end of kids’ sizes anyway but I wasn’t quite ready to jump into grown up clothes.
When the daily weigh-in came now, I started to dread it and sometimes tried to get out of it. My grandmother would look at the number and cluck sadly that I was gaining weight. I felt like I had let her down or I was doing something wrong. She would then send me out to run laps around the house or ride her old Schwinn bike up and down the street while she watched that no one abducted me. Like some forced exercise program. Then she started talking about diets not only in relationship to her since she was always on some diet, but in regards to me. In the midst of this summer, my parents sprang on me that we were moving from Missouri to the other side of Ohio. I remember crying with body-wracking sobs on the phone to my mom that I didn’t want to move, to leave my other grandparents and the few friends I had to go to some strange town on the other side of Ohio. I sank into more despair and turned to food for comfort. Why not? My grandmother was already feeding me like I was a line backer for the nearby Pittsburgh Steelers. I already had a much larger wardrobe of adult sized clothes.
Looking back now, of course, I see I was gaining weight because she was literally force feeding me more than I wanted to eat. It was this entire shaming cycle that to this day, I know my grandmother loved me very much and was a good person, but I do not understand why she did it other than misery loves company. From that summer on, weight became an issue for me and I was never quite the carefree kid I had been before that summer. I was creeping closer to middle school age and all the peer pressure, plus I was starting a new school where no one really accepted me.
I have dealt with eating disorders in my 20’s. I had given up in my mid-30’s while suffering from a bad marriage and depression until I was almost 300 lbs. At 38, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and trust me, the weight doesn’t magically come off when you start treatment. At least not for me and most of the people I know who also have this issue. I’ve grown to accept my larger-sized body, stop beating myself up for it. I’ve donated several scales and quit weighing myself altogether. It took me awhile but I finally quit beating myself up, started loving myself and appreciating what my body could do even if I wasn’t thin or petite. I was at least curvy and strong. I could ride my bike 50 miles in a day or hike as much as I wanted. I wasn’t running marathons, but I was athletic.
Then late fall, I read an article that documented a study that said exercise was not important that it was the calories that you ate. I don’t even remember where I saw it, probably something linked to a Facebook post. However, as I was starting my last semester of college with a full-time class load as well as working, this gave me permission to not worry about working out. We had moved to the country and I wasn’t joining a gym again so I literally took from November-last week off of exercise. I spent more time on my backside, lying on the couch and just immobile than I had in years. At first my clothes fit fine. Then after my birthday in February I noticed that my jeans were getting tighter. Then I had a few yearly check up appointments where the scale came into play. I was shocked at the number. I had gained a good thirty pounds and since my jeans had been a little big to start with, I had room to grow.
When you spend so much of your time not active, it’s very hard to get back into that flow again. The first few road cycling rides I took were a very stark testament to how out of shape I had become. Though 30 pounds may not sound like much, on a bike it makes an enormous difference. Not only are you having to move that much more weight on two wheels, you also have more pressure on your butt and hands which makes cycling even more uncomfortable. Last year at this time, I actually weighed less than I had in years because of a medical condition that finally resolved itself in last July. Riding last spring felt like I had wings, I was fast and could ride much further without as much training. This spring, I feel like a sloth who can barely turn the crank. That is why serious cyclists are obsessed with weight not only on their bodies but their bikes. The more weight, the slower you are (unless you are going downhill) and the less miles you ride. It is just simple physics.
The first few rides this year, I wanted to give up. We have moved out to an area that is much more hillier than my previous routes when I rode from my house in town. The kicker is that my house sits on one of the highest elevations in our county and no matter which way I ride from my driveway, east or west, I have to ride back up a big hill. Hills are not the friend of the heavy cyclist. I’ve had to drop out of my normal gear range I rode last year, into the lowest gears I have just to spin up this hill at a paltry 7-9 mph. That feels like defeat to me though I tell myself, just ride it, you’re training, you’ll get back into shape. But part of me wants to get off the bike, throw it in the ditch and stomp back home in a fit. I have yet to do that as my bike cost quite a bit of money and my husband would never let me buy another one. And that would be me acting like a baby, but I have a moment or two or three where I want to quit.
I wasn’t going to set a mileage goal this year and I’ve changed my mind. I need the motivation to get out there and ride. Minimum of 45 with the desired goal of 60 miles a week for me to reach the top range of my 2016 mileage goal since I haven’t ridden but 138 miles this year so far and it’s already late May. Being mid-life, this is not the time to give up your exercise program. If nothing else I need it more than ever. I have a lazy thyroid and I’m moving into the menopausal years or perimenopause where the hot flashes are starting, my estrogen level is very low. Now it is even more important that I take good care of myself because my body is slowing down.
This winter I noticed my desire and motivation to get out and do things had waned greatly and that I had little energy. This spring I realized, I have to quit reading these stupid studies and trust what I know about myself. Exercise makes me feel stronger, better and gives me a ton more energy. It also boosts my self-esteem and self-image. Plus my clothes look better on me. At my recent college graduation, all my dresses went back in the closet after I realized that my weight gain made me look like lumpasaurus in them. I want to buy some new spring or summer clothes to wear to work, but I am going to wait a month or so. Otherwise I will be in the fitting room crying. Know thyself.
So now that school is done, and most of my life goals except for publishing a novel have been met, I think now is a good time to focus on overcoming this lifelong struggle of mine with food, though I don’t overeat like I once did and getting into the kind of shape I want to be. This isn’t about losing weight but about being able to do all the things I love without the fight and struggle of fighting my own body mass. Following Geneen Roth’s advice of eat only when you are hungry, eat exactly what you want and stop before you are too full. Essentially going back to how I ate before my summer at my grandmothers except I get to pick and cook the meals.
The second part is to keep activity and exercise forefront in my day. Push myself to new athletic heights. The good thing is that I love to bike, hike and do yoga or even swim when I can. I don’t dread exercise as many people do. Just being active in general as well whether it be get off the couch and go pull some weeds or take a walk down my country road. Expand my yoga practice to asanas that I haven’t yet tackled that look too hard. You get the idea.
This week I have paid attention, consciously became more active and I feel so much better already. I have more energy, I feel less like a fat sloth, it is amazing what exercise can do for you. I will not diet, this always backfires as I rebel and end up gaining weight. It is all about changing my lifestyle and staying active. I have no weight or clothing size goal. Just a mileage goal for my cycling this year. To exercise most days of the week. To not read some stupid article and give up on all my hard work. Because when you are in your mid-40’s, you slide back pretty fast and it’s even harder to regain your former fitness level. Slow and steady wins the race. Well I don’t want to be slow but you know what I mean.
My goal is simply to make my weight and fitness (or lack of) a non-issue in my life after 35 years. To be the best I can be without diets or craziness. I am tired of struggling and I do not want to come back to the point again unless there is something out of my control. It is time to resolve this once and for all so I can enjoy my life to the fullest.