Changing habits

It’s easy for me to take things for granted, and to think that the way things now are how they have always been. But that really isn’t true.

For example, in the past month or so, I’ve been to the gym about three times a week. That is a massive change from where I was a year ago, when I was wishing real hard that I would get myself to the gym every now and then, and mostly not making it. Now I’m doing one running workout and two weight training days pretty much weekly.

In addition to all that time at the gym, I’ve been doing yard work with all this warm weather—and my deal with myself is that if it makes me sweat and be sore, damn straight I’ll be logging that as a workout.

My new normal is getting a pretty good amount of exercise, in a variety of different ways that I think are fun. And that’s terrific!

But it turns out that the hard part, after all, is not getting exercise, but really learning to tune in to my body, and learning how to stop eating when I am not hungry.

I know that lifelong habits of self-neglect don’t arise from nowhere, and I know where mine came from. Having lived through sexual abuse as a child, I (like many people who were abused or neglected as a child) internalized the idea that I was not worthy of being cared for.

I don’t want to spend too much time delving into the psychology of it all—I’m a newspaper editor, after all, not a mental health professional. What I’m telling you is simply my own experience, nothing else.

So anyway, I’ve walked around my whole life basically, putting self-care at the bottom of every list of priorities, and that was if I made the list at all. I raised four children, mostly as a single mother, and self-sacrifice was part of the territory. I don’t regret that, and I do understand why it was that way.

Now that I’m an empty nester, that has come into sharp focus. When I neglect to care for myself now, it is really obvious. There is nowhere to point the finger for my inaction except back at myself. On one hand that’s irritating, but on the other hand, it shows me where I still need to work to achieve my goals.

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Long story short: Finding exercise that is fun and integrating it into daily life is not so hard. Finding out that deeply-held self-destructive beliefs are still running the show when it comes to food, that’s kind of hard. And making changes in how I view food is harder than getting exercise—at least for far for me.

Here’s the good news, the silver lining on the black cloud of “eating disorder,” or whatever you want to call it: Exercise holds many of the answers.

This is what I mean by that. I am not a person who is going to jump into a fad diet, whether it is paleo, or vegan, or carefully measured portions, or programs like Weight Watchers. I mean let’s get real, the title of my last column could have been “Ode to a Piece of Cake.” I’m not saying don’t try those things yourself if you want to, but they are not for me. My goal is to learn to listen to my body.

The cool thing is that the more exercise I get, the more I feel connected to my body. I remember reading, years ago, that when girls participate in sports they learn that their bodies are functional, and not merely decorative as some parts of our culture would have them believe. I find that this is also true for me. I am less and less self-conscious when I work out, and much more in tune to my physical self.

Last night, for example, I had a steak for dinner. That was all I wanted. The previous day I had a session with a personal trainer, then went straight from that gym to a rock climbing gym with my grandson. I was sore—I mean really sore. All that muscle-building is enhanced by eating protein, so protein I ate.

If I crave blueberries, I will eat blueberries.

The tricky bit is what to do when I crave three pieces of cake and two boxes of Girl Scout cookies. This is a different kind of craving, and it’s not about physical hunger. I’m still working out what it is for me, to tell you the truth.

But I can also tell that my strategy remains sound: Find exercise that is fun. Listen to the messages my body is telling me. Make a plan and take steps to implement it. My goal is an active lifestyle, and I’m well on the way to achieving that goal.

Do you struggle with “food issues”? How do you cope with cravings that are not about being hungry? You can reach me at leota@lobo.net or by joining the conversation in my Facebook group, “I’m Losing It!”