For most of a year I’ve been writing this column, and I thought I’d take a moment this week to reflect on where I started, and where I am now.
I’ve been overweight almost my whole adult life, and after having four children, found myself creeping up on 200 pounds. Fifteen years or so later, I stood on a scale one day, and discovered that I weighed 240 pounds, and I had a BMI of 40 percent.
It had become difficult for me to tie my shoes.
If I did any amount of exercise at all, it left me huffing and puffing and gasping for breath.
I hated to look in the mirror, and I really hated having my photo taken. I thought I looked like a toad, all bulging belly and no neck. It’s silly, but that was the mental image that I had of myself at that time.
I felt like my body was far older than my 48 years at that time, and it bothered me. A lot.
The good news was that my diet has always been made up of healthy and whole foods, and mostly cooked from scratch. But I had smoked for many, many years, and I was almost totally sedentary, both at work and at home.
The quality of my diet was the one bright spot in an otherwise pretty bleak picture of my health. I’ve never been a dieter, but I had for at least a decade tried to bully, cajole and otherwise force myself to get exercise on a regular basis.
My usual method of doing that involved a lot of very harsh self-talk: You’re not doing it right. You’re not doing enough. You’ll never get the hang of this. It’s too hard, you’ll never learn. How could you go back for seconds? Thirds? What is wrong with you?
And that was the friendlier stuff that I said to myself.
I don’t remember what it was that snapped in my brain, but some time last year I decided that I needed to stop being so mean to myself, and treat getting exercise as part of a regimen of self-care.
Maybe it was the fact that my youngest child was about to leave home for college, and the impending empty nest.
Maybe I just got tired of that mean voice inside my head, telling me all day, every day, that nearly everything I was doing was wrong.
Maybe I just wanted to be able to tie my own damn shoes.
At any rate, I made two major changes: I stopped the negative self-talk, and I made a commitment to myself to make my health a priority.
Those might seem like minor changes, but they were life-altering. Suddenly I found myself making it to the gym, trying out all kinds of new workouts, and even putting my whole struggle out in the public eye, first on Facebook and then (after some urging from people I know) by publishing this column.
My biggest lessons over this year have been simple.
Baby steps are still steps. Take baby steps, celebrate baby steps, and be aware that you are supporting your own health and wellbeing every time you do so. Baby steps add up to massive action if repeated.
Being mean to yourself is no good. I would never say the things I routinely said to myself to other people. And the stuff I was saying to myself all day long was simply a litany of self-hatred that really needed to stop. Since I have changed the way I speak to myself, I truly feel like a new woman. Try it—this is a life change you will not regret.
Find a way to work exercise into your daily routine, and while you’re at it, find a way to make it fun. If you read this column you know about the thing I call “crazy dancing,” which is really just leaping around my room like a fool while holding some weights and listening to music. It’s the most fun when I do it with my grandsons. It’s free. It’s at home and I’m typically barefoot. I put the music on loud and dance like no one is watching.
Make. A. Plan. This one was a biggie for me. When I started to schedule my workouts into my insanely hectic schedule, they became easier to manage. And—bonus—when things went awry for whatever reason, as they have done all year long, I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and returned to the plan.
Get a workout buddy. This one bothered me a lot at first, because I would keep a commitment to my buddy but I wouldn’t keep it to myself. But judging myself that way is not helpful, and having a workout buddy is very helpful. So there. I’m looking for practical solutions, not a way to make myself wrong.
Pay attention to what you can do, especially if it’s something you think you can’t do. This year I’ve done things I never thought I could do, like climbing a 30-foot wall at a rock climbing gym. I really thought going in there was no way I would be able to get myself to the top. And when I did, it was the best feeling imaginable!
Ignore the scale. I weigh myself a few times a month, and the rest of the time I don’t think about it. I concentrate on noticing the way my body is changing, the way I feel, and the way my clothes fit. I don’t own a scale and have no plans to get one. This journey is not about my weight. It’s about my health.
And here at the end of the year, I feel healthier and better than I have since I was in my 20s. Since I’m turning 50 in just a few weeks, I’ll take it! And the best part? I made that change happen.
So now that “New Year’s Resolution Season” is about to hit, my resolve remains firm. I know what to do and I have all the tools I need to do it. I’m ready to knock my 50s out of the park.
How has your year? I’d love to hear your fitness successes and challenges—join the conversation in my Facebook group, “I’m Losing It!”
Leota started working for The Independent in 2006, working her way up through the ranks. An employee buyout in 2010 led to her ownership of the newspaper. Leota has served on the board of the N.M. Press Association, and is currently its First Vice President. She is passionate about health and wellness, especially mental health, and loves making art. She can be reached at [email protected]