So, I got an email from the Map My Walk people about a sale they’re having on their smartphone apps. It came with this picture:
I’ve been focused on getting fit and losing weight since February. From then until now, I’ve lost 23 pounds and have gotten some very positive returns on my most recent blood tests (which, if I’m being honest, is more than half the reason I’m doing this; while I really like the “wow, you look GREAT!” compliments (who wouldn’t?!), I am constantly aware that I come from a long line of enthusiastically and insistently unhealthy people, and I’d like to not continue that tradition).
I often talk to my best friend/brother about my adventures in this effort; he, too, is working on regaining some control, and we both have a strong background in the fitness industry. We compare workouts, check in on each other for support (and accountability), ask and answer questions, and bitch about the aches and pains (and lack of motivation) that go along with what we’re trying to do.
One of the things I keep coming back to in our conversations is the ease with which diet and exercise can become an obsession. As a fitness instructor, I’ve been trained to keep an eye on my participants for signs of what we call “fitness addiction;” people who talk about nothing but their fitness routine, people who attend back-to-back-to-back classes, people who lose too much weight too fast, people who don’t understand proper nutrition and think only in terms of calories, calories, calories, that sort of thing. I had someone in my strength class at Local U. who worried me last year; she would brag that mine was the 3rd hour she’d exercised that day (my class started at 7:30 in the morning and she’d regularly stay for the cycle class that came after) and she lost a lot of weight from September to December. I reported her to the Rec. Director who referred her to a counselor, and she got the help she needed.
Before I started getting serious about managing my own weight, though, I didn’t understand how people could get like that. I never got how people could obsess over everything they nibbled, or how they’d pour enormous amounts of energy into logging every move they made and then worry whether it was “enough.” I couldn’t fathom how some people would think in terms of cost and benefit until I started really focusing on my own behavior.
Now, though? I get it.
Part of it is diligence. Before I knuckled under and made a plan, my lifestyle was not bad, it was just insufficient to the effect that I was after. My diet was reasonably healthy and I had regular (though not enough) exercise built into my week. The modifications I needed to make to my baseline, though, required that I be – at least, in the short term – hyper-focused on the details; I found that the little things I did (or didn’t do) during the course of a day really added up, but I only found that out because I decided to keep track of EVERY LITTLE THING for a period of time so that I could discern a pattern (and hopefully see where the pitfalls were).
Once you get in that habit, it’s hard to break. The fact that we get messages like the one above – where food is thought of in terms of what one would have to do in order to “burn it off,” rather than as a source of fuel (or – gasp! – enjoyment!) and a means through which we create and nurture social bonds – doesn’t help those who are already predisposed to be obsessive. I can’t find it now, but the other day I saw an image on facebook that was something like “I don’t need nutrition information; just a label that tells me how many burpees I’ll have to do to burn this off.” That’s TOTALLY the wrong message, and I think it and others like it contribute to the unhealthy attitude so many people have about food.
I’ll admit that I’ll do a “do I want this badly enough to justify the calories it’s going to cost me” calculation every once in a while, and I’ll choose not to eat things that don’t bring me the commensurate enjoyment (I don’t like cheese doodles much at all, for example, so I would pass them up if they were offered. I love Doritos, though, and will grab a handful whenever they’re made available). One of the big lessons I got from my investigation of my habits is portion control, so I’ve learned that I can have everything I want, I just don’t have to have as much as I used to.
I think that’s the big trick in this whole “get fit, lose weight” equation that most people never figure out. They start thinking in the terms that inspired that image – that food is some sort of enemy that you have to be punished for enjoying. I’m working hard not to buy into that attitude, though; I prefer to think of food as a means of nourishing my body. I want to enjoy the things I take in – to share them with friends and family, to relish the flavors and textures, and to acknowledge the energy and nutrition they give me. Thinking that way is a conscious choice, though, and it’s one I think too few people are taught that they can make.