« That's going to be my spy name. | Main | R. Lee Ermey learns to knit »

October 11, 2011

That's a lot of miles.

It's hard to get out of bed sometimes.

Early last week reader Liz posted this message:

This is just a note to say how inspiring it is to hear about your exercise. Not just this post, where you are "talking about it" but other posts where you casually refer to your walk that morning, as an ordinary part of your life. You are doing what we should all do - make a change so that exercise is part of our lives. Not something we really will get around to doing some day, or some super special new thing, but a genuine life change. It's harder to do than to say, or we'd all be doing it, so congratulations Laurie.


Sometimes a comment sticks with me for a while, and I have thought about this one on and off during the week. I keep asking myself, "Have I made a lifestyle change?" It doesn't feel that way. Instead, it feels more like I have a lifestyle -- an unhealthy one -- and I'm just choosing to do the opposite of it.

According to my Nike sports band, so far in 2011 I have walked a total of 756.02 miles. That is a lot of miles and it's only early October! Also, apparently I didn't walk any in January (is that true? I think I still had an ankle injury then.)

My goal is to walk every single day. It doesn't always pan out, I might be injured or it's a million degrees or I just want to take a yoga class that day. But I walk a lot. For someone who is a serious couch potato at heart that is a giant accomplishment.

However, I'm not certain it's the grand lifestyle change we hear about on those TV reports about healthy living. As long as I can remember, every single diet book and article and news story about health talks up "lifestyle changes" as the key to good living. Obviously my lifestyle has seriously changed, but it's not the new autopilot. I didn't suddenly become a fitness enthusiast or a traveling preacher talking about the sin of the sofa. I love sitting on the sofa and watching TV. I love potato chips with a deep passion that no man has ever rivaled. I love food and wine and general sloth and gluttony. That hasn't changed one bit.

My "lifestyle change" is that I wake up every day and decide all over again that today I should go for a walk or take a class or ride the exercise bike while watching TV. It's a daily thing. Sometimes it's a daily slog.

I'm sure there are some people who do make a lifestyle change in the spirit that the diet books suggest. Perhaps these folks were more moderate in their lifestyle to begin with, so for them it's just a matter of trimming a little bit here or there and before long they have a new normal. I was way out of whack, though, on the extreme end of things and so I had to perform a gigantic lifestyle overhaul. I couldn't just cut out a soda a day, lose the miraculous ten pounds in a year and be balanced and happy. (For one thing, I don't drink soda. And I had way more than a ten pound problem.) Overhauling my life was scary and sometimes hard. Everything changed. And it didn't take root immediately -- several months passed before I got into it for real, and started making that daily decision to lace up my shoes and walk. There were long periods of backsliding.

Walking isn't just an activity for me, it's symbolic. It's a decision that starts the day and every other decision flows from it. Today I will move around. Today I will accomplish something. Today I'll take vitamins. Today I'll write, work, read a good book, declutter a drawer, have a healthy dinner. I know there's still the hovering ever-present problem of personal sloth: it's easy enough to go one or two days without a walk and string them together into a month. It's easy to eat too much or drink too much when you have a weekend guest and let that bleed over into next week, and next weekend.

Truthfully, my lifestyle default setting is textbook unhealthy and I have to work to make it different. I wish I were one of those people who genuinely lived to exercise, who only ate for fuel and nourishment. I like to eat because I'm hungry, or sad, or happy, or tired, or anxious, or because it's Tuesday. It's been over a year now of Lifestyle Changing and I'm basically the same old me. I still want to eat when I'm upset, I still want to stay in bed and watch TV every morning -- I just choose not to most of the time. I get up and decide to walk. I decide to have a good lunch. I decide that if I'm going to slink into a TV coma I better be on the exercise bike during half of it. I make the choice because it gives me hope for the future and happier feelings during the day.

While doing this thing I'm doing I've had to accept I may never find it exciting and awesome to exercise daily. It might be a decision I have to re-make every day forever. It's more routine these days and of course the effort is easier because my body is more fit and can do more activities. But it gets boring sometimes! BORING. Losing weight and gaining fitness through incremental diet and exercise changes is a slooooooow process. SLOW.

Sometimes I get bored and want to stop. Sometimes I get tired and want to stay in bed, or knit in front of the TV, or eat nothing but fast food. On those days I worry I will careen off into a ditch and never recover. Those are the days I walk even when I'm not motivated, I just do it because I promised myself I would. Maybe that is the lifestyle change -- keeping a promise to myself.

Even though it is slow and can be a drag sometimes it's worth it. In a few days I'm going to be seeing some of my family, an event which would normally make me panic about my weight. I grew up in a family that is obsessed with weight and slimness and I have always been the "fat" one, even when I was nowhere near overweight. Usually I get so nervous before seeing my family that I go on a crash diet, or I buy new fat-hiding clothes or I start a wine IV. Sometimes I just cancel, waiting until the magic day when I am skinny to visit with them. (Oh that magic day. It never comes.)

There's still a remnant part of me that feels worried and nervous I won't measure up but more than anything I feel happy to see my family. I haven't been crash dieting or hiding under a new pair of Spanx or drowning in skinnygirl margaritas (yet, always give myself the option!) I know I'm not rail-thin and never will be and that's life. I'm healthy. Or at least I feel healthy. I just walked 756.02 miles this year, of course I feel healthy! My main motivation for exercising every day is that I don't have to put off my life anymore, I don't have to panic. And since I still have a long way to go, panic isn't really a great option anyway.

How do you stay motivated over the long haul? What gets you up each morning making healthy decisions? What do you do when you feel the deep urge to hide under the covers with a bottle of wine and a snickers chaser? How do you motivate yourself to stay the course? I'd love to hear what's working for you!

Bob will nap while we discuss this.

Posted by laurie at October 11, 2011 8:03 AM