Like many folks in the world concerned about weight gain as we age, I’ve been on a variety of diets (not a lot, but still) and have lost and gained pounds over the years. My trajectory, however, since I was about 40 was to see a consistent, slow increase in weight in my body. For me it was not in one place, it was all over: legs, chest, back, arms, head, neck, etc. By my mid-40s I’d found a persistent set of pounds hanging on to my midsection. I exercised, dieted, and lost quite a bit of weight over that time.
Yet, my mental health when it came to weight gain and loss was pretty much the same. I felt emotionally drained by the yoyo of my body; I felt out of control of what was happening. I tried to hold onto the idea to accept my body as it was, not as it could be. Simply put, staying in the present and not judging my own physical self.
The thing is, I knew, really knew, that how I physically felt was a reaction to my mental health. I remember a few years ago when I made a conscious choice not to exercise on one particular day; it was windy (when is Albuquerque NOT windy) and I chose not to hop on my bike and ride the bike trail. I said to myself it was OK; I didn’t have to ride. It was windy, the ride would be hard and I could just as easily exercise by walking my dog.
The one choice in that moment was based on feeling like I couldn’t do it. I felt so worn out from the week and work and such that I chose not to ride. The choice, however, was an important one. It spoke to a kind of depression, a willingness to, in a small way, give up and give in. Some folks have argued that it’s OK to slide into that feeling, the feeling of resignation. I’ve read commentary from some very intelligent people arguing that we should just be with the feeling and allow it to crash over us without judgement.
However, I’m here to say that allowing that feeling to wash over me and really take hold was the crux of the problem. I actually let the feeling go, but by the time I had, it was too late. The moment had passed. And that’s the thing….we do live in moments and in those moments are choices and in those choices are the source of what happens to us in our lives.
I’m not sure what propelled me to change my physical life last August, but I decided to go all in. To change eating, exercise, and mediation. To alter my present to affect my future. It is ironic, after my MI, that I not only continued my trajectory but ratcheted it up a notch, moving toward a more radical change. Based on past history, one would think I would give up and give in. I didn’t succumb to the fear, the self-loathing, the absolute pain of experiencing a health crisis. I pushed through.
So, why, in that moment did I not give in? My experience in the hospital was one driving force; I sat in meditation in the emergency and heard the cries of pain, the agony of other patients, and the death of someone inches outside my room. Witnessing the death of someone has the ability to transform one’s life if you can be present in the experience. I think a lot about that patient; a man in his 70s, heart attack passed, breathing stopped, resuscitation failed. I heard those last few moments of his life and stayed with him. I felt, profoundly, a sense of peace.
Secondly, I did not give in because I had found a path that worked for me. I was on that path since August 1st. Nothing was going to stop me now. I knew, quite clearly, that I could alter my course, change my body in ways I had, to that point, only imagined. I guess the best way to describe it is to state, simply, that I knew I could do it…I was in a place in which I could make a change in my life.
My weight loss, my change in diet, and my change in life style gave me the mental clarity, in those moments of all-consuming fear, that I had personal power. The weight loss, the success of my eating plan, the physical changes I had seen improved my emotional and mental outlook. There was/is a correlation between the two. Fundamentally, it was my mind pushing, encouraging, showing me the path or way forward.
Now, when the moments arise, and they always do, in which I say, “I’ll not exercise tonight; I’ll eat that thing I’m not supposed to” I am now able to seize control of that part of my self and say, clearly and compassionately, no.