Playing the Long Game

After my husband died, I spent three months in my basement crying and eating potatoe chips. Twenty-six pounds later I realized I was killing myself with grief and junk food. I spent some time then throwing myself into projects to distract my brain. Busy and exhausted leaves little time for tears. But I did ignore my physical exercise due to covid and grief. Not caring about the future made me fill the hours to “get through it” while I stopped caring about my own health. My husband was strong, fit and exercised. He died. What was the point? I was beyond caring.

But here is the thing. My whole life was about the long game. I was always active. I played school sports, I ran as a teen (to impress a boy), I was never much of a drinker due to my parents influence and I was naturally slender. Being broke as a teen I mainly ate my mother’s prepared meals. Time spent in a coffee shop after school was just black coffee as I couldn’t afford anything else. Free refills too. I lived a couple of miles from school and walked there daily. If I was in a hurry, I rode my ten-speed bike. My wheels until the year we all started to get our driver’s licenses. Caring for my horse and other outdoor activities like gardening and mowing the lawn (over an acre) were just natural ways I got my daily dose of exercise and fresh air. Chores in the house were just expected. Cleaning and vacuuming were just part of the responsibilities we had as children. All contributed to a belonging feeling in the family as well as just plain old exercise.

As a young Mom I ran with my husband, as a togetherness thing that was cheap as well as a stress reliever. I always had some sort of access to weights whether at the University or in a gym membership. Our apartment had a small weight room which sufficed for six years. Throughout life sports were a big part of our family life. I am not a team-guy but I did my share of volleyball and slow-pitch. For years I rode my mountain bike to work through the spring to fall months. Winter was out of course. I am not crazy. I took my health for granted. And yet I lived my life in a way that kept my body in good physical condition. And then one day, things changed. I had my third child and post partum depression became a big part of my life. The pregnancy was difficult. I am gestational diabetic and it had been very hard to control. My right kidney had grown in size due to the ureter being squeezed closed by pressure from the baby against my pelvic bones. The kidney ruptured at seven months and the pain was unbearable. I did get help and in time life was fine but by the time my son was 20 months old, I had gained 25 pounds. Somehow, I just didn’t see it happening. And then I went to buy a new Christmas dress. I had gone from a size 8 to a size 14. It didn’t really hit me that I was bigger. Until we had the pictures from Christmas morning developed. That couldn’t be me. But it was. The camera didn’t lie but it seemed the mirror did. Two days later I went to my first weight watchers meeting. It took me four months but I lost the weight.

Life moved forward and I continued weight-lifting but switched from running to walking. I dabbled in many athletic pursuits for years. Took up yoga and meditation. Yoga is my lifeline. I earned a Brown belt in Kung-fu. I started hiking. I learned to snowboard, (not well by the way) but I did it. We tried tennis, bought kayaks, snowshoes. I even curled for a couple of years. Golf was one thing we always did. My weight fluctuated and at that mid fourties mark, menopause hormone changes caused a big gain. Being in a good place mentally meant I just accepted the weight where it was. I knew it wasn’t my activities but rather my food choices and appetite that were causing the gains around the middle. But in my mind I looked good. I looked in the mirror and I was happy with what I saw. My daughter says I am the opposite of an anorexic. They are slim and only see fat. I am chubby and only see slim. Not a bad way to be though. And so, life continued as it did. Bodies changing. Life changing. Accepting the changes in my body but also occasionally putting in a month of “watching what I ate”. Until Rene’ got sick.

Then all bets were off and I tried desperately to let Miss Vickie and her chips stuff my tears down. I don’t normally buy snackies so I had to drive to the 7-11 four or five nights a week. Dressed in pajamas, two a.m., I would go and get my fix. One lovely girl watched me for a while and when I tried to buy two large bags of chips, she stopped me. She knew my story. She watched my decline. Then when she saw that it was going to escalate, she stepped in. I could have been angry with her, but I knew she was right. I needed to stop. Sometimes we just need a friendly face to point out that we are spiraling. I am grateful to her. It didn’t help me lose the weight, but I did stop the gaining. I started walking more and the spring brought golf so that helped. I quit the gym during covid but I didn’t restart. Weight lifting took a backseat. I did physical work in the house and yard. Lots of lifting and heavy work. But my diet didn’t change. I am a healthy eater but I love food, so I just eat too much. I lost a bit of weight slowly and I felt great, but I was still much too heavy. And sadly, I felt my strong body was no longer all that strong. I tired more easily. I noticed it on stairs particularly. I suddenly realized I was becoming an old lady. Jiggly arms. Saggy butt. It wasn’t about my looks at this point in my life. I am grey with lots of wrinkles but that doesn’t matter. Getting weak, in my mind, would eventually lead to a loss of independence. And so, I called my daughter.

My daughter Drew is a personal trainer. She is also a certified corrective exercise specialist. One thing I strongly believe is that strength training and balance are the keys to a long healthy life. She agreed to train me in her home gym. I had a few issues with imbalances. My right shoulder is a bit lower than the left. During savasana, while in yoga, I found a slight pain in my lower right hip area. It never hurts until lying flat on my back. Drew took me in hand and after a few moves and putting me through the paces she was able to see what was causing the issue. That was the start. She set me up and we started to train a few times a week. After a few months I noticed my body coming around. I felt more like the old me. Stronger. Better mental clarity. I wasn’t losing weight but that didn’t matter. I was feeling strong. Finally, I mentioned to Drew that I was ready to start seriously losing weight and she mentioned an ap where I would track my food, but it would also track my macro-nutrients. Carbohydrates, fats and protein. She always told me I didn’t get enough protein and turns out she was right. I admit it kills me to try and get in as much protein as the ap asks for, but I try. Once I started eating more protein, I did start to lose a bit more, but it comes off slowly. I has been almost two years since I decided to take control of my life and health. It is a little over a year since I started training with my daughter. It is six months since I started to track my food. Today I am down 21 pounds. In 24 months. Five more to reach where I was when my husband died. But more than that, I feel stronger than ever. I don’t even hate bicep exercises anymore. I have set a goal for May 2023. I will be sixty -two years old and I will start to wear a bikini. Something I didn’t do as a teen.

There is a saying that the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The same thing goes for fitness and exercise. If we make it a lifelong pursuit it just becomes part of us. I know from experience that the older we get the harder it is to change. More importantly, if we don’t love what we do, we will quit. In this era of instant gratification, it seems that people just want a quick fix. If they can’t lose twenty pounds in a month they give up. We often hear that people have tried everything. Every diet fails. And it does because unless we make something part of our everyday normal, we will soon stop doing it. Some people are afraid to go to the gym because they feel others will judge them. Understand this… Most people won’t even notice you. They are in their own little world. And the hard bodies? Don’t be intimidated. They may not have the same body issues as you do but they are not without their own demons. No life is perfect. We are all just trying to make it in this world.

It takes a lot of work and dedication to reach our goals. Whether it is fitness or another area in our life. I currently weigh 30 pounds more than I did when my third child was born. Life has kicked me around a bit, but I am forever grateful for who I have become. The ups and downs are just a part of growing and I wouldn’t have missed any of it. My daughter, in her chosen vocation is quick to point out the follies of the current quick fixes that people try and sell us. I am proud of the person she has become. It has been hard for me to accept some of her help as I am the Mom. I think I know best. And then when I stubbornly decide to take her advice, I am humbled when I have to admit she is right. I still don’t eat even close to how much protein I “should” but I think about it a lot. And I admit I do better in the weight room and on the scale when I try harder to eat more protein. When I tell her I hate full body workouts and we do them anyways, she explains why. When I say I want four workouts a week and the body will be split up as I decide, (because it’s how I have always done it) she decides how it will be. And explains why. “Mom, you picked a goal. This will get you there.” I have learned that the child does become the parent. More and more I trust my child with my health. She may call me out at times but in the end, I know she is usually right. I have also learned that by living a life with exercise we showed our kids how important movement is. Most importantly I have learned that I am responsible for my own health and the choices I made throughout my life contribute to my health. We all feel great. Until we don’t. Drew taught me that. Don’t wait to adopt a healthy life. Don’t rely on others. Don’t fall for the grifters. If it seems too good… you know. It is. Ultimately our lives are our own responsibility. I am so lucky that I gave birth to someone who wants the best for me. But I know that the next twenty to thirty years are up to me. Will they be healthy? Or not. It is in my hands. I am not leaving anything to chance. How about you? Will you start today to play the long game? Or will you look for the quick fix? Only you can decide.

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