Deceptively Simple Questions

I’ve had some good conversations over the past few days, with my wife and with one of my neighbors.  Over the course of these conversations, I got asked a few questions that I’m still thinking about.  They were those kind of questions, the kind that – although simple – stay with you and hang on and don’t let go.  Questions like “is this easy for you, now?” and “how did you do it?” and “how do you feel?”.

There are no simple answers to any of these questions, it turns out.  But, drawing on what I said at the time I was asked them and what I’ve thought about since then, here’s my attempt at answering them.

How did you do it?

I actually get this question a lot, pretty much from anyone who hears for the first time that I’ve lost as much weight as I have.  The answer sounds simple:  “I started walking, and I count calories”.  Because that’s usually what I say.  But it skips a whole lot of things.  It skips the time and energy I put into working out calorie counts for my meals.  It skips the effort that went in to finding tools and resources that I could use to calculate calorie content, and then track it.  It doesn’t mention the long and (initially) painful process of pushing myself to exercise and then pushing my self again and then pushing harder.  It doesn’t consider the exhaustion, or look at the self-loathing that I had to deal with as I forced myself to finally confront where I was and what I’d done to myself.

“I started walking, and I count calories.”  It sounds easy, doesn’t it?

Is this easy for you, now?

Sort of.  Some of it is hard, really hard.  I work full time and have a home and a five year old.  It’s hard to fit in my exercise routine, what with working and cooking and laundry and spending time with my wife and son and all of the other things in my life that are also important.  Eating within my calorie budget is still hard as well.  I know for a fact that, when I stop worrying about hitting that budget, I eat between 2,800 and 3,000 calories on average.  Even after a year I still struggle with motivation, with fatigue, and with just wanting to sit on the couch instead of going for that last half mile walk I need to hit goal.

That said, it has gotten easier.  Sure, the exercise feels just as difficult, but I’m also doing far more than I used to.  When I started, after all, I didn’t even have a distance goal for my walking.  I just had a goal of “walk three times a day”, and if I only went a few hundred yards each time it was enough.  Because it was something, and it was more than I’d been doing.  Crunches and pushups and stretching and all of the other things I do weren’t even on my radar, and the idea of walking 5.5 miles a day seemed like a pipe dream.  But now I walk nearly a mile on each of my breaks at work, and my day feels off if I don’t.  I stretch and work on flexibility five times a week, do some bodyweight exercises three times a week, and I’m actually hitting closer to six miles a day walking.

Sure, it’s still hard.  But that’s because, for some of it, I’ve chosen to make it hard.

How do you feel?

Day to day, I don’t think I feel any different.  In my head, I don’t normally notice any difference in myself.  I live in my skin 24/7 after all, and I’m acutely aware of my failures and how much more work I have in order to succeed.  Heck, that last sentence demonstrates exactly what I mean by that:  “how much more work I have in order to succeed”.  Think about that.  I’ve lost 123 pounds in 12 months, 10 pounds a month, and I think of myself as not having succeeded yet.

That’s one of the reasons I like to celebrate the milestones and the weekly weight loss numbers in this blog.  It’s why I’ve started forcing myself to accept people’s congratulations and recognize the effort I’ve put in, rather than try to minimize it.  To remind myself that I have succeeded.  I may not have hit my final goal yet, but sustaining an average weight loss of 10 pounds a month for a year (and doing it in a healthy manner) is success by any measure you care to use.

How do I feel?  I feel good.  I can do more things.  I’ve got more energy.  I’ve been swimming more this summer than I’ve been in the last five years I’ve lived in my condo complex.  I can walk places with my son and play games with him, and my back and arms don’t hurt when I carry him to bed or give him horsey rides.  I’m getting outside more, and starting more physical hobbies.  My knees don’t hurt anywhere near as much or as often, and I’m sleeping better, and I actually don’t mind looking in the mirror any more.

I’m never going to be done with this,not really.  Oh, sure, I’ll eventually hit the point where my goal is maintenance instead of weight loss.  But I’ll never be done with exercising, or with watching what I eat, or with struggling with the need to do those things.  I don’t think this will ever feel simple and easy.  But, you know what?  I think it’ll always feel like it’s worth it.

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