Four years ago, I got some bad news from my cardiologist. I had to lose weight or face some serious consequences. I made some pretty drastic changes to my diet and exercise. I did great. For a while. Then I stopped doing great. Then I just stopped doing.
The Patient Wife and I bought a house. I skipped the gym for a while and went back. Then I switched to a closer gym. Then I went for a while and then I didn’t. Then The Patient Wife got pregnant and everything centered around getting things ready for the baby. I stopped eating well, I stopped moving. I gained back what I lost, and I started taking Tums again.
The worst part wasn’t having to eat antacids like candy. The worst part wasn’t once-loose clothing becoming tighter. The worst part was what I thought of myself every time I pulled on a shirt or walked past a mirror. It was how I felt every time I fastened my belt and the loose end gradually grew shorter and shorter. And it was also the fear that I might pass this hatred of my body on to my daughter.
But I did learn a LOT over this past four years that help me feel better both about what I eat and what I look like. Medication has helped and slowly helped me switch off “the bad thoughts” that I had surrounding my body and how thought I looked. I also learned that those thoughts were simply lies I was choosing to believe. It’s not as though having a beer or an order of chicken fingers from my favorite dive would suddenly make me a bad, unhealthy person.
Here are some of the things I’ve learned since I started paying attention to food:
- You can’t out-exercise a bad diet. Seconds and thirds on pasta with cream sauce and garlic bread after a long run don’t balance out. By eating well, exercising, and allowing myself occasional treats I feel infinitely better. And I don’t mean strictly eating “healthy” and then falling off the wagon to gorge. I mean really changing what and how I eat.
- If you want a treat, have a treat, and keep it special. If you have a treat, make it the real deal. Have a Coke and skip the diet crap. Blow past the reduced-calorie ice cream and get the real stuff. The problem is not the calories in the ice cream, the problem is constant ice cream. Enjoy yourself every now and again. That’s just fine.
- Nobody thinks about you as much as you do. Nobody is thinking about you because a. You’re just not that important and b. Everyone else is too busy thinking about themselves to think about you. Nobody is looking at your body like you are, and nobody is dwelling on how tight your shirt & pants feel. The spotlight is inside your head.
- I don’t need to earn my food. I’m not a dog performing tricks for treats. Thinking “I’ve earned this” doesn’t always pay off. When I eat well I feel well. I don’t need to punish myself with exercise when I eat certain things, and I don’t need to earn them by running laps.
- You can’t believe everything you think. Not every thought you have is true. Feeling guilty about eating out or accepting dessert is feeling guilty about an arbitrary, immeasurable limit you’ve placed on yourself.
- Don’t feel guilty about something you can’t measure. I’ve written about proper goal setting before and it’s surprising how hard it is to get yourself into the right mindset. If you tell yourself you’re going to “eat less bad food” then anything you put in your mouth could violate that. If you say “I’ll eat dessert at only one meal per day” you can totally measure that and live up to it.
I know I’m only hitting the tip of a completely made-up iceberg here. I’m sure I could make some grand closing statement full of fluff and “we’re all super special” messages, but I won’t. I know you’re not stupid. For now, I’ll continue with what I’ve learned in the past four years. Maybe I’ll find more bullet points. Maybe I’ll take a few off.