Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Know Thyself, To Thine Own Self Be True

For most of my life I've believed that if I just tried hard enough or changed my habits in exactly the right way for the exact right amount of time that I would suddenly become one of those people who eats healthy food most of the time and occasionally has a slice of cake. A small slice of cake. I believed it because magazines told me it could happen, because actors and famous people and those who can afford personal chefs said it was true, because there seemed to be people out there that could do it. And so I tried. I tried over and over again and in a variety of ways. It always went swimmingly for awhile, and I would tell people all about it, and then eventually the siren call of the chocolate chip bag would have its way with me and I would be defeated, yet again.

I also believed that if I only willed it that way, I could become a morning person.

Yeah. Right.

What I've come to believe as I talk to more and more people about who they are and how life works for them is that there are some things about us that simply are. And while we can make changes to make our lives function better and to respect others whose preferences are not the same as our own, in the end, we are who we are.

But this is not a reason to feel defeated, or an excuse to live lives of excess and laziness. Knowing who we are and figuring out what is and is not negotiable in our personal makeup is a place to start. And some things that we figure out will help us get where we really want to go without an unnecessary amount of struggle. For the past six months, I've known that my body was not the size and shape that it's meant to be. I'm not talking about not living up to some strange supermodel ideal or even a list of "ideal" measurements. I simply knew that there was some extra bulk hanging on, and that something about the way I was doing things wasn't working. So I read article after article about natural weight loss and taking control of food intake, and on and on until I finally found what I was looking for, something that seemed like I could do. I read this article, and while the thing as a whole is maybe not entirely for me, I took the author's own food rules ("eat only what you truly enjoy, and truly enjoy whatever you eat") to heart. Every time I wanted something to eat, I asked myself if I truly wanted it, and if I would truly enjoy eating it.

I discovered by doing this that I'd gotten stuck in a lot of habits that had nothing to do with what I really wanted to eat. I'd use the logic that I liked the food and it was there and I was hungry, so it must be what I should have. Or I'd start thinking about all those diet and nutrition rules I'd read and end up eating something that I didn't want at all. It's been eye opening how many things I was shoving into my gaping maw simply because it seemed like a good idea. These habits are so ingrained in the way I live that I keep making mistakes. You'd think it would be simple to just eat what you want, but it's not. There are so many other things to consider. The question, "Do I truly want to eat this?" is not always an easy one to answer when there are years of Starving Children in China lectures and Clean Plate Clubs to contend with. Just last night I found myself licking extra cupcake batter out of the bowl because I usually like it, and I don't make cupcakes very often, so clearly I should eat a lot of it. The problem? I didn't really enjoy it. It kind of gave me a stomach ache. Luckily, it's not like that all the time. The more I learn to pay attention to what I really want and how much of it I really want, the easier it gets to just do it.

I'm already seeing results in the way my clothes fit. I was put on a favorite skirt the other day to visit Old Lady Mary and was surprised to have the previously slightly snug waistband fasten loosely nearer my hip bones. I blinked a couple of times before it registered: I am at the place where I feel comfortable. I no longer feel as if I am carrying some extra bulk around my middle. It happened without me noticing, without ever feeling like I had to count out everything I was putting on my plate, without feeling guilty or anxious or like I was doing it all wrong.

I would be omitting something important if I failed to mention that, all this time, I've also been doing workouts five to six days a week. But this is all part of the system; while I know that I totally stink at food plans, I do really well with exercise. I find that this is true of many people, though for some it's the inverse, and they can say no to delicious foods all the livelong day, but can't maintain an exercise routine. Rarely have I met someone who was both really good at eating well and really good at working out. Apparently, it's okay to pick one. It's worked for me.

You know, so far.

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