Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Don’t steal from yourself (Lesson #10)

Yeah. Like my desire for improvement in terms of ACTUAL WEIGHT LOSS!!!

I may be wrong, but I suspect you have to be on a weight loss journey yourself to really grasp how easy it is to lose sight of your small victories when the scale refuses to budge. I mean, I’ve been investing time and energy into something that doesn’t exactly come naturally to me. It’s been six months now. About an hour a day, three days a week without fail – except for a day here or there when I have to travel. I have gone from getting practically no (really vigorous) exercise at all to structured, planned workouts with a trainer. Why I’m not skinny by now is beyond me (lol).

Yeah-yeah-yeah. I know, I know, I know:

You spent more than 6 months putting it on, so don’t expect it to come that fast.

It’s all about calories in versus calories out.

Weight loss is 80% diet and 20% exercise.

You can’t outrun (or, in my case, outjog) your mouth.

This is a lifestyle change, not a quick fix. Give it at least a year or two.

Just keep doing things the healthy way. It may take longer, but it’ll stay off longer, too.

Yada-yada-yada. Whatever. I get it.

I know exactly how I put on the weight, and how long it took to do so. I was there.

But when the scale doesn’t budge (or when things don’t ‘change’ in general) when you’re at least trying, there’s a strong temptation to begin to question the utility of regular, vigorous ANYTHING.

How much better off am I now than before? I’m sure my routine is doing all sorts of wonderful stuff that I can’t ‘see.’ Wonderful stuff for my heart, etc., etc. And, to be honest, I got a gym membership primarily for those kinds of reasons. I needed to do something very deliberate in order to cope with the stress levels that are just part of the life of a busy, harassed, single parent, ‘reluctant’ career woman with a relatively active church life. I have no regrets about joining a gym; it was a great decision. But vanity is taking over and I’m like, ‘Wait a minute. It’d be nice to actually LOSE some weight, tool! How am I not losing weight? How is that even possible?’

You’re gaining muscle. This is a good thing. Muscle weighs more than fat, though, so it may take a while before the changes reflect on the scale.

You’re losing fat. A pound of muscle looks better than a pound of fat.

You’ll gain before you lose.

Blah-blah-blah. Yada-yadi-yada.

When did these theories emerge? And are they only for women in their 40s??? There was a time when if I wanted to lose weight, all I had to do was want to, and I’d lose it. What did a pound of this and that have to do with it back then?

Well, you were probably just one of those ‘skinny fat’ people who aren’t actually healthy.

(Well, ‘skinny fat’ people sure do look good.)

The danger with having these arguments with myself is that they are compelling enough to potentially make me fall off the bandwagon.  But I have a number of small victories to take pride in, and I’m not going to let my thoughts steal those away.

My sisters, trainer, friends, enemies, and acquaintances alike have all tried to break down the ‘muscle vs. fat’ thing for me like I’m a two year-old. They’ve tried many times. My brain has simply been unable to fully grasp the concept. Just when I think I’ve got it, I’ve lost it. However, I’m not so dumb that I don’t sort of think they have a point.

My clothes all fit better. Much better. As a matter of fact, I’m now able to wear some things that I’d long abandoned or forgotten about. I bought a black skirt and a couple of blouses 3 years ago – all really cute and really tight at the same time. I didn’t realize until after the fact that they’d all been cut rather small. I never wore them until this year. On a whim, I tried them on just a few weeks ago and they all fit! The skirt is actually so loose that it rotates around my waist during the day without my realizing it. How I am able to slip on that skirt is still the 9th wonder of the world to me. How could this possibly happen without MAJOR weight loss? I really don’t get it.

I always thought this particular skirt was too short. Now that I can get into it, I’m shocked to find that it’s actually a midi-skirt and really comfortable, too.

Sometimes these days, when I walk past a mirror, I stop and came back to the mirror in surprise: Does my face look thinner, or is it just my imagination? Nah … I must be imagining things …

But a few people (and I really mean just a few) feel like something’s different, too. A couple have actually gone so far as to say the magic words: ‘You look smaller.’ These have been people from out of town who rarely see me, so I have to believe them.

The most convincing incident for me to date, though (besides the black skirt) has been the few pictures I’ve taken of myself with my terribly outdated cell phone which everyone (including my kids) has begged me to get rid of. My sisters were so impressed that I actually took some pictures. One of them emailed, saying, ‘Ah-ah – even bathroom selfies? Well done!’ Anyway, my point was that the same week I shared these pictures with them, my workplace did some sort of publicity event and one of their related publications had my picture on it. They hadn’t asked me for a picture to use (which is great, since I wouldn’t have had any to give!), but they just used one taken at the office last year. My other sister emailed me about it, saying: ‘You look like a linebacker’ – hahahahaha! (She’s so mean, but she wasn’t lying.)

They all remarked, though, that I’d clearly lost weight, comparing my ‘pro footballer’ photo to my ‘bathroom selfies.’ Even I had to admit that there’s a big (no pun intended) difference.


Not according to the scale, anyway. Not really.

Does it matter, though? I’m sure I will lose weight. Eventually. (Whenever that is).

What matters more, though – my hang-up, or the fact that there is a change, that there is progress?

Is there any reason why ‘progress’ can’t be re-defined? I’ve learned to be open-minded about progress in other areas of my life and have found it so liberating and productive: with projects at work, with my children, certainly with my divorce. Why not just grant myself this same privilege? Why rob myself of the privileges I have freely given other people and other things? The privileges of flexibility, patience, and of just trying to see the best … or of trying to see the ‘bigger’ picture.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Don’t postpone happiness (Lesson #9)

Be happy now. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect before I can release myself to just be happy. After all … what if this is all there is? What if today, or this year, is all I’ve got? Why not be happy with what I’ve got, while I work towards whatever else I might want? And as I work towards that, why not just be happy while going through the process?

We all know of far too many people whose lives were cut short when they and those around them least expected it. I have friends and acquaintances who succumbed to cancer, or to injuries from road accidents, for instance. A University classmate of mine was killed during one of the bombings in Abuja a few years ago. His office building happened to be a target and he didn’t make it out alive. Another classmate of mine (primary and secondary school) recently lost her husband. He was so young and now she’s a widow with five kids.

When I think of all these things, it just seems like sheer folly not to appreciate the time that I have, and not to at least try to happily use it to the fullest – even when the going gets tough.

I’m going to try hard not to put happiness off until I’ve crossed the finish line. Where is the finish line, anyway? In my experience, it’s a moving target. If that is indeed the case, it means I’ll never experience true happiness on this earth if I wait to get to a particular place first.

We’re admonished to ‘count it all joy’ when things get rough. Because of some of the rough times I’ve been through, and the fact that I made it through them, my heart no longer sinks when I read that Bible verse. I really get it now. I had some really rough times in 2012 and 2013. But because of those times, I’m much stronger in faith in 2014 than I was back then. I’ve been tested and tried and knocked down, and as a result of those experiences, I’ve also had the opportunity to experience great mercy. I know what God is capable of! My 2012 and 2013 experiences enriched my knowledge in this area. I’ve observed that I worry less in 2014 than I did before. I pray with more certainty, too. Never could’ve happened without those tough times to help me flex my muscles.

‘Things aren’t as bad as they seem.’

My son sent me a text with those exact words early this year. He was feeling down about a bad grade he got on a test, so he went into the bathroom at school to be alone and get over it and sent me the text from there. I sent what I hope was an encouraging reply, but didn’t hear back from him right away. I said something to the effect of, ‘Don’t worry about it. It’s one test and there’ll be others. You still have some time to make up your grade.’ A couple of hours later, a philosophical text message from him came in: Things aren’t as bad as they seem.  

Indeed, they are not. Here’s an example of why I know this for sure: I have never been one to take a lot of pictures because I’ve always considered myself unphotogenic. I’m just one of those people who look much better in person than in pictures. What this means is that there are whole periods of my life that have gone undocumented, photo-wise. Here’s why this is a shame: Today, when I look back at the old pictures I do have, I realize that in previous years, I had a distorted view of what I really looked like. I look at some of those pictures now and see myself as I really was back then. I look at them today and think to myself: Wow, I was pretty and I didn’t even know it.

On my fortieth birthday, the youth group in my church put together a cute, touching video chronicling my short life. They got my old pictures behind my back and showcased some of them in the video. A couple of the pictures were taken when I was around the same age as my daughter. When those showed up on the screen, my birthday party guests let out a collective gasp. ‘Who is that?!’ they all wanted to know. ‘Is that your daughter?’ They argued amongst themselves that it couldn’t possibly be me, because it looked just like my daughter.

‘That’s me,’ I replied slowly, with the same wonderment, suddenly struck by how my daughter looks almost exactly like me at that age. I always knew she looked a lot like my family, but this was really striking, seeing my picture up on a screen. I’m like every other mom in the world who thinks her children are just beautiful (There’s nothing you can tell me O!).

Why I couldn’t see that same beauty in me over the years is beyond me.

Going off on a bit of a tangent here, but why can’t I just be who or what I want to be today, knowing that who or what I am is enough? When people tell you how wonderful you are today, believe them. Today. And be happy. Today.

Back to the main point: I’ve worked relatively hard over the last 5 months or so, considering that I’ve never been into vigorous exercise in my adult life. I thought by now I’d see a major difference with all the effort I’ve put in so far. For whatever reason, I don’t see it. Okay, I do see it, but only ever so slightly. A few other people see it, too. I’m not going to let the fact that I don’t yet see exactly what I expected to see affect my joy, though, or my resolve. I haven’t been too good at ‘seeing things’ in my life until long after the fact, anyway, so why not just be happy now? And then in my 50s, look back at my pictures in my 40s and say, ‘I sure was happy!’ And: ‘I sure was nice and fit! Those work-outs really paid off!’

Today is much better than we think with our limited vision. Things are much better than they seem.

My brothers and sisters, be very happy when you are tested in different ways. You know that such testing of your faith produces endurance. Endure until your testing is over. Then you will be mature and complete, and you won’t need anything (James 1:2-4, GW).

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing (James 1:2-4, NLT).