Changing Directions: When Just Losing Weight isn’t Enough Anymore

If you ask almost anyone who is overweight what they want most in life, I can pretty much guarantee you that “being thin” would make their top ten wishes, if not their top five.  Having been overweight since I was about 12, I used to have dreams about being thin. I don’t have to tell you how unpleasant it is being ridiculed and criticized by strangers, doctors, family, fellow students (& a couple of teachers) for being overweight.  It’s a character flaw: I’m either lazy or a glutton.  You have no idea how much fun it is in Catholic School when the teacher is covering the 7 Deadly Sins, which include Gluttony and Sloth (Laziness).  It’s the equivalent of being told you are on the fast track to Hell, and the rest of the class (& this teacher in particular) makes sure you know it!

Needless to say, I’ve tried most of my life to lose weight and eventually, I pretty much gave up somewhere in my mid-thirties. It felt like I had tried literally everything and nothing was working, so I was just destined to be the fat one in the family.  I tried to console myself with stories about dieters actually eating less than most people but still gaining weight and that our metabolism is what determines our weight, not how much we eat. Those kinds of stories made me feel better for about 10 seconds before reality hit me in the face again: whether it was ‘my fault’ or not, it was still pretty miserable being fat.  I learned to live with it, but if you gave me three wishes, my first would be to be thin; my second would be good health for my family; and my third would be a toss-up between being super-rich or marrying the man of my dreams (hey, as long as I’m wishing…..!)

There’s a really old expression: “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”  I really doubt most people know where it comes from or what it really means anymore, so I’m going to update it for the 21st century: “when someone gives you a free car, don’t look under the hood or check the mileage.”  This expression came to mind the other day as I was at the gym and I was thinking about what my goals are.  Two years ago, it was real simple: “I want to be thin.” Now, it’s more like: “I want to be fit.” Being thin is good, but being fit and strong is better.  Two years ago, losing nearly two hundred pounds was the same as winning the lottery:  “My number one wish came true! Whoo hoo!!” But now it’s feels like I want more than just being thin; I want to be strong and fit and athletic. It’s like I got that free car and now I’m lifting up the hood to check out the motor and the mileage.  It’s good, but it’s not good enough anymore.

While there’s the niggling feeling of looking a gift horse in the mouth, the fact is that this is a completely normal development.  Most of us change our goals the closer we get to accomplishing them. The horizon keeps advancing the closer we get to it, because if we didn’t keep pushing our goals, we would stagnate and stop growing as individuals and as a society.  The more we learn and grow, the more we want and the farther we want to go.  We see this most clearly in children: they start crawling around, then walking around and before you know it, they are running out the door.  They climb higher in trees, on the jungle gym, on anything they can find.  They keep pushing their limits and when we grow into adults, while we may change how we push our limits, most of us keep pushing.

Am I happy I have lost weight? No brainer, that one!  Do I feel guilty for wanting to be more than ‘just thinner’? No, I don’t.  Occasionally, I hear experts and coaches talking about keeping a strong connection to your Why, as in “why do you want to lose weight?”  For a lot of people, it’s things like wanting to see their kids/ grandkids grow up; wanting to look good for a wedding/ special event; or wanting to live longer and stave off disease.  For me, it’s wacky things like wanting to be able to tie my shoes without holding my breath or sucking in my gut; wanting to walk fast/ far/ long distances. It’s things like wanting to be active or do things without first stopping to think: do I fit in that seat/ chair/ space?  Can I do that without getting stuck and/ or hurting myself?  So, for me, wanting to be fit and strong and- dare I even hope?- athletic is the natural next step for my Why.  To paraphrase Muhammed Ali, it’s not the mountains ahead that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe. That pebble for me has always been things like tying my shoes, putting on socks, walking for any distance or length of time, sitting in chairs with arms: anything that causes embarrassment, discomfort or even pain- things that keep me from doing what I want to do! Pretty much no one I know thinks about how long they are going to have to stand and walk when they need to pick up a few things from the store, but for a long time, it was the first thing that came to my mind when I needed to go to Target or the mall: how far out am I going to have to park? is what I need close to the entrance? are the lines going to be really long? can I carry that thing out to and in from my car? I was starting to think like a disabled old woman and I wasn’t even 50!

One of the most exciting things for me happened just about a year ago: I went to the Queen Mary last Memorial Day weekend with my sister and a friend of ours. While there are elevators, most of the ship has stairs and it’s a bit narrow in spaces (it was built in 1936ish) and while we were there, we covered the ship on our own from stem to stern and top to bottom and took two tours, all of which included visiting the engine room three times! (Google the map of the ship and you’ll see what I mean!) All told, we covered about 12 miles of walking that weekend, and that included spending about 8 hours round trip in the car.  About three years earlier, I had gone to Disneyland with a couple of friends, and while it entailed a lot of walking, it was nothing like the Queen Mary, which was pretty much nothing but walking and standing (no rides, no carts, no ‘transportation’ options). I nearly died at Disneyland that trip: it hurt to cross the parking lot, to cross the park, to do any shopping.  I didn’t want to ruin the trip for my friends, so there was a lot of my sitting around and ‘guarding our shopping bags’ while they went off to enjoy a ride, a show or more shopping.  The Queen Mary trip was such a contrast since the friend we went with had recently hurt her knee and brought her crutches along.  Instead of my sitting around and watching our shopping bags, it was our friend.  I got to run down to get her something to drink or carry her crutches as she hopped down a staircase.  She had an actual injury getting in her way, but in my case, I was just too unhealthy to do normal things.

Losing a lot of the weight alone made a significant improvement on my health.  My back and my knees felt so much better, which made it a lot easier to move around.  My overall health was much improved even without working out or being more active.  But, as so often happens, one thing leads to another: since it was a lot easier to move around, it made me want to do more.  Since I could walk without pain, why not walk more?  Since I could be more active without getting short of breath or feeling like I was going to die, why not do more activities?  Like a kid, I found the more I could do, the more I wanted to push my boundaries.  I guess this is why people do crazy things like run marathons: they’re asking themselves “how much farther can I go?”

I have no intention of running a marathon, though at some point, I might try walking one.  I’d really like to try a ‘mudder’ (kind of like an obstacle course with a lot of mud, obviously), but probably not anytime soon.  Right now, I’m just enjoying my continued weight loss and pushing my boundaries.  I think it’s a positive sign of continuing to grow and discover new capabilities on my part.  People often call this a “weight loss journey” and it really is: I am going somewhere I have not been since I was a kid.  It also reminds me of the slogan “Life is a journey- enjoy the ride!” Not only am I enjoying it, I’m enjoying all the little stops along the way!

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