It isn’t willpower. It is work.

People think it is easy for me to stick with my plan to stay healthy.
They are wrong. It is very hard.

I’d love to eat all the chocolate and cupcakes I want. But I know how much they cost. Every calorie has to be accounted for somehow. I know what happens when I allow myself a snack or a break from exercise. I don’t want to get back on track. I lose my momentum.

I’d love to have the time back for reading. Instead I go to the Y. This is a sacrifice. The gym isn’t on the way to anywhere I want to go. Getting there, getting changed, being in the pool – that is about 2 hours. I go about three times a week. I have a theory now that for every hour you work out, you get two more hours of life. So, really, I’m earning more time to read later.

I fall off the path all the time. And I pay for it. I feel bad. I get cranky. My head doesn’t work right. And I want to fall back into the old ways even more. I want to “fix” my problems with food. I want to skip going to the Y. I have celebrated weight loss with treats. I’ll get to my goal weight and allow myself to eat a bag of chips or some cake. Then I am over my goal by 5 pounds. Then I have to return to the path. I’ll go on vacation and skip all my rules and gain 10 pounds in a week. It takes me two months to lose it again.

It isn’t right that we are wired backwards. The stuff that we are programmed to like is bad for us. We get a perverse sense of glee when we “cheat” on our diet or exercise.

I’ve finally realized the hard way that I can’t buy health. I have to create it. Modern western medicine and cosmetics will try to tell you otherwise but they are lying. Putting a new coat of paint on an old car is cheating. The car still runs the same. Getting liposuction to remove fat does nothing for your heart and your muscles. You may look fit, but it is a facade.

I came up with my own work arounds. Nobody helped me figure out how to afford the Y, from the consideration of time and money. Nobody figured out how to wedge in more walking by changing how I do things at work. Nobody figured out how to adjust my lunch schedule so I could walk and write. Nobody helped me quit smoking. I figured out a lot of tricks that worked. I’ve written about some of them in this blog.

When I suggest such changes to others who say they want to get healthy, they come up with excuses for why they can’t. I’ve given up. I don’t know what to say to them anymore. I’ve tried to point out different ways to get healthy, and to lead by example. They get mad.

It is like coming across someone in a hole and she says she wants to get out, and I see a handhold that she has missed. I say – grab it! And she says, I can’t, my arms are too short. I say, step on that rock so you can reach it, and she says I can’t, my shoes are too slippery.

It is so frustrating. I’ve been in that hole. I know how hard it is. And I know how much better it is to be out of it. I can’t pull them out. They have to do the work.

Perhaps part of it is you have to want it badly enough that you have to get there on your own.

Then I’m reminded of these words from Buddha – “No one saves us but ourselves…We ourselves must walk the path”

Some people say that they don’t have the willpower I do. Is it really willpower? Or “won’t” power. I decided what I’m NOT going to do. There is a lot of stuff that I’d used to define myself that I just don’t do anymore. Laying on the couch reading for hours every evening was part of how I defined myself. But the result was that I was getting well-read, but also well-rounded.

I used to define myself by what I ate. I think there is something better about not allowing my animal nature to take over. Every time I eat on impulse, I’m not being conscious. By being intentional about what I eat, I’m raising my consciousness. It isn’t about denying myself – it is about being awake to what I really want. I’m denying the inner 5 year old that wants what it wants right now. I’m nurturing my real self that wants to be nourished with real nutrients. I celebrate a plate full of colorful vegetables.

I’ve decided recently I’m not going to eat beef or chicken anymore. I can’t quite switch to being vegetarian totally. It is a process. So I’m eating more vegetables. And I’m allowing fish (especially salmon) and turkey, partly because those are both recommended for other health conditions I have as a perimenopausal woman. Ultimately, I’d like to eat only fresh vegetables, but that is going to take a lot of work to get there. It is a goal. I’m on a path. I don’t plan on getting from A to B in one jump.

I’m trying to be patient with this process. I’m redefining myself.

I’ve finally realized that eating well and exercising isn’t an option. I have to keep doing it. It isn’t like taking a course of antibiotics. Take one of these every 6 hours for 10 days and then you’ll be fine. Nope. Do this every day for the rest of your life.

Life is a chronic condition.

It can’t be treated like a passing thing. Do you want to live? Then take care of yourself. You can do anything you want – just do something. And everything counts. You don’t have to run a marathon first thing, or ever. Walk a mile every day for a month and you’ve already gone the distance for a marathon. Sometimes it is about adjusting your perspective more than anything.

I remember when I moved to Nashville I felt like I couldn’t go walking. I knew the area around my home in Chattanooga, and I felt safe to walk. There wasn’t much traffic, and there wasn’t much crime. I didn’t know the area I moved to, and I was too scared and overwhelmed to try. So I went from walking at least three miles a day to nothing. I was processing delayed grief from my parents. I was sad that I’d moved from my big house to a tiny apartment. I didn’t know where anything was. So I ate. A lot. In two years I went from 120 pounds to 180. I was smoking clove cigarettes and pot several times a day. This continued for a few years.

Not long after I got married I ended up being close to 200 pounds. I dealt with it by buying bigger clothes. I was in a group with very large people, so I was considered petite in comparison. I knew something was up when I realized that I could no longer find underwear that fit at Target. I also had to look in the “women’s” section at Walmart for clothes. I didn’t want to be stigmatized by having to shop in a different section. Plus, all those clothes looked like flimsy tents.

What turned it around?

I woke up in the middle of the night with my heart racing. I couldn’t slow it down by breathing evenly. I went to the ER. While there, I was talked down to by the doctor. What a jerk. He talked down to me and made fun of me for coming in, like I was wasting his time. Fortunately he finally saw my heart rate jump from 100 to 180 and he thought maybe there was something going on. Maybe I wasn’t making this up. I went to my regular doctor in the morning and he sent me to a cardiologist. Nothing was wrong, per se, but I am now on a beta blocker.

I decided that I got off pretty easy on this one, but what about the next time? Did I want to hear that I had cancer? What about heart problems? My parents had both died young, one from cancer and one from a heart attack.

Fear motivates me, a little. But I had to turn around what I do when I feel fear. Normally fear causes me to retreat. Normally fear causes me to seek comfort food. But that is what caused the problem in the first place. So I stopped smoking, and stopped drinking caffeine. No more Mountain Dew. I’d switched to drinking Sprite and fruit juice. Then something clicked and I realized there were a lot of calories in that, and I started drinking water. I lost 20 pounds in a few weeks this way. This was pretty encouraging.

Here’s another motivator. I don’t have children. I don’t have someone who can take care of me when I get older. So I have to do it now. I don’t want to get so out of shape that I need help from someone every time I need to go to the bathroom.

Pain was also a problem. I’d gotten to the point that my knees hurt when I walked up or down stairs. I was 40. I figured I was too young to feel this old, but if that was the way it was, then that was it. Fortunately my husband had been going to the Y for a while and knew I liked to swim. We went to the Y and there was a water aerobics class going on at the same time. I stayed in the back and just joined in. I didn’t know if I had to sign up or ask. I just did it. The teacher was enthusiastic and inspiring. The moves were fun. I was sore the next morning but I was happy. I’d found it. I’d found something that I enjoyed doing. I thought water aerobics was for little old ladies with arthritis. Now I tell everybody to take it.

It is hard to see people suffer. I want everybody to be well.

There is a Buddhist Metta Meditation that speaks to this.

May all beings be peaceful.
May all beings be happy.
May all beings be well.
May all beings be safe.
May all beings be free from suffering.

But they have to do it. I can’t wish them to be well and then they are magically well. I can’t drag them to the gym. I can’t make them eat healthy food. I can’t throw away their cigarettes.

I can pray that they wake up to the harm that they are doing to themselves. I hope that telling my story helps.

When I started going to water aerobics, it was only once a week. I’ve added in things slowly. When I started I thought I was going to die. It hurt. I was exhausted. The workouts were tough. So I’d slow down. I’d kind of do things half way. Then I got my breath back and started to feel better. I’d do a little more. I stayed through the first class and was proud of myself for going.

It isn’t fair that it hurts to exercise when you start. That makes you not want to keep up with it. But it gets easier. Now I feel a lot better. It doesn’t hurt, and I can see muscles in my legs and arms and belly that I’ve never noticed before. I’m in the best shape of my life.

I wish the same for you.