Looking in the mirror, a wave of shock comes over me. My jeans are tight. Really tight. So tight you can see my panty lines. Near panic, I strip down and snatch the scale from its hiding place. Stepping on, I want to escape. Back to the kitchen where I’ve been stashing delicious pints of peanut butter ice cream, containing 14 grams of fat per serving. But no, I look down and read the number, horror filtering into my stomach. It says I gained 15 pounds. Repositioning the scale, I take a deep breath and decide it must be wrong. Maybe I stepped on it funny? I try again and it reads half a pound less. “Phew,” some voice of relief in me says. “Self! A half a pound and you’re celebrating?!” my mind shouts as I sit down on the toilet lid in defeat.
It’s been a long month. No, it’s been a long Spring. Hell, this year has been long. Shit, my thirties have been exhausting, twenties even more so. I sit and take stock. I’ve been drained since the Summer of 6th grade when I got Lyme’s Disease. As the years piled on, so did the athletic endeavors, the career projects, the injuries and well – life. But I’d always found a way to bounce back. And I’d always, always taken care of my body.
Rubbing my temples in attempt to stave off a daily headache, I tell myself, “It’s okay, self, you can beat this.” Thinking about how broken my body has become and what I now consider a fitness regimen, I begin to strategize. And I remember, no panicking is allowed. “Don’t panic, don’t panic,” I repeat over and over as I rise to stand in front of the mirror again.
Wow, my arms are kinda chunky. I can see waves of flesh bulging beneath the skin. Where are the triceps I’d worked so hard on to wear spaghetti straps for my brother-in-law’s wedding just last month? I let my eyes roll over my 5’3” frame, my inner voice racing. “Neck is okay. Little bulges here and there on the mid section, still have some shape, though.” Then we get to the belly button. “Ugghhhh. What is that life preserver around my waist?”
“Alright, relax. It’s not that bad. We caught it in time. This time. This is not going to be like 2013 when you gained that 25+ pounds in less than a month.” It all started with a bag of Doritos. Gateway drug. “Focus, now. This is not that.” My eyes scan down to my legs. “Why are my thighs suddenly jutting out like that?! Geez! What. Happened. Here!?!?” I slowly turn in the mirror and am mortified by what I see. Huge dimples. Dimple after dimple after dimple, running the length of my legs. I hang my head in shame.
“Shouldn’ta eaten all that ice cream,” I scold myself. “Ice cream?!!? Be honest, it started with a plate of nachos. That you recreated day after day for 2 weeks, because it made you feel happy.” Tapping my chin, “Must find happy place outside of kitchen, must find happy place.”
I square my shoulders, look myself in the eye and vow, “It’s on. Let’s fix this.” And as I turn away, putting my pajamas on…ripppp, the extra padding has torn a hole in the butt cheek. I drag myself to the couch, lay down and for the moment, give up.
Scanning through my arsenal of “genetic predisposition to obesity” fighting plans – and there are A LOT. Not necessarily a yo-yo dieter, more of a mad scientist, I’ve practiced the following: Keto (this new one is so old guys, I was doing it in the 90s), Atkins, Vegetarian, Vegan, Calorie Restriction, South Beach, Raw, the soup and watermelon thing (it really does work!), Juicing, Teas, Intermittent Fasting (great to reset the digestive tract, as long as you don’t take it too far!), Parasite Cleansing, even tried diet pills once as a teen (realllly bad idea)…shall I go on?
I settle on my standby: Balance. I’m going old school. Water therapy. A protein breakfast. A sensible lunch. A portion controlled dinner. A veggie or fruit at every meal. Creamy fudge bars for weekend desserts. 90oz of hydration per day. No eating after 7pm, 8pm at the latest. No skipping meals. No excessive snacking. No deprivation, but no over indulging. If I want chips, I’m going to eat a handful! If I want dark chocolate, I’ll have a square.
My plan is now in motion. I go to the pool, stick my feet in and I write out my baseline rules.
- DON’T panic
- DO the work
- DON’T punish yourself
- DO reward yourself
- DON’T rush
- DO positive self talk!
- DON’T compare yourself to others
- DO be accountable to yourself
The next day, pulling out my go-to workout clothes, I’m determined. I have 2 pairs of capri-length spandex, 2 grey running shorts and a purple fitted tank that my mother-in-law bought me for inspiration to help repair the 2013 Dorito Debacle. Add to it, a pair of black leggings, lavender yoga pants, a grey mesh tee, a torn sleeveless shirt, and a hot pink top I won’t be able to wear until it fits me again. I’ve learned workout wear is a big help. Putting it on flips a switch in my head.
In the gym, I start by adding reps to my circuit. Slowly, I include new and more challenging exercises. Because of past injuries to my body, I’m limited in what I can do. 2 head injuries, a crushed occipital nerve, 3 torn discs in my neck, a small spine syrinx, a herniated thoracic disc, 2 herniated lumbar discs, a dislocated sacrum, a coccyx broken at 90 degrees, a torn hip labrum, a torn groin, a left knee surgery, a left ankle avulsion fracture, a left shoulder fracture, a right wrist fracture, a right shoulder reconstruct, a slipped fifth rib, four fractured teeth, TMJ, and a brand new set of bilateral ITB and Piriformis Syndromes that are killing my knees…I look in the gym mirror and resist the voice saying, “Go home,” countless times. Though I’ve followed my physical therapy plan for years, I haven’t been on an exercise machine in a decade. I glare at the pull down machine and head over, setting it on the lowest weight. “People might stare, think you’re a wimp,” my mind yells. “So? You can do it!” the other side counters. I gingerly sit, humbly pulling down on the bar.
Two weeks down, and the gym has become my highest priority. I need it in order to keep my knees from getting worse, which could lead to even more dimples down those legs! This place is not without it’s non-physical quirks and challenges.
There are characters I run into here. Elastigirl with the tiny waist and awesomely huge booty. She is a gym bully, like many others. Spreading out her routine, like no one else is here. Making me uncomfortable and think, “I already feel out of place and now I’m in the bully’s way, too?” I know I’m not as fit, but that can’t mean I’m not entitled to use the space. There’s Coke Bottle Chic. She’s full of focus and self. She does a few of the same exercises I do, so I watch her form for tips. There’s Cool-Country Guy, who sports tattoos and work boots. He does all kinds of exercises with free weights that I’ve never seen and I copy a couple of his moves. He’s not friendly, but he doesn’t bully and I like him. His one bicep motion helped me improve the external rotation on my surgery shoulder! There’s Kind Lady, who quietly uses the end elliptical machine, has gentle eyes, stays out of the way and offers a sweet smile when she sees tears of pain prick up in my eyes. Then there’s Thor, who goes pretty hard. A bit of a space hog, but nice about it and shares the mirror with me. He’s the only one who ever talks, and the occasional joke we share helps break up the constant battle I’m waging with my body.
Otherwise, this small community gym is just about as inviting as a rush hour northbound 1 train in New York City. Don’t make eye contact, jockey for position, stay as far away from each other as possible, and whatever you do, don’t speak. Oh, and be cool. Be very, very cool.
The soundtrack to my fitness forays is eclectic and I always wonder what everyone else is listening to as I bounce to the music a bit. Reality check, self, “A bit? Haha. You bounce a lot.” Music moves me. Without it, I couldn’t survive even 15 minutes. It inspires me and drives me and keeps me company. As I shift from leg raises, to bicep curls, I hear the melody of my muscles growing. Ask me about my playlist sometime! I’ll tell you.
The music sets the pulse for my journey. I think about lots of things to distract my mind. My baby niece going off to college back home. The Indigo Buntings I’ve seen on my nature walks. A new job I’m starting soon. Past lives. Telepathy. Our patio garden, teaming with fresh tomatoes. My rock climbing adventures from back in the day. They pop into my mind time after time. I can almost smell the quartz and granite, feel the jagged edges beneath my fingers. Hope springs up in me for the first time in a long time and I think someday, maybe someday…I’ll climb again.
Today is a Monday. I’m over a month in, now. Feeling positive. Trying my best. I’ve just come from the pool. Looking in the mirror, a wave of calm washes over me. I slowly turn to the side and am pleased by what I see. Things are trimming down. My triceps are coming back. My knees are feeling better each day. I toss my swimsuit aside and step onto the scale. Out loud, I say, “Down seven pounds, yeah!” I strike a pose, “Rarrrrhhh.” Hearing this goofy celebration, my husband appears with a set of raised eyebrows. “So this is what you do when I’m not around?” he laughs. “No. Well, yes sometimes, I guess.” Face burning red, I dissolve into giggles and escape to the bedroom.
Opening my top dresser drawer, I dig through the black, the purple and the grey, until I see it. The hot pink top. “It’s time!” I’m nowhere near my final goal. But I’m less tired than I have been in awhile and I’ve earned this. I pull it on (it fits!), grab my mint green iPod, throw on some MJ and head over to the gym.
Pushing the door open, one of my standby workout characters is here. I see a set of eyes flick over my top, and a head nod my way. I roll out a mat, stretch my aching body and approach the pull down machine. I set the weight limit a notch heavier. My mind says, “You’ve got this.” Jaw set, head held high, I smile. I’m stronger than before and I’ve found my happy place – outside the kitchen.