To all my friends at www.weightwatchers.com:
I wrote these the summer before last, and they were in my MSN Spaces blog:
If you work out in some fashion, you will end up loving your body. I always thought that if only I didn’t hate my body, I would take better care of it, but I found the converse to be true as well, and more significant: whenever I’ve discovered a new form of exercise, I’ve liked my body more, tolerated its imperfections, and took better care of myself in all areas of life.
I have been passionate about several types of exercise. When I was 18, I thought nothing of hopping on my bicycle and riding 40, 50, even 100 miles. Ten years later it was distance walking; I walked the Boston Marathon, 26.2 miles, for the Jimmy Fund and did the 20-mile Walk for Hunger a number of times until I injured my feet and had to stop. Another decade passed and I was back on my bike again, for shorter rides around town this time; I was getting older. One morning–I believe it was 3am–I decided to run around several blocks. Finding that I liked it, I gradually increased the distance to three miles, and by that time my passion for running was firmly established. Then I broke my leg.
All came to a standstill. Several years passed. I bought a recumbent bike in 2003, and spent six weeks learning to ride it. Anyone who has ridden a recumbent knows how much fun it is. Each day I rode, I’d report back to Joe how I’d done: what certain hills I went up or down, the challenges I took on, and how strong I felt on that particular day. But weight gain stopped all bike riding. You can’t ride with a big belly. I tried an exercise class but found taking three buses to get there to be too much of a hassle. The medication Seroquel had caused me to balloon up to 197 pounds. (Laboratory mice gained considerable weight while taking antipsychotics.) I felt as bad about my body as I ever have.
If I had a choice between weighing 197 pounds and 81 pounds, I would choose anorexia without hesitation. Both are dangerous–I ended up with osteoporosis from anorexia and a serious knee problem from obesity–but being anorexic makes one far less conspicuous. You don’t get laughed at and you don’t have to suck in your stomach to fit through a narrow doorway (such as those on the handicapped vans I take every day). You can tie your shoes without getting winded. You can cross your legs over each other twice. You can curl up in fetal position and stay that way. Even better, you can fit into boys’ sizes, and if worse comes to worse, use a belt to keep those “huge” size 4’s in place. Fools envy you; true idiots ask you how you lost all that weight, and watch you, bite by bite, eat your measly one quarter ounce of cheese and half an apple like you had some magic formula for “success.” At 197, I was facing serious health risks. I was sidelined with my current knee injury for the months of April, May, and June, and believe me, it sucked. My knee still isn’t right. And carrying around all the extra weight is drastically slowing recovery.
Until I discovered the beauty of working out at a gym, I hated my fat body. I was perpetually embarrassed and ashamed. I hated going out in public, and did what I could to avoid the neighbors and their hurtful gossip about my size. Getting off Seroquel was a must. I worked out daily, and as the drug eased itself out of my body, I began to lose weight at last.
What a difference! I am getting stronger each day. I am powerful. I am an athlete. There’s nothing like listening to Aerosmith while riding the elliptical machine, or pumping iron to the beat of Bob Seger or REM. After I do my cardio and strength training, I listen to Jeff Buckley, George Winston, or Jorane while gently stretching. (An MP3 player sure helps–check out what’s available at www.newegg.com.)
I love my body! I’m still considerably overweight, and I’ve never been a classic beauty, but I believe I’m beautiful, and I don’t mean on the inside only. When I put the weights at higher and higher levels, learn new machines, ride the elliptical machine and the bike longer, and stretch ever so gracefully, I notice the change in my attitude toward myself in general. I care about my health. I floss my teeth–consider how many people don’t!–wear sunscreen and a hat when I walk the dog, and dress more becomingly. I am strong and proud. I sleep well. My mood is at the right level. I am healthier than I’ve been in a long, long time.
Exercise has been shown to increase general mental health. This has been proven again and again in studies. Yet few psychiatrists take note of how much their patients exercise. I’m not saying they should be pushy about it, but to explain the benefits of exercise and the health risks of a sedentary lifestyle. I had one shrink–it was 1983, I believe–who rammed it down my throat, and truthfully, people who are as severely depressed as I was at the time cannot find the energy or will to get up and walk around the block, let alone feed and clean themselves.
I want everyone who reads this to do something positive today. Walk the dog an extra block. Dust off that treadmill. Do something special with your hair, or trim your beard. Consider: you are most likely the number one person who can make these changes, and today might be a beautiful, exciting day–if not, then tomorrow.
THE GYM, PART TWO
Today I missed the gym. Due to a technical glitch, I couldn’t get there, to my life at Planet Fitness (www.planetfitness.com), my deeply private and selfish world. I missed those 15 to 45 minutes of vigorous cardio on the bike or elliptical, that full hour of strength training (count: 1, 2, 3…) and 30 minutes of intimate stretching. I do it almost every day, and I love it. I must be nuts.
Like everyone else there, I like to observe and not be seen observing. I am alone among others that are alone, here in this magical place. There are “regulars” at the gym–men wearing wide belts to hold their bloody guts in, women dolled up in fancy tops, with sleek, golden legs–as well as casual exercisers sensible enough to have fun. There is the 30-ish woman who speaks little English but works out in the same language as us all. There is this noticeably overweight woman who, almost daily, trots on the treadmill. And sadly, there is a woman killing herself every day at cardio, running the elliptical as if she were ascending Heartbreak Hill of the Boston Marathon, wearing a ridiculously loose t-shirt, and pants literally pinned together–ever more cropped as her waist diminishes–garb baggy enough to reveal her singular hell, then leaves, blending in with the masses outside, through those glass doors that separate the sane from the insane
But I am not at the gym today. I’m tap-tapping away at the keyboard, while QB, that crazy puppy of mine, waits beside me, asleep. No, he’s not dreaming of working out. He’s not timing, watching heart rate meters or counting anything. Perhaps he’s dreaming of something wondrous to chase down, some crumb of true love, the kind of life-love all of us–and I mean all of us–desperately crave, with vigor, daily toil, and profound determination–each fussing with their own scrap of the universe.
Okay, okay, I admit I’m not so great with flossing my teeth.
Just yesterday I suddenly noticed that my ankles are no longer swollen. I have lost 40 pounds. I go to a different gym now, but the equipment is similar. I’ve been working with a personal trainer. To my delight, I’m able to run a little on the treadmill. Running seems like the most natural exercise in the world.
After all, the world keeps turning and we have to keep up with it.