Thursday, October 28, 2010

When Not to Be Determined

"Ha Ha Ha. Beautiful. That's a good one". She wheezed a little asmatically at the word "one."
As much as she'd been with me for almost six months it still hadn't gone away. I was a little disappointed. As always I want bad, wrong, unproductive thinking to just vanish into the air overnight. Because I TOLD you. We went OVER this. At least twice.
Ugh. And there it is rearing its ugly head. It was 30 odd years in the making, this habit of telling herself that her beautiful smile, her gorgeous, long wavy hair, her sparkling eyes, that infectious laugh that wins her as friend almost anyone who comes near - telling herself that those things did not matter. At all. Because she was horribly unattractive. Everything else was null and void. Worth nothing to her. Because she is fat. Fat fat fat fatty fat fat. And there is just NOTHING in this world to balance that out.

This ONE thing completely ruined her as someone who might be considered pretty. Or attractive. Or truly lovable.

And. She, and now a growing throng of people I'm working with to pave their individual roads to weight management, revealed something to me that I long since knew but stopped believing in ages ago:

"If I stop believing my weight makes me ugly, if I start to think I'm pretty the way I am, I KNOW I won't be motivated to change. Never. I'll be stuck this way and all happy to be who I am."

"Uh." I could feel my eyes rolling back into my head as if trying to look for the words inside the gray matter back there. "And just a side note, if you WERE all happy with yourself would it matter that you are overweight?". You never know when something is going to be the wrong - or maybe just the right - thing to say.

She started to cry.

"Well that's just the point. I don't WANT to be happy with the way I am because I don't want to BE the way I am!"

Turns out no one, really no one wants to be overweight.

"So this... Not liking the way you look, this believing your weight completely RUINS everything else, this has helped motivate you to lose weight in the past has it?"

"Well yeah it's..."

"You are here. Dieting. And running. For the umpteenth time. And you say that your dissatisfaction with your body is a successful weight management strategy?"

It's not. I can quote studies and articles and all the things I read while losing/ managing my weight. But nothing says it better than what was the secret to my own success:

I gave up.

That's right. At 277 pounds I just gave up. I gave up thinking of myself as ugly or attractive. I stopped telling myself I was a stupid fat loser with no self control. As a motivator shame and guilt and self loathing - sorry, that's what that IS - had UTTERLY failed me.

So I just gave up. I got complacent. I believed I would never find a mate or look good or be healthy or whatever.

And then I lost a few pounds.

And I liked that.
And then I thought, if I actually tried maybe I could lose some more. And although I would never be pretty or fit or ... An athlete or anything... I'd at least be sort of, average. Like all the other fat Americans.

And I did. Lose more weight. And then. I began to believe I could do more.

And since I had completely got out of the habit of hating myself I figured I could really get used to this being less uncomfortable, being less conspicuous.

I could be satisfied with just being less unhealthy than I used to be.

And when I'd lost enough weight for it to comfortably be called "an achievement" something really bizarre happened:

I began to LIKE me. I liked me. And what I saw in the mirror, imperfect as I was. I still greeted myself in the mirror every morning with the words "Still too fat." But now I realized I had hope. And the person who'd given me that hope had been me. And that was something. Maybe I really wasn't so bad. Maybe I COULD be attractive after all.

It took me until I was a size 6 to stop telling myself I was still too fat. That was when I began to see my very first muscle mass, but it was also when I came to what may be the greatest realization of my life:

I will never be perfect. I will never look like the girls on the cover of Cosmo.

Because in addition to the fact that they get paid several hundreds of thousands of dollars more than me to forego all those meals and get all that liposuction they have something I will never, ever possess. A Photoshop editor. Duh.

So now every morning when I wake up and see the loose skin around my upper leg and the little layer of body fat that Does NOT want to leave my tummy (I always wonder why I can't store the stuff on the soles of my feet. Like a camel only different) I do not greet myself by saying "Too Fat." Or too thin. Or too anything.

I just say good morning.
Dreams are just Plans for which no goals have yet been set. Reality is just the dream of someone who's goals have been achieved.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mini Me

I know. As much as we talk around it. As much as we "address" it. Or throw money at it. Research it. Write articles about it. Nobody, really is Doing anything about it.
And that is because the whole thing is so painful. And no one can, or maybe wants to articulate how/ why it is so painful. So here goes.

In the picture above, spot the kid with the unhealthy BMI. There are 5 kids. In fact, the highest BMI in the bunch is mine, that's me on the far left with the ice cream. And my body mass index did not exceed healthy limits until middle school. The reason there are no overweight kids in this picture? The rate of overweight/ obesity in children back then was so small it would be unlikely to find one among a group two or three times this size. Currently? One in three. One in Three children ages 10-17 is overweight or obese.

And there is a ton of talk about who is to blame.

And a hundred fitnessy-medically types piping up with ingenious solutions costing (conveniently) gazillions of dollars.

We've started government task forces.

We've got the first lady involved.

We are on the case.

And the progress we've made? Zippo. Zilch. Nada. In fact, just in the last year the statistics have gotten considerably worse. Again.

Which is why, with all the failed agencies and defunct task forces you will be surprised to find that one, small bespectacled woman in a small town in a small county, tucked away under the shadows of the Sierra Nevada mountains has long since discovered the answer.

Her name is Wendy Cranford. When I first met Wendy she had a few pounds to lose. One of those people I used to laugh at - you with your piddling few pounds. But Wendy was serious. She wanted to be in shape. In fact, she didn't just want to manage her weight, she wanted to be - I paraphrase, so smokin' hot my husbands friends will wonder how HE got such a hot woman to marry him.... Or something along those lines.
As usual, I gave Wendy the spiel about self care - and basing your motivation on a worthier cause, like just taking care of you for the single solitary reason that you are a human being, with a basic value, and deserving of at least the same care - healthy food, exercise, leisure activities - that we grant to, like, the worst sociopaths in the maximum security prisons.

She let that sink in a while.

"Yeah." She said finally. "And, I mean, think of my daughter, too."

"Right," I said "you're her care taker. You need to be healthy to take proper care of her and..."

"Well yeah." Wendy nodded. "That too. I just meant, how is she going to learn to manage HER health, to take care of HERself if I don't?" Wendy cocked her head to the side. I could see wheels turning and clicking into place. Not just in her head but in mine. "I'm her EXAMPLE."

Only a few months later Wendy is at a more than healthy weight. She is working of phase 2 of her master plan, the smokin' hot six pack phase. As a participant in my run groups she occasionally brings her daughter Macie to group. Macie has a stroller, but unlike most of the little ones that come to group, Macie isn't satisfied with being pushed merrily along in her stroller.

Macie wants to run.

Just like mommy.

So here it is America: Wendy Cranford's super secret patented guaranteed to work solution to child obesity:

Get off your duff.

That's right. Go out. Exercise. Have fun. Participate in real entertainment - not passive stuff like TV and computer games. Go run. Jump. Play freezetag. Dance. Fool around on the monkey bars.

And feed yourself good food.

Because if you do, they will too.

BTW for the latest from Wendy Cranford's super duper child obesity prevention system:
Dreams are just Plans for which no goals have yet been set. Reality is just the dream of someone who's goals have been achieved.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cake, Pizza and the Problem Pest

The person before me was my sweet, lovable, charming, delightful, positive, funny, adorable, wonderful Niki. The same Niki who refers to work as "Worky Work" and shin splints as "pain in the shinny shins." On a good day Niki is a lark that sings show tunes. On a bad day Niki is a little ray of moonshine in a darkling dusk.

I wax poetic.

Niki is really sweet. And positive. And just... Nice. It's like, built IN to her nature nice.

And as she sat before me at Clark's Corner, being nice, and staying positive, and NOT falling apart AT ALL I realized, Niki was completely devastated.

Like nearly 25% of our little county of 35,000 residents Niki faces the prospect of unemployment. We don't know when. We don't know 100% how or even whether, but whatever the case, Niki's work situation is about to change dramatically. Her whole office could suffer.

And someone brought donuts.

And she was worried about her job. And worried about her future family and her training plan and her racing fees and the cost of healthy food. And she was worried about all the things she had planned to do as she developed in her career and how all that was up in arms and nothing was going to go as she had hoped and then there were donuts which she DID NOT EAT. But she might. Any day now. And that would meddle with all her progress. And her training. And how was she going to do it all?

And I remembered how I had been the last time my life had fallen apart. In fact, Niki had herself been one of the witnesses to my lamentations. It came to mind all I wanted at the time was to cry and cry and lament and you people with your stupid solutions can just go fly a kite. Because I don't need solutions what I need right now is to cry and to wallow and to Just Lament for a while. Why not? There's a whole BOOK of the Bible dedicated to lamentations. If Jeremiah could do it why couldn't I?
Because, as I found out, Lamentation doesn't actually help. That thing we call venting? That thing we tell ourselves we need time for and just need to DO for a while? Actual double blind bona fide scientific research shows that Lamentation only makes things worse.
For years my means of coping with problems in life was to sit at the kitchen table and a) gripe and b) knock back a pizza with beer and some chocolate cake after.
And what was worse, I still had the problem after the beer, pizza and chocolate cake were safely and firmly clinging to my hips.

It wasn't until I moved in with my house mate, Laura that I realized the beer and pizza only made the problem worse. Not only did I feel awful about the problem, I now felt awful about myself. Was stressed out about how much weight the beer and pizza was going to result in (actually did the math - 1600 cal of pizza, 500 cal cake, 720 cal beer - almost a pound in one sitting). Laura had this annoying habit of listening for a while until I'd laid out the whole horror of the situation, comfortingly nodding a head and adding the appropriate "that jerk!" And "those idiots." Where expected. And then getting out a pen and paper. And making lists. People I should call. Things I could try. Potential solutions to the problem.
Laura didn't just LISTEN to me lament. She helped SOLVE the underlying problem.

Which is of course a big part of her strategy of maintaining a healthy size 6-8 almost effortlessly. When Laura is upset about something, the first thing she does is call someone who will a) listen AND b) help her work on a solution to the problem.

Then, she gets to work. AFTER that she has a cup of tea. Takes a walk. Reads a dime store novel. There is no pizza. Or beer.

She almost never resorts to chocolate cake.

I call her - and a handful of others I've picked up since I learned this skill - my problem friends. It took some getting used to. At first the need to lament almost overcame me as much as the need for pizza and chocolate cake. The problem solving thing annoyed me. I didn't, after all, lament about something in order to SOLVE the problem. I did it to... I needed it for... I wanted... Well, come to think of it, I didn't need it. Or want it. It was just a bad habit I'd picked up. An unproductive way of making my problems worse. Not a coping strategy after all but a Non-coping strategy. A way to ignore rather than fix my problems.

So as I sat across from Niki taking notes and drawing up a game plan on my Blackberrry I realized: I was a problem friend. I had become someone who would listen and nod and say "that jerk" and "what a lousy way to behave..." In all the right places. And then. Get Out My Cellular Notepad and Start QWERTY writing a potential solution to the problem.

For a moment I wondered whether Niki was thinking what I used to think about Laura: just stop being so blasted HELPFUL and let me get down to the real work of accomplishing NOTHING and making my problem WORSE.

I thought about shutting up and letting her vent so she didn't get annoyed with me. And then I realized: I didn't care if I was a pest. I just cared about Niki. Like crazy. Enough to be a worse pest than tse tse flies or killer bees if it meant I could help her make things better.

BTW, you can hear this whole thing from Niki's perspective.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Finding your Fairy Dust

"I got no magic fairy dust." I shrugged. "There's nothing special about me."
I say it a hundred times a day. It's like a mantra. I want to tell people they can do what I did. They can lose as much weight as is healthy, they can quit smoking and never, ever think about cigarettes again. They can maintain a healthy weight. Run marathons, start a successful business doing something they love in the middle of a pretty lousy economic situation.
Anybody can do it. There's nothing special or different or amazing about me.
I got no magic fairy dust.

I say it 100 times a day and now I realize a hundred times a day I'm going to have to say a big prayer of forgiveness because it's just not true.

Not that I'm nothing special. That's true.
Not that anyone can do it. That's true too.
But I do. I do have some magic fairy dust. I don't know how I got it or why all of a sudden. I could say it came from the fact that I was pretty much at death's door when I started this journey and dint have much alternative, but I've learned to sprinkle my magic fairy dust on everything these days, and it's been ages since I was last in mortal danger because of my weight. My weight, my health, my body, these were only the beginning. I've since discovered uses for my magic fairy dust in all aspects of my life.

I use it when my business isn't growing as quickly as I'd like.
I share it with my clients when their struggling.
I pass it on to my friends.
Every day I don't go back to bed because of some disappointment, that's when I whip out the magic fairy dust.
Every day - and it happens at least once a day - I talk to a client who is at the end of her rope, or visit a friend who is miserable in her job or meet someone on the street who can't get the door open because he's pushing where it says pull.

That's when I need my magic fairy dust.

As time goes by I realize: magic fairy dust is in endless supply. It's laying around like diamonds in the streets in the old stories of El Dorado or Solomon's mines.

I found it a few years ago the first time because it was either that or die. Then when death was no longer a motivator I found that health, wellness, energy, friendship, family... All those things were enough.

And now I have an endless stream of fairy dust. Enough to share with an infinite number of friends and family members and clients and ... Whoever needs it.

And every time I lose my way, every time I feel like I want to give up - which happens more often than people believe - all I have to do is find my fairy dust. Search back through all the things I do and people I meet and places I go and find that endless well, the hidden treasure of magic fairy dust.

So what exactly is magic fairy dust made of?
It's pretty simple:


Determination to take care of myself as well as I take care of my friends and family.
Determination not to put myself last among a laundry list of things that only need doing in my imagination.

I am determined

Not to give up

On myself.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Carrying Curtis

"Brunhilda." Melodie panted as we jogged past the 6 mile mark of our 16 mile run. It was her third attempt at the 16 miler.
Ever since qualifying for Boston in July even I can't deny I'm a pretty good runner, even a well informed, knowledgeable run coach. So I had no qualms about helping Melodie train for her first marathon. We found her a good plan. We moved sensibly through it. We got completely stuck at mile 16.

"Mile 16." I smiled remembering my first 16 miler. "It makes you a runner. And not just someone who runs, but that special breed of runner. A Distance Runner."

Melodie nodded.

"Capital D."


"Pretty scary, huh?". I've been a runner now for a couple of years, doing what I've come to understand is a pretty common tightrope walk between seeing yourself as a runner, a die hard, a super hero blazing past all those couch dwellers, padded pants wearers (my cycling friends and I have an ongoing discussion over something I call, "pansy pants"), and other various and sundry painless-but-expensive-and-or-ineffective exercisers, and seeing yourself as a complete failure, a flop, a lunatic just for contemplating something this hard that you will clearly never, ever be successful at. Ever.

What Melodie and I were currently dealing with was something I've come to call my Runner's demon. The thing that sits on your shoulder for the first mile or so of any run.

It weighs 14 tons.

It has an annoying whiney voice that starts with, "I'm tired. My foot hurts. I have a head ache." And spends at least the first mile of any run, race, whatever giving me a whole litany of reasons I SHOULD not run. I should NEVER run. I should pack it in. Get my butt back on my couch with my sack of Cheetos and my beer and pizza and roll up my sleeves to lift nothing heavier than the remote control.

It's pretty ugly, too. It has a poorly groomed beard and it's a bit paunchy and balding and just has the LOOK of a guy who gets cheesed off at the waiter when his food doesn't have just the right balance of sage and dill.

Its name is Curtis.

In races Curtis shows up at whatever mile my adrenaline rush induced start begins to wear off and a bunch of emaciated, muscle mass free "runnery types" with their under armour and their $200 shoes and their "Boston Marathon 1995" T-shirts and their fancy compression socks start to pass me right and left.
They're REAL runners. Curtis tells me. YOU'RE just a fat girl on a fit-kick.

I *huff* just *puff* qualified for Boston. I tell Curtis.

You failed your PE fitness test every year from third grade onward.

It's *huff* different *puff* now. I'm an athlete. *huff* I'm a trainer. *Puff* I'm certified.

HA. Certifiable, anyway. You're no good. You're washed up. That was a short lived running career. Pack it in. Go home. Get some Cheetos on the way.

Last Sunday's race was the worst yet.

Just lay down here in the road. Curtis kept saying. All the real runners will jump over. No worries.

It was mile 9 of a half marathon. I'd already dropped back 3 pace groups and wasn't even sure I was going to finish ahead of my PR from a year ago. Curtis had lost the battle at Santa Rosa half marathon, Redding marathon, San Francisco Marathon and half a dozen other local races I'd won or at least placed in over the last year or so. And it turned out he was pretty angry. He was working at me with a vengeance.

As I passed under the overpass I looked up. That was when I knew Curtis was beat. Melodie, my sweet, beloved Melodie was there, clearly carrying her newly named runner demon, Brunhilda just as I always carried Curtis. And keeping up RIGHT there with her pace group. Right on target. Brunhilda and all. I sped up. I met her at the finish line. I way behind goal and Melodie right on target.

After the race Melodie and I talked a blue streak about all the ways in which Brunhilda and Curtis had tried to foil our respective races. I could see Curtis's trickery stretching out behind me like a great big ca 1987 stack of scruncis trying their best to pull me back. For decades Curtis had told me I was a fatso. When I was little even Curtis was there, telling me I couldn't dance. I had two left feet. I would never be good at running. Or volley ball. Or tennis. Or anything.

I could spend days, weeks, years probably figuring out where and how I'd managed to find Curtis. Maybe I was born with him. Or maybe the mean kids at school or my grandpa Pop who called me Alley Cat when he liked me and "Fat Cat" when he didn't. Which was most of the time. But it's not about where he came from, it's about how to tell him where to go.

Curtis is the same voice that tells me one little donut won't make a difference. The same voice that says I should stay home when it rains and that the other dancers at my favorite dance club think I have two left feet. Curtis tells me what I can't do and why and always wants to make sure that whatever I TRY to do I know it's against his better judgment.

Curtis is the voice of self doubt.

And what I have to do is remember that Curtis, in his annoying way, is looking out for me. Without Curtis I'd have tried to fly off the roof that time when I was 3 instead of off the top bunk. Without Curtis I'd have married a Bavarian Farm boy, had 7 kids and spent every day of my life waking at five to milk cows and make a fresh batch of Bavarian Blue.

Curtis has saved my life a hundred times. Even though he is a pest. And what's more, he doesn't seem to have a counterpart. I don't have, as I have a voice of self doubt, a voice of self faith.

That voice, the voice that argues with Curtis and tells me I CAN run 16 miles or finish a half marathon at 90 minutes or dance a mean Merengue even though I'm about as Latin as Cleopatra, that voice of self faith?

That voice has to be my own.