Tuesday, December 14, 2010

No Years Resolution

"Uh, spend more time with my family?" The lady with the big round glasses said. She was perhaps 150 pounds overweight. She smelled so strongly of Marlboros that if you closed your eyes tight you might believe you were having one of those "next day at the bar" moments from 20 years ago.

The rest of the audience inspected their nails. Tapped their pens on the paper. "Ahem..." Said one of them finally halfway raising her hand and waving the fingers at me. "Uh... We don't ... Really make New Years Resolutions anymore."

"Whyever not?" I blinked. I cocked my head in feigned amazement. If I could have made my eyes blue I would have.

There was a series of half hearted "What's the points?" and "Why bothers?" And "they never works." Followed by a brief chorus of "it's just discouraging/ demoralizing."

Yes, before me sat a room full of new recruits. People who couldn't bear the thought of committing to the potential failure of yet another New Years resolution. They had tried that. And failed. A dozen times. A dozen years dedicated to fitness that had left them overweight, exhausted and devastated by March. Determined to remain "Fat and happy rather than skinny and hungry" by December.

But NO one is fat and happy. The strange, sad, impossible to bear fact is: there are no happy fat people. Fat and happy is a myth defied by the physical pain the extra weight adds, compounded with the emotional strain, the self accusation, shame, guilt, embarrassment, and here is something only a formerly obese person may admit to: constant desire to be perceived as desirable, fit in with cultural norms and be wanted and welcomed among groups we believe exclude weirdos with weight problems.

It is with tremendous mental fortitude that we are able to cordon that off. Able to convince ourselves that we are vain if we wish to be desired. To convince ourselves that we are superficial if we believe that achieving a healthy weight will make us happier.

And so, year after year, we weigh the effort, discipline, commitment, hard work, determination and dedication to self care that it takes to follow through on a New Years resolution against the discounted benefits and WRITE OURSELVES OFF as not worth the effort. The health benefits (after we've boiled them down to some far off effect on our heart in some distant old age) do not outweigh the investment (after we've made a mental list of previous attempts and remembered only the titanic effort we've wasted and weird sacrifices we've made. All the times someone told us we had to hurt like crazy, be miserable and Not Eat Anything that tastes good in order to be healthy).

And so we tell ourselves New Years resolutions are stupid. Ineffective. Heartbreaking. Nothing but trouble. A waste of time and effort. We are not worth the commitment nor the risk of heart break. We are too emotionally weak to bear the disappointment. And we say this to ourselves year after year.
Until we have decided not to bother taking the gamble anymore.

"Spend more time with my family." The lady in the round glasses who was morbidly obese. She even had dimples. And blond hair. And a pretty dress. Just like me.

"For years," I addressed my whole audience but couldn't help fixating just a little on the lady who could have passed for my before picture. "I didn't make New Years resolutions. For the very same reasons you all have just said. Then one year I'd had enough. I decided to try again. I lost 90 pounds that year. The next year I made a different resolution. I quit smoking AND lost another 40 pounds."

The audience blinked. They knew this story but today it sounded different.

"The next year I ran my first marathon. After that I resolved to qualify for Boston. Start my own business. Get my writing published. All done."

And it all started with one, small, simple resolution that first year:

Eat smaller portions of healthier food. Get my heart rate above 100 for 20 minutes every day.

That was all the commitment, all the potential heart break I could bear.

And it was all I needed.