Tuesday, January 30, 2007

No pain, no gain?

Tomorrow I'm cleared for physical exertion again, provided the snot stays clear (yes, I'm this charming in person too) and no more fever. To that I say woot. Let the games begin again.

I was thinking today as I was pining for my corner treadmill in The Little Fitness Center That Could that "healthy" really means a whole lot of different things for people, and for my family in particular. If I were to drive each of you to my house to introduce you to my family members, you would instantly realized two things about us: First, that my mother has an unfortunate obsession with large, shabby chic-ified pieces of wood with droll sayings stenciled on them (i.e. "The Queen Will Now Receive an Audience" above the door of the glassed-in porch that used to be her smoking room but now hosts at least 90% of the world's Christian romance novels organized alphabetically by author on white plastic Rubbermaid bookshelves), and that my father, brother, and I have not yet mustered the courage to ask her to please, for our dignity's sake, to take them down.

And second, that we are a family of hobbits.

My father is the tallest, measuring in at a whopping 5'8", followed by my brother at 5'7" (although when he chooses to faux-hawk his hair, he's a little taller), my mother is 5'4", and I, at 5'1", serve as the family armrest for everyone except my cousin who is 4'11". My mother and father also comingled his stocky German genetic makeup with her stumpy, large-assed Scottish heritage and created a family of tiny people whose males have scrawny legs and a poochy stomach, and whose females have the frail upper body of an Audrey Hepburn coupled with a lower half more closely aligned with, say, Camryn Manheim's.

My father had a health scare a couple years ago, and was warned by his doctor to drop some weight and get his blood sugar in check or risk diabetes and other terribly unpleasant diseases, so he did. And by "did" I mean I think he woke up one morning, brushed his teeth, and thought to himself "Today I need to clean the garage, go to Home Depot, and I guess lose 50 pounds." He accomplished this by replacing his triple scooped bowls of ice cream at night with bowls of cut vegetables. He also walked two miles a day on his treadmill every day for three months. I swear to you, that was all he did differently and he lost every bit of those 50 lbs. Granted, a year later he's gained it all back, but sometimes I see him sitting in his armchair with a serene look on his face, and I know that he's all Zenned out knowing that if he decided to lose 50 lbs. again, it'd be off by next Sunday and he'd barely have to lift a finger. My dad is hardcore. He's not a big thinker, and while he plans for things like hunting trips and car washing opportunities meticulously, he's not one to obsess over WHY he's doing those things. He just puts one foot in front of the other and chooses to do whatever it is. I find this amazing.

My little brother, while not thin, is the one in our family blessed with the good genes. Good hair, good bone structure, and not a whole lot of extra weight to carry around. I don't know if I'd like to see him extremely thin, and I think he feels comfortable as a medium to large size guy, so he exercises in spurts, and mainly as a conversation starter for later. He'll run a couple of miles twice a month, or take up rowing for a few weeks, and then there'll be no talk of fitness for awhile. Regardless, his body stays pretty much the same and I don't think he worries so long as he can squeeze into his seven layers of Old Navy couture every day he goes out in public without looking like the Stay Puft Man.

That leaves my mother and me. Ohhhhhh, my. What neuroses to uncover in the next two paragraphs. If my lifelong attempts to lose weight are an Odyssean epic of bouncing round and round until I have to just stop bouncing and finally make it home to who I am and what I'm supposed to be doing to be happy, hers is an veritable Ulysses, in that by the time she's done explaining it, you're just tired and confused and everything sort of hurts.

My mom, seriously and sadly, has a rotten self-image...perhaps the worst I've ever seen. She self-loathes to the point that I have heard her call herself ugly in front of friends and family. She hides behind tent-sized shirts and baggy Aladdin pants because she's so ashamed of her body. I find this so odd, because my mother is a beautiful woman...overweight but beautiful. When I see pictures of her as a young mother, she looks exactly like a Raphaelite beauty, with exquisite features and beautiful skin. But she doesn't see that, and so in remaking herself as a tough, shrewd woman instead, she's lost her ability to see the true beauty and strength that I used to remember.

My mother relies on two things to influence her life: Jesus and Madison Avenue. She once prayed every hour for two days after doctors found a spot on her lung, and since it never showed up again in X-rays she believes Christ can take away her fat as well. So she prays, which I cannot criticize, but sometimes praying is the only healthy thing she does for herself all day. She also reads and watches, almost obsessively, about the latest diet foods or books or trends and usually has them in our cupboards the week they're released to the public. She'll have a Slimfast for breakfast, a Lean Cuisine for lunch, and then goes out for Mexican with her girlfriends and wonders why she's so hungry and unable to withstand the temptation of Chili con Queso or an extra daiquiri. I suppose this approach is better than when we were children...she used to starve herself all day, living on cigarettes and sugared coffee until she turned into a ravenous snarling wildebeest at night, especially when she stepped on the scale and never saw it moving downward. She's almost quit smoking now, which is pretty amazing after 36 years, and she's even biking a few miles every day. I'm proud of her for at least mediating her own behavior enough that it's no longer harmful, if not incredibly productive in the long run.

What's really strange about my mom's relationship with weight, though, is that for her it's a major competition...me, my brother, the other administrative assistants in her office...it doesn't matter, and she's ready to fight dirty. She called me today to ask how I was feeling, and I mentioned I had one more day of rest before I could go back to the gym. "Ha!" she said, "I'm already beating you this week because I biked Monday AND Tuesday."

I really didn't know what to say to that. She asked me how much weight I had lost, and I told her my current total, and I heard the "Ha!" again. She told me she still weighed less than I did, and if I wasn't careful I'd be borrowing HER fat pants in a few months. I was silent, trying to think of a diplomatic response that didn't end with some variation of "suck it". I opted for nothing, because trying to explain to her that muscle weighs more than pure fat, and that riding four miles on what basically amounts to a La-Z-Boy recliner with pedals is slightly less taxing than running on a treadmill and lifting weights didn't seem like it would help the situation much. So I just congratulated her and hung up the phone.

But it got me to wonder...maybe I'm not doing enough, too. Maybe what I consider good enough for my own health goals would be laughable to the ones who've really succeeded. I mean, Poppi Kramer worked out TWO hours a day, with no excuses. Should I be running more? Lifting heavier weights? Am I doing enough? Eating the right things?

So after my conversation with my mom, and considering how different each of our bodies are and how incredibly disparate our methods for keeping them under control seem to be, I've realized that the more I learn about being healthy, the more I realized I have absolutely no real clue how to do it.

Ever have that feeling too?


lisa jane said...

erin, I think you do.I think you know exactly what to do,but for some reason you seem unable to trust yourself right now.

People think you have to go all nazi on your ass,the way they do on "that show".That show gets you skinny real quick but have you been checking up on these guys lately,?consistently? For me there weight doesnt really interest me,but it does interest me that when they go home,outside of that artificial environment,when there isnt a finale or reunion looming,they get fatter.There bodies rebel.

You do know erin,you are doing it.But unfortuantely it just isnt as exciting as joining weight watchers or being on international tv.It is slow and tedious,and frustrating.

It pains me to hear about your mother.what a big pain in the ass she sounds like,I think it pains me because she sounds just like mine so it hits a bit too close to home.Right now my mother is in a tantrum because i havent called her lately.sigh.

you are doing great.Trust yourself.You are a strong woman.

Lori said...

If you ever decide you want to go to therapy, you'd just have to print that post out and hand it to her/him to explain your mother. Who is remarkably like mine. I think my mom has less ability to believe in herself and losing weight. But she is competitive but I'll save that for my post. (Not that I'm playing, "Can You Top This?")

I think you know how to be healthy, or, more accurately, what you shouldn't do to get healthy. Some of this journey (and to me it's a journey) is learning what works FOR YOU. Everyone's different. For some people sugar is as bad for them as heroin. For others, they can handle it in small doses or whatever.

Don't compare yourself to others. Some people have hours to spend on exercising, food shopping, food preparation. If you do, great but if whatever you're doing is all you can do for now, just stick with it. You're losing weight. You want to be able to keep it off and not by Herculean efforts.

Your mom isn't going to be the only person who tries to drag you down or compete with you -- so just don't worry about what others do. If you think you're kidding yourself (as in "Well, it's just 1 cup of ice cream a night vs. the 3 cups I used to eat), that's another story.

Give yourself a break. I would point out that you have been working hard at this.

I'm glad you're feeling better. Your post made me laugh as I recognize a friend's house when you described your mother's cupboards.

Get well!

Kate said...

You're doing so well Erin, plus you've been sick this week!

Please don't listen to your Mother, she is obviously clueless. Playing childish weightloss games with you and her workmates isn't going to get her far. The proof will be in the pudding. Don't let her drag you down. You were right not to even respond, she wanted you to, she was trying to bait you to bite! You're a strong woman, doing all the right things. Slow and steady wins the race.

Kate :)

Galen said...

Hi Erin,
I had originally written a long comment early this morning, but blogger ate it (grr), so I will keep this one short.

You know what you're doing. You've lost weight, so that should show you that you know what your doing. As for the jealousy that your mother is showing, I would ignore it completely and be the better person, and believe me, I know how hard that can be.

As far as comparing yourself to others and how others may do their weightloss journey, don't sweat it. (No pun intended) Just because someone worksout 2 or 3 hours a day and loses gobs of weight doesn't mean you are that same person. You're not, you're Erin and Erin knows exactly what Erin's body needs, and when she needs it. So you're doing fine.

And don't forget, we are all here for you. So, chin up, and don't worry about what works for others, but what works for you.


BigAssBelle said...

i think the key is to find your own path and stick to it, regardless of the input of others. when i posted this morning about my 30 day boot camp plan, i suspected i'd hear from folks who are wholly against it.

but we have to find what works for us and who are we to question another's path? this "problem" (addiction, disease, affliction, manifestation of satan) is so difficult that no one has a real answer. reduce intake, increase output. of course. but how do we accomplish that given o ur differences?

i am sorry that your mother somehow sees herself in competition with you. it would be nice if she could just be completely supportive of you and applaud every ounce and bit of effort.

hoping you're having a great day today and that you're warmer than we are. take me back to florida. this sucks.