|Photo from Kevin Dooley of Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic|
I have an on-again/off-again relationship with health and exercise. A few years ago, I was in pretty good shape. I was in college, and my dorm was right next door to the campus gym. Because of this, and spurred on partially because of my roommate, I began getting up every morning and running. After a time, it got to where it was almost a habit. I even started running at home on the weekends that I visited.
I was starting to show some real progress when things when tits up: I lost my roommate, transferred to a dorm across town, and met my wife.
My roommate started going to the gym because he'd just gone through a break up and he was doing the machismo version of cutting off his hair and dying it. I only started going because his skinny ass already made me look back when we hung out, and I was vain enough to not want to fall even further down. When he left, I didn't have that person to keep up with anymore.
The dorm was the worst part, though. My new dorm was across technically an off-campus apartment, which meant I had to drive to campus every day. This meant if I wanted to go to the gym, I couldn't just roll out of bed and run first thing in the morning. I had to get up, get dressed, grab my keys, wallet, cell phone, etc, and then DRIVE to the gym. I already didn't really like running, so that was a lot of obstacles suddenly stopping me from doing an activity I didn't even like. Then, I met the woman that would become my wife, and I spent most of my time with her and forgot about trying to stay fit.
My fitness has plummeted since then.
When I started my job after graduating college, my weight ballooned up from lots of stress--and lots of stress eating. I was downing Cokes and candy bars every day after work, self-medicating for the pressure I was under. My wake up call was when I looked at a recent picture of myself. I noticed how much different I looked compared to what I looked like when my wife met me. The wife and I decided to cut out as much sugar as we could from our diets--cutting down on junk foods, buying low fat and sugar free varieties if we could, and drinking Coke Zero, sugar-free sweetened tea, and water.
Of course, we also started watching our portion size. This was helped in a large part by using MyFitnessPal, a great app for calorie counting.
I actually made solid progress, and got down pretty low--still not my goal weight, but I lost probably 30 pounds. But, just like with running, if I break the pattern, I spiral out of control and can't get myself back on the rails. I got stressed at work again and started buying myself candy bars, saying, "Well, just this one today. I'll start my diet again tomorrow." But tomorrow never came. I had a few friends that got into MyFitnessPal as well, and my wife, and we all kept each other on track. When they all dropped off, it was just me. And my will is shit.
Counting calories isn't a huge deal, but when you're feeling bummed out and alone, it becomes just one more annoyance. "Ugh, I really have to calculate all these helpings and bullshit before I eat? God. Just what I need after a long day of work: fucking math," I'd grumble to myself as I looked up how many calories a serving of food was. And going out to eat became a nightmare of trying to either calculate how much you could eat of a regular order of food without blowing your calorie count, or ordering from the same 3 choices on the low-cal menu that didn't basically hand you a thimble of meat and a leaf of lettuce.
But here I am, doing this health dance again. I've begun counting my calories again. And I've added a new app to my repertoire: RunKeeper. I saw Mur Lafferty mention it on her blog, and, well, I'd like to get back into running.
The strange thing about running: when I was doing it, it sucked, but I got used to the sucking. I never really enjoyed it, but it wasn't the soul-crushing activity that it started out being.
I still remember coming back from college one weekend to visit my friends and family. I had this one friend from high school that was always the sort of person I wanted to be: he was funny, outgoing, tall(er), athletic, and slim. As a chubby guy, I look at skinny people with a sort of slack-jawed wonder. Like, "How do they do that?" It seems like some kind of dark magic to me.
I'd been running for about 3 or 4 months when I came to visit. I asked him if he wanted to join me the next morning. He said sure. The morning came and off we set, earbuds in, music on, just us and the brisk morning air. I had a certain route that I would run every day where I would go to the edge of downtown, and then turn around and head. We made it to the halfway point, and I started to turn to go back when my friend plopped into a big stump in someone's yard.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"Just--just hold on, okay?" he wheezed.
And that's when I realized I was in better shape than him. It was then that I realized that I had been making progress, that I was improving. And I felt great.
I'm gonna be honest, it was a smug, self-satisfied feeling of knowing I was finally better than him at something. And I don't give a shit if that's bad--it was awesome. But it was also the first real validation about exercising that I'd had. Until that point, it felt like I'd been spinning my wheels but not getting anywhere. I hadn't noticed the tiny progress I'd made, just that I wasn't where I wanted to be.
Obviously, with starting this up again, I'm not going to go looking up old high school friends to run with so I can use them as a yardstick to measure my own health progress. That would be ridiculous and silly. But back then I was rocking it lo-tech--just my body and my cheap-ass mp3 player. Since then, we've got smartphones and apps and gps measuring devices and other awesome tech. So, I'm hoping watching those numbers improve over time will give me the boost I need to keep going when things are tough.
The thing I'm going to try to remember is that health isn't about reaching a goal and then you're done. Health and fitness are more subtle. They're about consistency and upkeep. But it can also be forgiving. If you mess up, it doesn't start you back over at 0--you've still made the progress you've made. You just have to remember to do better next time.
Wish me luck.