I’ve been walking every morning, usually early, to beat the summer heat. First, I have to walk my older, fearful, cocker spaniel, Sam. Then I take my walk. I’ve been listening to some audible books on my walk, to inspire me and keep me connected to the mythic realms of my life’s journey. A big part of my heroine’s journey has been about my weight, weight loss, and all the complex feelings and emotions that swirl around it.
Me my body and I have a complicated relationship.
My body. Becoming aware of my body. Realizing as a child that others didn't like my body. Then disliking my body, too. Never accepting at any time the state of my body. It was never good enough, beautiful enough, thin enough, or fit enough. And because my body wasn’t good enough, or right, or normal, neither was I.
Thinking about weight, losing weight, gaining weight, dieting, lifestyle-ing, exercising, working out, or not working out has dominated much of my life's thinking. I don’t remember when food and what I was going to eat was not top of mind at least 4 times a day. Whether I was dieting or just trying to eat like a “normal person” and not gain weight.
I was a chubby kid. I have been on diets on and off most of my life. I have a big appetite; I love food, and I love to eat!
There have been so many times I have gone on a diet. Sometimes I was successful, and sometimes I wasn't. But eventually, whatever weight I lost, I found again. Weight Watchers was my first diet; I think I was 10 years old. Since then, I’ve tried all the diets, low fat, high fat, high protein, low carb, Whole 30, Atkins, Bulletproof, and so on.
What none of them addressed was the reason for the weight gain. It became clear to me as I got older that I am an "emotional eater." I eat when I'm happy, sad, bored, mourning, celebrating, or whatever!
Throw a party? Have good food. Family holidays? Special dishes. After a funeral, the reception. Then there is the too-true-trope of the broken-hearted girl sitting on the kitchen floor with a tub of ice cream and a spoon.
Food is the one accessory that goes with everything!
All kidding aside, growing up as a chubby kid cultivates compassion. All the careless words from family, classmates, and the public make you very aware of how needlessly cruel people can be. And, how obsessed some people are with other people’s bodies.
The societal pressure to be thin is soul-crushing.
It’s preferable to be thin while young
If you’re not thin and young, but thin and old—then deny your age
You must be “attractive for your age” to make up for no longer being young.
If you’re not beautiful by patriarchal standards, then stay thin enough to be sexually desirable.
If you’re not even that?
Then at least be a thin older woman, who doesn’t stand out, having been sure not to let yourself "GO!”
Be the acceptable thin older woman who disappears into the background with no muss, no fuss
Don’t be that heavy old woman everyone stares at, makes fun of pities or shames.
Shit, it’s exhausting this cultural obsession with weight and women’s bodies.
All my life I have battled my weight. I don’t know if I will ever get a complete handle on it.
But, I did a thing. Again.
Over the past year, I have lost 65 lbs. and I have another 30 to go.
It's funny; when people I know, who haven’t seen me for a long time, congratulate me or comment on my weight loss, it brings up no celebratory feelings. None.
The shame I carry from being overweight on and off all my life has been supplanted by the adjustment period I’m having with my loosening skin. I affectionately call it my “Wooobly skin.”
Over the past year, I have walked more miles than I care to remember. I’m just now going back to the gym—at 6 am—to avoid crowds. Where did all this late-life determination come from?
Well, it has nothing to do with willpower. I have multiple issues with my spine, and my pain had increased during the Covid lockdowns and isolation. I wasn’t moving my body; I was overeating and getting stiffer and creakier by the hour.
I went for a consult with a spinal surgeon and was told that surgery is not a safe or predictable option for me. Whoops. Really?
I had started on a weight loss program already, and the surgeon said, "Losing weight is the best thing you can do; keep moving, stretching, and do yoga. Take your pain meds when you need them.”
It's kind of shocking when modern medicine tells you, at 63, “We Can’t Fix You.”
It was my fear of being destined for a wheelchair that motivated me. I decided that no matter how many good mobility years I had left, I wanted to be able to enjoy them as much as possible. Because, let's be perfectly honest here—if I had known what aging was really going to be like—I would have had more fun and done much more stuff when I was younger! Seriously.
So, I started walking. It hurt like hell. I had to take meds to walk 2 miles while sitting down for pain breaks. I sat on neighborhood front yard brick walls to relive the nerve pain. The small circuit out of my home that goes down the hill, around, and back up again is 2.3 miles.
I walked with family members. I walked with my best friend. I walked alone. As I started walking more, I walked with earbuds and books. Three books specifically. They’ve been among my favorites since college; I've read them many times. While walking, I've listened to them twice through, and I'm almost done with the third pass. These three audiobooks take 64 hours and 36 minutes to listen to. That gives you an idea of how much I've been walking.
Which three books? The Lord of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R.Tolkien, narrated by Andy Serkis. Perfect. Mythic. Symbolic. The books are about universal struggles, hard dark times, and the persistence of the True, the Honorable, the Beautiful, and the Worthy. A tale filled with characters doing hard things against the worst odds.
Although heroes and male characters dominate the classic modern myth, there are heroines.
Female characters who exemplify strength, love, determination, a struggle with destiny, deep magic, the natural world, and the imaginal. What could be better? I walk one day feeling like Eowyn left behind at Edoras, desperate for a different life. On another day I’m Galadriel the Eleven Queen, a keeper of deep magic, or I’m Frodo, a simple soul tasked with the impossible. You get the idea. This story holds within it every experience and emotion related to the hard, impossible, exhausting, and hopeless.
My outlook on the rest of my life gave me the, as of yet, unfailing motivation to lose weight. The need to have a body that moved to the best of its abilities gave me the motivation to walk and exercise.
What I am happiest about is the change in my pain and discomfort levels. I still have bad days, but not nearly as many. Now my bad days are triggered by too much gardening, housework, sitting, and sometimes by overdoing it walking or at the gym.
Of course, I feel much better, have more energy, and most nights, I sleep better. And, despite the patriarchal implications, I feel better in my clothes and more confident about how I look.
Sometimes I think, it's not until we're up against a wall or in crisis that we attempt to change our behaviors—that we pull up our big girl panties— and say, “Ok, this is it. What do I want my life to be?”
No one knows the future. I may still need a wheelchair one day as my spine continues to age. I’ve already lost two inches in height. But until that time comes, like Eowyn, I’ll stand my ground against the darkest foe, my fears. I’ll prepare myself to face whatever is ahead with my full strength, unbroken will, and fierce determination to make the best of the time I have left. I hope you will too.