So, for the purposes of this exercise, I am a horse.
No. Really. Just let me explain.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, when I worked professionally with horses, I learned how to transform a pudgy fat porker into a lean, mean athletic machine. And even though I am not actually a horse, and neither are those of you who are also taking this journey, the same principles do apply.
The horse I was responsible for had been bought as a hunter and a team ‘chaser, a sport involving jumping many cross country obstacles at speed. Hunting and team ‘chasing are autumn/winter sports in the UK, which means at the end of each season the horses are turned out to grass over the spring/summer, to relax and unwind and wallow in the sunshine. Then at the end of summer, more or less, they’re brought back in from the fields and put into work, so they’re fit enough to hunt. Because of the team ‘chasing, my horse had to get as fit as a racehorse. And that’s when I learned how to turn a pudgy porker into an athletic machine … and that’s the principle I’m now applying to myself.
The first thing to do is gently condition the body to accept a tougher workload without breaking it down, injuring it, due to stressing bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments beyond their ability to function without tearing. This, for me, is the big issue with programs like The Biggest Loser. Because it’s reality tv they don’t properly condition those soft, unfit bodies, hence all the injuries we see.
Anyhow, as it happens, my trip to the UK and France took care of that preliminary conditioning phase. With horses, we walked for the first few weeks, around the local roads and villages. Low impact, low stress, to wake up the body and start the toughening process. With me, I walked the streets and castles and countryside and many, many stairs. That meant my body was toughening up without excessive stress. Ditto my cardiovascular system. I’m a fast walker. Dawdling drives me crazy. And stairs are a great form of interval training. Whether it was in castles, hotels or the London underground, I took stairs as often as I could (although when it came to the Tube, sometimes I could only manage one flight before my heart threatened to do a chestburster on me!)
Now that I’m home and over the jet lag and the lurgy, I’ve shifted gears a bit. Right now I’m doing 10km on my elliptical machine 6 days a week, and I’m following the Jillian Michaels Body Revolution program. That’s a 12 week challenge with progressively more difficult weights/cardio circuits, also 6 days a week. Today was the halfway point of week 2. And already I can see I’m stronger and fitter than I was this time last week. I wanted to do some walking and some swimming too, but I had a little whoopsie with the Rocktape on my lower back and have to wait until the raw skin is healed. Plus there are dog issues that complicate the walking. I plan to sort those next week.
Bottom line? I’m bedding down again into a regular workout routine, and fiddling with my diet to find the sweet spot that will support both exercise and weight loss. What I know for sure is that I have to keep the carb intake pretty low, because I’m really sensitive to carbs. So far so good. The scales haven’t shifted much but my jeans are easier to pull on. And on the whole, I prefer clothing as a yardstick rather than the scales.
The big mental issue now is letting go of the past. I think for the people who’ve never been fit, the boogyman is that they’ve never been fit so it’s hard to believe they ever could be. They battle against the ‘you can’t!’ monster. For people like me, who used to be fit and then lost it (more than once, it pains me to say!) the ogre is that memory. And the nagging inner voice that says ‘You should be able to run 10 k without blinking, you should be able to lift 10 kilo weights like a feather, you should be able to do full body pushups, you should be able to slide into those size 12 jeans, you should – you should -‘
It gets bloody tiring, that voice.
So I’m working hard on stuffing my fingers in my ears when I hear it, and celebrating the small victories – like being able to do the 10k on the elliptical at 20 revs, up from 17, and shaving 5 mins off my completion time. The fact that I can use the 2 kg dumbbells in some of the weight training circuits this week when last week I had to use the 1 kg, and do the full body version in some of the cardio intervals. Inch by inch, improving my performance and fitness.
There’s something else I’ve embraced too, which I never did before. I’ve come to the conclusion that in this losing weight/getting fit game, it’s important to do two things. Make friends with the mirror … and make friends with who you see in the mirror.
When you’re blobby and unfit it’s so hard to look at yourself. We live in such a body conscious culture, where fit and beautiful naked and/or partially clothed women and men are everywhere, especially in advertising, film and tv. We can’t escape the imagery. Worse, images of less-than-perfect bodies are used as points of scorn and ridicule, the punch line to a joke. Sometimes the fat man gets the gorgeous slender woman (yes, NYPD Blue, I am looking at you!) but that’s more a function of male fantasy than reality. Certainly it’s almost unheard of that the hunky guy falls desperately in love with the fat chick. And when we don’t measure up to the super gorgeous, we feel ashamed and unworthy and at some point we just stop being able to look at ourselves. I know that’s where I was at, not so long ago. But I don’t think we can change what we don’t embrace. I don’t believe it’s possible to hate ourselves and at the same time successfully lose weight and get fit. I think we have to proceed from a place of acceptance, forgiveness and charity towards ourselves – treat ourselves as kindly as we treat our loved ones. I swear, if we spoke to our friends the way we sometimes speak to ourselves, well, we wouldn’t have any friends.
I also think it’s possible to cherish ourselves, and at the same time hold ourselves to a higher standard, to ask more of ourselves, without beating ourselves up with the ranting negative self-talk. Saying to ourselves I can do better, I deserve better is actually a very loving thing to do. I think, anyhow.
There is of course the ongoing frustration of the double message out there: Don’t be fat, it’s not healthy! You’re taking years off your life, risking heart disease and diabetes and – and- and. Then in the next breath it’s: Don’t fat shame! It’s wrong to make people feel bad about being overweight! Everyone deserves to be loved no matter what they look like!
Both of those things are true. It is unhealthy to be overweight, unfit, eat a highly processed diet full of crap – and it is important that we are not belittled if we are overweight and unhealthy. Neat tightrope to walk, isn’t it?
But we have to walk it, I think. To get healthy, to live a long and pain free life, we have to walk that tightrope.
So that’s the other thing I’m doing now. Every morning I look at myself in the mirror, unclothed, hiding nothing, and I say This is who you are today and that’s fine. How you look does not define your worth as a person. But I choose to be fitter and healthier than I am today. And the choices I make today will get me closer to that goal.
Of course the dogs think I’m crazy. The cats think I’m crazy. But for the first time in a long time, I’m feeling sane. Also, I’m sweating a lot.
And to be honest … it feels awesome!