Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Tuesday ramble explaining last Wednesday's ramble

I say this all the time, but today I'm going to explain why: when I write about weight, it both is and isn't about weight. Last week I rambled about weight, and it mostly wasn't about weight.

I used to work for Outward Bound, which both was and wasn't about outdoor sports. It was about personal growth by way of outdoor sports. It was (is) a value system that I still ascribe to, and a concept I continue to believe in. I worked in the offices--specifically, in the fundraising office--so it was my job to convey to donors the power of the concept, and I occasionally got to partake in short courses to appreciate it first-hand. It works.

You struggle with something physical--something challenging enough that you're not sure you can do it, but doable enough that you can--and to your amazement, you do it. Later, off-course, you struggle with something less physical, and you're not sure you can do it, but you remember how you weren't sure you could do the physical thing and you did it, so you apply the same lessons to the non-physical thing, and you do it. It's less tangible--it may be more of a process than a one-off event that's designed to teach you something--but it works.

It becomes a feedback loop: this system is so effective that you create additional instances of physical successes to fall back on for inspiration for non-physical successes. Last week, I maintained a killer up-down plank routine, on my toes, for the duration of Moby's "Bring Sally Up." When the song said 'down,' I came down to my forearms; when the song said 'up,' I came up to my hands. It burned like hell (yes, I've done it with high-low pushup and it's even harder). The instructor said it was going to be hard and encouraged us to come down to our knees when we needed to. I needed to, but I didn't, because I what I needed more was a physical achievement to lean back on for inspiration. I needed a "remember when you held that plank, even when it hurt like hell, and you could've come down, but you didn't, because you could keep going?" I needed that last week like I hadn't needed it in a long time.

Here's another one: in college, I had to learn to juggle. I didn't know why at the time; I only knew that it was a requirement, and no juggling, no pass. You don't think you can learn to juggle (at least I certainly didn't). Hand-eye coordination is not one of my natural strengths. I was at a loss. But the professor told us that if we practiced for 20 or so minutes a day, for the duration of the semester, by the end, we'd be juggling. So I dutifully practiced for 20 minutes a day. For months, I practiced--which entailed throwing juggling balls into the air and dropping them, because I certainly wasn't catching them and propelling them back up. With no progress in sight, I kept throwing the balls and kept watching them fall. My housemates were bemused but supportive. I was dismayed. One day, just like every day before since the start of the semester, I threw the balls... and they didn't fall. I was juggling. First for one or two rounds, and then for many more. I wouldn't have told you that morning that that day was the day, or that there would be a day, but there was. At the end of the course, the professor explained the purpose behind the exercise: to teach us how to learn and practice. He felt that by that stage in our careers, we'd cornered ourselves into the things we were good at and had entirely forgotten what it was like to learn something new. Learning was uncomfortable, almost demotivating for its lack of immediate progress. So here was a physical activity that, for most of us, appeared beyond our grasp. Learning to do it would be frustrating and would seem pointless, until it didn't. And so it is: a physical analogy that you can extrapolate to non-physical goals. Practice what you want to be good at. Practice even when it seems pointless because you don't see results. Before you know it, you'll see results.

And here's the one I started with: weight. After brunch with some friends on Sunday, one friend and I went for a walk around town and I told him about how years ago, brunch would have stressed me out--a vegan buffet, where I had the option to eat an infinite amount of food. Thanksgiving would have stressed me out--a holiday with the option to eat an infinite amount of food. The leftover apple crisp in my fridge--the hostess only wanted half of what was left--would have been an enormous source of angst. My friend--a gay man who appreciates leanness in its own right--replied that the reason I wasn't stressed was because I was thin; were I carrying an extra 30 pounds, he said, I might not be so chill. I countered that it was a bit of both: I had to let go of the stress before I let go of the weight, and it became a feedback loop. The more comfortable I became in my own skin, the healthier my relationship with food--the less food cause me angst and led me to into maladaptive behaviors around it. Between Thursday night and last night, there was apple crisp in my fridge; I had as much as I wanted every day, which wasn't much. Six years ago, I might have felt the need to eat it all in one night, so it wouldn't be there to tempt me the next day (yes, I know it makes no sense; when food is your enemy, nothing makes sense). This year, I went to Thanksgiving and consumed as much as I wanted without a second thought; had leftovers for the next few days without a second thought; and went to a buffet brunch, without a second thought. Overeating at brunch didn't appeal to me because when I wanted food, I could just have food. Fretting about it had made me crazy and kept me stuck.

I enjoyed the outdoor activities, even though they weren't the point, and I'm glad that plank exercise made my abs stronger, even though that was only partly the point. To this day, I love juggling, even though that's not the point. I love weighing 100 pounds (and even more so, not having to do a thing to maintain it; it's so much more wonderful than weighing 125 pounds and struggling with every ounce)--and even that is not the point. The point is struggling and succeeding, and drawing the lessons and the inspiration.

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