I’ve just done something a little crazy. I registered to participate in the next Arizona Spartan Sprint. For those who don’t know, this is a 4.7 mile obstacle race sponsored by Reebok. You have to climb 8 foot walls, crawl through mud under barbed wire, drag heavy weights up hills, climb ropes, throw spears at targets, etc., etc. (Oh! And you run from one obstacle to the next.) At the moment, I am the heaviest I’ve ever been. I am 5’7” and weigh 226 pounds. This is considered obese. I have also struggled, over the last few years, with arthritis, bursitis and vitamin D deficiency. I can walk about 10 miles (if I have to). Generally, I walk about 2 – 5 miles during my current workouts. My upper body strength is pretty much non-existent. I have shin splints and I have never, ever done any running for a workout in my life. I’m also 52 years old. I’ll be 53 when this race rolls around. Crazy? Maybe.
But I have had a long history of weight gain and loss. I’m a prime example of the Yo-Yo syndrome. As a child, I was chunky, but not technically fat, although I felt that way. I was much larger than most of the other girls, sprouted some pretty intense womanly curves by the age of 12 and was certainly called fat by many a typical school bully. I was maybe 10 or 15 pounds overweight when I went away to college. My roommates were waifs. I starved myself and exercised whenever possible and got down to a size 6 by the end of my freshman year. Fast forward a few years and I had “blossomed” to a size 14. Those womanly curves of mine were actually a detriment sometimes. My waist always stayed comparatively small, so I didn’t notice the pounds creeping up, because my shape was still good. At size 14, I was engaged. At my wedding I was back down to a size 6. After pregnancy, back up to size 16. When my daughter turned 3, I was a size 6 again. At 37, size 18, at 40 and divorcing, you guessed it, size 6. This last decade of gaining weight again has left me at size 20. Are we seeing the pattern here?
How does one go about breaking this kind of cycle? Honestly, I’ve no idea. But I’m hoping that I’ve found some “key” that’s a little different. I’m going to back-track a little and fill you in on my frame of mind for the past 2 years. After suffering the aforementioned, painful maladies and after several years in a job I hated and becoming exhausted with life as it was, I picked up and moved 2,600 miles away from New York to Arizona. My lifestyle since moving has been healthier, on the whole (not as healthy as it could be, mind you, but healthier than when I was in New York.) I incorporated a little more movement, more “whole foods” and less junk, eliminated refined sugars. I thought I was doing pretty well. But, oh, how I loved my breads and cheeses! I’ve been very resistant to changing those habits, even though I’ve been told over and over that wheat products and dairy products contribute to inflammation of the joints. Anyway, that being what it was, I still felt a lot better and was enjoying my life in the southwest. I have to include here, the fact that I moved here with Captain America, my dream man. He is ever supportive, helpful and has made my life infinitely easier and more joyful by being in it. I’m not doing any of this alone. I have help.
About 18 months ago I decided to stop coloring my hair. I’d been going gray since I was 16 years old and dying it to my childhood auburn for the last 24 years. Dealing with the silver roots was really starting to bother me and so, I had my hair cut and bleached to be done with it all at once, instead of having that awful skunk stripe of white against the dark red while it grew out. I came home from the salon feeling pretty good about “embracing my cronehood”, and hoping for those glorious silver locks that some women have, while they still have a beautiful, youthful looking face. When I looked in the mirror the next morning I was shocked by the fat, ugly, old lady staring back at me. That’s how I felt. And I cried like a baby and wondered how this had happened overnight. The fact is, of course, that it didn’t happen overnight, but it did hit me all at once. My bones hurt, my clothes were like tents, my hair was fully gray (and short, like a granny) and all the wrinkles on my face seemed to scream at me. I wanted to cover up every mirror in the house. I thought the situation was hopeless. I believed that I should simply give up on youth. I believed that I should truly make peace with the fact that I couldn’t be pretty anymore. After all, I’m a spiritual person. Why should it matter that the vessel my soul is wearing no longer fits in with conventional beauty. My beauty was inside, right? But I hurt. Every glance in a mirror caused me pain. Every time I tried to put on make-up or fix my hair, I became despondent and frustrated. I railed against my own psyche for not being strong enough to handle this “aging” thing. “For Goddess sakes, Renee! It happens to everyone! Why are you being such a shallow, selfish, whiney baby!” That’s how I was speaking to myself. Not good. I know. I just didn’t know what to do. So I tried to simply see myself as pretty. I used affirmations and made a conscious effort to speak kindly to myself. I noticed parts of me that I could still consider attractive and focused on those. I did self-love meditations and magic spells to help me accept and love my appearance “as-is” and yet every damn time I looked in a mirror, without the specific intention of practicing self-love, all I saw was ugly. And, of course there were set-backs. I kept getting asked if I wanted the senior discount. Then there was a vacation with my best friend, who is 5 years younger. No less than three times on that trip, I was mistaken for her mother. Ouch. This continued for a year. Twelve months of self loathing! A couple of people, who are very close to me, probably have had an inkling of what I’ve been going through, but even they don’t really know the depth of it. I haven’t really gone into detail about it, because I was ashamed. Very slowly, it started to get a little better. My hair was growing out (finally!) and I began to do some spell-work while applying my make-up in the mornings. I tried to take pride in my appearance. But I would still, in my quiet moments and in my saddened mind, have anguished conversations with the powers that be: “Why can’t I look in the mirror and just like myself? What is wrong with me?”
One day, almost two months ago, while floating in the pool, I was having one of those conversations. I float in the pool in meditation. It is just such a blissful feeling to be floating and let my mind drift away. As those anguished questions arose in my mind this time, instead of silence and pain, I received something else. I heard one sentence.
“Your beauty, my dear, is not in the viewing, but in the doing.”
I didn’t quite know what to do with that at first. But I did know that it came from somewhere higher and wiser than the frame of mind I was capable of at the time. So I kept it and remembered it and repeated it to myself many times over the next few days. About a week later, I was reading through an article about healthy lifestyles and reading advise that I’d read a million times before. The writer suggested just a two week trial of eating no wheat, no meat, no dairy, no sugar and then adding those things back to your diet in small, occasional amounts. And suddenly, I was willing. I had never felt the slightest willingness to give up wheat and dairy before and suddenly, my attitude was “I can do anything for two weeks!” Previously the thought of giving up those things felt like restriction and deprivation. I was raised in an Italian home and I have been known to voice the opinion that food is love, so restriction felt like the opposite. But in that moment of willingness to try something different, to DO something different, I revamped my entire routine. I went far beyond the suggestions of that article and began incorporating all of the healthy things that I knew about but was previously unwilling to work into my schedule. I began daily workouts, taking vitamin supplements, preparing meals on the weekends for the whole week, shopping farmers markets and sticking almost exclusively to whole, organic fresh food. I’ve been doing this for a little over a month. I feel great! I love the food I’m eating. I have re-discovered my love for cooking with all these new recipe ideas. I have re-introduced some meat (but only grass fed, organic, sustainably farmed) and cheeses (organic, local, minimally processed cheeses), both in very small amounts. I have not had wheat or refined sugar at all. And I don’t miss it! I am feeding my body well. And I’ve lost 8 pounds. This is good. This is “doing”! I’ve changed the focus and my heart is starting to feel better.
Last night there was a picture in my Facebook feed of a person I don’t know. She was holding up her “Spartan medal” that she’d received for completing a Spartan race. And she was overweight, not one of those skinny, six-pack abs women to whom I could never relate. I was inspired, so I started researching the Spartan Races. The logo is the Greek warrior helmet. It looks very much like the helmet worn by Athena in the image of her on my altar. Yes, I am a priestess of Athena, so this seemed perfect. Greek warriors are definitely “my thing”! On the website I found a race scheduled in the Phoenix area for February of 2016. That gives me more than 6 months to train. I ran this morning for the first time in any workout of my entire life. It hurt like hell to be honest, but I did it. And I will again tomorrow. And now, I have a goal. My goal is to be the badass person who can complete that race even though it seems like a crazy idea. It’s going to take hard work and a lot of sweat and perseverance and good healthy feeding of this vessel that is carrying a badass soul. And it will take a bit of magic too. Athena will help me with that. She loves a hero’s quest. I have a goal. And for the first time in my weight-loss history, it is a fitness goal, not a “beauty” goal. I got slim for my wedding, I got slim for vacations, I got slim to look better. Always it was about looking better and always it involved deprivation and self-punishment.
This feels different. This feels like self love. I’ll keep you posted.