Guest Post: Great Big Life

Like our gracious host Theodora, I decided last year that I wasn’t happy with myself and that I wanted to be healthier. I’ve lost 65 pounds to date and gained an identity crisis along the way — but trust me, even if I would rather have done each of those things separately, it was worth it.

My healthy transformation began with a process akin to the Kübler-Ross stages of grief: I passed through denial (“I don’t really need to change! I’m fine just the way I am”) through anger (“But no one else I know ever works out!”) to bargaining (“OKAY, I’ll go to the gym, but later I’m going to eat a cheeseburger anyway”). After becoming depressed that I would not magically lose 100 pounds the first month, or even the first year, that I went to the gym regularly, I found myself in a much better mindset to make healthy changes.  

No sooner had I passed into acceptance, however, than I began honestly liking what I had previously been forcing myself to do. After my first 5K race in July 2009, I swore I would never compete in another — and then two months later, I did anyway. Books about famous runners and the New York City Marathon jostled for space on my nightstand along with David Foster Wallace and Graham Greene.

After swearing up and down that I would only lurk on blogs like Theodora’s, I started a fitblog of my own. All of this was very alarming for a person who thought she had a pretty good handle on what she liked and who she was. I wondered, who was my authentic self? The girl who spent most of a winter catching up on “The Wire” over whole pizzas, or the girl who pulled on track pants and mittens to jog through the slush in Riverside Park? The girl who went to French class or the girl who went to abs class?

 True, feeling like a stranger in your own body is pretty high up the pyramid. But the reason I was blindsided by these feelings is because nobody TOLD me it was going to happen. We’ve all seen before-and-after stories that declare “I used to eat French fries, now I eat carrot sticks!”

They never spell out how, just as your clothes don’t fit, you can start to feel like you don’t fit in your own life in the long continuum between fry and carrot. That maybe one day, as much as you swear up and down that it will never happen, you will reach for the carrots because you want to, and then be completely weirded out by the fact that you just voluntarily ate the carrots.

 Even after my new habits weren’t new any more, I was still in denial that I had really changed.

“Semi-annual visit,” I joked when a coworker spotted gym shoes peeking out of my tote bag.

“At least I’m trying,” I said to my roommates when I restocked the freezer with frozen vegetables.

A major part of me wanted to cling to the idea that this was just a temporary disruption — and in the moment, it was easier to believe that I would do whatever I had to do to lose weight, and then just magically reset to the person I was.

Still, making peace with the idea that I could like things that I had always assumed would be “not me” cracked open my life in ways I couldn’t have predicted.

Running was the most potent example: A perennial Presidential Fitness Award disappointment, I suffered through a season and a half of cross-country before deciding it really wasn’t for me, and had avoided all forms that didn’t involve sprinting for a train. When I came back to it, I was able to let go of my disappointment at not being the best. Freed to be the worst runner I could be, I was pleasantly surprised whenever I made any improvement.  

 And once I saw that happen, I thought: What else is out there in the world that I haven’t tried? What else might I love if I just give it a shot?  

Now, I know I like chocolate ice cream and salt and vinegar chips, but I also like fresh-cut mango and berries, and steak salads with balsamic vinegar, and cappuccinos unadulterated by sugar. I like sleeping in on the weekends and well-mixed mojitos, but I also like busting ridiculous moves in dance class and the weird quiet that hovers over the Central Park reservoir on weekend mornings. I feel a jolt of accomplishment from setting a new PR in a 10K, and another from writing a funny post about it.

I wish someone had told me how getting healthy would not only give me a new reason to jump out of bed every morning, but would enhance the enjoyment of my old hobbies as well, but I would have been too cynical to believe it anyway. It’s okay. When you go to the gym for the first time or give up your favorite fast food, it’s easy to think that your life is shrinking, that you’re missing out on something. But whether you’re just trying to start a healthy lifestyle or are striving toward a major fitness goal like Theodora’s upcoming MARATHON!, focus on what it adds to your life, not what it takes away.

Ellen blogs about running, healthy living and seeing past your own ass at But I Still Have 94 Monkeys To Go. (It makes more sense when you read the story.)

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