This past December, as Brett, I and the girls were heading out to dinner with our son and his family, I made my usual obligatory remarks about my weight, that I had gained too much, that I was changing shape again, yada, yada, yada. The girls reply: “Mom. Stop trying to be a poodle.”
A poodle. Why, they asked, was I trying to or wanting to become a poodle all of the time? We don’t expect dogs to change their breed’s characteristics, even though they’re all dogs, so why do we expect to be able to change our own?
I was not born tall, or lean. I do not have long legs or slim hips and have always erred on the side of being overweight. I have small, wide feet. I have thinnish curly hair that grayed prematurely. I have blue eyes, fair skin with freckles, and I sunburn easily. Why couldn’t I be happy with who I am? the girls asked. They thought I looked terrific, and Brett agreed with them.
When we got home that night, WenYu shared the following video with me. She had used it in as part of a presentation she gave on body image, and women’s seemingly unceasing need to make ourselves over into something we are not, pushed along by both science and society.
The video was a genuine attitude-changer for me, and has helped me look at myself in a whole new light. I eat a wide variety of healthy foods, limit my alcohol intake, and get enough exercise. I am not obese. I am in good health, both physically and mentally. I have a loving family and good friends, and am living where and how I want, with little to no stress. And that should be good enough.
It is these days. No more dieting, no more scales, no more worrying about my size. It’s been positively freeing. I am not a poodle, don’t want to be a poodle, and am not trying to be a poodle any more.
My mother will celebrate her 92nd birthday this coming April. She’s been an active and independent woman all her life, and has lived on her own and forged her own path for over 40 years (my parents divorced in 1974). She currently lives in an assisted living community, but for the past couple of years her memory has been fading, and the facility coordinator is now saying it may be time for Mom to move to “memory care” or another place where she can receive more direct care.
Mom is still ambulatory, gets herself to meals on time and feeds herself, dresses herself, and doesn’t require any assistance with hygiene other than her three weekly baths in the facility’s whirlpool tub. After spending time in the sun nearly her whole life, starting when she was a child growing up in southern California, she only recently developed basal cell carcinoma in three places. She had a heart attack nearly 20 years ago, and has diminished lung function (even though she never smoked) but otherwise is in good health for her age. She has outlived all of her peers and her immediate family even though she was the oldest child/cousin. It appears her body will outlast her memory.
I genuinely hope to live as long as my mother has, and stay as active as she has for most of her life. Mom was still traveling abroad when she was in her 80s, still taking math classes (she was a math and biology teacher), and still running a small craft business. Until a couple of years ago she always kept a garden. Other than going to the hospital to have her four children, she never had stayed overnight in a hospital until she fell and broke her hip in late 2014 and needed surgery. It’s been very difficult to see her struggle with memory issues, and unable to remember things that use to come so easily to her.
Mom comes from a time when many believed that medicine could solve any problem – it was reactive versus preventative. She was never particularly careful about her diet – she loved sweets and always ate too much salt, among other things. She was a human whirlwind, but never regularly exercised other than doing some not-too-strenuous walking. For all the time she spent in the sun, she never used sunscreen. She has lived with a family history of cancer, diabetes and heart disease hanging over her, and she has familial high cholesterol (which I inherited).
However, except for certain interludes, her life has been relatively stress free. She has kept her weight mostly under control. She has done what makes her happy. Up until the last five or six years, she still traveled all over. She loved seeing new things and having new experiences. She was always reading something, enjoyed doing jigsaw and other puzzles, kept up with her craft business, and loved watching the Denver Broncos play football. She found ways to help others or give her time and talents. All of these helped contribute to her longevity and quality of life.
My own goal for aging gracefully is to follow a modified “Mom Plan:” I am being careful about what I eat and making an effort to get more exercise. I’m more proactive about my health (and my skin!) and am going to try to not to have to rely on more and more medication as I age. I hope to still be traveling abroad when I’m in my 80s, and enjoying experiences with Brett, our children and grandchildren. I don’t ever want to lose a sense of wonder about the world, or refuse the opportunity to learn something new or have my mind changed about something. I want to continue on as a life-long learner, and keep my mind active every day with reading, writing, trying new things, going places, doing puzzles, staying connected with others, and keeping up with what’s going on in the world. Like Mom, I want to live as stress-free as possible, stay positive about life, and do the things that make me happy. I want to continue to give myself things to look forward to, set goals and figure out how to achieve those things. And, I want to remember every day all the many blessings that I have been given in this wonderful life.
Atul Gawande, in his book Being Mortal, posits that while we are not born pre-programmed for how long we will live, genetics doesn’t actually have all that much to do with longevity. Mom has lived a long time, as did her mother, but it’s no guarantee that I will. But, like my Mom, I intend to make the most of every day I’m given, and age as gracefully as possible.
I’ve never been one to make new year’s resolutions; goals are more my thing. This past year I’ve managed to accomplish a little over half of the goals I set at the beginning of the year, so I’m pretty happy about that.
One thing I did not accomplish however was a small goal of losing just eight pounds. In fact, not only did I not lose eight pounds, I probably gained an additional 10 or 12. I have no excuses. I got lazy, ate too much, did too little exercise and the pounds added up.
I currently feel miserable and sluggish. Many foods I use to like just don’t appeal to me anymore, and sometimes I feel like I’m just going through the motions of preparing meals and eating. But, I do not want to “diet” again. I need to shake things up, and these past couple of weeks I have been giving a lot of thought to what might be the best way to do that.
I’ve decided that rather than setting any long-term goals for the year when it comes to exercise and diet, I need to take things in more manageable chunks. This year I’m going to try and do things just a month at a time and see how it goes. If it’s going well, I’ll go another month and so on. If it’s not working, is too hard or uncomfortable, or there’s some other reason I’m not happy or satisfied, then I’ll switch things up again and start another month’s run.
Beginning on Friday, January 1, and continuing through the first weekend of the year, I am going to do a juice fast. That means only fruit juice, a very limited amount of coffee, green tea, and lots of water for three days. Then, for the rest of the month I plan to continue with a vegan diet (for me only; Brett and the girls will eat as they currently do). I don’t think this will be a permanent change for me, but I’d like to remove all dairy, meat and eggs from my diet for a month and see how I feel. Beginning in February, I will slowly start adding things back into my meals in small amounts . . . if I want them. I’m hoping that by the end of January I’ll have a good sense of how my body feels after going without certain foods and whether I actually miss them or can do without them longer term.
As far as exercise goes, I will be waking myself up at 5:30 a.m. in order to take a walk or ride the exercise bicycle (if it’s raining). As I’ve said several times, I am NOT a morning person, but these days my post-menopausal body seems to start sweating and never stop if I move around in any sort of warmth and humidity . . . and it’s warm and humid here all day. So, I’m going to give early morning exercise a try when it’s a bit cooler and less humid. The girls don’t get up until around 6:45 a.m., but Brett will be up and can walk with me if he wants. Again, this is just for the month of January. If it works out, then I’ll continue on in February. Otherwise, it will be back to the drawing board.
Brett and the girls agree with me that this is doable, and have said they will help in any way they can. We’ll see – I think at the end of January I’m either going to feel more energized or exhausted beyond measure. I’m hoping for energized.
So, a new year and a clean start. One month at a time.