To recap where we left off last week in our stroll down memory lane… As a child, I had already fallen into a vicious cycle that only worsened as I grew older:
I had natural biomechanical mobility issues exacerbated by weight gain (and probably severe inflammation from a high sugar diet). Physical activity was uncomfortable and associated with ever-elusive weight loss. Trying to do something I wasn’t good at made me feel even worse about myself. So I avoided most physical activity, which further contributed to weak muscles, stiff joints, and continued weight gain. I ate to comfort myself but felt intense shame for doing so (and was often shamed by the adults in my life when caught with the foods I loved), leading to secretive binge eating.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how I wound up a morbidly obese, yo-yo dieting, exercise-hating adult so stiff and inflamed that I could not do one proper squat when I walked through the doors of Ludus Magnus.
I promise, I do have a point in sharing all this beyond self-obsessed navel gazing. I don’t think my experience is that unique; sadly, I think it is all-too common.
I felt like a prisoner to these early established patterns for decades. I couldn’t simply wish them away or extract myself from them overnight. It has been a long, slow process of action: changing one thing at a time, making it a habit and enjoying some success with it, and then changing the next thing.
Having found a way out that works for me, I want to share my experience so that hopefully I can help other adults struggling with these issues, as well as parents who have children exhibiting some of the same problems that I had.
First, for the adults who are struggling:
- It’s never too late to help your body. I’m almost 40 and I only began serious strength training a little over three years ago. Read any post in this blog and you will see how my life has transformed in that amount of time. I’m certainly not going to be winning any powerlifting meets or bikini challenges (nor do I really want to), but my quality of life and health are exponentially better than they were. If you’re still breathing, it’s not too late! Even with serious physical limitations, anyone can benefit from some kind of movement. The key is to work with a coach/trainer/professional who knows what they are doing and can modify activities appropriately.
- On the flipside, you don’t have to wait to be broken down and utterly miserable to do something! Think of it like a long train ride with several stops along the way. Each stop gets worse: weight gain, loss of mobility, metabolic resistance, arthritis, diabetes. But you can get off the train at any point; you don’t have to ride it all the way to the end of the line.
- Yes, we all want to look better. I love not having to shop in the plus-size department anymore. I love being able to go into any store I want. But that has never been my primary reason for staying committed to my new lifestyle. Vanity-based motivation only goes so far. Like my discussion of self-hatred in Part 1, vanity is fast-burning fuel that exhausts quickly and leaves the tank empty.
- Think about the kind of old person you want to be. I have family members that I love with all my heart, but their genetics combined with poor lifestyle choices has resulted in several joint replacements, cardiac issues, chronic pain, and limited mobility. Before I came to Ludus Magnus my train was headed for those stops. That’s not how I want to grow old. If I’m fortunate enough to be an old lady, I want to move freely through my life and enjoy it! Genetics being what they are, I may still have to deal with arthritis and other aging-related factors, but keeping my muscles strong is still my best chance at overcoming those challenges.
- Start small. Trying to change everything at once is overwhelming and a recipe for discouragement. Skip the fast-burning fuel. Be a diesel engine, slow and steady. Change one thing. One small thing. Do it until it becomes a habit. Then change the next thing. Small changes snowball into big changes. Look around a few years later, and the landscape of your life can be totally different.
Now to talk about the kids. I’m always hesitant to dole out advice when it comes to kids, especially since I don’t have any of my own. As I explained it Part 1, now that I am an adult I understand all-too-well that adults are not deities that know all the right ways to help each child. We do what we think is best, which is usually what we already know how to do. But when we know better, we can do better. So rather than give yet another list of dos and don’ts to shove down parents’ throats, I simply want to offer some take-aways from my own childhood. Let’s call it, “What Little Jennifer Wishes the Adults Had Known How to Do:”
- My compulsive over-eating was not about the food. Food was just a symptom. I was in desperate need of professional help to learn to manage my emotions. I really believe my parents’ could not have done this on their own no matter how hard they tried. It’s okay to ask for help.
- Nobody told me I needed to do everything perfectly; that was an inborn characteristic. But I do wish I had been encouraged to take risks, that failure had been presented as a positive learning experience rather than something to be avoided.
- My dance classes were good for me, but I really could have benefited from even more activities that encouraged me to get comfortable and stronger inside my body outside of a team sports setting (things like tumbling or martial arts come to mind). Even something as simple as being encouraged to climb a tree or hang from the monkey bars with a supportive adult nearby to catch me until I was confident enough to do it on my own.
- Emphasizing weight loss at such an early age was destructive to my developing mind and body. My eating habits were detrimental to my overall health and well-being. Weight gain was just a side effect. Focusing on the side effect compounded my shame and actually worsened my eating habits, leading to secretive binge-eating.
- Taking care of our bodies is a family affair. If one child is struggling with eating and weight gain, they cannot be expected to learn better habits in a house filled with junk food. Most adults are incapable of eating well if they live in an environment stocked with ice cream, chips, sugary cereal, and soda. Expecting a child in the same environment to abstain from eating those foods, and shaming them when they do, is simply unreasonable. We can’t control everything that kids do, but we can establish a healthy environment that defines the boundaries of their choices.
My journey is still very much a work in progress. I have not arrived at some perfect end point where I’m “all better.” I still have my struggles, but my world does not revolve around compulsive over-eating and chronic pain anymore. Today I feel like I have finally done right by the sad little girl in that picture, and given her what she needs.
I don’t want this to be yet another tedious list of prescriptions for people to beat themselves up for not following. My way may not be for everybody. But if the pain of my past and what I do differently today can help another person, than it has all been worthwhile.
Like I said, I don’t expect “my way” to work for everybody, but if you think it sounds like something that could work for you, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 614-517-2520, and let’s get started changing that first small thing!