On our summer vacation to Maine three years ago, I ate ice cream nearly every day. (Remember, this is Ben & Jerry’s territory. So good.) But I had my reasons. First of all, my dad was nearing the end of his battle with pulmonary fibrosis, and the idea of him actually dying felt vaguely apocalyptic. Like, is this even possible?
Secondly, we had left our dogs in the care of a (formerly) trusted housesitter, who handed the task over to her teenage brother, who nailed sheets over the front windows and invited all high school boys within a 50-mile radius to come get drunk at our house. My awesome beloved forever trustworthy neighbor ratted him out, and then she and her husband unclogged the unspeakable mess that had been left in a bathroom, cleaned up the dog shit littering the bedroom floors, and worked very hard to console our traumatized pups.
I was stressed, people. And since my binge-drinking days had passed, I ate ice cream. And chips. Kettle-cooked chips. What does that even mean? Is a kettle the same as a cauldron?
By the end of the trip, I had packed on an extra five pounds or so. When we returned home, my (other) neighbor told me I looked like I had “really enjoyed” my vacation. I still like her, though. Then Dad died, and I just became sort of distracted about my health and well-being. I focused on finishing my book (check), grieving (double check), and trying to adjust to my new fatherless existence. I still worked out, and my main diet was pretty healthy. But I habitually ate handfuls of stuff: Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Cheez-its, buttery crusts cut off the kids’ grilled cheeses. Melted cheese off of leftover pizza. Spoonfuls of peanut butter.
I was stress-eating. I knew that. When you have a lifelong obsession with your weight and body image, self-diagnosing is easy. But I wasn’t ready to change, and I wasn’t particularly ashamed of how I looked. I was a little heavy, but who cares? I’m 54. It seemed inevitable and a battle not worth fighting. And since yoga pants had crossed into the mainstream, #winning!
But eleven weeks ago, I decided I needed a tune-up. I just felt a little uncomfortable in my skin – like I was letting myself get….old. The husband once told me, when I was complaining about wrinkles, that my youth was in my fitness – that my activity level kept me young. It stuck with me. Also, I have always had a vision of myself, and I wanted the real me to match that vision. So the vision: I’m wearing a little black dress and red stilettos, hair gently tousled, make-up undetectable except for the flash of mauve on my lips.
Oh my goddess, I am laughing out loud right now. You didn’t buy that, did you? No, no, no. My vision is me wearing cut-offs, with a tank, Converse sneakers or barefoot, no make-up (except sunscreen!), sunglasses, standing in my garden. Weird, I know. But here’s the key – I’m comfortable. Strong and flexible, quick on my feet, easily able to pull a weed or pet a dog or look up at a cloud. But my reality had been different. I was sluggish, tired, mopey, and frankly kind of big.
I told my CrossFit coach, Dawn, that I wanted to get back to my fighting weight. She doesn’t know about my fighting career so she thought I was just being funny. She told me to use the My Fitness Pal app on my phone to log everything I ate, and start drinking 100 ounces of water a day. “Track your macros,” she said, and I nodded knowingly while thinking What’s a fucking macro? But I downloaded the app and started tracking my food intake.
After a few days, I showed Dawn my food diary, and she told me my macros were way off, and I had to ask: What’s a fucking macro? Well, apparently, a calorie is not just a calorie. So three Hershey’s Dark Chocolate Kisses, for example, contain 61 calories, which is about the same as a hard-boiled egg. One of those snacks is high in sugar; the other has healthy fat and protein. Guess which one is better for you? Obviously if you can’t sleep because your teenage daughter is out with the car and it’s three minutes past curfew, the chocolate is better. But as a rule, the egg is better because it fits into the little macro pie chart on the My Fitness Pal app.
I’ve been reading labels for years, but I started considering how much protein I ate at each meal, and really limiting my intake of processed foods. “Don’t eat things you have to unwrap,” said Dawn, which is technically impossible but doable in spirit. I also measured how much water I drank so I could reach that daily 100 ounces. I peed constantly, sometimes a little bit in my pants. A few weeks into this, Dawn challenged me to join her in drinking a gallon of water a day, so I had to completely abandon efforts to stay dry.
I’m in my 12th week of this, and I’m 12 pounds down. Two people have noticed. But I don’t care about that – the scale truly is just a number. The key is how I feel. And I feel good. Lighter. The gallon of water – whew, it’s hard, but it’s worth it. My skin feels better. I’m not as tired in the afternoon. I’m never hot, even though it’s July in Florida. Wait – not true. Sometimes I’m on the verge of heat exhaustion when I’m doing a CrossFit workout. RUNNING IS SO STUPID.
I’m not skinny. And this lifestyle is a work in progress. I don’t have real goals, other than to keep doing what I’m doing. I still like ice cream and chocolate. But mostly I like quinoa and green smoothies and oven-roasted vegetables and beans. Most importantly, I can stand barefoot in my backyard in shorts and a tank top and feel in my bones it’s how I’m meant to be.
I want to be like this forever.