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Easing Back On Track

I’ve never loved Mondays. Like many people, I see Mondays as the days we have to give up our loose, leisurely weekend lives and get back to work. But I dislike them for more than that. In my house growing up, Mondays were the days we went on diets. At first it was just my mom, who would eat whatever she wanted on Saturdays and Sundays, all the while declaring that she would be starting her new diet first thing Monday morning. It became kind of a joke, but it was a pattern repeated often enough that, when I started getting “a figure,” as my mom described it, she suggested I join her the following Monday in whatever new eating fad she was currently espousing. It backfired, of course, because it just made me think I wasn't good enough as I was and that dieting was the only thing that would make me acceptable.

Eventually, I developed an appreciation of my body—and a keener idea of how to eat and exercise so that I could stay at a healthy weight and feel fine about it. She never reached that point in her life, though, because women her age were trained early on to attach their looks and their weight to their self-worth. We have evolved only slightly from that grim view, so losing command of my weight still frequently haunts me. In sketchy times, like those when I’m particularly anxious or filled with self-doubt, I relapse and find myself taking diet quizzes online and trying to imagine fasting, or eating mostly protein or plants. When I’m feeling unsure of myself or my surroundings, I lean toward control as much as I possibly can, and that often starts with food and exercise regimens.

The great part about being my age, and a longtime veteran of the world of diets, is that I know how to get back into better shape in a healthy way.

In 2020, when the pandemic was in full swing and everyone started baking, my uncertainty about world events took me in the opposite direction. Doing my job from home without a familiar structure prompted me to be more diligent about working out and more conscious of what I was eating. I actually ended up losing weight rather than gaining. Then, happily, the world began to open up. But that sense of relaxation, of just being able to float a little, hasn’t been very good for my self-discipline. In the last four months, I’ve gained 10 pounds. It’s not earth shattering, I know. I’ve gained and lost 10 pounds many, many times in my life. But I just feel more comfortable when I'm 10 pounds lighter than this. My clothes fit better, my core feels stronger, I have more energy, my joints don’t hurt from eating so many processed carbs, and I don't lapse into bouts of self-hatred.

Thankfully, the great part about being my age, and a longtime veteran of the world of diets, is that I know how to get back into better shape in a healthy way. I know that it really just means eating a little less at each meal, not consuming a lot of sugar, and running or walking five or six days a week. Still, that period of time between eating whatever I want and paying closer attention to what I know is good for me reminds me a lot of those weekends when my mom was mapping out a stringent diet for the next week. There was always the feeling that she was giving up something, that some external power had to come in and taken over, and that she didn’t have the strength or wisdom to just pay attention to her own body.

I’m lucky to be living in a period of time when true fitness is valued and honored. More and more people are writing books about “elder” fitness, and chefs, nutritionists and food writers are focused on preparing and eating good, healthy food. As with most people—probably most significantly my mom—I attached food with comfort, and in many ways I still do. But there isn’t anything more comfortable than knowing I’m at a little healthier weight and that I can still run four or five miles without too much problem. I have the luxury of understanding the value of all of this more than my mom did because of the time in which she grew up. So I’m not starting a diet today, or any other Monday. Instead, I’m heading out for my regular, Monday morning walk after a healthy breakfast. And my focus is not on getting thinner, but on making sure I stay on good, honest terms with myself.


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