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MIND OVER MATTER
This life is yours: Take the power to choose what you want to do and do it well. Take the power to love what you want in life and love it honestly. Take the power to walk in the forest and be a part of nature. Take the power to control your own life. No one else can do it for you. Take the power to make your life happy.
Susan Polis Schutz
My Weight-Loss Journey
When we move out of the familiar here and now, we set in motion a series of events that, taken together, bring about changes at the very root of our being.
There was a time in my life when everything was completely out of control. I was considered "morbidly obese" at 290 pounds, my marriage was horrible and I was a diet junkie but still gaining weight on every fad that I tried. Looking back, it is still difficult for me to pinpoint how I got myself into such a rut, but it is quite easy for me to explain how I broke the cycle that kept me in the downward spiral that had become my life.
At thirty years old, I felt way too young to be my mother, yet there I was, weighing 290 pounds, unhappy all the time, in debt, lonely and eating for comfort. I so desperately wanted my life to improve and laid my hopes on the belief that once I lost weight, everything would! In an attempt to solve all of my problems, I went on every popular diet that I heard about—from the cabbage soup diet to the lesser-known "cantaloupe, tuna and Diet Pepsi diet." Each diet left me overweight and disillusioned —certainly not the outcome I desired. I resigned myself to the fact that I was destined to be fat, lacked any willpower and would likely fail at any diet that I ever tried.
One day in 1994, while opening the mail, I came upon an envelope without a return address. I opened it, read it and discovered that my husband was having an affair. It was like being punched in the stomach, but the pain didn't go away. An argument ensued and I rushed out the door, needing to get away—you know, to get something to eat.
I headed to the closest gas station to buy a candy bar and there he was—the man who would facilitate my change in destiny! As I got out of my car, I gave my sweatshirt the obligatory tug, pulling it down so that it covered my butt and thus hid my fat from the world—or so I thought. As I walked toward the attendant's window to get my food fix, this man leaning on the side of the building, drinking something out of a tattered brown paper bag and wearing clothing stained with soot and grime, loudly observed, "Girl, you got too much food in you!" Not just a quiet observation, mind you, but very loud and heckling. Repeatedly and more loudly my tormentor kept up his chanting. Everyone, even the attendant behind the bulletproof glass window, was laughing—laughing at my fat and me. I took my candy bar and quickly retreated to my car as he got one last comment in: "Damn, girl!" I was beyond humiliated.
Enough was enough. "Too much food in me!" I'll show him, I thought as I sped off; giving him a parting gesture as I spun my wheels like a bat out of hell. I quickly opened up my Mounds bar and sought solace. Strangely, comfort wasn't to be found that night—not in the coconut and chocolate, not in the ice cream that I ate when I got home, and least of all, not when I took a good look in the mirror.
He was right—and it hit me hard. He hadn't meant to be cruel, but he was being honest and called it as he saw it. Sure, other people's comments could be construed as meanspirited, but not this man's. He didn't make fun of me, he didn't call me "fat"; no, he simply stated the obvious: I had too much food in me.
I took a long look at myself and at my life that night, and I realized what the problems really were. It wasn't my husband's fault that I had gotten overweight; it wasn't my parent's fault; it wasn't the teasing; it wasn't anything that anyone else did to me—it was every bite of food that went into my mouth that didn't belong there.
From that day on, I quit thinking that simply losing weight would change me and improve my life; I realized that if I changed my actions, in time my life had no choice but to change! From that day on, I quit putting "too much food in me." It was very easy for me to identify a few foods that I had way "too much of in me"; after all, I was eating at least a half gallon of ice cream a night. That seemed like a good place to start.
My weight loss did not happen overnight and my life didn't improve overnight; but, rather, over a series of many nights, days, weeks and months I made consistent small steps in the direction of a healthier life—a well-balanced life! I literally started by changing one habit, which led to changing one more habit, and so on, which wasn't overwhelming and was very doable. I gave up my ice cream vice, "busted" fast food, started cooking and eating with my children, stopped eating in the car or in front of the TV, and started to read labels and learn about the contents of what I was consuming.
I also started getting some exercise. After I lost fifteen or twenty pounds, I joined an aerobics class. After I lost about fifty pounds, I became comfortable and more confident in myself and I started to work out more often. I began taking step classes and performing muscle-strengthening exercises. I started walking around the park with my children and playing with them in the playground.
Over the course of the next fifteen months I lost over 130 pounds—almost exactly two pounds per week—a healthy pace by all standards. My productivity at work improved, my attitude was vastly more positive and my life was finally pulling out of the downward spiral. Sadly, my marriage did not improve despite the fact that my body did. For so many years I thought that losing weight would change everything in my life and my marriage. My husband was a very nice person, but together we didn't work. Each of us had different interests and desires for our lives, and it became clear that my weight loss wasn't going to change us—only how I looked.
Each day is a new page in my journey, which began with a homeless man, my guardian angel, who opened my eyes, gave me a dose of reality and shocked me into changing my life. It worked!
The family is the essential presence—the thing that never leaves you, even if you find you have to leave it.
It's too early, too cold, too hot, I'm too tired, the wind is blowing in the wrong direction ... whatever the excuse, I'd try anything to get out of exercising! But my daughter Kate wouldn't fall for any of that. "C'mon, Mom," she'd say. "You'll feel better after you get out there and move."
Sometimes we'd go to the gym together. It was always so much easier to pound that treadmill when I saw she was sweating right beside me. Sometimes we'd play tennis. I wasn't any good, but she kept hitting those balls to me, never losing patience. And at least I'd get a lot of exercise chasing the ones that went over the fence or into the woods. "Good job," Kate would say. "Wasn't that fun?" And you know, it was when we did it together.
Last fall, though, it was time for Kate to go away to college. I was happy for her to have such an exciting opportunity, but I missed having her around. At least now I won't have to worry about anyone dragging me out there to exercise, I thought. But do you know what? I missed that, too.
At home, things just weren't the same. My husband worked hard at the office all day, and when he came home, he wanted to relax and unwind. The last thing he wanted to do was run off to the gym. And my fifteen-year-old son was active with soccer, basketball, and baseball practices and games. There was no one left at home to force me to push my body in ways I naturally tended to avoid.
Since I wasn't sure how to motivate myself, I ended up doing nothing. I worked from home, and pretty soon my only exercise was rolling my office chair from my desk to my computer screen and tossing wads of paper into the trash can. I did dive for the phone when it rang, though. That was when Kate would call from college.
"It's a long way to classes from my dorm," she said, "but the walking is great!" She referred to the expected weight gain for new college students. "The freshman fifteen? Not for me!"
Soon Kate called me whenever she was making that long walk to campus. She filled me in on all the exciting details of her life: inspiring courses, new friends, interesting clubs and activities. I really looked forward to her calls and connecting to her life. I cradled the phone, cozied up on the couch and settled in for a nice chat.
"You're lucky," I said one day. "I wish you were here to walk with me. You're off at school while I'm sitting here on the couch!"
"I don't think anyone's forcing you to sit around!" Kate joked.
Ouch! Of course, I knew she was right. No one was forcing me to do anything. It was a matter of choice. Maybe I just needed to choose something different.
The next day when my cell rang, I didn't plop right down on the couch. Instead, I laced up my sneakers and headed for the front door.
"Mom, you sound a little out of breath," said Kate as we chatted. "What are you doing?"
"I'm walking, too!" I said. "I decided whenever you called, I'd get up and go around the block."
"That's great!" she replied.We talked all the way around the block three times!
Even though we were hundreds of miles apart, thanks to our cell phones we were still able to walk together. Distracted by good conversation, I didn't feel like exercise was such a task. I began to look forward to the phone ringing, reminding me to get up and move. As Kate kept fit, I did, too. And as always, the exercise felt better when we were doing it together.
The Swimming Lesson
We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon—instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today.
Boy, did I want to swim. A water lover by nature, it was hard for me not to dive in and let the cool water surround me. How I love the feel of being immersed and swimming to my heart's content. A sense of freedom and giddiness always overcomes me when I'm half-naked in a pool. But that was the problem. Being half-naked. After giving birth three times, I had let myself go and the weight had crept up on me like a thief in the night, stealing my self-confidence and my ability to do the things I loved so much, swimming being one of them.
Watching my family splash and laughing together in the hotel pool was almost too much for me. I wished the other people in the pool would disappear so I could take an unselfconscious plunge. Glancing down at my extra-curvy body took away what little guts I had built up.
My husband, always my greatest cheerleader, begged me to come in. "Honey, you are beautiful," he tried to reassure me. He knew why I wouldn't come in. Sitting with my Diet Coke and my baggy clothing, I shook my head and wished he'd shut up. People could hear him. I imagined they were probably thankful I wasn't donning a swimsuit.
"Please, Mom," echoed my kids, "get in!" they hollered at me. By now I was thoroughly mortified that everyone in the pool area knew I was too embarrassed to go swimming.
The blue-green water beckoned me. I thought back to the days when putting on a swimsuit was nothing more than, well, putting on a swimsuit. I would spend hours and hours playing water volleyball, laughing and racing my friends in underwater relays. I closed my eyes and could almost feel the water carry me away, freeing me from everyday life and surrounding me with good, old-fashioned fun.
I enviously watched the people in the pool, and as a few of them left, my husband tried again. "Come ON. It's no fun without you." His brown eyes almost convinced me. Almost.
He swam up to the edge of the pool, trying to persuade me. He whispered loud enough for only me to hear, "You are sexy and gorgeous to me," he reasoned. "Who else matters?"
Men are so basic. I wish I could have that thinking process.
"Mom-my, Mom-my," my kids chanted. I saw my husband whispering to each of the kids. Grinning, they all climbed out of the pool.
"We're not swimming until you get in." My husband was now using his guilt tactic—a bargaining device that is usually my expertise. I could see that he was serious, and then I realized he was right. If he wasn't embarrassed at his wife wearing a swimsuit in public, then why should I be? He knew how much I loved swimming and how hard it was for me to miss out. This was love. Real love.
The group of teenagers that I was most intimidated by finally vacated the pool. Only a few stragglers remained. I really had no excuse now. I bit my lip and involuntarily flinched at the thought of myself in a bathing suit. And yet, I knew if I missed out, I would regret it. I was tired of regretting things. I wanted for once to be glad I did something, not sorry I didn't.
Hopping up, I headed for our room and changed into my suit as quickly as I could—before I changed my mind. Beach towel wrapped around my hips, I scurried down to the pool. I flung the towel off and dove in, not a second's hesitation. When I came up for air, my family was grinning and shouting, "Go Mom!" We played for a long, long time and I loved it. I caught my husband watching me with a strange expression on his face. His eyes glimmering, he motioned me over to him. Feeling like a mermaid, I happily swam to his side.
"You are SO beautiful," he said intensely. I searched his face for some sign of embarrassment or sarcasm. All I saw was sincerity. I giggled like a sixteen-year-old and his smile grew bigger. "You should do things you like more often. You look so happy, you actually glow."
He meant it. And I vowed to never let myself stand in my way again.
Weighing Heavily on His Mind
Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you.
"Honey, do you think I can get into my tux?" queried my man full of wishful thoughts.
"Doubt it darlin'," I said as I gave him a pat on the mound that stood guard over his belt. My negative comment fell on deaf ears as Ken rushed to the downstairs wardrobe where his tux and my wedding dress have hung for thirty-four years. Putting on a few pounds hadn't seemed to weigh heavy on his mind despite small nags over his gluts and guzzles. Nonetheless, a wife knows when extra pounds and ill-fitting clothes bum her guy out.
Now the jig was up.
Moans and huffs spiraled up the stairs.
"This is great. The tie, cummerbund and white suspenders are still here," he hollered.
"Guess I'll have to buy a dress shirt, this one's looking pretty tired." Tugging at obstinate gaps, my darlin' emerged dressed to the nines, like Mrs. Astor's pony. He'd never be a clotheshorse with a single button threatening to take flight under sixty years of baggage. Stiff and staid and popping at the seams, he sucked in beneath an unrelenting waistband.
Bent on conquering the spare tire in days, brainstorms began spilling out. "Maybe if I went on a crash diet. I'm running into town to look at exercise machines."
Having never been faithful to our stationary bike, I questioned his motives. "Are you sure you want to torment your carcass braving the latest ab-gadgets with your arthritis? Those tummy trainers and stretch-and-roll machines look like medieval torture devices to me."
Weeks later, we made a handsome couple at the Montana Governor's Ball, despite the tuxedo fiasco. Ken was in good company, for half the men were decked out in dark suits. But journeying home, grumbles surfaced. "I felt like an old, fat man tonight! Why don't we go on one of those diets?"
We? Well yes, I could stand a belly bob and knew he'd fall off the weight wagon without a compatriot to share his misery. It would be good for our health. We did our homework, and although Ken wanted to jump in and take the first plan, we enrolled in the one best befitting our lifestyle. At weekly weigh-ins we ran into folks we had known for years, cajoling us with raves of success. The whole thing seemed so easy, and though exercise was recommended, it wasn't a prerequisite. Okay! Suddenly we were indulging in a food plan for our age group, Ken's diabetes and our doctor's hearty approval. It was as simple as adding water and nuking tasty meals three times a day. Portions and nutrition became our bible, although his majesty swore he was starving. The togetherness scheme was lobbing off unsightly bloats and pounds weekly.
Excerpted from Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Theresa Peluso. Copyright © 2012 Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC. Excerpted by permission of Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC.
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Posted August 7, 2010
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