Category Archives: transitions

Thank god that’s over

So it’s a new year.

I’m seeing tons of retrospectives on the year 2020 on my social media sites. Yes, the year was rough and disappointing in so very many respects. The biggest for me was postponing my retirement for another year as I attempted to navigate tying up loose ends and finding ways to salvage projects that were interrupted in response to COVID-19. While I was disappointed that I needed to put off retirement, I will end up increasing my pension and leaving more “cleanly.” Those are not bad things.

Most importantly, I learned that it was okay to let some things go. 

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While most can agree that 2020 will go down as one of those “dumpster fire” years, there were also some good things that happened that I’m grateful for as we dip our toe into the new year. 

  • I lost weight, mostly on its own. It was only 25 lbs. since March, but it is 50 lbs. less than when I was working out with a trainer in 2018 and nearly 40 lbs. less than when I did a bike tour in 2019. This loss occurred during a particularly challenging time and with no dietary restrictions. I think that it will likely be long lasting because the changes I made are sustainable, long-term. I feel like I’m re-balanced in this aspect of my life.
  • I started swimming consistently and got a little fitter and faster. I have lots more potential for increased speed as I add in things like flip turns and starts to regular workouts. 
  • I’m in a better state of fitness to start bike training in the spring for our tour in the summer. 
  • I was able to get my damaged bike frame replaced! There were cracks in my relatively new carbon frame and the company honored its warranty. I only paid $75 for the rebuild. 
  • I moved my blog in fits and starts. I now have a better idea of where I want to go with this and plan to discuss more about life transitions in the future. I came across a book “The Passion Paradox” that mirrors and validates some beliefs I have about “following one’s passions” — and being able to step away from them when it becomes time to do so. This has helped change my perspective on retiring early.
  • I reached some financial goals for my retirement account. I’m hopeful that the upward trend continues or is at least maintained. 
  • I moved further toward my goal of retiring in 2021. No matter what happens with the manuscripts and reports, I will retire before December. 
  • Two projects came to a close. One voluntarily, the other by slow death. Both situations are going to be okay. 
  • We got a new rescue dog — one that needed rescue after he sustained a gunshot injury at 6-months and had two surgeries to repair the damage. He’s doing well now and has recovered. We have learned that training a teenaged-dog is much more complicated than training a younger pup. But we are in it for the long haul. 

So despite a disastrous year in general, I made progress in places that were really important to me. Like most of us, I’m not in the place that I expected to be, but it’s not the worst situation.

Please let 2021 be better for all of us.

What I wish I’d known about weight loss and dieting when I was younger

I’ve written about my dieting history, weight gains and losses, and former athletic endeavors previously and keep them linked on their own page. In short, I was pretty heavy as a youngster and ruthlessly bullied because I was fat. I lost weight in my late teens and then spent much of my young adulthood in the throes of a raging eating disorder, along with an obsession for over-exercising. My weight has ranged by roughly 150 lbs. over the years.

I’ve learned a lot about body weight and dieting over those years and how extremes aren’t sustainable. They were hard lessons to learn and it didn’t have to be that way. I wanted fast results, not understanding that patience with the process and consistency in actions would be vital to achieving my goals. Patience and consistency really are key to any purpose, but particularly important in weight loss and maintenance.

So I’m writing some notes to my younger self that may have helped her move beyond her hyper-focus on weight and dieting and to start enjoying her life a whole lot sooner. I speak from personal experience, so these observations may be pretty specific to my situation. But I can’t help but think that they could pertain to someone else, should they stumble upon this post. 

Warning: these are not common recommendations for weight maintenance. They are simply my lessons learned following years of dieting and an eating disorder. These are things I wish I knew when I started those first diets forty years ago.

The calories-in, calories-out (CICO) approach to weight loss is evil and pretty much nonsense. Your body is much more complicated than this and the amount of energy you need changes daily. Moreover, the calculation of calories is highly imprecise. Food labels can be off as much as 20% and still considered an acceptable estimate. Estimates of calorie expenditures are even further off, even with all the gadgets we have today (and that you didn’t have back then). Put away your notebooks of numbers. They are of no use to you in solving anything pertaining to your weight.

Dieting as an intervention for weight loss is an abysmal failure. The amount of food permitted on most diets is not sustainable long-term. Your body will ultimately rebel against eating too little food, especially when trying to compete in a collegiate sport. For gods-sake, you need more than a salad to fuel two workouts a day. Eating too little will cause you to binge in response to feeling starved. Bingeing (and ultimately purging) will do more damage than just about anything else you will do to your body.

Don’t aim for an unreasonably low weight. Your weight will vary by roughly 150 lbs. over the next 40 years because of diets. You can avoid this (in part) by realizing that the weight recommendations for your height are way too low. There’s not a lot of body fat on you at recommended weights of 135-140 lbs. It will be tough for you to stay at this weight. I don’t know why but you just weigh more than most for your height. Don’t try to use someone else’s body to predict your own. A lower weight isn’t your success story.

Don’t use excessive exercise as punishment for perceived over-eating. This goes back to the CICO thinking — avoid the trap of thinking that you can eat something off-plan and burn it off later. It doesn’t work that way. If you want something, eat it and enjoy it. There is no need to punish yourself because you did nothing wrong by eating.

Do not fast for purposes of weight control. Just don’t. Yes, there is intermittent this and that, low-calorie protein shake fasts, juice fasts, and on and on. But unless you are training for a wilderness adventure that can put you into a situation where you run out of food and have to rely upon the land for sustenance, don’t practice fasting. Fasting will put you into a stressful mode that leads to intense food cravings. It also increases stress hormones and interferes with the proper functioning of your metabolism. Binge eating is often a common side effect of fasting.  

There is a whole industry devoted to diets that isn’t one bit concerned about your long-term success. The dieting market exploits the vulnerable. This industry claims success when you lose weight on their plan but then turns around and blames you when you fail on that same plan. If their diet was that good, shouldn’t you be able to follow it, lose weight, feel good, and not regain? But where is the profit in that? The diet industry relies on repeat customers. Cut them off.

Be patient with yourself. Forget quick fixes. Yes, your first major weight loss was rapid, but it wasn’t sustainable. Extreme, starvation-level diets aren’t necessary and certainly not a long-term ideal. Please try to spend less time thinking about your weight, clothing size, food, and workouts. There really are more critical things to think about. 

Dieting affects your mood in very negative ways. It’s hard to focus on anything when your stomach is gnawing at you. Being a bitch-on-wheels because you are hungry with low blood sugar is just not a good look. Nor is it effective in the long-run.

Excessive dieting and ungodly workouts will affect your relationships. You had great friends who stood with you when starting those initial efforts to lose weight. You lost those friends when weight loss became your sole focus and things got crazy. It’s hard to maintain friendships when you are extremely irritable.

Your weight will stabilize once you feel better and take care of yourself. Please don’t wait almost 40 years to realize this. Start working on accepting yourself earlier. You will find that your weight will drop when you are in a good place mentally and emotionally. Weight management becomes a non-issue when you feel better about yourself.

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I don’t know if these observations are universal, but I’m certain that they would have been vital for me to learn much sooner.

Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash

3200 yards

The pandemic has had one sort-of positive benefit for me in that I was able to start swimming again in the past months. My sense is that this is relatively safe since the virus is unlikely to survive in a sanitized pool. I avoid the locker room or showers and don’t change out of my wet bathing suit until I get home. I may freeze my hind-end off in the coming months as the temperatures continue to drop.

I swam 3200 yards yesterday. That’s 1.8 miles and it took me 77 minutes to do this, for an overall pace of 2:24 minutes per 100 yards. The total time includes all the kicks and pulls and slower strokes (breaststroke and backstroke), plus any rests. My 500-yard freestyle warm-up was 10:33 minutes — a 2:06 per 100-yard pace.

What do all these numbers mean? It means that I’m glacially slow compared to top swimmers in my age group. But I’ve gotten faster. When I started swimming earlier this year, my 500-freestyle was a little under 12 minutes. So I’ve dropped almost 1:30 min off that time. This is great, but I’ve still a long road ahead of me if I want to do any competitions.

You see, one of my transition goals is to start Master’s swimming — once this COVID-stuff is over. Unfortunately, we have no program here, so I need to drive to the next closest pool (an hour away) to get coaching and group practices. I may need to meet some time requirements to join this coached group. But I need coaching to get faster—a bit of chicken and egg situation.

In the meantime, I continue to work on stroke improvement and bringing down my times as long as our pool remains open. This means lots more pulls and kicks. And YouTube videos. This all seemed easier 40 years ago when I had someone assigning practices and watching my stokes. But I feel like I want the improvement more now than I did back then.

Wanting this is a big deal. There’s a lot to be said about personal intention in netting gains at anything.

The long, slow transition process

Transitions, particularly big, life-altering transitions, can be very long, slow processes. We sometimes expect our beliefs, behaviors, and habits to suddenly transform once we decide to initiate the changes. Moreover, big shifts are supposed to start happening at once. Unfortunately, it typically doesn’t work that way and we may become disappointed and disillusioned, often abandoning the transition process. That big shift might not happen simply because of our impatience.

I’m still in the process of making the transition toward retirement. I am, however, growing frustrated that I’m not further along. I’ve made commitments to finish off specific reports and archive the data. It has been a slog and the light at the end of the tunnel is still so faint. The best that I can do is continue to chip away at it, keep on course, and hope for the best down the road. And be willing to accept that some items might not be finished when I finally pull that plug.

I have been asking recently: how terrible would it be if I don’t finish what I had started? With everything going on right now with COVID, an election, and (here) devastating fires, the reports that I’m working on seem of little consequence. And they are standing in the way of what I really want to be doing. Do I keep pounding on this or let it go? Will six more months make a difference?

I just don’t know.

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I did my yearly performance appraisal this past week. This was likely the last time that I will ever go through an annual review. I’m doing a lot of “last times” these days. My last scientific conference. My last field season. The last meeting with other professionals in the area. I find that I go through an initial period of uneasiness with each of these reminiscences and then spend some time dealing with that sense of loss. I playback old memories in my mind and relive how things used to be. And then I understand that those events are in the past, the job has changed, and there is only the way forward.

And then I find that, meh, I’ll be able to live without it.

Photo by author

So how’s that challenge going?

In my last post, I shared a challenge that I started in early August, based loosely on 75 hard that is a current trend in fitness challenges. You can read about it here, but essentially there were 5 parts to the challenges that involve: drinking more water, some type of eating modification, daily exercise, reading from a non-fiction book, and taking a picture every day. The 75 hard challenge has been described as both a mental and physical exercise, intended to develop “mental toughness” and break bad habits. Since I’d like to do both, it seemed like an interesting project, only with my modifications added.

So how am I doing on my version of the challenge? Well, I lasted two weeks before life rudely busted in and I needed to stop. I had to travel for work this past week, and the travel time and actual work pretty much ate up any time I had for workouts. It was also impossible to get in all the water when I didn’t have access to it. Plus, I couldn’t afford to stop to pee every 15 minutes. Unfortunately, I failed given the parameters of the challenge and would need to “restart” from day 1.

I don’t think I’m going to do that.

While the challenge was pretty effective in getting me to think about what I was eating and being consistent with exercise, I also started developing some negative behaviors and thoughts. Given my history of disordered eating, I soon learned that this probably wasn’t a good undertaking for me. I’ve played this game before, and it didn’t turn out well — for nearly forty years.

It’s taken me years to begin to unravel my feelings around food and diets, using both for protection and to escape feelings of vulnerability. I had vowed to never diet again, and I’m not sure why I thought that I should do such a challenge now. Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading about other people’s experiences and wanted to feel that same sense of empowerment (whether the others are reporting truthfully or not). Maybe I thought it a way to kick start weight loss that is progressing so slowly. Or maybe I just wanted easy fodder to write about. Regardless, none of those were suitable reasons to continue.

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I’m now beginning to realize that challenge was not without harm. Quitting struck my sense of confidence. I’ve felt a bit lost for the past several days — like I didn’t know how or when to eat or how much I should be drinking. I didn’t work out because it felt pointless: I had already failed the challenge. I struggled to decide if I should try again or formulate something new. My indecisiveness started to affect my work. I was feeling a low level of depression just from this!

My husband said that he wondered why I was doing the challenge since I seemed to be doing okay without it. I now wonder the same thing.

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So, in short, approaches such as fitness challenges do not work for me. Following arbitrary rules leads me to disconnect from my body and my needs. I need different things on different days. Some days it’s four hour bike rides, some days it’s resting, strolling, and reading.

So I’m back to my usual plan involving a non-restrictive eating approach and enjoyable forms of exercise. I guess I need to be reminded about all of this for the next time I decide to go off on one of these tracks. Having already lived this for years, I doubt it will be my last time on any sort of challenge.

Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash