Thursday, June 21, 2012

Being Out There

There are many cycles and patterns that mark my year, that set a rhythm to how I live and how I plan my days. My family's schedule and the church's schedule are the two main ones. There is the liturgical calendar, which helps me observe spiritual traditions and practices and remember the stories of my faith. There is the college football schedule: the regular season in the fall, bowls in early and mid-winter, the lead-in and fallout of National Signing Day in February, spring practices, the long anticipation of a new season in the summer, and back to the beginning.

One that I suppose I don't acknowledge as often is my diet and exercise routine.

I can break this down into two main parts of the year. We begin in January, when I realize that with the beginning of a new year comes the countdown to our annual trip to the beach, some 6-7 months later. This realization causes me to begin carving out time to climb on to my elliptical machine a few times a week and begin monitoring what I eat a little more closely. I lose the same 10-12 pounds just in time for our trip and feel pride in the self-discipline that allowed me to reach my goal. Then we get back from vacation, and my routine tends to drift off: I get through the rest of the summer with it fairly intact, and then I start eating "football food" on fall Saturdays which may cause me to make compromises at other points in the week, and then we hit the holidays which are diet kryptonite. Then it is once again January, and the whole cycle starts all over again.

What this amounts to is 6-8 months out of the year where I am eating healthily and exercising regularly, and 4-6 months where I am not. This cycle could use some work, I think.

This year has seen an especially successful diet and exercise routine: I've lost 20 pounds since January, which is twice what I normally lose. I've felt extra motivated this time around, although I couldn't tell you why. It may be that I'm tired of the cycle, or that I realized that what I usually lose just isn't enough for me to feel satisfied any more. Whatever it is, I head toward the beach feeling a little extra confident and pleased with what I've done. I cringe at the thought of eating fatty and fried food. I sleepwalk through my 500+ calorie, 45-minute workout. I feel the best I've felt in several years observing this practice. And I don't want to screw it up after we get back.

Starting up anew with diet and exercise every January is probably the hardest part. Once I get into a routine, it's fairly easy to stick with it. Intentionality eventually gives way to habit; even a feeling of loss if I miss a workout. But those first few weeks or even at least the first month can be awful. It can be awful not only because I need to re-establish those habits, but because I know the shape my body is in that necessitates it. It's a long haul back from where I let my body go the second part of the year.

When I was in seminary, I had a membership at a gym. Webster University allowed Eden students free access to their workout facilities, and I took advantage. In January of 2004, I began a journey away from a lot of bad dietary habits I'd picked up during my seminary years, setting a goal that I'd lose 20 pounds by graduation in May. It was a slog at times, but it was worth it.

One of the things I remember most about having that membership is that I couldn't be alone when I exercised. There were always other people doing cardio or lifting weights when I was there. I didn't really pay them much mind unless they were on a machine that I wanted to use.

I share this because nowadays I value my privacy when I work out. I'm embarrassed by what I must look or sound or smell like when I exercise. I'm glad I have my own elliptical to use, I tell myself. How horrible would it be for other people to see me?

When I began accompanying Coffeeson to his swim lessons at the local YMCA, that began to change. As most such facilities do, they had a massive room with machines of all types, and people of all shapes and sizes, fairly oblivious to one another, doing what they needed to do, whether in anticipation of their own beach vacations, orders from doctors, or one of the myriad other factors that leads one to surround themselves with other similarly motivated people. I have to imagine a certain self-consciousness on most of their parts, even including those ridiculously chiseled types who seem to do a little preening among the rest of us plebes. But that could be my own self-consciousness talking.

Rachel Held Evans shares her fear of exercising in public, and her experience of getting over it:
Like, yesterday, in the middle of downward facing dog, I realized that my good friend Jill, one mat over, was getting a nice, uninterrupted view of my ass....complete with my faded green underwear peeking out from under my totally un-cool jogging pants that may or may not also double as pajamas. For a moment, I was horrified. This is embarrassing! I can’t do this anymore! I look like an idiot! 

 But then I remembered: this is Jill. Jill, who I’ve known since high school; Jill, who could tell you every stupid crush I had as a teenager; Jill, who has seen me cry like a baby and dance like a fool; Jill, who has prayed with me and struggled with me and grown with me for years. Jill’s not going to judge me because I’ve got faded green underwear and a challah-like thighs. Jill loves me for who I am, and if she didn’t, she would have checked out of my life a long time ago.

And so I held that pose like a pro—belly-button in, hands pressed into the ground, ass high. Right there in front of God and everybody.
 In another part of her post, Rachel captures the self-conscious piece in hilarious fashion. But here, she comes to the realization that those around her at the gym aren't there to judge her, but because they want the same thing she wants: to get in better shape, no matter how foolish it may cause them to feel in the short-term.

The town I live in features a lot of joggers. Maybe yours does, too. And like mine, your town's joggers probably don't all come in one shape, size, or age. I regularly see a relatively plump woman who has to be in her 60s slowly making her way through my neighborhood. There's another older gentleman who sweats his way through a few laps of power walking. There are the women with washboard stomachs and the linebacker-since-birth guys who run with the greatest of ease up and down my street as well, but I've found myself drawn more and more to the ones who perhaps feel a little more foolish, the ones who don't seem as naturally gifted, the ones like me who finally wake up one morning and realize what they've let their body turn into, and who've decided to do something about it.

I don't judge anyone whom I see running however fast, however tough of a time it may be for them. They know what they need to do, and they're doing it. I root for them all: not only are they pursuing a more healthy life, but they're doing it in as public a fashion as one can imagine: along sidewalks, around cars, past houses, for the world to see. Right there in front of God and everybody.

I can only respect that commitment, that out-thereness. It's the sort of realization that has even caused me to consider joining the Y where Coffeeson swims so that I can put myself out there with them.

Of course, let's not take this too fast. I'll think about that one for a while.

Before that, I'll try keeping myself from having to start over in January.