Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Body Sense and Accountability

I've been learning a few new lessons and re-learning a few old ones recently. That's the thing about lessons. My memory is short, my attention span is limited, and I selectively retain only the lessons that support my druthers. The significant lesson I've been learning or re-learning - it's hard to tell which it is sometimes - is knowing when to ask for help, and then following through and actually asking for help, and then following through even further and actually using the advice that's been given to me.

When it was time to schedule my annual physical with my internist a couple of months ago, I decided that it was finally time to say something about the ache in my shoulder that has been there for, oh, maybe the past year or year and a half. I asked for a referral to physical therapy. I also decided that it was time to throw in the towel, admit that I am powerless over my weight and eating habits, and that I needed to be accountable to someone besides myself. So, I asked for a referral to a dietitian.

I've been to four physical therapy sessions, and they have been truly helpful. The single most helpful piece of advice was from the first session, when the therapist recommended that I set a timer to go off every hour when I am working at my computer. What a great idea! I sometimes sit at the computer for four or five hours straight when I'm in the zone, reading, researching and writing. Not good for my knees, my neck or my shoulders. Not good for my relationships with my mother and my husband who share my living quarters.

As it has turned out, each therapist who has treated the shoulder has commented on how tight my entire upper body is. "Tight as a board," is what one of the therapists said. Another therapist found tightness in places where I didn't know that I had muscles, like the underside of the armpit towards the back. The stretching and strengthening exercises have been helpful, too, and I'm learning how to do them on my own when I'm at home.

I'm working on being more consistent and persistent, but right now, anything is a huge improvement over nothing. Most of the information I've been receiving is not new news to me. I've had gym memberships and personal trainers and even free weights and exercise equipment at home. But I forget, and while I'm disciplined in matters of work, I'm a wreck in matters of taking care of my body. Your body forgives you when you're in your twenties or thirties. There is no body forgiveness at sixty.

Today was my first appointment with the dietitian. I've been down this road before, too. She was cool. She talked about incremental steps and really was more like a life coach than a dietitian. We talked much more about identifying specific goals, habits and ways in which I sabotage myself than about menus and counting calories. Wow, she was telling me to get to know myself in regard to food, eating habits, and what drives me to eat mindlessly.

I told the dietitian that I wanted to be accountable to someone besides myself, because my self-talk gets me into trouble. I'm really good at fooling myself even while I demand honesty from others. The dietitian recommended looking at my support systems and recruiting their help. She suggested affirmations and mantras around eating habits. I got to take home a nifty microwaveable, partitioned, covered plastic dish that will give me cues on portion control.

Today's only the first day, but I already feel better about the more reasonable sized portions I had for lunch and dinner today. Yesterday, I probably would have felt deprived by the smaller portions. The only things that have changed from yesterday to today are my awareness and my attitude.

A friend I was discussing the physical therapy and the weight with made an astute observation, which helps to turn my negative thinking into a positive. She said that instead of what I have always characterized as a high pain threshold, which is why I tend not to notice the black and blue marks that appear randomly on my arms and legs from running into things, it's an issue of body awareness. She pointed out that I need to awaken my awareness of my physical self so that I am more alert to changes in my body and how to respond more appropriately to injuries and compensating behavior for injuries. In the food arena, I need to get in touch with knowing when I'm full and stop eating.

So, let me share a few of the mantras from this recent learning and re-learning:

1. Eat only 10's. If it's a treat like a piece of cake, and it doesn't taste like the best piece of cake, just stop eating it.

2. I'm not a garbage disposal. Or, as Herb would say, it costs the same whether you finish it or not. No more clean plate nonsense from my childhood. No, the starving children in wherever don't care whether or not I finish everything on my plate.

3. Portion control before you start eating. My friend Jo taught me this one about eating in restaurants. Ask for a take-out box when you order and have it brought to you with your meal. Divide the meal into halves, and take half home for a second meal. Saves money, too. And at home, the dietitian recommended preparing a lunch plate when Mom dishes out a huge portion for me at dinner time.

Mom is part of the clean plate and clean pot club. She doesn't want to save leftovers. So, she puts it all on my plate. We grew up thinking food equals love. My dear husband, in an effort to show support, gives me permission, nay, encouragement, when I'm eyeing that bag of potato chips at the supermarket. As my brother, Jon, says, it doesn't matter what size the bag of chips is, they're all one-portion sizes after you open the bag. So, the trick is not to bring the bag into the house, or better yet, to the checkout counter.

I'm a card-carrying member of the shame and blame club. It comes with the age and the time when I was growing up. I've got to be accountable for myself. It isn't Mom's fault that there's too much food on my plate and that I eat it all. It isn't Herb's fault that I pick up the bag of chips and leave the store with them. It's like everything else in my life: I've got to want to do this for myself - the exercise, the eating right. Each day is a new beginning. There's going to be some slippage, no doubt on that count. But as we Chinese are fond of quoting Confucius, a journey of a thousand steps begins with the first step.

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