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"This Used To Be My Playground...": A Lesson from Above the Mulch

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Yesterday, we went to my old elementary school, for their little school festival--one of those thingamajigs where you buy tickets and then spend them on games and cakewalks and such. We got there early, so we spent a little time in one of my favorite places in the universe: the Possum Elementary School playground. (It used to be called Possum Middle School, but I suppose they got tired of kids saying their school was PMS, which is understandable.) I went to that school, as did my mom, aunt, uncles, and several cousins and even my daughter for a while. Not only that, but I grew up across the street from it, then lived just down the street from it when I grew up, so the Possum Eagles playground became our second home. (Yes, their team name is actually the Possum Eagles.) Countless hours were spent there in the summers, playing baseball and wally ball and funnel ball, buying penny candy from the little store across the street, and sitting on one of the lower rooftops or the merry-go-rounds to devour our Mary Janes and Lollies and Chic-o-Stix and Pop Rocks and the candy cigarettes we weren't technically allowed to buy and had to hurry and eat before we went home so our parents wouldn't scold us for the contraband. Yesterday, I belted out a few choruses of "This Used To Be My Playground..." while swinging on the same old swings with my daughter. She loves nothing more than her mother singing off-key around a bunch of cute basketball players, doing my best Madonna impersonation at an unnatural volume.

She did have fun with me, however, when I did something brave. For the first time since 1970-something, I straddled a teeter-totter (or see-saw, if you prefer). I was terrified to let my feet go so we could actually totter, but when I finally did, it was fun. I don't remember teeter-tottering hurting my abs when I was in second grade, but it was really quite the workout for my daughter and I, and we couldn't stop laughing at how ridiculous we must have looked. I am 45, and I really have no business playing on a playground, but I believe it is a sad thing if we stifle our inner child too much. It's a good thing the penny candy store is out of business now, or I might have been forced to buy some candy cigarettes, and that wouldn't have been a good example to Cissy, since I find smoking repulsive. (Those little things are only 10 calories a box though!) As we made fools of ourselves in front of the ballers a few feet away, something dawned on me. I guess I'm a little ADD, but sometimes it works to my advantage, because that playground was a timely reminder of something we all need on a weight-loss or weight-maintenance quest. Balance, Daniel-san. Balance!

When I first attempted to lose weight back in 2003, I used software from a company called Healthetech. That software worked almost identically to what we Sparkies now know as the Nutrition Tracker, except that it was a bit more personalized because one of the key factors was that you breathed into a gadget called a BodyGem, which always reminded me of a breathalyzer, in order to calculate your resting metabollic rate (RMR), which is the number of calories you burn simply existing. The software determined your calorie budget based on that number, as well as other factors (like age, activity, gender, height, weight goals, etc.) The software was aptly named BalanceLog, and I used it faithfully on my Palm Pilot at the time and took off 145 lbs. in a little over a year. I was somewhat of a guinea pig for them and had the opportunity to meet the creator. I even did a short infommercial and was quoted on their boxes because it worked so well for me. Unfortunately, I found those 145 lbs. and then some over the years that followed. It all started when I gave up and let my food intake take a back burner to other things going on in my life. I can remember like yesterday when I just ignored the BalanceLog for the first time and ate an entire row of Oreos. It got easier to not record things by the day, and before I knew it, my Palm Pilot was in a box, collecting dust, and my thighs were in bigger pants, collecting cellulite. What happened there? Simple: A PERMANENT loss of balance - or at least until ten or eleven years later. I was 293 lbs. when I started using the BalanceLog in 2002-03, and I got down in the 150s. When I started using Spark again in 2014, I was 329 lbs. and a decade older with an even more sedentary job than before, so now I had an even bigger battle ahead of me.

As a genetically and low-activity-inclined big person, I know I will always, always have to be very careful about what I eat. I have been very blessed to see weight come off of me again this time (a truly undeserved miracle, if you knew how atypical and not-so-stellar my effort has been with as much weight as I needed to lose), but the difference this time is that I cannot afford to lose my balance permanently, for any reason. I am 45 now, a decade older than I was back then. I walked into my dad's house last November and found him deceased on his bathroom floor, from a heart attack at 67, passed away with no warning except the gout and other discomforts he was experiencing from being overweight. I know that at 45, just before "the change" and my so-called golden years make their appearance, I cannot afford to let rows of Oreos throw me off balance again, because I don't want to die too early. I don't want to leave Cissy in the next 20 years if I can help it. This 174-lb. loss is my hail Mary, and there is no going into overtime.

Many times during the 831 days of this attempt, I wanted to quit. Sometimes, I did quit. I went through some tough things, like the end of a relatively long marriage, the death of both my parents, major financial issues caused by distractions in my work, severe illness of my beloved grandfather, worries over my grandparents' house fire, a long time with no transportation due to expensive car repairs on the CorOLDla, and, just prior to all that, the untimely loss of two dear aunts. My emotions took a lot of hits. My sleep was interrupted. My work had to be set aside. We had to rely on others to feed us sometimes in the midst of dealing with these issues, and that meant I didn't always have control of what I was eating or when. We grieved and gained, because calories were the furthest things from our minds. The first 10 months I was on Spark, from January 1 to October 1, 2014, I lost 100 lbs. However, from January 11 to April 11, 2016, I only lost about 8 in total, due to constant ups and downs, gains and plateaus and interruptions and distractions and, most of all, difficulty in finding balance. The trouble with balance is that it requires steadiness, and I had anything but that in the tumult that was 2014-early 2016. Forget that when-it-rain-it-pours business; for us, it was more like when-it-tsunamis-it-hurricanes

So how did I manage it? I did not beat myself up too much for my so-called "failures and quits." I ate within my 1,200-calorie neighborhood and logged food when I could. I was "good" on the days when I could be good. When we sat by my mom's bedside for 53 straight hours after they called hospice in, I did not fret that I had to eat the chips and cookies and snacks the nurses brought for us, because I wasn't about to leave Mom till we had to. I did not worry that the midnight food we ate at Bob Evans was too much, because my sister and brother and I were sitting together in that booth when they told us we had to leave Mom for a little while, and the last thing I wanted to do was worry about how many ounces of syrup I was using. When my sister's neighbor sent over baked macaroni and cheese and my cousins and our churches brought feasts of food for our family, I didn't worry what was on my plate. When my daughter and I had a time of great personal celebration and closure on some major life changes and obstacles on April 11, the day I hit my goal, I did not worry about how many calories were in our celebration. Why? Because at that moment, the scales shifted to something more important. Still, ever present in mine and my sister's and my daughter's heads during any imbalance was the reality that we WOULD get through it, and we WOULD get our balance back. In the end, time and time again, we did, because we did not let go.

I realize this blog is a bit scatter-brained, quite off balance in and of itself, because my thoughts are a thousand different places. Talk about a need for balance! This is one reason I'm so glad I installed Cold Turkey on my computer; the last thing I need in an ADD week like this is Mr. Zuckerberg nagging me with distractions! (It's a great thing to install if you need a little help blocking yourself from sites and apps.) In any case, the point I am trying to make is that nowhere in your weight-loss journey will you be able to guarantee that you will ALWAYS be able to balance your calories, your work, your life, your anything else. Part of balance is constant adjustment. When I tried to balance that teeter-totter yesterday, it required a lot of sorta-twerking-sorta-shaking-w
sorta-jiggling-my-legs-about. A few times, the see-saw fell to one side. Once or twice, I almost fell flat on my mid-forties face in the mulch. But I stuck with it, and darned if I didn't balance that silly thing in the long run, something I haven't done since I was about three feet shorter and a whole lot less distracted (well, except for a major puppy-love crush I had on a brown-eyed boy named Billy Foster at the time, but I digress. Billy, if you happen to see this, my apologies for never confessing my love to you in Mrs. George's fourth-grade class, but I'm sure I'm finally over the heartbreak now.)

If you are on day one of your weight-loss journey, know that your balance will occasionally be knocked off. If you are on month six of your journey, know that when your balance is knocked off, you can get it back. If you are at the end of your weight-loss journey and are moving into maintenance, know that no matter what comes along - including if a few of those lbs. return - you can always get your balance back. I don't use BalanceLog anymore, because we have the handy-dandy interwebs for such things, and it has gone to the software graveyard, but Balance and Logging are still the keys. No matter what stage you are in, seek both, and you will see the lbs. come off in time.

P.S. Don't worry. I didn't win that cakewalk yesterday and only came home with a hard-earned ring-toss stuffed llama for a prize. Last time I checked, stuffed llamas have no calories...and my dog stole it from me anyway.
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