In January 2016, I had an opportunity to visit a veterans' hospital. This turned out to be a rather thought-provoking experience for me. Some of the veterans that I visited with were completely mentally present and others were barely hanging on for life it seemed. Some could move about freely while others required a wheelchair. Some had all their limbs and others did not. Some simply rested during the visit and others talked. I wondered for a minute if I might end up somewhere like this when I got old.
The truth is the degree of quality with which we age and the speed at which we age is a big unknown. This reality further emphasizes living in the present. I sat for a long time next to a retired Lieutenant Colonel. I thought that while at one point, he had a lot of command and power, now he was living at a veterans' hospital with little possession surrounded by fellow veterans barely able to talk or move about. Some of the veterans had not served until retirement, but nonetheless, they had served and were afforded the same care as him. They all ate the same food and they all talked to the same people.
At the end, we all must die and this is a profound equalizer. The manner in which we age may in fact bring us to the realization that we are better than no other human being sooner rather than later. When we are stripped of the ability to communicate in an articulate manner, walk, run, write, etc, what will we do?
Each day is truly a gift. Perhaps we can learn this lesson earlier in life and treat people as we felt compelled to treat these veterans in their last days - with compassion and gratitude.
Shaun T. says in his famous Insanity workouts that "this is not a game; you have to dig deeper". Those words resonated with me and here is why.
We avoid conversations about fitness because they are uncomfortable. If we talk about it, we don't do anything about it. We avoid calling our eating and drinking habits addictions that we cannot break away from. We avoid working out because we might hurt ourselves. We hurt ourselves because we are overweight or out of shape. When we hurt one muscle we stop working out all together using one hurt muscle as an excuse to let every other muscle lie conveniently dormant. I have done it. We have all done it. There are so many spoken and unspoken excuses we have all used.
We avoid working to become healthy individuals because it is inconvenient and unpopular. We are willing to let people influence our health who will not pay our medical bills or even take care of us when we get sick. We do this at the expense of the people who will share the cost of our medical bill and take care of us when we are sick or lose us prematurely because of our health conditions.
We sit around and eat happily and drink heavily around groups of people - friends, colleagues, business acquaintances, and even strangers because eating healthy is the unpopular choice.
Why don't we have the will power to make a different choice to embrace a healthy lifestyle even when it is unpopular because it is in our best interest and in the best interest of mankind?
It is time to stop making excuses. Dig deep. Be unpopular and change the mindset of your circle. I admire people who work out and people who try to eat healthy. I understand how difficult it can be and believe that they deserve to be admired, not envied.
I have a lot of friends who are focused on their weight for better or for worse. I have tried for a long time to listen to and understand their struggles. In 1999, I applied for entry into the Air Force Academy. I went to MEPS – Military Entrance Processing Station is a Department of Defense joint-service organization staffed with military and civilians. Their job is to determine an applicant’s physical qualifications, aptitude and moral standards as set by each branch of military service, the Department of Defense, and federal law.
At the time, the minimum weight standard for a female at 66 inches height was 108 pounds. I was a mere 99 pounds. I decided that I would put on a lot of extra clothes for the weigh- in. I put on a number of jackets and extra layers of pants. When I was to step on the scale, the person weighing me asked me if I would like to remove my jacket and I said no. I was at a MEPS facility in Mississippi and there was absolutely no reason for me to have that many clothes on.
Luckily for me, I had added enough weight in there that the military offered me entry into the United States Air Force Academy Preparatory School. Since that entry in 1999, I have gained 25 pounds in 15 years. I still get accused of looking thin and having no meat on my bones. The truth of the matter is that I do not exercise a lot but I do try to eat healthy. I do not keep a scale in my home. I do not measure my calories each day. I have bad eating days and good eating days. I love to eat food and I also love a good discussion on healthy eating habits. I am self-conscious about my weight too.
Even though some people think I look too thin, there are people close to me who notice and comment on the fact that I’ve gained weight. The most annoying comments come when I have gained a few pounds when I am bloated for no apparent reason. I have several close friends who have recently had children or are currently pregnant. I listened to so much dialogue about how much weight was acceptable for them to gain and how long it should take them to lose it post pregnancy. Why do these people make these comments? They want to see people in what they believe to be a perfect state. Unfortunately no such state exists, not for me and not for you.
I do not understand fully the struggle that comes with being overweight and the struggle to curb unhealthy eating habits or the struggle to learn to enjoy exercise. I freely admit that I do not understand but I do empathize with the struggle.
What I know for sure is that you are more than a number. You are more than the pounds on the scale. You are more than the calories you intake each day and measure on your Fit Bit. You are more than the number of steps you took today. You are more than your age. You are more than the number of miles you run. You are more than the weight you lift. You are more than the minutes you exercise. You are more than the number of diets you have tried.
You are more than a number. Stop focusing on the number.
Escape the number. Figure out who you are first and foremost. Reflect on yourself. Discover what makes you happy. Then, align your exercise and weight goals accordingly.
I think as a society we are in a vicious cycle. We think if we are an optimal weight, then we will be happy. When we cannot reach this optimal weight, we are not happy. For some, the goal of reaching a target weight results in a permanent state of depression. Perhaps your weight is not the source of your happiness and never will be. Remember there is no such thing as perfection. People who tell you otherwise are simply unrealistic, unreasonable, and out of touch with reality.
Maybe if we are happy, we will be better positioned to reach our health goals (not, I will be happy when I reach my health goal). What if you concentrate on being happy right now? Life’s problems or happiness are not fixed or achieved by food or lack of food.
Ms. Bhakti Mary
I am an optimistic, positive, generous and driven author who is passionate about self-improvement.
The essence of who you are does not lie in the past. What matters is what you are willing to do NOW. You are the presence.