Age, Wisdom, and The Tradeoff

Good Health

Climbing inside the roof of the St. Louis City Museum, 2014

Even in high school, I thought people were insane when they said, “These are the best days of your life.” If this is as good as it gets, I thought, I might as well just give up right now.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Three of four years of high school I enjoyed very much. But college was much better, the immersion in music and in a community of people who were as music-geeky as I was. And then I met Christian and discovered my calling in liturgical music, and found another community of people, even more in tune with my outlook on the world. (I get to go hang out with all of them in a few weeks.) Even grad school, for all the emotional turmoil I experienced those two years, was a deeply enriching experience as I got to discover a new and exquisitely beautiful locale and meet people who remain near and dear to my heart to this day.

Factor in marriage, and children, and, well, life is way, way better at forty than it was at sixteen. I always say you couldn’t pay me enough to go back to high school. I’m finally comfortable in my own skin, with more self-confidence than I ever thought I’d develop.

But man, the body.

I know I have readers older than me, so to say things like what I want to say today is inviting trouble. But the fact is, I can really feel the effects of age.

I had a sweet spot that lasted about eighteen months, where I was regularly active and on my way to/holding on to a healthy weight for the first time in my life. (See, in high school I couldn’t even run a mile without stopping to walk in the middle.) I’ve discovered that I really love being active. It feels good. And equally important, I love to eat, so I need to be active. Very active.

But in October my feet started to hurt. The doctor called it plantar fasciitis. My massage therapist, who is fast becoming my go-to person for all physical problems, said it’s a mimic condition but not the same thing. He dug into my calves at incredible discomfort…and after about six weeks, the pain receded. Soon to be replaced by pain in my knees, caused by tension in my quads. I was just beginning to recover from that when the sun screen fell off the camera while I was running to capture a photo, and landed just right under my right ankle, causing me to sprain it.

And now, before the sprain is even fully recovered, the knees are back in play.

My one real regret is the fact that I squandered so much of my body’s prime active years insisting I was not cut out for exercise, that I was incapable of losing weight, and generally not recognizing my own laziness and how much I was giving up in order to hang onto it. I’m gradually coming to terms–not a sense of peace, yet, but ground level acceptance–with the realization that for the rest of my life I will have to pay close attention to knees, ankles, shoulders, feet, to stretch and massage and rub Tiger Balm into myself, not to feel better, but simply to be able to keep moving at all. And knowing that at forty, I’m still close to the top of that hill, that there’s really only one direction to go from here, and it’s not the direction I want to go.

I guess the reality is that you need all the wisdom of increasing age to deal with the physicality of increasing age. Can I get an amen?

What I’ve Learned About Weight Loss, Fitness, and “Dieting”

  1. Screen shot of my "goal" tracker page. It was more fun to look at during weight loss, but there's a lot to be said for two years of maintenance.

    Screen shot of my weight tracking page on Lose It. It was more fun to look at during weight loss, but there’s a lot to be said for two years of maintenance.

    Excuses are just that. Excuses. For years, while Christian pushed himself to run harder, faster, longer, I insisted I couldn’t lose weight. Weight problems run in my family. I have PCO, so my weight is a function of my condition. I don’t have time to exercise. I’m not capable of exercise because my knees hurt. I got really angry with Christian when he tried to point out that I was making excuses. (Love tells the truth, even when the loved one takes offense. That’s a blog post all its own. Another time.)

  2. What it takes to lose weight and/or maintain it may involve different regimens for different people, but they all have one thing in common: when you decide it’s a priority, you just do it. If you approach it half-@$$, of course it’s not going to work. So of course, that means…
  3. Weight loss and maintenance requires self-discipline. Not just self-control, as in stopping yourself from eating too much or the wrong things, but self-discipline. Meaning you actually have to drag your butt out of bed and go run or Jazzercise or weight lift, or whatever your chosen exercise is. You have to plan for it, make time for it, make it a priority. You have to stick to the plan. My plan involves calorie counting through If I get lazy about counting calories, the scales shows it. In other words…
  4. It’s a permanent lifestyle change, not a “diet.” “Dieting” doesn’t work, because it’s not sustainable. Whatever you do, you have to keep doing it for good.
  5. Counting calories is much-maligned, but if you do it smart, it’s a very healthy way to handle weight. You have to think about what the calories are, not just how many. Bread racks up a lot of calories. Plain old meat does not, amazingly enough. Even fat (i.e. butter) doesn’t add up as fast as I thought it would. If you pay attention to the balance of foods you eat–and they’re real foods, not “low-cal” fake food–calorie counting works and supports overall health.
  6. You never, ever burn as many calories as “They” want you to believe. Everybody knows I wear a Polar watch and chest band when I exercise and so people are forever asking me how many calories I burn, and they never believe me when I tell them. They think my monitor isn’t working. But I know it is. I know it is because I keep track of calories burned and calories consumed, and I weigh every day. If I was using more than my heart monitor tells me, I would be losing weight instead of holding steady.
  7. To illustrate: My in-laws’ treadmill wants to give me 3x the calories my Polar tells me I burn. does the same. Jazzercise likes to advertise 600 calories in an hour. I’ve been doing this now for almost 2 1/2 years without pause, and I set a daily goal to burn a minimum of 300 in an hour of Jazzercise. 350 is a good day. And I work pretty darned hard to get those numbers. I’m watching the heart rate on my watch all the time. Despite that, I’ve had to cut calories from my budget in order to maintain my weight. Which just goes to show…
  8. Every person is unique, and you have to play around to figure out what works. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of losing weight.

I am more fit than I have ever been in my entire life. I weigh less than I did when I got married. I weigh perhaps three pounds more than I did when I graduated high school. And I’m 40. I would rather plant my butt in a chair and write (or read) with every spare minute I have–and with four kids I use the word “spare” with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. But I have decided that health and self-image is a priority for me, and so I have made exercise and weight control a priority too. After all, it’s easier now than it will be ten years from now.

Not everyone is going to get back to their high school graduation weight. Thyroid issues, medical conditions, etc., definitely come into play, not to mention metabolic changes. And yet. It is all too easy for medical conditions and age to become excuses not to try. I know, because I made the excuses, too. But now that I’ve done the work I’m feeling healthier, more energetic, more clear-headed, and more in tune with both body and soul. It’s worth the effort.



Photo by poppalina, via Flickr

Two weeks ago, our bathroom scales broke.

I don’t know if you have ever had the opportunity to learn how scales work. Digital scales contain four sensors, one in each “foot,” and as long as the cap on the feet remains undisturbed, the scales works.

Whoever came up with this design, however, was not factoring in four rapscallions who like to chase each other in circles around the upstairs, wrestle, and fight over bathroom rights. Floor-bound objects are always in danger. And that’s not even including the times the kids decide to use them for Frisbee practice.

As you might have intuited, given the explanation above, our scales has been on the fritz for a while now. But I could always get it working again, until Saturday it didn’t bother to turn on at all.

And just to add to the fun, my Polar heart monitor stopped working on the same day.

Now, I’m one of those people who does what you’re told not to do: I weigh every day. This is considered a no-no because, since weight varies, it’s too easy to flip out inappropriately.

That hasn’t been my experience, however. Weight variation is not random. It’s connected to cyclic hormones and–gasp–how many net calories I consume from day to day. What a concept, right?

So for me, meticulous calorie counting + meticulous weight tracking = sustained weight loss.

In other words, accountability works.

It occurs to me that deadlines do the same thing for my writing. Amorphous goals (write a novel! Submit more short stories! Send more magazine queries!) are great for visioning, but sooner or later they have to mesh with the reality in which I have to take kids to speech therapy, swim lessons, piano lessons, and scouts all on the same day.

Amorphous goals make it easy to procrastinate whatever I don’t want to work on. I can drag my feet, roll my eyes, complain, tell myself how injured I am because source-won’t-get-back to me or I’m not getting the material I wanted. But then Deadline comes within visual range, and it’s amazing. All that goes away. That project I didn’t feel like working on suddenly becomes the most interesting thing on my agenda. Creative solutions appear.

Accountability is not a sexy concept. We aren’t fond of limits in this day and place. Limits = ball and chain.

But I find limits to be liberating. One of my favorite quotes of all time–and one I don’t live up to often enough–comes from Stravinsky:

My freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraint diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self of the chains that shackle the spirit. (From The Poetics of Music)

I always heard this summed up as “The greater the limitations, the greater the art.”

People are always telling me they don’t know how I do it all. This is how. Accountability.

We brought a new scales home on Friday afternoon, and Saturday morning I stepped on, holding my breath to see what two weeks of nebulous data had done to the number on the scale.  It wasn’t as bad as I feared, but when the number came up on the screen, my insides relaxed. At least now I know what comes next. I’m no longer shooting in the dark.

Thoughts on Maintaining Weight Loss

When I saw this picture taken in Colorado, I went, "Whoa! I really do look skinny!"

When I saw this picture taken in Colorado, I went, “Whoa! I really do look skinny!”

It’s been about three months since I officially kicked into “maintenance” mode instead of “weight loss” mode. Frankly, I find this stage tougher than the weight loss stage. When you’re losing, there’s the motivation of seeing the number falling to keep you in check at the table. Once you’re “there,” you have to get comfortable with a certain amount of up and down.

Plus, it’s a tricky balance to find the right number of calories. bumped me up from around 1600 a day to over 1800 a day overnight. I knew better than to use them all, so I adjusted my budget by 100, but I started gaining again. Not until I removed virtually all the extra calories did I settle in.

I’ve watched the progression of weight loss and subsequent weight gain among those close to me too many times. Having invested in a new wardrobe now, that has to be my motivation–my own miserliness. That and simply being healthy, of course. My conviction about holistic living–integrating faith and respect for the way we’re created into every daily choice, from family planning to purchasing choices–presupposes good eating choices.

I started this process last fall in the knowledge that I’m just over a year away from age 40, at which point weight is likely to get a lot harder to manage. There have been many times in the past nine months when I have huffed and puffed my way through diaper changes and forcing unwilling children up the stairs, leaning them back to wash their hair, running up and down the stairs to get the baby up from nap…it seems like I’m constantly running around. Why on earth didn’t that translate into more calorie burn? I wondered.

But on the flip side, there were those days when I overdid it and still lost weight.

I realized, eventually, that my body is indeed burning more calories than it’s given credit for; my metabolism is more active than someone without four young kids would be. Otherwise I would have had to work a lot harder at losing weight. Because honestly, it really wasn’t that hard. My age and caring for multiple young kids in a three-level house worked in my favor. Every day now I think about my metabolism when I’m wrestling munchkins and running up and down stairs. (It helps my attitude, let me tell you!)

But I’m also very aware of the coming days. As my metabolism starts to slow from that around-age-forty transition, I’m also going to be doing less running after kids, because they’ll be getting older, more self-sufficient. I’m going to lose that crutch just when it would be most useful.

Fortunately, everything happens incrementally. I guess it’ll be good for me in another way: I’ll be forced to continue adjusting my habits and expectations all the way into my twilight years. Mental and spiritual flexibility is a good thing.

“When Do We Avocado?” and other things I Don’t Understand


It’s been quite a while since I did an edition of “Things I Don’t Understand” (see herehere, here and here for the others, if you’re really interested):



SleepytimePjs <em>Adult</em> Solid Red Fleece <em>Footed Pajama</em>Adult-sized footed pajamas. Really, people? What do you do when you need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night?


The fact that whatever item has been thrown on the floor by one child is prime real estate for another child to stand on while watching the TV/talking to mommy/trying to ruin my computer? I mean, they go out of their way to stand on things!


Speaking of computers…I don’t understand the baby’s fascination with the computer keyboard and mouse. It’s not like he can tell he’s doing anything.

Photo by brotherlywalks, via Flickr

And speaking of computers, why on earth would they make a command to turn the viewscreen sideways?

(Yes, my children did do this to me one time. I think it was Alex, actually.)

I mean, WHY?


I am also questioning, this year, why we bother putting up a crèche at all, if it’s going to be used exclusively as a chew toy/action figure set. Nor do I understand why my children think books are better folded backward. I’m sure we singlehandedly keep the packing tape industry healthy.


Nicholas jumping in the leavesI don’t understand about a third of what Nicholas says to me. Not that the words are unclear–they just don’t make any sense. Having spent 8 years around little kids now, I thought I was pretty good at casting about for word substitutions and intuiting true meaning behind seemingly random statements. But Nicholas frequently has me completely stymied. For instance: At breakfast, out of nowhere, he asks, “Mommy, what teacher?” What do you mean, ‘what teacher’? Or in the car, we’re having a perfectly rational discussion about the fire station and cars, and then suddenly he says, “But when do we avocado?”

Ahem. All right, on to other things….


You need a video of Julianna, right? Here’s a short one to show how her speech is progressing.

Julianna and Brown Bear


Update on the weight loss thing (I got so many comments last week, I know you all want to hear about it again! 🙂 )…Plateau problem is solved. (Warning! If you aren’t comfortable with the human body, quit reading and go watch Julianna again.) The problem was my cycle. Around the time of ovulation, I hold onto weight. I knew that, I just didn’t realize it was TWO POUNDS that were completely impervious to calorie reduction and thrice-weekly Jazzercise. I lost those 2 pounds overnight when I went into post-ovulation infertility (what we call Phase 3 in NFP lingo). As of midweek, I was sitting pretty at the top of my ideal weight range. I’ve set a new goal to drop 6 more pounds, which would put me pretty close to what I weighed when I graduated high school. I think that’s a good goal, don’t you? 🙂

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 200)

Body Image, Body and Soul

private insight

private insight (Photo credit: contagiousmemes)

There seems to be an inevitable progression women follow in the childbearing years. Your body expands, its imperfections get pushed around by little ones, and when it’s all over you never quite look or feel the same as you did before. You gnash your teeth, you adjust your eating habits, you lose some or none or most of the baby weight, and then you do it all again. Eventually one day you look in the closet and realize you hate all your clothes because when you wear them, you see all the imperfections. You look in the mirror and curl your lip, and then you have to decide what to do about it.

You adjust your eating and exercise habits some more, but the constraints of family life prevent you from doing everything you’d like to do. At this point, you have several choices. You can resort to an unhealthy pattern of unsustainable diet and weight gain. You can do the best you can without dieting and make peace with a body whose shape you don’t really like. You can say “forget it, I am who I am, and who I am is someone who doesn’t like exercise and does like brownies and ice cream and pasta and…”

Or you can knuckle down and undertake the long-term discipline to make a permanent change.

As a teacher of natural family planning, everything I believe is tied up in the fact that body and soul are inseparably connected, two facets of the same jewel. The way I treat and use my body matters. So for me, throwing in the towel isn’t on the table–this is an issue of holy living. If my body has this innate dignity, I have to treat it as such, keep it at a healthy weight and strength, treat the problems incurred by multiple pregnancies and C sections.

That also means I can’t succumb to the rollercoaster of diet and weight gain. I’ve seen that play out, and the long-term effects are not pretty, for either body or soul.

When I started counting calories two weeks ago, I was pretty suspicious. The last thing I wanted was to hop on that roller coaster, and to me, that’s what calorie counting has always represented. But it turns out that all the protein and carbohydrate counting I’ve lived with for the last six years, for PCO and “silent” gestational diabetes, has taught me how to balance. The calorie count is the bottom line, but all paths to the same calorie count are not equal. And although I have to learn to approach cheese and eggs with a new restraint, in general my outlook on “good” food versus “food-to-be-careful about” holds up under this new system.

I’m finding new motivation and learning new levels of self-discipline. If I keep to half a stuffed chicken breast, I can have a 2×2 square of brownie and still hold the line. I can’t have a 4×4 square like I would have before, and I certainly can’t have ice cream with it (at least, not without shifting the whole day), but I’m not required to give up all enjoyable things. I like how my body feels in my clothes. I like what I see in the mirror.

What’s more, the way I feel is changing. I’m not dragging so much. I’m sleeping better, I’m finding motivation to be active every day (because it impacts how much I’m allowed to eat!), and my head is clearing. I’m seeing pathways out of the quicksand of imbalance in areas of my life besides food.

I’m only two weeks in. It’s entirely possible that down the line I’ll fall off the wagon or decide there’s something better. But at the moment this works. It works without requiring me to eat something other than what my family eats. It works without being draconian, now that I’ve added some calories back in to account for the remnants of breastfeeding. It works because the accountability of online recordkeeping keeps me honest.

It’s working for body and soul, and in the end, that’s the most important part.