-Photo by Nick Dietrich on Unsplash

Falling off the rails and climbing back on again

The hike was lovely, dark and deep, recalling poet Robert Frost’s words. At 2:30 pm, the Pacific Northwest late spring sun filtered through the tall trees and touched the waving fern fronds. I headed at speed up the well-worn path to the top of Spencer Butte, just a few minutes south of Eugene.

This was my first local hike, the start of many. I soaked in the beauty of the surrounding forest, nodded pleasantly to my fellow hikers. Not many this late in the day, but those who were out had their dogs. I’m gonna be sore tomorrow, I thought. Yup.

As an animal lover, it would be hard to describe how much joy I was feeling not only to be surrounded by the beauty of the forest, but also have permission to pet other’s puppers. It’s been months since I’ve had either one. I was feeling like a million bucks, even though I knew that I’d pay a small price over the next few days.

If you have had to put off your workout program, as I have, or have been limited in your ability to properly exercise, getting back on track can be a challenge. Especially later in life. Quarantine took the gym, the pool, weight rooms, sports and a lot more from us. In some places, those of us who run were faced with a new kind of hate, for doing what we could do to stay in shape:

Why Everyone Hates Runners Right Now
Recently, I wrote an article with the headline "You Probably Don't Need to Wear a Mask While You Run," which argued…

You can’t win for losing, it seems. And many of us sure weren’t losing weight. The quarantine fifteen is very real. For my part, while it may not be that much, I saw more on my body than I have in more than thirty years.

For many of us, this weight gain is a genuine problem. Not only is obesity one of the more serious comorbidity factors, it is turning out to be a primary one. Here are two pieces from my fellow Medium writers which speak to this growing issue (pun unintended)

What Researchers Know About the Obesity-COVID-19 Connection
[updated 5/5/2020] Current and past pandemics show that obesity is an independent risk factor
Quarantine Weight Gain Not A Joking Matter
May 21, 2020 -- Life in lockdown has disrupted all our lives, creating the perfect setup for putting on pounds. While…

I have been obese. The journey to health took me a year, back when I was just 34 years old, and I have maintained since. As someone who has battled eating disorders, I don’t need to tell you or anyone else who shares my history what it feels like to put on pounds you might have preferred not to see again. Not only that, knowing how hard it is to regain that lost territory much later in life, at a time when many of the very places which allow me to do my beloved exercise are largely cordoned off.

My favorite, Red Rocks, was closed when too many people crammed and jammed the park ignoring social distancing requirements and putting folks at risk. I had only just rekindled my steps running when the park was closed.

So here we are. Gyms slowly open up, but you and I know- I hope- that exercise is not a weight loss program. A better diet is. While I know how to eat, like many folks when the quarantine began, I helped myself to more than a few handfuls of chocolate almonds. While I did not wholesale leap into comfort food as a way of life, I did expand a bit. I got rid of the snack food, but the inactivity made it hard to get back to normal habits.

Like it or not, once you and I have been heavy, if we are disciplined to lose that weight, thereafter the body wants it back. So not only do we have to cut our caloric intake, the quality of calories matters vastly more, exacerbated by the aging process. Quarantine did us no favors, as those good habits which we might have built often had to be set aside for long periods of sitting and binge-watching. To save our lives, if you will, we may have undermined our health.

But not all. As one article noted above, some folks lost weight, if for no other reason than that their local restaurants were closed. So it depends.

In my case, I gained a bit. I also had packed up my house, threw whatever normalcy I had out the window, drove to Eugene, unloaded my belongings into storage, and found myself in a four bed dorm at a local hostel. Moving is a very stressful time. Like many I am a stress eater.

I might have been largely disciplined in my eating, but I ate too much. Too much of even the best foods is still too much.

What’s a girl to do? First, as soon as my local gyms opened I signed up for a membership, and began the process of reminding my muscles of what I expect them to do and look like. I’d been using a set of small weights, and before I moved here I was keeping up with my kickboxing and yoga. All wasn’t lost, but my body did creak in protest- as it always does after an extended break.

It also protested loudly after I indulged in pizza the other night. A man across the street sent the hostel three free pizzas. Bread and I don’t like each other, and I don’t eat meat. I was reminded why. The next morning, not only was my gut in an uproar, but eating what my tongue enjoys but my body receives as poison affected my energy level, strength, humor and overall wellness.

Being in quarantine has offered a fine chance to experiment with foods and check the veracity of why I don’t eat them. There are VERY good reasons why I don’t eat that shit. Inflammation, for one, which is addressed here:

Foods That Cause Inflammation
Inflammation is the body's response to foreign objects that may cause it harm. On the outside, inflammation often…

Inflammation cripples and kills us. One of our problems in this country is that our everyday American diet includes foods that cause inflammation The body is forever in a high state of alert. Part of our responsibility is to find out what foods (like pizza, for me) cause inflammation and cut them out. Replace them with greens and oatmeal and more fibrous fruits or whatever is best for us.

But I have another problem.

There is a hot donut shop right next to Planet Fitness. Well of course there is. I get coffee there, and ONLY coffee, if for no other reason that I am willfully exercising my willpower. One way I handle my cravings for donuts is that I remind myself that the donuts will always be there. The day I decide to have one, I can. In the meantime, I can wait. Those of you who have done this before know the drill. We all find ways to managing our cravings, grabbing an apple instead, whatever it takes. Because we can, and because we care, we do. Because these days our lives, not just our butt circumference, depend on it.

Photo by Kate Remmer on Unsplash

My body doesn’t like bread in any form. So no matter whether it’s a hot donut or a hot piece of pizza, I am playing Russian roulette with my health. This is not a good time to do that, as a chronically- inflamed body (as with diabetes or obesity or both) is highly susceptible to Covid-19.

Part of our journey to health and fitness is finding out what foods cause our unique bodies to rebel. Sometimes it’s dairy, or chocolate, or alcohol. Alcohol is being named as one of the biggest culprits with our pandemic bulges. I struggle to understand why liquor stores were considered essential, not only because booze is poison in all forms (bring on the haters, please) but also because the stores themselves are often far too small for safe social distancing. That’s another issue. I don’t argue anyone’s right to drink, I just note here that it’s not a friend to our bodies. Too much of it in quarantine did us no favors.

Surviving quarantine, and the quarantine fifteen (or five or fifty, whatever) is just the beginning. Going forward, finding ways to improve our fitness isn’t just a nice to have, it’s a survival technique. So, the more fun we can make it the more likely we will do lots more of it.

Photo by Evan Wise on Unsplash

I found another local gym which offers the kind of chalk/grunt/sweat environment I most love. It’s by appointment only, and with a personal trainer. I found one and we begin a new program tomorrow at seven am. I am jazzed to the gills, for it’s been years since I worked with a pro. This one has a physical therapy background, which at my age and with my injury history is a real gift. Not cheap. However, I can’t speak for anyone else, but my health, my body and my future viability are worth the investment.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I very much need both a short and a long term goal to focus upon. When I don’t have them, I dither, and when I dither, I slither to the fridge. Just saying.

Yesterday I read yet another piece on Medium which underscores an even more important point about obesity:

The Dangerous Link Between Coronavirus and Obesity
‘Our world is facing two pandemics right now,’ says Dr. Rami Bailony

This doctor points out the unforgivable lack of knowledge and awareness among our medical community about obesity as a medical and not a lifestyle issue. As obesity is so widespread among communities of color, that is just one reason why the mortality rate has been so high. That, however, is a different article, because the reasons for that obesity (in part, living in constant terror and anxiety) are part of what’s being discussed in the streets right now at full volume.

Too much food, too little activity, and deeply depressing circumstances can do terrible harm to anyone. Like so many, my world collapsed, and for the short term my adventure travel work shows no indication of returning. When it does, though, I need to be ready to go in a heartbeat. That means to slough off, work off and tighten back up. While two and a half months of less-than- normal eating and exercise habits have left their mark, they are erasable, even if having to be patient about it leaves me irascible.

If you’re returning to an activity or getting out a bit more while carrying a bit more, be patient. Allow yourself the right to have gone off track. Fear does that. What’s important is putting ourselves back on the rails. Whatever that looks like to you, trying something new or heading out into new territory as I am here in Oregon, I would ask that you love yourself.

Love yourself enough to not punish your good self for a bit of weight gain. But also love yourself enough to know that in our current situation, finding a way to become more fit, whatever that looks like, is an investment in life. Not the perfect body, but in an improved set of lungs, a stronger immune system, a body that isn’t in a constant state of inflammation. For if you and I are truly out of shape, if we meet up with this virus, we may well be out of luck.

For intelligent medical reporting from the very front lines of research, please see articles by my fellow Illumination writer Shin Jie Yong, whose material I have found immensely helpful and insightful. Watch Elemental for stories that help us understand how this virus works.

However, the bottom line for all of us is that the fitter we are (not the thinner, not the slimmer), the better shot we have of not only surviving but thriving. For me, that means hit the trails, hit the weights, and skip next week’s free pizza.

What that means for you is your journey. Finding a way to fitter is one hell of a lot easier than finding our way to the perfect body. That’s not gonna happen for any of us (given airbrushing). I would hope that each of us simply picks something to do each day that leads to better fitness. Not only is that kinder, but it’s also doable. Defined by our unique bodies, our situations and a series of day-to-day choices, better fitness, functional fitness focuses on small daily improvements.

The yogurt vs. the donut. The stairs vs the elevator. A walk around the block vs. a second helping. Every time we make those choices, we get back on track. Or if this is the first time, we create our own road to improved health.

It takes three full weeks of regular workouts for my body to regain its natural enthusiasm for the weight room, and for my endurance to return in full. I get sore, irritable, achy and annoyed. It passes. Many things do in time.

However, that time is what we are fighting for. If you and I want it, then we might want to get ourselves on track to be fitter. Not a beauty contest. Not a competition. Just fitter. Because these days the enemy isn’t a body-shamer. The age bigot. The mirror.

The enemy is far more insidious. Being out of shape, inflamed, and unfit can end us far more swiftly. Fit means we can fight.

We are in a brave new world, in many ways finding our way. I sincerely hope that each of us makes better choices in that work, and in this regard, does not return to normal, if normal means maintaining habits that put us and those we love at risk. All of us can do better.

Now I gotta hit that gym, armed with a mask, my disinfectant, and a bottle of Tylenol for my trouble.

Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash