How I Motivate Myself to Lose Weight and Keep Running: The Story Continued

This is Part Two of my motivational running and weight loss story: to read Part One go here.

So, there I was, somewhat adrift in college, dissatisfied with my weight, the direction of my life, my whole identity even.  I really didn’t know much about what I wanted in life, or about my own self then..  I didn’t start to sort it out until the following summer after I worked another summer at the same Christian summer camp and processed what had happened that first year of college.

What turned me around by the end of that summer as I came back to the school in the fall?  A lot of interconnected things like: prayer, making friends, and the safety of both my college and my camp as a place to explore newly emerging identity.    It was a complex mix of many factors, but the general result was:  I was happy.  Deliriously happy sometimes.  I started running again, and I ran all year first outside on the trails at college and indoors in the gym.  I lost twenty pounds and I felt pretty good about my self-image.

And then, I got sad again.  Why?  Perhaps the prospect of leaving a safe environment, perhaps the stress of graduation?   I gained back five pounds and felt adrift, but not as much as I had three years prior.

During my final semester at college, I lacked any career ideas, so I planned on a trip to New Zealand to work on organic farms through WWOOF.  This was a very good choice.  Before traveling I had some basic nutritional knowledge gleaned through the process of reading women’s magazines and hearing sound bites from doctors.  However while in New Zealand I got to visit people who made their living working with food.  They had whole different ways of eating and viewing food than my family and certainly than other college students.  Also, with all the time I had on my hands (some of these farms were fifty miles out in the country, no internet access, lots of sheep.) I had plenty of time to process my life experiences up to that point.  I came back a changed person with a fairly solid identity.

Me in the Wairarapa Valley in New Zealand: 2006

Over the course of the next year I dropped twenty pounds without much effort, and I maintained this weight for three years, which was something of a novelty to me at the time, having fluctuated for the past eight years, mostly trending upward.

So where does the running pick up again?  About two years after returning from New Zealand.  I made a semi-conscious effort to find more athletic friends and started hiking, playing soccer, bike commuting, lifting weights, and yes, running.  I continued to eat healthily, and had a special place in my heart for farmer’s markets and CSAs.  (and growing avocados from pits.)

I ran sporadically (less than 5 miles a week) for about a year, and then got serious. I wanted to improve my soccer game, and I wanted to be f-a-s-t.  I applied myself, found a great group of runners, lost the last of the weight I had gained in high school and college, and succeeded in being the fastest runner I’d ever been as well as the best soccer player. At the end of that summer I got married to the man of my dreams and went blissfully into the sunset of another stint at WWOOFing and international travel.


At this point the movie will end, but if you want the psychological analysis stay tuned.


Part of me thinks this crucial turning a year out of college had to do with general maturing of my brain, which psychologists and scientists are saying doesn’t happen till your twenties.  As this NPR article puts it – “…insight requires — that’s right — a fully connected frontal lobe.”

With my full connected frontal lobe I figured out a few crucial lessons that made my life a lot better.  First, that you can improve yourself beyond your baseline capabilities by setting short and long term goals. Second, that to reach these goals you must practice, and possibly even sacrifice in the present.  Third: that a short term setback doesn’t equal long term failure.  Fourth that there is great satisfaction in tangible accomplishments, like getting an A in a class, or finishing a race.  But there is also a great deal of satisfaction in intangible accomplishments like having good community or doing small steps toward long term goals – like daily eating more fruit.

 Another part of me chalks the whole thing up to better communities supporting me.  Friends, family and work colleagues, a healthy romantic relationship, and especially a robust spiritual life all allowed me to safely strive for difficult goals, which is turn fed into a sense of self-efficacy and contentment.

Right now I may have returned to the same weight I was five years ago, but I have all the great relationships, friendships, personal goals, wisdom, and nutritional knowledge that I built in the time since then, and because of that, I can wait a little longer to lose the weight.

 Looking back on your life do you notice themes?  Do you have a great success story? What is the story you tell about yourself?

Motivated to run again? I am.


Part 4: Why Food is More than Consumption

Or: How I learned about organics, farmers markets, farming, and lived to tell the tale.

Or: How I learned about Organics, Locavores, Farmers and Farmers Markets.

I didn’t grow up particularly food conscious or in a gourmet household.  In fact, due to the fickle tastebuds of my siblings and I, we had a food schedule at my house which was almost militaristic in its regimentation.  Monday night meant you’d be eating baked chicken, boiled carrots and white rice.  Felt like coming by on Wednesday?  That’d be meatloaf, mashed potatoes and reheated frozen spinach.  I admit to not eating sauce on my spaghetti (Thursday night) until I was at least 11.

Unsurprisingly the list of foods I didn’t taste until I went to college was long: alfredo sauce, asparagus, avocado, beans, brown rice, couscous, mango, salmon, sushi…  How did yesterday’s conventional eater become today’s food iconoclast?

Answer: New Zealand.

The semester before I graduated college I was focused on one thing and one thing only, getting a diploma.  I hadn’t begun to contemplate the inevitability or possibility of living on my own, employment, and paying bills.  (As an “adult” now I’m not really how I managed this, but I did.)  I don’t remember having any conversations with mentors about getting a job, nor was I prescient enough to pursue companies, job fairs, or any sort of path to a paycheck.  This could have been a nightmare of stress.

Instead I was poring over the WWOOFing website.  WWOOF, or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, tacitly offered me the biggest adventure of my short life.  And I took it.

Here I am at 21, enjoying the Wairarapa region of New Zealand after a day of hiking. On the above map, where I am is about 45 minutes away from Palmerston North.

Over five months I stayed at 9 farms around the North and (upper) South Island. I weeded. Planted. Harvested. Mulched. Milked. Made Chicken Feed. Learned to Cook. Worked at Farmers Markets.

Mostly I learned about food and how, paradoxically, it’s more than just what you eat.

Farmers have philosophies about why they do things the way they do, and what life is all about, perhaps particularly organic farmers.  Many (but not all) of them like to talk about their methods.

So I learned from a lawyer who had gone part time in order to make wine from his own grapes and a hay bale home. Family farmers who talked about the layers to the land and caring for the soil (compost), plants (water, and weeding) and filling the air (beekeeping.)  The owner of an eco-tourist farm and forest told me she always washes dishes as though there is nothing else she’d rather be doing. While picking radishes I discussed the nature of self-actualization and the soul.

These people loved food.  And they knew about food in a way with which I wasn’t familiar.  It was more than a trip to the supermarket, or restaurant.  This food, animals and vegetables, came from somewhere, someplace where they had seen it unfold; seed to slaughter. To me this was novel stuff.  And because I was 21, and impressionable, and alone in a strange land, it stuck.

So. That’s where I started thinking about food.  I would probably have continued eating happily ever after without that education. But now I don’t.  There’s a whole lot of ways to think about food, and just eating what’s on your plate isn’t the way to start.

College Immediately vs Gap Year

Prestigious College Library
Orchard in the midst of Spring Blossom

I think I speak for a quarter or more of liberal arts college graduates when I state some of my own experiences.

I went to college because I didn’t know what else to do.  I chose a major only because I liked doing it.  I didn’t know what kind of job I would get when I graduated.  I felt unprepared to get a job in my field when I did graduate.  I got a job unrelated to my major.  I’m now sure I want to do something completely different than what I received  my undergraduate degree in.

Perhaps those who identify also followed this similar arc of contemplation as the years pass since their matriculation.

College probably isn’t for everyone, especially those who don’t know what they want to do.  I wasted a lot of time and money studying something that wasn’t practical.  At least I made good friends at college.  The books I read at college and the discussions they sparked taught me to think critically, reason intelligently, and search out primary sources.   Liberal education has provided me with a good basis for my continued education.   I’m glad I went to college, even if I didn’t know what I was doing.

This reflection, for me, spanned four years. In terms my occupation right now (farm volunteer) I’m doing now, what I did right after I graduated.  Then, I escaped to New Zealand to sort out what more there was to life than school.  Now I find myself in Canada again with the same program, placing me on these organic farms.  Repetitive experiences seem to remind me of the same questions I asked then.  I am also connected to two  18-year olds who have both asked and answered the question “Is college for everyone?” for themselves, but in different ways.

One, my sister, has made her choice of four year college, and will be attending next year as a French Education major. (Good for you!)  The other, a Canadian from Toronto, has chosen what I wish I had known more about at 18.  The international phenomenon known as the “Gap Year.” (Or more sarcastically known as “taking a year off” from the SWPL blog.)

Although, I agree that it is a privilege to be able to make this “gap year” choice, I also think it can save money (for the individual and government), cut back college drinking, and decrease that cultural phenomenon of extended adolescence.   I wonder if guidance counselors at school are prepared to admit that a time of exploration is perhaps more beneficial for 18-22 year olds than it is for those in their late twenties and early thirties, then they would be more likely to de-emphasize getting into a college so quickly without exploring the alternatives.

I would love to see more young people directed toward this website about gap year opportunities.  Or I would love to see the options presented in this article about associates degrees.  I would love to encourage students to volunteer.  I would stamp out that rumor that if you don’t start college immediately, you won’t ever.

I think there are a few pernicious lies we believe about college.  We need to tell ourselves a few more of the following:

It doesn’t need to be the fall after you graduate high school. It doesn’t need to be as a full-time student.  It doesn’t need to be your primary occupation. I don’t even think it needs to be practical in the sense of leading directly to a certain job.

What should be emphasized is the need for continual education, not just college.