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.
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?