There’s a yellow Cannondale bicycle in my garage that belongs to the athlete that I used to be, about 20 years ago. When I was on the young side of middle age, I rode that bicycle from Oregon to New Hampshire. Now I am on the far side of middle age, and I struggle to remember what it felt like to be that fit, that strong, and that thin.
I’ve been challenged with some health problems for the past three years, in particular, that have sometimes had me on my knees and unable to do much of anything more physically taxing than walk my dog and do a little bit of gentle yoga—and not even that on many days. One of my greatest struggles has been with a startling variety of abdominal pains. Every day, something different. No physical cause has ever been identified by the myriad tests my doctors have ordered. So one day last spring, tired of hurting no matter what I ate or how much or when, I just stopped eating, for a full 48 hours. And to my astonishment, not only did my gut pains disappear, but so did all the other body pains that had nagged me for many months. I could not believe it was all gone, without medications or intervention of any kind except not eating.
This experience set me on the path of trying to determine what I was eating that could be causing my pains. Fasting is miraculous, and I still do it now and then when I feel like my body needs a rest, but obviously it’s not a long-term dietary strategy. So I worked out an elimination diet plan to remove the usual suspects—wheat, soy, corn, dairy, citrus, etc.—to see whether doing without them made me feel any better. The only unequivocal results from this trial were that gluten and sugar are akin to poison for me, so I eliminated gluten from my diet and limited my sugar intake to 2-3 teaspoons a day (the American Heart Association recommends a maximum daily sugar intake for women of 25g or about 6 teaspoons).
Without my even trying, my weight began to drop. After the first 20 pounds, I felt well enough to join a gym in September and start doing cardio a few days a week. Then I added strength training, and stopped eating meat or other animal proteins. At which point, the weight just started falling off. Last month I plummeted past the 200-lb mark that has always stopped me in the past, and have just kept going. I have no idea where my weight will end up. What I do know is that since I can’t go back to my old way of eating without risking complete debility, I am probably on a one-way trip to somewhere I have never been before as an adult. Another 10 pounds down and I will weigh less than I did the day I dipped the Cannondale’s wheels in the Pacific Ocean and prepared to ride east.
I kept all the riding gear I wore on that trip, folded neatly into a box and schlepped from house to house to house. All the jerseys and shorts and jackets are size medium or small, so very small compared to the clothes I have been wearing for most of the years since. I kept them for sentimental reasons and no other because it has seemed to me since 2001 that I could never hope to regain the body that pedaled across the country. It was the result not only of aggressive dieting but also near-constant daily workouts for months on end. It began to soften and spread essentially as soon as my plane touched down back home at the end of the tour. But since I have shrunk out of all the rest of my clothes, I got out that box of gear this past weekend and tried it all on.
I don’t see that athlete when I look in the mirror anymore. I do see a woman who is comfortably wearing her clothes, though, and I don’t quite know how to reconcile that yet. The clothes have not changed. The fact that they fit on my body at this time means my body has changed. It seems like it happened so fast, and yet, it took almost 20 years for me to get (back) here. I look in the mirror and just shake my head and marvel that this was me, once, and is now again. The impossible has been made manifest. Everything’s different now.
In addition to the biking clothes, I have maintained in storage a rotating stock of clothing in several sizes, so I don’t have to go shopping when my weight goes up or down. Several bins in the garage hold whatever does not fit until I can wear it again. This pushing and pulling forward and back without ever making actual progress has been going on for, oh, about 20 years now. The time finally came to step off that track, so I purged my clothing this weekend in Marie Kondo style and removed every oversized, unflattering, and/or unloved garment from my house. There is nothing in my closets or bureau that does not fit me right now.
I don’t have any ambition to become that athlete again—once in a lifetime was plenty enough for me. I don’t know where this journey will take me, or even where I want it to go, really. I am just trying to make good choices day to day in what I eat and what I do, and I hope these choices will continue to create positive changes. Perhaps, at last, the best is yet to come.