Yesterday was Day One in several significant ways. The Great Funeral Trip is done, and Mom is resting with Dad in Maryland. Now I have an empty house with all the chaos from the previous weeks still in evidence, and little time to make any sense of it since I have a bunch of work deadlines this week, not to mention Mom’s famous rum cake and my infamous CraigNog to make for the family Thanksgiving gathering.
I’m still at that stage where everything reminds me of Mom, or I say, “Mom would really love that,” or I turn to talk to her but see only a vacant chair or bed. I’m not sad or lonely, exactly, but I’m keenly feeling the lack of her physical presence.
At the same time, I feel a sudden push forward, the motivation and power to make some changes in my life that I have wished for or even attempted (and failed at) in the past. One, as I mentioned recently, is my trying to excise bread and other things made with flour from my diet. It ain’t easy. Wheat has opioids — opium-like substances that influence the brain’s endorphin receptors. These opioid peptides are physically addictive and cause asthma, obesity, and (as might be expected from a substance chemically similar to morphine) apathy.
It turns out that plants use different tactics to scare off attackers. Some plants contain poison; others just anesthetize their attackers, as wheat does with opioid peptides.
Priests in ancient Egypt knew the power of wheat opioids. They ate bread to cause hallucinations, and placed a bread poultice under bandages to ease the pain of wounds. The Roman rulers knew that the people wouldn’t rise up against them as long as they were fed bread and kept entertained — the old “bread and circuses” approach that is the mainstay of modern culture.
(Interesting side note: The Roman government offered a variety of popular entertainments to keep people’s attention diverted from embarrassing political scandals and messy wars: free or cheap unhealthy food; public baths; gladiator spectacles; exotic animals; chariot races in the Circus Maxiumus and sports competitions; and theater performances. Now we have fast food, body pampering, reality shows, high-dollar shopping, sports, and movies and TV. Has nothing changed in 2000 years?)
Obviously I want to lose weight again and regain my health (and while you couldn’t tell it by looking at me, I had lost about 65 pounds before the funeral, though I gained some back on this trip). I hope to get down to 165 pounds, ultimately. And that’s a long, long, LONG road ahead, though I’m no longer setting a timed goal for myself. In fact, at this point, I’ve decided not to set any weight-based goals at all, not even tiny incremental ones.
Nope, I realized that if my goal were based on weight loss or even fat loss (which is different), I would be perpetuating the same pattern I’ve failed at over and over. In fact, I think I’ve come up with an approach that can’t fail — because the very concept of “failure” doesn’t exist. My goal is to create new habits, new patterns of behavior that will help support my health.
So my goal is not to “walk x distance every day,” but rather to “start moving my body more, and make that movement a habit.” My goal is not to establish and keep a perfect paleo diet, but rather to start eating more healthy foods and fewer unhealthy ones, and establish that pattern as a habit. When I deviate from these new patterns, it won’t be failure, it won’t be breaking a diet (how violent that sounds!) or falling off the exercise wagon (again with the violence!), it will be a recognition that new habits are built gradually through repeatedly doing things differently than you’ve done them before.
It will be uncomfortable, because you’re moving out of the well-worn groove in the road and traveling on new and uncertain ground. And the cart will occasionally slip back into that old rut, because it’s well established and familiar and comfortable. That’s not failure; it’s a geographical feature of the road. It just means I need to steer the cart back up onto the new, untrodden ground again. And if I find a new part of the road that works well for me, next time I’ll try to follow the same tracks, and eventually create a new groove. (Having spent time in Vermont and St. Croix, where there are still many dirt roads, has been a helpful visual and sensory reminder of this approach.)
So yesterday I ate no bread, and I made some good food choices. Today — Day Two — I will try to repeat that pattern, and perhaps make some even better food choices. Yesterday I moved a bit, though I was stiff and achy, and still am today. So I’ll drink more water and move a bit more, and I still won’t call it exercise, since that’s too frightening a concept.
During my last winter in Vermont, Bear taught me that I can walk on icy surfaces better if I walk pigeon-toed and I lumber along slowly. Now Elephant is teaching me that you’ll get there eventually even if you just plod along, and that it feels really good to simply sway back and forth from time to time. It gets the blood flowing and loosens everything up. (Elephant also says it’s OK to cry or trumpet from time to time if you need to. It’s good to feel things, even if it hurts sometimes.)
And tomorrow we’ll see what Day Three brings.