Don't Forget to Look Back

I'm someone who looks forward a lot.  If you know me in person, you also know I document quite a bit as I go along, but I rarely actually look backwards, which seems kind of funny to me now.  Why document all of this stuff if I don't look at it that often?

It's for days when I want to locate a happy memory.  It's also useful for seeing how far I've come.

As part of honoring my body's journey, I decided to check out some photos of me in the past and see if I noticed anything.  These are from 2008 (sorry about the picture quality):

I clearly had not yet learned how to stand up straight or pose for pictures.  Also, this sweater? Not flattering.

I clearly had not yet learned how to stand up straight or pose for pictures.  Also, this sweater? Not flattering.

And another, a little later in the year, after I'd gone on my first stint of trying to eat healthy and hit the gym, in order to be in better shape for my wedding.

Cute shoes!  I wish they'd lasted.

Cute shoes!  I wish they'd lasted.

Better fashion, better pose, and I look happy. 

Here's two from the past few months:

This is my partner's way of trying to be "arty".  I think the angle is silly, but the outfit was cute.

This is my partner's way of trying to be "arty".  I think the angle is silly, but the outfit was cute.

Dress, cute booties, statement necklace.  BOOM.

Dress, cute booties, statement necklace.  BOOM.

My thoughts:

  • Even I, with my disordered, dysmorphic brain, can tell there's a difference.  I look a lot stronger, especially my arms.
  • My face looks a little more defined.
  • My tummy isn't so prominent.  That could be because I learned how to pose better, and dress my body to disguise it, but I also just think it's a bit flatter.
  • Also, hello, my fashion sense has really evolved.  Wow.  I dress like a damn grown-up now.

This is why this exercise is important: if we are dissatisfied with where we are now, seeing progress from where we were can really help.  It puts things in perspective. 

Over the last 6 years, I've changed a lot.  I may not be a skinny minnie, but I'm a lot of other things - fashionable, cute, happy, fit, and strong.  And that matters. 

Today, I wish to honor the progress I've made, both physical and incorporeal.  I want to affirm that I'm more accomplished, strong, compassionate, thoughtful, socially responsible, wise, and kind, than I was 6 years ago.  That's something to be proud of, and to acknowledge.

Once I've acknowledged it, I can thank  my body, brain, and soul for getting me here, and then gently let it history go to focus on the challenges of today.

Have you thought about how far you've come?  What markers show you that you've made progress?

Then and Now

Today I was getting a little frustrated with what I perceive as my "backsliding" this year.  This time last year, I'd completed a Whole30 and a Whole14, participated in the CrossFit Open, and felt pretty slim and fit.  Here's what I looked like then:

May, 2013

May, 2013

What you don't see in this picture is that I was totally stuck in the extreme mentality of feast vs. famine.  I'd do a Whole30/14, and then indulge afterwards.  I'd feel guilty I wasn't able to stick with such extreme restriction - if you are unfamiliar, the Whole30 only allows you to eat vegetables, fruit, meat, nuts, and fats - and I'd go back on, only to repeat the cycle again.

What seems so obvious to me now is that what I was doing wasn't working.  It wasn't sustainable.  The cycle drove me crazy and made me feel bad about myself for not being able to be "perfect" all the time.

So then I decided to do the Precision Nutrition Lean Eating Program, to help me stop with the cyclical disorder eating.  And it sort of worked -- by having a longer window of time to look at these patterns, I realized a couple of things:

  1. Real, sustainable change comes over very long periods of time.  I always thought this was bullshit, but it's totally true.  When we are in the pain of low self-esteem and body dysmorphia, we want change to come right away.  We need to fix it. Right now.  But real change takes a long time to happen.  The weight I lost on Whole30?  It came back.  But the muscle I put on in the last 2 years of CrossFit hasn't gone away.  And my changed body composition has stuck around, even though I've been injured the last two weeks and not eating my best.
  2. Small habits have a better chance of being successful.  Truly.  If I only have to do one thing, I'm more likely to do it.  What became so overwhelming about PN was that you start with just one habit at a time, fine, and then add incrementally, and while that works pretty well for awhile, eventually I felt a bit suffocated by all the things I was expected to do each day.
  3. Diets are diets.  Even with PN.  There's this secret, which is that to effect real change -- like the dramatic kind you see on marketing brochures -- you have to thoroughly and dramatically change your life and habits.  To be a new person, you have to become one.  Sounds simplistic, but I didn't get it.  I kept looking for a happy medium, but I wasn't willing to accept that to get a really different body, I would have to commit to a kind of restriction and scrutiny that I'd never experienced before.  More on this later.

I've been defining success as who I was last year, but in thinking about it, that place wasn't so great.  Sure, I was probably a bit lighter and leaner, but I wasn't as strong.  I was hella injured with a shoulder impingement, and I could hardly lift a bare barbell in a strict press.  Just 33 lbs, and I was yelping in pain.  Whereas this year, I PRed my strict press at around ~60 lbs, I do believe.  And I can nearly do a full push-up with perfect form -- another goal that felt way out of my league last year.

I was also ill at least every other month in 2013.  Sounds crazy, but I had multiple colds, the flu, and a nasty bout of strep throat.  Coincidence?  I don't think so.  I think crazy binge/restrict cycles can really tax the body and sap it of strength and immunity.  And remember too that I was going to CrossFit 2-3x per week, and playing competitive roller derby, so 2-3 skating practices a week.  I spent a lot of 2013 tired, sore, and sick.

So was I trimmer?  Yes.  But was I fitter?  Up for debate.