Crossing the threshold

It almost always happens the same. I’ll make the big decision to try, again, and I’ll do all of the necessary physical and mental preparations to start working towards a healthier lifestyle, and then…

First, I have the talk with my husband to let him know that changes are coming – i.e. there will no longer be a stock of ice-cream in the freezer or individually wrapped pastries in the cupboard.

I go to the supermarket and buy lite yogurts, fresh fruits and veggies, and other high-protein or fiber rich, low-calorie foods. I walk by all of my favorite salty and sweet treats with a firm resolve and can feel a sense of strength and pride growing with each good choice as I manage to leave them out of my cart and on the shelf where they belong. I research healthy recipes and fun exercises. I dig my old workout clothes out of storage and dust off my gym shoes. I affix goal pictures to my fridge and print out a chart complete with a weekly menu and workout regimen.

The first week goes by and, as the water weight goes quickly away, I bask in the glow of sudden success. By this time, and often with a quick five pounds already melted away, I’m feeling pretty darn good and even a little smug. I envision going on a shopping spree for a new wardrobe to fit my smaller body and I somehow convince myself that I don’t have long to wait – at five pounds a week (which is, of course, unrealistic and unhealthy), I could be hitting the mall with my ‘BFF’ in just a month. On a particularly good attempt, sometimes the second week goes almost as well as the first.

And then, like a hammer falling on a sheet of glass, my well-laid plans shatter.

Typically, it starts with a well-meaning friend or relative inviting us out to dinner. As soon as I’m removed from my carefully safe-guarded home or office setting and placed in the path of temptation with over-confidence skewing my sensibility, I cave. After that, it’s all over. My mother-in-law sends a batch of her delicious fudge to our house, and one piece leads to another, leads to another, leads to another, etc. After a busy week of work, I realize I haven’t done groceries, and there’s nothing in the house to eat, so we order pizza for dinner. The temperature outside falls to -50 degrees, and all of the outdoor exercise I planned is replaced with snuggling under the electric blanket on my bed. And so on.

Once I see the first pounds start to creep back on the scale, discouragement moves into the space in my brain that smugness previously occupied. I reflexively turn to food, which I know from experience will stimulate the happy hormones in my head so that I won’t feel so bad about failing – again. I eat away my sorrow and end up right back where I started. The goal pictures on the fridge and the wellness chart I printed go in the trashcan. The gym clothes go back in the bin. My cupboards welcome the familiar sweet and salty snacks, and my freezer once again holds a variety of ice-cream flavors.

It’s been my experience that every person has a threshold that they reach when attempting to implement a healthier lifestyle. Mine is right around the end of week two. A friend does quite well for about six months before she begins to falter. Reaching that point is a daunting challenge, but it is possible to cross that threshold, and there are less trying days lay ahead on the other side.

I still haven’t come to the point where I am convinced that this will be a forever change. I still anticipate failure, and I pray that I’m not sabotaging my chances with those discouraging thoughts. It’s hard to stay positive when I have a historical record of literally dozens of failed attempts intruding on my attempt to change my way of thinking, but I know I have to try.

So, when I hit week two this time, my in-laws invited us out to eat at one of our local restaurants. Here we go again, I thought. I wanted to be strong. I wanted to go there, look at the menu and ignore all of my favorites to choose something healthy – like a salad. But when you walk into a restaurant and you’re hit with all of the glorious scents and are confronted with all of the displayed dishes people around you have ordered, then I believe it takes a steel resolve and an inhuman ability to resist.

But then something happened. As I was sitting there staring at the menu and having the same internal debate I’d experienced so many times before, I made a decision to compromise and to be okay with that compromise. I ordered a BLT and a bowl of my favorite chowder. Sure, it wasn’t country fried steak and gravy, but it was delicious and I enjoyed every last bite. And then I ordered a dessert and, instead of eating the whole thing, I shared it with my husband. But here’s the important part – I left the guilt on the table with the napkins and empty dishes when I left the restaurant that night.

The next morning, I ate a healthy breakfast, went for a walk and resumed my journey. I’ve often preached moderation, but I, like many folks, have trouble practicing that religion. The all or nothing mentality, however, leads me to failure and I know I must learn to let it go. I plan to remember this as I begin week five today – three weeks over my threshold.