57 and Life Is Heaven
Six years ago, I had an honest conversation with myself about my health and realized I needed to change. You can read about it here; but in summary, I weighed 184 pounds, I had rolls cascading over my jeans, and I needed help. I got it; I lost 32 pounds and became quite fit. Every two years since then, I’ve updated the journey. At 53 I felt in complete control of my fitness, at 55 I questioned the rules of dieting culture, and now, at 57, I’ve reconciled my mind/body/health connection. Come along on this update and I’ll share my new point of view.
Nomad Life of Full-Time Travel
For the last three years, my husband and I have been traveling the world full-time. We sold our car, house and all our possessions and left Denver, Colorado with two carry-on suitcases. It’s been a worldwind. We’ve lived in more than 20 countries, visited 4 continents, taken 8 cruises, flown countless times and seen a world that’s incapable of description. The world is a small place, please find time to see it!
If you’ll recall from the “55” post, I thought I had repaired my knee and was off to a world of adventure. I was dead wrong. My knee got worse, and I had vowed publicly that I’d do whatever it took to get it well. We ended up in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where I had orthoscopic surgery with stem cell replacement (see video.) $10000 later and two months of healing, my knee got its bend back and we were traipsing through Southeast Asia. In Thailand, reality came back to me like a charging elephant.
Knee Healing Leads to Full Body Healing
In Thailand, Steve and I took a week apart. I found myself at a yoga/mediation retreat with a group of 20 who were “finding themselves.” I laughed at first. I wasn’t there to find myself, I thought, I was just there to do some yoga and mediate. At the first check-in after our first meditation, everyone but me cried. They expressed their growing ah-has, and I just hummed my way through the meeting, wanting to get back to my own private time. At the second check-in meeting, I started crying. I didn’t stop for the next five days of the retreat.
Why was I crying? Grief. I had an overwhelming sense of loss I hadn’t given myself time to explore. In the past 4 years, I’d “lost” my house, my daughter, my job, and my life. Or, in other terms, I had sold my home, emptied my nest, retired, and started traveling. These transitions were a natural part of life and living, but I hadn’t fully let myself hold onto the change and let go of the comfort and familiarity of my pre-traveling life. All my choices were deliberate and my own, but nonetheless, they were losses my body felt. But the biggest loss of all was the agility and strength of my body.
Who Have I Become?
My identity wrapped around being a good hiker tackling big hikes and big mountains, which I could no longer do effectively. My knee had failed me, thus my identity disappeared while my legs atrophied. Without the ability to safely use my joints, I couldn’t properly strengthen and maintain my legs. My body had changed drastically. The tone I had worked so hard to achieve was long gone. I still found myself to be fit, but firmness turned to softness.
Not only did I need to grieve the loss of my hard body I had tried so hard to build, I had to accept that my new body was the one I needed to love. It was softer and more padded than my younger, stronger body, and I reckoned that my fat percentage was up; fat weighs less than muscle and I had certainly lost muscle. To keep a gauge on my weight at this point, it had crept up a few pounds, balancing in at 164. This number, 164, had giant damaging memories in my mind and to be back at that weight catapulted my body anxiety to its highest levels. 164 was the number I weighed at 16 when my dad demanded I lose 24 pounds to guarantee he’d pay for college. I did; he didn’t.
So here I was at a retreat in Thailand with a softer body I didn’t want to accept weighing a number that had never been accepted. Thankfully, the work I had done the prior year of accepting my shape regardless of size helped. I mentally scanned my body history and accepted that I was no longer the 16 year-old fretting over a father’s acceptance, I was a 57 year-old woman who could do downward dogs, tree balances and wild woman poses with grace. 164 be damned. I dried my tears. It was time to live the words I had spoken two years earlier: My own body’s cues were good enough to keep me healthy, fit, and well.
I Fail My Own Litmus Test
After the retreat, I focused on building back the strength that had disappeared in my legs. To test myself, we decided to hike the sacred pilgrimage trail in Japan, the Komano Kodo (see video.) I honestly shouldn’t have been on that hike; my knee wasn’t ready; but I still had the mindset that my body hikes and I wasn’t going to miss a good one. When we couldn’t finish our first day of 25 kms and I was in tears, I realized that my body heals on its own time, not what I think it should do. I hobbled to the end of the Komano Kodo, and we put ourselves on a cruise back to the US for the summer. On the cruise, I reassessed my knee. What did my knee need to get my body tuned up?
In the States, I fell back into the trap that I thought I had released myself from at 55. I looked to other experts to tell me how to maintain my body. I hired a physical therapy coach who tortured me into exercises that, in my gut, I knew were not right for me. Laying on my back, one leg straight up, the other bent against a wall, I’d lift my buttocks, tilt my pelvis, press against the wall with my bent leg, and expel air deeply from my gut for 5 seconds. 5 times. Not only did this routine hurt, my body knocked me upside the head and said, “Stop!”
So I stopped. I rebelled against another man telling me what to do with my body. And my weight slowly crept up another pound or two. When we finished our time in the US for the summer and took a cruise to Sydney, I popped onto a scale. 170 glared back at me. I realized that if I kept going in this direction, 184 would reappear like a Christmas tree during the holidays. Same form, same decoration, different year.
I had to dig deep. We were living our dream life. Traveling the world full time, sharing our adventures on youtube, eating the world’s great foods (while still doing my best to remain vegan), and seeing the Great Pyramids, koalas in trees, Stonehenge, the Suez Canal and sharks on reefs graced my life daily. I had to find the balance where my body vibrated the life I was leading and my mind accepted all that my nomad life had to offer.
How could I reverse the weight gain, strengthen my knee, tone my body and all do it on my terms, where I
- Didn’t give up on the nomad life my husband and I loved
- Walked, hiked, biked as much as we wanted
- Tasted street foods and enjoyed local desserts
- Ate healthy, vegan-focused foods
- Didn’t succumb to diet culture
It was a tall order. I separated out three things: my mind/body, my food/eating, my movement/exercising. I had to look at the trio and look inward to accept that I knew how to take care of myself, I had been training for this my whole life, and I could fix myself with my own tools. And finally, I accepted I would probably never weigh the 152 I had achieved six years prior, yet I could easily maintain 160 on my terms with my rules doing my own iteration of a healthy life. I also realized that although a number doesn’t determine my worth, my weight does reflect my health. If I’m taking care of myself on my terms, my number reflects that. The higher the number becomes, the worse I am taking care of myself. It’s a barometer that reflects that status of my inner being’s health. Overeating and under exercising never result in healthy living for me.
I searched the internet for meal plans that suited my ideas of healthy eating. I found exercises on youtube that met my cardio needs without sacrificing my joints. I wrote down a schedule that included yoga and cardio in the morning, three meals and three snacks a day, meditation on demand, and the new activities I had grown to love; pickleball, disc golf, and e-biking.
But it wasn’t the things in the schedule that helped me, it was the self-focused schedule itself. It gave me a sense of control in my travel world of the completely uncontrollable. I created this schedule on my terms with my tastes and interests that fit together with my mind’s need to erase thoughts around body image, my body’s need to do low-impact, sweaty movements, and my eating’s need to enjoy plant-based foods while leaving room for local variety and flavors. The weight dropped to 161.
And that’s where I am today, just shy of my 57th birthday. I can’t believe it’s been six years that I’ve been on a journey to heal the fat little girl inside me. I still look at current pictures and can’t believe they are of me. Where is the rest of me, I ask, when I look at a picture taken lovingly by my husband? Maybe one day I’ll look at my image and realize I’m looking at the current me, not some memory of a scarred human whose battled weight issues her whole life. This is a work in progress. Where will I be at 59? Stay tuned.