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Just Who Do You Think You Are?

Healthy lifestyle changes offer a rare chance to reinvent yourself

This question has stuck in my mind for a while now. It arises because, in losing a third of my body mass, I created a ready opportunity to reinvent myself. But who is this new person I created? Just who do I think I am?

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For years, I thought of myself primarily as an overweight, overworked single parent and breadwinner. This self-image functioned like a mental fingerprint and informed my priorities and choices. When I retired seven years ago, I thought of myself as an overweight, over-the-hill grandmother. This was a view I found insidiously depressing. My "permanently pudgy" body had become as much a part of my identity as being female.

When I began my fitness journey, I undertook the task of creating a healthier and fitter representation of myself. Not a new version of the old me, but a new me. I saw myself as a fat caterpillar: My goal was not to become a thinner caterpillar — I wanted to become a butterfly.

In working toward my new identity, I noted how others defined themselves. Some did it in terms of wealth, occupation or social status. Younger people seemed to identify themselves through their recreation ("I'm all about skateboarding"). Still others picked their avocation, such as tennis player or artist.

Some identified with geography (native Californian) or their religion, political party or race. Some even identified with their alma mater, referring to themselves as "old blues" from the University of California at Berkeley. All these categorical descriptors were useful to them, but none seemed to fit me.

Later I was interviewed by Glenn Ruffenach, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. He was researching subjects for "Encore," a special section of the Journal that addresses issues affecting retirees. For this series, he profiled six people who had used their retirement years to make dramatic life changes. In one of these, he described me as "an apostle for fitness."

Mature man holding exercise ball in front of face

Losing weight can lead to self reinvention. — Getty Images

Reading his article was a pivotal moment for me. In four words, Ruffenach nailed my new persona and introduced me to myself. His designated moniker explained why I write and speak about fitness whenever I have the opportunity. Looking ahead, I can proceed with confidence in my mission because he identified the essential "me." I can be what I am and give what is mine to give, including what I learn from my setbacks. My work will be easier because the message is clear — getting fit can be fun and rewarding.

I'm sharing this to encourage you to step back and look at yourself. Are you, like I was, ready to go from caterpillar to butterfly? Are you shedding unhealthy habits that weigh you down? Are you getting ready to fly? Are you opening up to new possibilities about eating and exercising?

Today I am the happiest I've ever been because I discovered how to make changes in myself so I could live the life I always wanted. Through my decision to eat differently, exercise regularly and live more healthfully while encouraging others to do the same, I have created myself anew.

Just who do you think you are?

Carole Carson, author of From Fat to Fit: Turn Yourself into a Weapon of Mass Reduction, serves as the coach for the AARP Fat to Fit online community.

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