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I was on the living room floor doing my morning exercises when my husband read aloud a newspaper article about rival gangs in a Honduras penitentiary who killed 13 inmates and wounded 30 more during armed warfare with each other.
Begging the question of how guns found their way into inmates’ hands, my husband wondered why the inmates didn’t use their firepower to escape.
His question resonated with me because I realized that for years I’d begun the year shooting at myself in the mirror, rather than seeking freedom.
Each new year began with resolutions focused on losing weight. Over time, I would sabotage my efforts and end up hating myself. By December, I would weigh even more. Once again, I would resolve to shape up.
What went awry? For one thing, the task was framed in the negative. To lose weight I would limit the amount I ate, plus forbid myself fattening foods. By now, most of us know that dieting triggers a cycle of rebound eating and weight gain.
Moreover, I lacked a strategy. I didn’t exercise or keep a food journal or make permanent lifestyle changes. Instead of getting help, I expected my commitment to carry me through.
In retrospect, though, the source of my failure came from a lack of vision.
Indulging in food was a way to compensate myself for giving up dreams. Because I couldn’t have what I really wanted, I could at least have what I craved.
It was only after I began my fitness makeover that I made the connection between lost dreams and added weight. As the pounds dropped, I became more creative—sewing, cooking and writing. I assumed I was energized because I looked and felt better.
But it was more complicated than that. Without the reward of food, I was forced to find alternative sources of gratification, ones more closely linked to my heart’s desires.
None was dearer than the desire to write.
I remember dreaming of writing as a child. Being successful wasn’t part of the dream. What was important was engaging in the joyful process of stringing words together. As a single parent, I abandoned the dream in pursuit of providing for my two sons. Even after my children were grown, though, I continued to handcuff myself, substituting my stomach’s cravings for my heart’s desires.
Today, I can see that my new children’s book, Remembering When I Was Young, would never have made it into print if I hadn’t broken out of my personal jail and reaffirmed my longing to write. Nor would I have gone on to write a second book, From Fat to Fit, or a third, The Fat to Fit Community Manual.
Rather than setting all sorts of unattainable goals for myself, I have just one goal right now—to give myself permission to pursue my dreams.
It may seem trivial to compare my invisible jail with the real one in Honduras, yet the consequences of my obesity were deadly serious. A family history of coronary disease combined with obesity put me at high risk for a heart attack. If I dodged that bullet, I was still in the line of fire for stroke and cancer.
Consequently, my life depends upon holding onto the progress I’ve made. To that end, I must monitor my eating and exercise for the rest of my life and report to my parole officer, Debra Wagner, R.N. A lifetime on parole, however, is far better than life in prison.
Who knows what direction our lives can take once we escape our invisible prisons? And who could imagine that moving freely towards our heart’s desire is the best way to become fit?