My friend called me up the other day to tell me that he walked 10 miles. He planned on just going 4, 4 turned into 6, he was feeling so good 6 turned into 8, and he had never gone 10 in his life and being so close, he pushed it all the way to 10. He was thrilled. He had been on a weight roller coaster since his dad was stricken with Lou Gehrig’s disease and died a couple of years ago, hitting his all time high at about 60 pounds overweight. I can see that he is making this transformation from someone who struggled with exercise to someone who is embracing it, pushing his physical limits, and can no longer live without it. This makes me very excited. I tell him how awesome this accomplishment is. I hang up the phone and begin to think about how much exercise I’ve done this week. Hmm.. I have to up my game.
I hop on the treadmill for my “American Idol” workout, now feeling the pressure to increase my exercise routine. They premiere Jennifer Lopez’s new video, where they flash her abs 4 times a minute. I think to myself, “when did she have those babies?” I do a quick Google search. Darn, her babies are even younger than mine. Now I feel like I should really be doing ab exercises.
Have you ever felt like you were going on a pretty decent course and then you see something someone else has done and suddenly feel like you are off course? I hear my Dad’s voice in my head in these situations, he would say, “Worry about yourself.” I grew up in a family of 5 where each of us 3 kids took every opportunity to identify even the slightest inequity so that the entire family could finally see that it is ME who is being treated unfairly in this family!
The backseat of our blue with wood grain-siding station wagon was full of, “why does SHE get to go to the movies!?” “how come HE gets to have a friend sleep over!?” “how come SHE doesn’t have to get braces!?” “UGH!” My Dad never seemed up for these debates and would just turn around and say, “worry about yourself.” I always figured he was just trying to shut us up, but I think what he was getting at is that if we spend all our energy focused on what other people are doing, then we are not focused at all on what we are doing. As a result, we have no fun, we make no progress, and worst of all, just end up feeling bitter. I probably should have called my Dad after the Googling J-Lo’s babies incident.
There are other situations where we need to worry more about ourselves and less about other people. Worry less about other people?! Sound crazy? A very common theme I hear among the patients who come to me for weight loss is how they don’t have time to exercise, make healthy meals, or buy healthy foods because their time is so heavily allocated towards other people. People who struggle with their weight are very generous with their time. Taking care of children, attending each and every of the kids’ events, doing favors for friends or extended family, and taking more than their share of responsibility for things other people should be pitching in on. The feeling of obligation to do these activities is very high, to the point of where obligation outweighs even the enjoyment of the activity. Not doing the obligatory activities engenders feelings of guilt and shame.
Overextending yourself and the constant feeling like you are falling short can be a source of much stress, which is unhealthy (see my post “this is your body on stress“). Also unhealthy is that this pattern leaves little time to take care of yourself. If this sounds like your life, you are correct in that people may feel let down initially if you pull back from some of these activities to carve out time for yourself, likely because you have been so willing to drop everything in the past. Setting new boundaries can surprise people. The good news is that people do tend to adjust. Taking care of yourself is not selfish. You will find that when you feel healthy you are more energized to do things for other people and perhaps more efficient and more effective. There is no correlation between free time and ability to live healthy. There are as many busy people doing it as there are not very busy people not doing it. Regardless of your responsibilities, obligations and schedule, it is extremely important to invest a little time on most days to do something healthy for yourself, including exercise. The return on investment is longer life, better health and quality of life. The kids can wait, the spouse can wait, work can wait, everything can wait for you to be the healthiest person you can be. Take it from my dad and worry about yourself a little bit more. And whatever you do, do NOT Google J-Lo’s abs…
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