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This started out being for my mother.

2008-12-14 - 1:03 p.m.

I don’t write about my mom a lot. Actually, I probably don’t write about most members of my immediate family a lot, for fear of saying something that might offend them if they were to find this site. Plus, their stories are not usually mine to tell. Today I’m going to make an exception.

My mother is an extraordinary woman. She’s cute, smart, an absolutely fantastic cook, she’s big-time into recycling and the environment, and she’s one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet. If I’m the “head” of the family, she’s the heart, and I’m fairly certain she’s the reason that we have any family closeness on that side of the tree.

However, despite the fact that one of her mottoes is “everything in moderation”, my mother is an all-or-nothing person in many ways. If she’s dieting, she’s starving herself; if she’s not dieting she’s cooking and baking up a storm and eating it all. In other words, my mother is a yo-yo dieter, which isn’t really great for her health.

Recently however, she decided to start exercising and, though I have high hopes that she can break her usual pattern, I can already see it starting to emerge. She recently told me that she couldn’t do something on a certain day because she hadn’t been to the gym the day before and she didn’t ever want to go more than two days without going. She expressed frustration last weekend that she isn’t seeing any big results with her new regimen get… and she’d only been going less than three weeks. Yesterday she told me she’d been “SO BAD” and when I told her that it was normal to find oneself eating a bit more in the treats department during the Christmas season, it turned out that this time she was talking about exercise: she confessed that she hadn’t been able to get to the gym in (horrors!) three days! And I got the feeling that she was worried that it meant she’d never go back.

On these occasions I reassured her that results take time, and that it was a busy time of year and she’d go when she could and she thanked me for the little “pep talk”. Here’s the thing though, it wasn’t intended to be a “pep talk” so much as a “reality check”. The fact that my mom wasn’t totally transformed in three weeks? Normal. The dismay she evinced when I told her that it was an ongoing process and, even if she felt stronger and fitter in a shorter time, it would take a few months to really see a difference on the outside, frankly, dismayed me in turn. She said something about how she guessed she’d have to renew her 3-month trial membership and I’m thinking, well, yeah. The goal here was to change her lifestyle to become a healthier person, not just to lose a few pounds, right? Right?

The fact is though, I know it’s not up to me to set goals for my mother, even if I want to (and in this case I do – I want her to be healthy and around for a long, long, LONG time). Despite the fact that she says she wants to get off the weight roller coaster, maybe her goal at the back of her mind is just to lose some weight and then stop going. After all, this is a woman whose actions are the exact opposite of the motto she trots out all the time; there is a definite disconnect between what she thinks she wants and what she does.

BUT, if you’re like my mom, I think there are a few things worth keeping in mind when you really decide that you’re ready to take that step towards losing weight/increasing your fitness:

You are not a “bad” person if you eat food that is fattening. The type of food you eat does not define you. Yes, there are healthier choices and not-so-much-with-the-healthier choices. Just try to gravitate towards the healthier choices more often and don’t invest so much of your self-image in what you eat.

You are not “bad” if you miss one workout. Or two. Or even a bunch. I pointed out to my mother that it’s a busy time of year and the important thing is to go when you can. Even exercising once a week is an improvement from her previous status quo of not exercising at all. It might become not worth paying an expensive gym membership if she finds she can’t make it out very often (she lives out in the country and it’s not always convenient to drive all the way into town just for the gym, or even safe during the winter months), but doing something active regularly is what’s important.

It’s all about balance. And I mean this in terms of balancing demands on time and living life, as well as balance in what to do to improve fitness levels. Everyone should do something to get their heart rate up, challenge their muscles, and improve flexibility. Of these three things, do more of what you like and will help you towards your goals, but don’t forget the other two aspects too.

You should never do nothing just because you can’t do everything. My mom says her balance is bad. Balance is key in avoiding minor falls, which can be particularly important as we age. I told her to stand on one foot whenever she thinks about it. She can do this while she’s standing at the stove cooking. All those little muscles in your feet that kick in while balancing will get some action.

Look beyond number goals. If you have a specific goal that’s great to get started, but don’t forget that a healthy lifestyle is important for a lifetime.

Find something you like to do. I love the classes I teach and I love feeling my body work even during types of exercise I don’t love, and I love the chance to zen out when I work out alone, but that doesn’t mean I think every single person will love the same kinds of workouts I do. Some people are into team sports. Some people need a workout buddy. Some people will like walks. Some people will like, say, nature photography, which you end up walking for as a side benefit. Find something you love.

A lot of things that are worthwhile take time. This is no exception.

Cut yourself some slack. Seriously, I can’t stress this enough. Your current body, in whatever state it’s in, is the result of everything you’ve done up ‘til now. Maybe it has even borne children, (and maybe even fed ‘em). It carries you through your day, even when it’s a hard one. It performs millions of processes on a cellular level all the time. It’s an incredible thing just to be breathing and walking. Be good to it. Live your life and appreciate both the salad with balsamic vinaigrette and the cookie when you have it. Find room for the things that matter to you, and that shouldn’t just include friends, family and interests, but yourself as well. Because that’s what this is really about: not just some number on a scale, but valuing yourself enough to do something for yourself. And maybe right now you’ve got a full-time job and small children and there aren’t enough hours in the day to do what needs to get done, let alone what you want to get done. And that’s okay too. Do what you can, when you can, and if that’s not much at this point in your life, well, that’s okay because anything – even just standing on one foot while you make dinner – is better than nothing and the time will come eventually. Your time will come.

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Hey, check out the profile (and rare pic of me) at Linda’s awesome new site, Bodies in Motivation. And if you’ve arrived here from there, welcome! Feel free to hang for awhile and I’d love it if you want to introduce yourself in the comment section when you feel moved to do so. Be warned though, this is really more of a “me” journal than a “fitness” journal.

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