Now, if you’ve read this far you might still be a bit puzzled about what exactly brought on this urge to de-quantify. To the casual observer I look like the epitome of someone leading a healthy lifestyle. I’m doing all the stuff that the surgeon general tells you to do. I exercise a lot, I eat a healthy diet, I am not overweight. And yet:
Sanctimoniousness: I’m kinda ashamed about this, but this obsession with my health, food an exercise made me a mean person. I started judging people by their appearance and their oh-so-unhealthy behaviors. I got cranky with my vegan girlfriend, I sneered at people’s lunch choices, I’d turn down someone’s homemade cookies with a scowl, I started lecturing my kid on nutrition. It took me a while to figure out that not everyone has such an easy time of sticking to some ridiculous plan, that people have other priorities, have other things going on in their lives, and that perhaps pleasure might just as fundamental human need as the right O3:O6 balance.
One-dimensionality: I used to make art, I used to love music, I used to read far and wide, I used to stay up late, I used to drink, I used to be fun. And then I stopped drinking (because it killed my workouts the next morning), I went to sleep at 10pm, I spent more and more time reading nutrition blogs. Maybe I’ll live a few years longer if I’m doing all this super-healthy stuff, but if I’m going to be a boring person, with no adventure, and discovery, and craziness and debauchery in my life, maybe those extra years won’t be so interesting. Not saying, life fast, die young, but balance the virtue with some vice.
Borderline eating disorder: When I first started tracking in earnest I was at a BMI of 18.7 Once I had a good grip on manipulating calories and exercise I started to eat just a touch below my daily caloric need, just to lose a bit of weight and fit into skinnier pants. A deficit of 50 calories doesn’t sound like a lot, but over the course of a year I’d lost seven pounds and had a BMI of 17.5. And that’s in the gray zone; not quite anorexia, but definitely not healthy either; irregular periods, cold all the time, less energy. But I wasn’t starving myself, just eating a teeny little bit less than what my body needs. Because I had a total grip on my numbers I could micro-calibrate all this.
Borderline over-exercising: You know you’ve got a problem when you’ve got a painful heel spur and yet you just must go on an eight mile walk – because it’s nice out, because your fidgety, because you need fresh air, because you’d feel just too guilty if you didn’t. Or you’re going to Crossfit again even though you’re still sore and you really haven’t fully recovered from the last time. Now, there might be a touch of genetics in here. Most of my family are dedicated, enthusiastic walkers. My father hunts and he used to think nothing of hiking for many miles to get to just the right place to stake out deer. However, a lifetime of physical work and a couple of botched operations have left him with a bad back and constant pain, and he’s now mostly on crutches. One of my sisters has hiked for weeks at a time while fasting – she was then prone to breatharianims (extreme, us? why, of course not). My mother is perhaps the best, or saddest, example of this extreme compulsion to walk. She’d go on long walks every day, in the vineyards, the forest, to pick berries. She swore by fresh air and sunlight, no matter what. One sunny, brilliantly cold January morning in 2010 the radio announced dangerously icy conditions and warned people to stay indoors or stick to salted roads and sidewalks. My mom ignored those warnings, put on her favorite comfortable walking shoes and made for the hills. Which is where she slipped, fell backward with her head hitting the road, was found unconscious, was in a coma for six weeks with serious traumatic brain injury, and yet, defying all the odds, made a full mental recovery. Her physical recovery is still only partial; she can only walk a few hundred feet and only with a walker because the part of the brain coordinating motor skills was heavily damaged.
Now, I’ll say that this almost bizarrely gruesome example isn’t meant to a be a warning against walking. Walking’s great, humans were built for it, it’s in our bones. My mom’s example is really just a reminder that obsessive walking in adverse circumstances is foolish, and that if you’re going to go out in slippery conditions, have the good sense to wear shoes with grippy soles.
It’s also a reminder that even if we engineer a supremely healthy life, maximize food and exercise for longevity, do everything right we can still end up with a life we haven’t anticipated. We live in a random universe of unexpected gifts and unexpected accidents. But marvelously, we also receive the mental strength to deal with the unexpected and find happiness in a life that we didn’t want and hadn’t planned for.
I’m writing all this and it makes such perfect sense …. if only I could truly believe it and live by it. But that’s why I’m writing, so that one day I will.