Cycles: When We Keep Revisiting the Same Issue

May 5, 2019

I have lost and gained weight many times over the past decade.  I find something that seems to help (calorie reduction, carb reduction, cardio, weight lifting, fat intake, thyroid regulation, blah blah blah), and I lose weight. All those things are valid and helpful, but then, something happens, usually a stressor but not always, and the weight comes crashing back like a tsunami, and I have to fight just to keep my head above water and not drown in the sea of shame, carbs and self-doubt.

Round and round I go, circling this blasted mountain. It has not been fruitless by any means.  I mean, I have learned so much about my body, the foods I eat and general health, but, if we are being honest, in this safe space, it can be discouraging.  I keep thinking the latest thing I learn is my “it factor”, the thing that is going to lead me into the Promised Land, the last piece of the massive puzzle.  

Plus, I notice that with each pass, with each gain/loss cycle, it gets harder to lose and easier to gain.  The same things don’t always work.  Sometimes it feels like climbing a sand hill, two steps forward and one step back.

Anyway, working out has become a part of my “hiking gear”, so to speak.  If I am going to navigate tough terrain, there are things (habits, lifestyles, mindsets, recipes) needed for the trip.  Each trip around the mountain has afforded me new skills, habits.  Working out has proven to be one of the most helpful ones.

About six months ago, I hired a personal trainer to help me get back on track. I need someone to build a workout program and to direct me on form, exercises and all that kind of good stuff.  Without that help, I tend to talk myself out of workouts, convincing myself that I don’t have the time and am not sure what to do. Or, I push myself too far and end up overdoing it to compensate for all the times I didn’t show up at the gym, which ,subconsciously, reinforces the idea that working out is too difficult or even hurting me physically.  

I tried classes, but, honestly, I cannot seem to stay in my lane.  I spend half the time comparing myself to other people who are stronger and faster than I am and the other half trying really hard not to get noticed.  I don’t say this to be self-deprecating.  I am just being honest.  Part of living out loud is discussing progress as well as faults.  So, I decided I need to spend my resources on working out in an environment where I can benefit and blossom, given my tendency for gym comparisons.

Anyway, back to the trainer.

I remember, during our initial consultation, looking at his wall of certifications and awards.  But, what stuck out to me was the number of people on the wall with before and after pictures.  

Many looked like me in their initial pictures, some larger, some smaller, but all on the first day of their journey.  Very few smiled, and they all seemed to have an obligatory “just take the picture please” pose suggesting this was not their idea.

The second picture, though, was always full of smiles and flaunty postures showing off toned physiques and defined arms and legs.  Some were gym pics and others were poses of women and men in form fitting clothing.  All smiles and muscles.

At first, I admired the wall of pics.  I thought, “I am going to be on the wall, someday soon.”  Month after month passed, and not a pound left my body.  I mean, I was progressing well with my strength training, squatting deeper, running further, less knee pain…but my frame, my bulges weren’t budging.  

Time and time again, I came into the gym and would walk past that dang wall, loathing it more each time I passed.  It got to the point where I intentionally avoided the judgmental gaze of the people on it.

I was so discouraged and frustrated by the lack of desired progress, despite my enormous effort of time, labor and money, that I was growing downright bitter.

Now…this is where gym gurus like to jump in and say things like: “You got to take a look at your diet.  You’re doing something wrong.”  Or “You probably need to do this [insert unhelpful advice here].”  

While I appreciate the advice, let me be straight with you.  This ain’t my first rodeo (side note: I have never been to a rodeo, but the phrase still works).  

I know a whole heck of a lot about macros, calories, protein, carbs, sleep and the lot.  If it were as easy as calories in and calories out, obesity wouldn’t be an epidemic.  Just because I’m thick doesn’t mean I have a knowledge deficit about diet and exercise. It is so much deeper than that.

In fact, I think people who struggle with obesity tend to know quite a bit, because we are forced to figure out what is going on with our bodies when conventional advice fails.

Okay. Rant over. Back to the story.

So, one day, in between sets, I asked my trainer if was normal for people to cycle up and down with their weight. He gave this incredulous look and said, “Phshh…are you kidding me??? Yes!!! Everyone cycles up and down when they are fighting obesity.”

This was news to me.  I just thought I fell into a group of the few lucky ones.

He then walks me over to the dreaded wall and says, “This person is back to their original weight.  This one has gained half back and quit coming to the gym.  This lady gained back more than she lost, and she just gave up and stopped coming…”  

On and on he went until he listed about half the people on the wall, indicating they had gained the weight back.   The last one he pointed to was a picture of himself.   He was almost unrecognizable.  He was wearing nothing but a small speedo and was doing one of those muscle bulging poses that accentuate every bit of definition.  A ginormous Flava Flav sized medal hung around his neck.  He’d won first place in a bodybuilding competition. While he is still certainly very fit, he no longer looks like that.

He scoffed and said someone asked him just the other day if the picture was photoshopped, because he looked so different.  He laughed and said, “Kinda hurt my feelings! I was like, naw man!! That’s me!”

He went on to explain that cycling is really normal when fighting obesity.  I asked him if anyone ever stops the cycling up and down.  Who are the ones who stop going round the mountain and make it into the Promised Land?

He said, “The ones who keep showing up.  The ones who keep trying.  The ones who push through plateaus and weight gains.  The ones who decide in advance that they are going to make it, no matter what, and never give up. Those people make it.”

I realized half of those people on that wall were in the middle of their journey.  Half of those people had a few more trips around the mountain to make.  The other half had maybe been a few around enough times to work out whatever they needed to work out spiritually and physically to make it into the Promised Land.   I realized that not only I am normal, but I have made it very far.  I have pushed for a long time, and I have what it takes to make it to the end.

I tell you this, because I need you to keep pushing.  It may not be weight loss you are struggling with. It may be an addiction, a financial situation, a toxic relationship, psychological issues or a job situation…only God knows what you are struggling against.  First, take comfort in the fact that God knows and cares.

Second, if you are going round and round, you are not necessarily going in circles.  What do I mean? The Israelites may have wandered for 40 years, but it was not fruitless.  I’ve read it took about 40 hours to get them out of Egypt and 40 years to get the Egypt out of them.  Perhaps your travels are helping to purge some things out of your body, your spirit and, at the same time, equipping you with skills and abilities you will need to handle your Promised Land when you enter.

Don’t quit.

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Questions/Thoughts to ponder with God:

1. God, I have wrestled with this issue several times. I didn’t think I’d be back here.  What is it You want me to learn?

2. Each trip around the mountain brought new revelation, new insight, new skills for me.  Make a list of things you’ve learned on your journey.  Ask God what new skill you are to learn on this round.

3. Ask God to help you see the unfair judgments and expectations you place on yourself which slow you down and inhibit growth.

4. Sometimes well-meaning people offer unsolicited or unhelpful feedback that can create stumbling blocks to progress.  List a few statements which seem particularly harmful.  Now, with some prayer and quiet time with God, create counter statements which can help protect you spiritually.

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