I mess things up in extremely consistent ways. Whether I’m racing or dieting, I go out hard and fall flat by the end. In the same way that racing is the competitive form of running, dieting is the competitive form of eating. In both instances, I compete with myself and skinny girls.
My first mile or two in a race (or the first 10 in the case of a marathon) are always too fast. Adrenaline and hopefulness kick in and control me. My energy stores are high, seemingly bottomless, until they’re not. Similarly, in the first hours of every day, dieting doesn’t scare me. After years of skipping breakfast, dining on a little something, preferably containing whole grains and a little protein, is a treat. My determination is strong, seemingly unending, until it’s not.
So toward the end of every race, and the end of every day, all of my intentions and designs, goals and strategies, go out the window. I slow down. I dive in.
Because I like gratification! I want to have my cake and eat it to...the whole thing, thank you very much, with lots of frosting. When it comes to running, I can forgive myself because the only win I’m after is crossing the finish line. However, my weight is a different story. The good news is I’m not dysfunctional about it. I have a weight loss goal in the single digits; I’ll still be closer to 200 pounds than 100 pounds. I use the term “dieting” loosely because I actually oppose dieting. I’m simply trying to, as Michael Pollan says, “eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” But given my predilection for Snickers and chocolate peanut butter ice cream, this takes actual effort for me.
I start strong, then weaken. At the end of the race and at the end of the day. Bedtime: the magic hour. The kiddos are washed up and read to and tucked in and loved on. The quiet sets in and I decide to reward myself with the very thing that I was so determined to avoid at the beginning of the day. And it is soooo good, for the 2 to 10 minutes it takes to eat it. At which point, the gratification is over and the guilt sets in. Why is food my favorite reward (and it is still my favorite reward)? When did the magic hour become the sliver of time in which I’m left alone? After all, I love and adore my family; they are my favorite people. Ah, but sometimes silence is golden...and gratifying.
This morning, I read about the recent London riots, about the predominance of gratification in the actions of some of the looters, looking to get a groovy pair of shoes outta the bedlam. Let me avoid semantics (and avoid the complex issues of justice, opportunity, and class involved in the riots) by saying that by gratification I mean that desire to experience a quick reward. I mean the need for pleasure, for something that is good to your senses. Gratification is great; I’m all for it. Find ways of gratifying yourself! (Did I just say that?) But when I talk about gratification I mean something lesser than satisfaction, which comes with effort, and for me goes a bit deeper than the senses and into the soul. Gratification is cheap and easy, and sometimes needs to be cast aside for something better, like gratitude. If I’m getting preachy, please know that my audience is myself.
I will continue to need to decompress after the kids go to bed, and I will still allow myself a sweet treat two or three nights a week. However, I’m trying to shift to just a single serving of the sweet treat, maybe try a glass of wine as a happy substitute on occasion. And I’m trying to move my magic hour to the morning. Silence and peace accompany me on my 5 a.m. runs. The stars fade slowly into the lavender light of early morning. The needs of other people are temporarily shelved. I am able to hear myself think--sometimes long enough to have a thought worth remembering, or to say a prayer of thankfulness, or to gather enough gumption to put gratification into perspective.