My husband tells me that I’m not happy unless I’m obsessing on something and/or going through some of kind self-improvement kick.
When he first said that to me, I thought, doesn’t everyone do that?
Apparently, they don’t. By “obsessing on something” I mean discovering and then devouring some new author or musician, or some area of study: a historical era, for example, or some sociological trend. It means reading and researching about something, getting as much information as I can about it, talking about it to anyone who will listen, and almost having to force my mind away from it to handle work, family, or other obligations. Looking back at the last twenty years or so, here is a sampling of things that I have obsessed over:
History of dieting, including how medical advice about nutrition changes through history
Hollywood during the studio era
Generational theory of history (Strauss and Howe)
Financial planning and economics
Entertainment geared toward women, like romance novels, soap operas, women’s films
NYT Crossword puzzles
the Civil War
Weird Al Yankovic
Each of these things, as my obsession ebbs, stays with me, but at a level of more “normal” (whatever that means) interest. I still listen to the Monkees and Weird Al, I will pick up a new book on the Civil War when one comes out, I still do my daily NYT crossword. The same thing has happened to me over the years with diet and exercise. I have gained and lost the same ten or fifteen pounds four or five times over the course of my adult life. This is not the unhealthy “yo-yo dieting” that doctors warn you about (at least, I tell myself it is not), but rather two different weight set points, my “healthy lifestyle” set point, and my “lazy lifestyle” set point. They are about 10-15 pounds apart. To kickstart a “healthy lifestyle” time period, I usually need to find some new hook of diet or exercise that inspires me to make a change, something new or novel that my obsession-prone mind can sink its teeth into. Then, as the obsession ends, enough of my new habits stick around to give me a nice, balanced, healthy lifestyle that I can stick with, until some major life change (having a baby, getting the house remodeled, etc) shakes up my routine. I always think it will be easy to get back into those healthy habits after the major life change ends, but doing so always proves elusive. It’s like being on the other side of a locked door, and I need some new hook to get me back in and get me through the door.
This “hook” is usually something new and sometimes faddish, but not unhealthily so. One time it was the South Beach diet, another time it was learning to cook with lesser-known whole grains like spelt, and another was impulsively signing up with a personal trainer, and another was discovering a surprisingly economical farmer’s market. Over the past year or so (it must be said) I’ve put on on some weight, what I might delicately call a “brandy belly.” Even while being unwilling to give up alcohol, I have been searching for a new hook, a new enthusiasm, that would get me back into the “healthy living” column. I think I even had the idea that if I was healthy in every other way, I would be able to justify continuing to drink. Although, I do also remember thinking once, I’ll get healthy and then eventually it will just be a logical thing to do to quit drinking. But quitting drinking first was unthinkable to me.
So, I tried yoga, which I enjoyed but it didn’t ignite the spark I felt I needed. I tried looking back at the South Beach diet, but … been there, done that. After we got our dog, nightly walks became a part of my routine, which was (and is) fantastic but didn’t lead to any weight loss as I had hoped. All in all, I did feel marginally fitter, but not enough to really feel good about it. And through it all I continued to drink.
But now, I have a real opportunity. I have been exercising more, daily, in fact, over the last four weeks, because I need the therapeutic effects of exercise. It’s the only mood lifter or stress reliever available to me these days, and it helps immensely to combat the restlessness I feel, particularly in the evenings. But though again I do feel fitter, I still haven’t lost any weight. This is no doubt because I have permitted myself over the same period to indulge a little more in desserts and sweets. I even bought myself a Pop Tart a couple weeks ago, because I remembered how I loved them as a kid and I thought this might be the only time in my life I could justify eating one.
It wasn’t very good.
I’m wary of trying too hard to diet because my sobriety is more important than anything. If I feel the need to indulge myself with something, better a cookie than a glass of wine. But I have time now to plan and cook better, healthier meals, if I can find the enthusiasm to do so.