Tonight I did a workout, and am on day eight of a new diet. I have spent my life fluctuating from a very in shape and healthy 185 pounds to a pudgy and out of shape 215. I don’t worry too much when I gain weight because I know I will lose it again. Depending on where I am in my weight cycle, different jeans are in the closest or in storage. When my second son Dana was born in late 2005, I was near my “prime” weight. I thought nothing of the fact that suddenly two kids meant I had less time to exercise and was more likely to overeat. So slowly over the last four plus years, I drifted from about 190 to a hefty 219 last Thursday. Efforts to eat less and exercise more failed for various reasons. Only one pair of pants really fit comfortably.
For a brief moment I thought about giving in. I am healthy, a few extra pounds isn’t that bad. I can live wearing size 38 rather than 36. Should I try to stay at 215 or so…? Then I looked at the calendar. Not the month, date or day, but the year. 2010. I was born in 1960. On March 1 I turn fifty. I then thought about skiing last weekend, how my body ached and my back went into spasms as I forced my ski boots locked, how picking up the polls on the ground seemed a chore, and going up the T-bar with my six year old son made my back and legs feel like they were under extreme pressure. In short, my body is feeling my age, and every pound adds to inflexibility.
Then I did some math. When my youngest turns 21, I’ll be 66 years old. By the time he hits 40, I’ll be 85. I’ll be in my 70s at least when I become a Grandfather. The choices I make now determine what kind of life I’ll have down the line. So with a renewed sense of commitment I am now one week and a day into a diet that keeps me under 2000 calories a day and exercising.
Alas, at 50 I can’t diet like I did in my thirties. I hit 210 for the first time when I was 35. A year later I was 185 and lean. I exercised and cut calories by eating only what I liked. That was generally pasta, pizza, bread, and sweets, only in smaller quantities than before. My veggie intake was limited to tomato sauce on my pizza/pasta, and a salad now and then. I was doing weights so I’d also dine on steaks rather frequently — low fat cuts, but nice juicy medium rare slabs of red meat. Not as good as the steak I was used to in South Dakota, but when you’re down to 2000 calories a day (or less), any steak is delicious.
Nope. My body can’t handle that now. I need nutrition, for some reason. I was feeling lethargic by day four, even light headed. I still will probably have mostly carbs and empty calories, but I’ll have to integrate veggies in there somehow. This morning I was 215. That means “officially” I lost four pounds this week. At that pace, I’ll do great! Of course, I have learned over the years that week one is almost always a huge loss because my body gets rid of a lot of excess water. Two pounds a week is more realistic. A nice start does keep me motivated.
I’ve never really been too bothered about getting older. For one thing, I have young children so I feel a bit younger than I would if I had kids at the ‘normal’ time and they were bringing me grandchildren now. Heck, my Grandma was 38 when I was born! I also really like having lived through the era I was lucky to be born into, remembering Vietnam (vaguely), Watergate, the Cold War, and my dad working at a Computer firm (Data, Inc) in the sixties when computers with much less power than this laptop on which I type occupied whole rooms. I have watched the technology and information revolution from a time when we got four TV stations through an antenna to Dishnet with DVR.
Still, there is something about turning fifty that causes me to change my self-image. There is a point in life where the future seems to be unlimited opportunity, with a sense of magic. That sense of magic is still there, but the opportunities are now bounded. And that’s OK. At a teaching school I accept that I will never become a prolific scholar or well known expert on German and European policy. But I am free to choose to explore different questions of interest to me, and take chances with an unconventional conventional approach. It could still turn out to be really successful, but if not it’s OK.
With a family and all the responsibilities that come with that, my dreams of travel and living abroad are truncated. But this year I’m part of my 7th travel course in just over a decade, bringing students to Europe, and I look forward to showing as much of the world as possible to my kids as they grow. Being more life experienced, I find myself much calmer and able to take things with a sense of perspective than I could twenty years ago. Very little bothers me. Yet I see my sons just coming into the age where their passions will cause them to take chances, lose their temper, or be overcome with emotions, I hope to help them deal with those challenges.
Now that we’re financially sound I realize that I’ll never be rich, but probably won’t end up poor. I also am amused that whether it’s making two decent incomes as we do now, or meager teaching assistant pay in grad school, it’s always the same: barely enough money to get by, yet satisfied with what I have. Yet even as I feel life is going well, I worry about the future of my kids — what about oil crises, climate change, the decline in the US economy, etc,? In short, I no longer worry about my own future or fantasize some great success story; I’m happy and content with the life I have. Yet now my childrens’ future is my main concern, and I daresay I worry more about them than I ever worried about myself!
So it’s about time I not only lose weight again, but this time embrace ways to stay healthy so I can minimize the aches and pains that inevitably go with getting older, stay as active as possible with my very active and energetic sons, and find ways to make the second fifty years as good as the first. Optimistic? Perhaps. But I really want to see at least one of my grandchildren graduate from college. Since my oldest child is six, I think I have to shoot for 100 to see that happen. And looked at that way — I’ve got as far to travel as I already have traveled — turning fifty has a romantic and exciting flair to it. Which is good, since I’m not going to get that from food any time soon.