A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Year Dieting: Tight Buns or Life

New Year’s Resolutions.  New diet plans.  Endless health club advertisements.  Anyone with me on wanting to scream and defiantly consume obnoxious amounts of chocolate this time of year?  

I realize I might feel differently about things if I had a different body type.  I don’t mean to be insensitive.  But none of it makes any sense to me.  Starting a diet automatically implies at some point the diet will end.  If we are merely giving up certain foods for a period of time, isn’t that fasting?  Fasting for a purpose is good.  Fasting for no purpose is self-inflicted hardship.  Fasting to lose 10 pounds for a few months seems shortsighted.  Fasting in order to lose 10 pounds for good is illogical.  

But what really drives me nuts is popular motivations for dieting and exercise.  Variety is key for me when it comes to fitness so I have tried many different exercise videos.  Every time I hear phrases like “tight buns” or hear the instructor describe exactly which fat we are targeting in a given exercise I have a strong desire to throw my hand weights at the television.  Why on earth has exercise become about making ourselves look pretty?  

In my youth I wanted to look pretty too and I still do, sometimes.  Yet, the older I get the more I exercise so my back won’t hurt.  I exercise so the next time I have to throw a hay bale or get the crockpot down from the top shelf, I won’t hurt myself.  

Even better when I exercise so that, whatever challenges life brings my way, I can face them.  I don’t expect to make myself invincible or anything but strong enough so most challenges won’t make me want to curl up in a ball.  Perhaps farming helps make this a little clearer in my mind than it might be for someone with a different career.  On the farm one never knows when one might have to spend hours running through trees, over streams, and up hills chasing escaped livestock.  Or when the day's work might depend upon wrestling a stubborn bolt off a piece of equipment.  Or when one might spend the day stumbling over crop stubble scouring the field for some lost and nearly irreplaceable part which jiggled loose from the disc or tractor or whatever.  The practical implications of being in shape are driven home to me more frequently than for some but we all have challenges we might have to face: from flat tires to illnesses to natural disasters and so on.  What if we focus upon those things when we motivate ourselves for healthy living rather than how cute our butts will look?

I wonder if similar motivation might be helpful in areas of mental and spiritual health as well.  What if we focused on equipping ourselves to handle the challenges of life?  Not in a "vanquish our enemies", "be the best," or "triumph over all" sort of way but rather in a love more, give more, make a difference sort of way.  Self-care, healthy sleep patterns, learning to say no, meditation, cultivating peacefulness, prayer, reading, intellectual enrichment, all take on new meaning if they are for a purpose beyond making me pretty or making me feel good.  If we strengthen ourselves physically, mentally, and spiritually we are better able to wrestle really difficult things like loving others, letting go of our stuff, working for peace and justice, fighting off cynicism and apathy.  Plus it is difficult to help others in a crisis if we have crumbled into a pile of mush ourselves.

I am certainly not immune to vanity.  I don’t like it when my pants don’t fit.  Yet it seems more helpful to me if my motivation goes a little deeper than whether or not I am wearing an elastic waist band.   What if living life fully and with purpose could be our motivation for healthy living?

But then, I will probably look back over my life someday and wish I had worked harder to achieve tight buns.


Grandma Carolee said...

This is so good!! I'm 70 years old & have been teaching exercise classes for 32 years. Most of my students have been with me for 20 years and are now in their late 70's and early 80's. We exercise regularly together because it makes us feel better both emotionally & physically, and gives us the energy to stay active in our family & community. Thanks for this post.

Sheri Ellwood said...

Thanks, Grandma Carolee! It sounds like a great group of students!