Summer: Fat Woman Walking (The Beginning)

"The Beginning"
A Shadow Selfie of the Author
Summer 2016

I began walking as a fat woman.
A year later, I would be a thin woman walking, but I will always see that haughty fat woman in the pink, straw hat walking through the KFC Drive Thru, snapping shadow selfies and photos of arrows and Exit signs painted on the pavement.
I have become an expert walker; I walk three miles nearly every day, in all kinds of weather and circumstances.
I walked on Thanksgiving.
I walked on Christmas Day.
I walked on New Year’s Eve and Day.
I walked on Easter.
I walked on Memorial Day.
I walked on the Fourth of July.
I walked on Labor Day.
I have calluses on my feet and the worn-out shoes to prove my endurance.
I do not have superpowers, nor am I anyone special – I am just afraid, afraid not to walk – that if I don’t keep on walking my body will grow inert and, yet again, logy, soft, fat.
Perhaps die before my time.
In most things, I am a scattershot person, one not prone to great organizational skills.
But beginning on day one, I set a ritual, one that persists to this day: the night before, I make sure that my walking clothes, shoes, socks, fanny pack (loaded with house key, plastic bag, money, ID, and sunglasses), hat, and umbrella are positioned in specific places and within easy reach for the confirmed and grumpy night owl who will be crawling out of bed the next morning.
I plug my phone in the charger.
I also prepare part of my breakfast before retiring: I peel my cucumber and slice it; I wash and slice my bell pepper; I wash my tomato and fruit.
I place my daily supplements on the kitchen table, my four waters for the day in the refrigerator.
This ritual has cut deep pathways into my brain.
The next morning, no matter how groggy I might be or how much I don’t want to walk, the act of donning exercise gear triggers a wide-awake response, a desire to get going as soon as possible.
It’s like an instantaneous light switch flicking on.
Conventional Wisdom says that it takes about six months to create a good habit – bad habits seem to develop faster.
If my walking were to slack off for even a short time, I suspect my good habit would evaporate quickly, my habit of lolling in bed until one p.m. kicking in within a week or two.
My ritual keeps me on track.
The fact that I have taken up regular walking late in life is a testament to serendipity – I didn’t set out to do a daily outside walk.
After I restarted Weight Watchers in May 2016, I grudgingly started exercising on the treadmill. Part of me certainly knew I wouldn’t be able to sustain any enthusiasm for the daily dreadmill slog.
Though for two and a half months, I soldiered onward, gritting my teeth and cussing each time I stepped on the belt – I felt like a rodent on the hamster wheel.
Then in July 2016, we traveled to Sioux City, Iowa, to visit family.
Going back home has always posed problems for me and my eating; it’s as a switch goes off in my head, and the whiny fat id-child emerges and loses all adult control.
This time, I was determined to stay on plan, keeping my eating in check and my exercise regular, if not daily.
Except for one thing: my relative’s treadmill wasn’t working properly. It was wobbly, and the belt slipped. Ever since my 2011 treadmill mishap – resulting in a cracked vertebra – I was half afraid of it.
Hell, let’s be honest: I was terrified.
No way, no how was I going to subject my body to that rickety machine.
What to do?
Was this paralyzing fear just another excuse to ditch my exercise program and, ultimately, my eating plan? Past experience has taught me that these kinds of barriers tend to have a negative cascading effect on good intentions.
My husband and I weighed our options: we could mall walk – except that the mall was about 30 minutes from the house.
Could we temporarily join a gym? That might work, but that seemed complicated and potentially expensive.
Then it hit me: why not try walking outside?
Yes, Sioux City summers can be brutal, and I was particularly susceptible to the heat, but this day, July 15, was cool and cloudy.
No excuses.
I threw on my exercise outfit and walked around the block, several times.
And then I did it the next day, and the next, and the next – all during my vacation.
To beat the heat, I, naturally a slug in the a.m., arose early, surprising my husband and family who were used to observing the grim creature crawling out from the crypt – way past noon.
Most important, I surprised myself.
I liked walking; I liked the way the outdoors made me feel, how my energy levels quickly increased, how the weight slid off, even though I was on vacation and allowing myself some controlled treats.
I loved meeting my family’s neighbors and their dogs and babies.
I loved feeling invigorated and emotionally awake for the first time in years.
I loved the fresh, morning air.
I loved life again.
Best of all: I loved myself.
And the id-child remained pretty much in check; I was in control.
When I returned home, I continued my walks; the route was different and even hillier and more challenging, but the social aspects remained the same. For the first time in 27 years, I have gotten to know many of my neighbors and their dogs and children.
I have discovered the local hangout for elderly retired men: a doughnut shop, open 24/7.
I now know where to go, within walking distance, if I need batteries for just about any gadget or a quick junk food fix or even a full sit-down meal.
If I smoked, there is a smoke shop; if I need my nails done, there is a nail shop; if I need a tan, there is a tanning salon – although I have already acquired a light tan just by walking.
Until last January, I could have gotten my CPAP supplies from a medical supply company and computer repairs for my zonky old poofer at a mom-and-pop computer place.
I have learned what my neighbors are up to and what they eat, just by glancing at their garbage: the chronic partiers/boozers, the chronically ill, the junk food addicts, the health nuts, the obsessive cleaner-uppers – those who toss out perfectly functional items.
In the past year, I have found, curbside, two chairs (both needing minor repairs, which I was able to do myself with a little help from my son), three bar stools, one rocker (perfect condition), and one desk (nice, with dove-tailed drawers, no chair included, but what can one expect for free?).
I have kept everything except the barstools, which I sold through a consignment shop.
All the keepers have turned out to be upgrades in our home – we are notoriously reluctant shoppers and slow to replace those possessions that need replacing.
Most important benefit: I became physically strong and mentally empowered.
Since the Sioux City visit that changed everything, I have returned twice: once last Fall and once this Summer.
Both times, I picked up where I left off, reacquainting myself with the six-loop route, the neighbors, and their dogs – occasionally their infants, now toddlers.
I am convinced that my daily walk has rescued my diet plan and, perhaps, saved my life.
The truth is, my enthusiasm for both diet program and exercise, after a mere two months, had been flagging, a sad rerun of my life in the making.
Had I not made that one snap decision to pick myself up and walk outside for just that one day, I doubt very much I would be writing this book.
I probably would have reverted to the couch, feeling sorry for myself, and moaning about my fate as a sleep apnea sufferer –
Fat Woman.
And, even if I had the energy, Fat Woman Slouching is not the kind of book I would ever want to write or that anyone else would want to read.
Fat Woman Walking is the book I need to write and read.
Even if no one else gives a damn.


linsel said…
Another great column.
I think the key is finding something you like to do. And you have done that.
I hate to exercise. The term work out has that four-letter word work in it.
And if you see me running it means someone is chasing me.
But I love to dance.
Three mornings a week I happily bounce out of bed to Zumba with a wonderful group of folks -- black, white, Latino, Asian, young, old, fat, thin -- all of us smiling as we dance ourselves silly.
Let me know if you'd like to join me. The first class is free.

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