glow notes

Monday, May 15, 2006

Limitless

I have a colleague who is pleasant to interact with, but you get the sense she’s got an electromagnetic field surrounding her at about four feet. She is a beautiful woman, tall and elegant, and a sophisticated dresser, (especially given our “I took a job in academia so that I wouldn’t have to wear pantyhose and shoes that hurt” dress code). Should it chance that a mere mortal dare criticize her to her face, I sincerely doubt that it would register.

I am in awe of this colleague’s seemingly boundless ability to deflect expectations. How does she do it? In short, she has a sense of entitlement.

We often use the word ‘entitlement’ to refer to somebody who believes that their {time/feelings/whatever} are more important than everybody else’s. This is not a particularly estimable character trait. But could one have this sense of privilege without the negative flip side? You could call this self-esteem or confidence, but those words fall short for me. They don’t imply the same sense of claiming one’s birthright.

When I look up the word ‘entitle’ in the Oxford English Dictionary, I found this definition (among others):


To furnish (a person) with a ‘title’ to an estate. Hence gen. to give (a person or thing) a rightful claim to a possession, privilege, designation, mode of treatment, etc.


I often joke that my dog thinks she has a fan club, and refer to going for a walk as ‘greeting her fans.’ She is gracious in her notoriety, greeting all of her public with equal delight. Some people don’t meet her joy with matching enthusiasm, or even avoid her. This doesn’t bother her for a moment. Neither does it inhibit her passion.

Why? Because she knows that she is entitled to affection. If a particular individual happens not to give it to her, well, they must just be misinformed. 'Poor things,' I imagine she thinks, 'they’re living life in a deluded state. It must be hard for them, not getting cuddles. Hey, is that a fireman over there? I love men in uniform!'

How does this relate to the topic of health and fitness? I’m not the only person who has struggled with the diet versus not-diet dichotomy. It’s pretty common and it’s a sneaky bugger. I’ve spent a long time finding a balance between eating 'healthy' and indulging every whim, and I've been largely successful. I’ve been able to balance my desire for the occasional piece of chocolate cake with the understanding that too much chocolate cake isn’t good for me.

But when I’m under stress, I have to focus pretty hard in order not to lose my footing. And sometimes I slip and fall. Because balance is still about walking a tightrope between two contradictory alternatives.

Recently I realized something. It’s sort of an obvious something, but it took awhile to travel from my head to my heart. I’m entitled to be healthy; to choose my own goals; to eat foods that nourish both my body and my appetites; to move in ways that are both health-enhancing and enjoyable. Or not to. It is only my own delusion that places buttered sourdough on one side of the tightrope and broccoli on the other.

Clearly the laws of physics still apply – or at least, I haven’t figured out how to get around them. My body likely becomes a better calorie-burning machine when I feel good (probably because of hormonal changes), but cause and effect doesn’t disappear.

My actual food and fitness behaviors have not changed much. I have a very good set of behaviors in place. The difference is that I don’t feel that I’m putting out so much effort to maintain them.

Sometimes I think of developing healthy habits as a process of parenting myself. While I was once a stern and unyielding presence, I've softened. I don't allow myself eat only candy and watch cartoons all day, but neither do I label having a serving of cake or watching a favorite television show ‘bad’ or even harmful behavior.

I’ve seen the consequences of people believing that one's only options are to make themselves miserable through food restriction and wretched bouts of exhausting and/or boring exercise; or to live it up, consequences be damned. I see people with Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease because of this. And I've seen others make make themselves miserable in the struggle. I've been miserable, and it's . . . well, miserable.

I don’t mean to make it sound easy. A lot lead up to me grasping this insight at a gut level. But it’s there, and it makes all of the suffering unnecessary. Here's what I wish I could share:

It is your birthright to feel really, really good. Not for 20 or 30 years, but for the whole of your time on the planet. You are entitled to all the support it takes, and all the time it takes, and all the opportunities that you need to begin again. You are entitled to pleasure. You are entitled to enjoy your life, and that includes caring for your physical body. You are worth all of this, and more.

And if anybody says otherwise, including the voices in your own head, well, they must just be misinformed.