View from my room at Green Mountain at Fox Run
(Be careful, this is a long one.)
Sometimes it takes me a while to put things into words, to assimilate an experience to the point that I can explain it. How do I encapsulate a vast, emotional experience in a matter of text?
(Side note: Perhaps not having that figured out is why I am not a published author. Hmph.)
Earlier this month, I had the privilege to go to Green Mountain at Fox Run, way up in Vermont. It snowed.
Ever since, even while I was there, I kept trying to think of how to write a blog post to summarize my experience.
Much like with Fitbloggin (2011), I am finding it very difficult to put into words.
At this point, I think it’s a good thing I waited to write it out (maybe something in my subconscious slowed me down to give me time to gain perspective–thank you, Universe!), as my thoughts have been rather roundabout.
Let’s talk straight about this. (Bear with me, and I promise I will get to a point.)
My first full day there, I was excited and raring to go. I went to all of the “Foundational” classes, exercise classes, all of it. I did the 7:00am fitness assessment (which told me my weight was exactly what I thought it was, but my blood pressure and heart rate were better than my last doctor’s visit, and pretty darn good). I ate my prescribed meals. I talked. I shared.
By the end of the day, I was feeling a bit disheartened.
The nutrition classes hadn’t told me anything I hadn’t heard before, and were not encouraging me to follow a prescribed way of eating. In fact, they were telling me to eat what I truly wanted, to work treats into my life, and to eat what makes me feel good. Hmm.
The exercise classes didn’t even make me sweat. I’ve gotten used to running hard, to lifting hard, to pushing my body, and this wasn’t it. I recognize that I have improved my fitness considerably in the past months, and that there was a time in my life when the workouts we did would have been incredibly difficult for me, and some parts of it would have been painful. But not now. By the end of the day, I needed to work up a sweat and blow off some steam, so I went out to the little 1/10-mile track beside the building and did laps–3.1 miles worth–getting in my Running 101 intervals. I did sweat at that point, which made me feel a little better.
Day 2 was the first of the psychology/behavior classes, which were the ones I was most looking forward to. Let’s face it, I’m kind of a know-it-all (just a little, ya think?), and right now I feel like I’ve got Diet and Exercise more or less figured out, or at least I am in the process of figuring them out. But psychology? Sure, I know a lot about it, and I read and poke and think and question, but in the end, I know that there’s a TON I don’t know. And, as we all know, psychology is my weight loss drug of choice.
Here’s the thing with psychology, and the mental strategies we can employ to change our lives: I might know all about it, but I don’t actually do any of it, at least not consistently. GMFR showed me how to implement those strategies and mental behaviors into my life. Sure, a lot of the information given was stuff I already knew, but I did have a few a-ha moments. There is always something you can learn about yourself, if only you’re willing to look.
The rest of the week continued in much the same way. The nutrition classes were redundant for me, as someone who devours nutritional books, studies, papers, reports, etc, the way that I do. I will admit that I sort of tuned them out, because I like where I am in my experimenting with my diet and how my body reacts. If my goal is to find the ideal diet for my body and for my life, I don’t need someone else to tell me what that is, or even how to find it.
Honestly, I skipped most of the exercise classes in favor of working out on my own. I walked every day. I got in my Running 101 intervals. I did weight circuits. I did a lot of yoga and stretching, both in the gym, in my room, and just basically whenever I felt like it. I discovered that I really like the rowing machine, and that the bottom of a frog squat is a pretty comfy place to hang out if you have hip and/or lower back issues.
The behavior classes were a mix of, “Um, yeah, I know,” and “Really? Huh. I never thought of it like that.” Mental exercises help put things in perspective. Some of the realizations I had, I’m not sure how the awareness will help me moving forward. For example, we listed chronologically some experiences we had that relate to our self-esteem, and I can see how the effect was cumulative. I don’t know how to use that information, exactly, but I’m glad that I know it. A few more pieces of the puzzle have clicked into place.
A few of the other ladies commented to me that I “seem to have it all together,” or that I should come back to Green Mountain and teach, because I “know my stuff.” Part of me says, “Yes, I do,” another part says, “Well, some of the time,” and a third part says, “Keep reading for proof that I absolutely do not have anything together at all.” And that is all true. (I am large. I contain multitudes.)
I was also able to take a cooking class mid-week. I’ve always wanted to take a cooking class, so much so that I took an online cooking course, but that’s not even remotely the same. Again, some of it was things I knew, but some of it was new. For instance, pretty much everything starts with lemon juice, garlic, and tamari, and instead of trying to pan fry meat, simply sear it in the skillet, then stick the whole thing into the oven so it will come out nice and juicy. I like to think of myself as a good cook, and I have more cookbooks than I know what to do with (literally–I think I have a couple of boxes of cookbooks in storage right now), but my cooking skills are not actually all that impressive, or at least not as impressive as I would like for them to be. And, once again, there are a lot of things that I know but don’t do. I wonder how long it will take for me to learn that lesson.
The food was all delicious, even though they served me tofu. You know how many times during my 60-day vegetarian experiment I ate tofu? About 8 times. SEVEN of them were at GMFR. I’m not really a fan. I will say that they made it taste acceptable enough that I ate it. Some of the non-tofu recipes were amazing, so much that I looked them up on the blog, or requested they put them on the blog, or write them down for me, or something, because YUM.
(Side note: Dar, I need you to send me those dressing recipes! You kept the master copy with all the notes! I need that tamari ginger dressing!)
There was also an evening cooking class, in addition to the extra cooking class I took, which was a lot of fun. Chefs Puck and Julio (Note: NOT their actual names) are a lot of fun, and they make some amazing pesto. Again, YUM.
In case you’re wondering, the food is not at all bland and/or sterile. The eating environment is routinized, though you do have some snack options available outside of the prescribed routine. The meals were well balanced, and a variety of cuisines were sampled throughout the week, from Thai fish (or bean, for us vegs) cakes to pasta to steak to french fries. Dessert was served every night after dinner. You were given just enough food to leave you full, but still ready in time for the next meal, and in no cases uncomfortably full.
Aside from the classes and the food and the daily exercises, a significant part of the experience was the other women. I quickly formed fast friendships with a few of the ladies, most notably Darlene (who is from way over on the other side of the continent, and a bit north) and Karen (who is practically my neighbor), and I enjoyed talking to everyone there. They had traveled from all over the country, and even a few of them from outside the US, to Green Mountain for this environment, for the experience of learning to care for themselves. There is something so utterly meaningful about sharing your experience with others; we learn in a very visceral way that we are all both the same and unique. Among all the shapes, sizes, ages, and life experiences represented at GMFR, the differences melt away. We were all there for the same reason, and it produced a beautiful, supportive environment.
Leaving Green Mountain was a strange experience. On the one hand, I felt that there was not much for me to learn there. On the other hand, I also felt that it was the ideal environment in which all of that knowledge–both what I had come with, and what I had gained while there–could sink in.
As it happened, I left Green Mountain and ate potato chips and peanut M&Ms most of the way home, then had a bit of a breakdown because I felt guilty and stupid for doing so. (Nothing but the truth, folks.)
Was I rebelling against the restriction I felt while at GMFR? We did not have a great amount of choice, other than Eat or Don’t Eat, or possibly Eat Some Fruit; and much of the time I felt like I was “supposed” to eat or not eat according to their rules.
Was it because I felt like I had wasted the experience by being my know-it-all self and writing off what they had to say? I can recall a few specific instances where I allowed my own experience and/or bias to cause me to tune out their message (e.g. dairy as a health food, because dairy makes me feel icky).
Was it because I’m still looking for a fix, and overall I still feel very “broken”? After all, if I really was fixed, I wouldn’t have allowed myself to give in to those potato chips and peanut M&Ms, right? (Yeah, I know. Can you say, “Diet Mentality”?)
I don’t think any of that is the point, and yet I know that all of it is.
I don’t know that I was open enough to receive the fullness of the GMFR message, particularly not in the short time I was there (GMFR is designed to be a multi-week course), but I have seen some of the overall messages seeping through into my life in the time since I’ve been home.
1. Diets don’t work. Diets are restrictive, and can cause rebellious behavior, even in non-rebellious types such as myself. I think the very reason that I was able to stick with Whole30 and with vegetarianism was because it didn’t feel like a diet; it felt like an experiment. I wasn’t looking for results, exactly, I was looking to see what happened, whatever happened. If history teaches me anything, it teaches me that the instant someone tells me I’m not allowed to have bananas, I want to eat all the bananas I can find (Hello, South Beach Diet!). And if I have restricted access to potato chips and peanut M&Ms, the instant that restriction is lifted I will seek them out.
Diet mentality is pervasive, insidious, and it’s going to take a lot longer than a week–or even 30 or 60 days–to work myself free from it.
2. You have to find what works for you, in all areas. Some people like aquatics, and some people like treadmills. Some people like lifting weights. Some people like rowing machines (that would be me). Some people don’t want to break a sweat. Some people want to eat chocolate every day. Some people like tofu (I don’t know any of those people, but surely they are out there somewhere). Some people skip meals (not me). Some people drink tea, and some people drink coffee. Some people have it all figured out, and some people don’t.
Except no one really has it all figured out. No one.
3. You have to start where you are and work with what you’ve got. We’re all starting from different places, different health statuses, different emotional understandings, different everythings. You can’t start from somewhere else. You can’t wait for conditions to be perfect before you begin. You do what you can with what you have from where you are. Maybe tomorrow you’ll do a little more, have a little more to work with, be somewhere a little different.
But you’ll never get anywhere if you don’t start.
So, was my experience at Green Mountain at Fox Run everything I had hoped for and more? Yes and no. I’m not “cured.” I’m not a completely different person. I did not miraculously drop the extra 100 pounds I carry in one amazing week (for the record, I lost about 5, even after the mini-binge on the way home and a day in the car).
As with FitBloggin, I feel now as if I held myself back. Why do I do that? Is it fear, of moving forward, of change, or becoming something different and unknown? Is it fear of losing my place in the world as I know it, my place as an overweight woman, as a weight loss blogger? Is it fear of what I will expect of myself if I were to drop the weight? Is it fear that I will get it wrong, that this path that I feel is so very right in this moment will turn out to lead me exactly back to where I am (after all, the decisions I have made in the past have felt right when I made them, and yet they brought me here)?
But I did learn during my time at Green Mountain. One of my life philosophies is that life presents us with the same situations over and over until we learn the lessons we need to learn from them. Perhaps the bigger lesson for me here is how and why I prevent myself from learning, from participating, from giving my all. From being my all. How and why do I not take advantage of every single opportunity, every single moment I’m given? More importantly, how do I change that? How do I go from self-aggrandized restraint to full bore participation?
Solution: I start where I’m at, I work with what I have, and I find what works for me.
So no, ladies, I do not have it all figured out. Not even close. But I do know a little more about how to figure it out, and a little more about what it is that I need to figure out.
And that’s as good of a starting point as I’m ever likely to see.