Columns
August 6, 2020
link to facebook link to twitter

The Mid-life Experience

Cindy Caruso
Turning the Titanic Around
July 3, 2020

Click!  My photo was snapped by my husband as I posed with my bike.  Having just been retrieved from the garage, it had not seen the light of day in some time.  That would change today - I was going for a ride!  Dressed in a yellow summer blouse and my black and tan stretch pants which frequently doubled as pajama bottoms, this was my best effort at looking athletic.  It seemed appropriate to mark the occasion with a picture; let me take you back to the fall of 2017, to explain why. 

During that season I was going through a hard time and, for whatever reason, began to turn to food for comfort.  I recall a particular moment which has come to feel like an iconic memory of setting my foot upon this course.  I was visiting my daughter in Arizona.  She and I, along with her husband, went to Red Robin for dinner.  For those of you who have never been to Red Robin, I’ll just tell you that it’s a fun restaurant with a great, high-energy vibe, and their specialty is juicy, delicious hamburgers (warning: reading further may make you hungry!)

Before the visit, I had already started gaining a little bit of weight.  No big deal, but I knew it was time to reel in my appetite and head back down the scale, not up.  In spite of that, I ordered a cheeseburger and fries and reasoned with myself that I would eat just half of it.  But I didn’t stop at half the burger, or half the fries; I just kept going and ate the whole thing.  I knew all the while this was not a good idea, but looking back now I can see I was feeding something inside that could never be satisfied with food.  I gained five more pounds on that trip and after I got home, I kept eating.  When I finally came up for air over a year later, I had gained a total of 26 pounds.  

Now I’d like to say a few things here..  People gain weight.  It happens.  And it probably happens more easily as we get older.  Certainly we don’t need to be the perfect weight to feel ok with our bodies, even embrace them.  But what I did was not healthy.  Additionally, gaining weight that fast was out of character for me and that helped me see that something bigger was going on.  Over the course of my adult life, the normal pattern had been for my weight to go up and down by a few pounds.  When I felt it had gotten a little too high, I would find ways to lower it.  I had the mental horsepower then to stay focused and keep myself healthy.  

But this time was different.  This time, I got my butt kicked.  Was it because I was older?  Maybe.  Sometimes when we’re older we just get plain worn out and worn down as we continue to take on and deal with life’s battles.  Tiredness was probably part of the picture, but I knew there was more.  During my period of crazy food behavior, new “reward pathways” were being created in my brain, resulting in an addiction to certain types of foods.  One way it could be visualized is as a brook that continues to run along the same path, carving away ever deeper through the soil until it eventually becomes a river.  I learned quite a bit about the science of addiction and reward-driven behavior from an excellent book, “The Hacking of the American Mind,” by Robert H. Lustig, which I highly recommend to anyone who’s interested in the topic.  The bottom line for me was that my behavior had created something like a factory in my brain that was now running 24/7 on all cylinders.  

I came to realize it was now or never to reclaim my health and hence, my life.  Well, the “never” part of that statement is not actually true, but now is certainly much better than later.  Turning things around now will help me stave off diabetes, heart disease and a host of other extremely undesirable outcomes.  But the reality is that an effort like this can feel like trying to turn the Titanic around.  I can’t just “go on a diet,” because I’ll likely end up right back where I started.  A comprehensive plan is needed, and that takes us back to the bike.

I’ve always loved bike riding; now I’ve brought it back into my life.  Aside from being wonderful exercise, it will help me stay in the right mindset to incorporate other good practices into my life.  On the trail that first day I realized the date was June 1.  Although not technically accurate, the arrival of June has always felt to me like the arrival of summer, making this a day of more than one new beginning.  I saw others on the trail, walking, jogging, riding bikes.  It felt good to be a part of that.  My work is cut out for me.  I hope I will be successful.  

 

Cindy works as an employment development counselor, and is a mother and grandmother.  She has lived in Sonoma County for 28 years.