Tag Archives: effort

A brief selection of my stories about my body

On the one side there’s the issue of no pain no gain, and on the other is the Taoist notion of effortlessness – do without doing. For much of my life, my awkward body has meant that any kind of activity courted pain and I’m used to thinking in terms of having to push. Recently I’ve started questioning this.

The assumption that I needed to push through the pain has been with me for a long time, unquestioned. But, there are stories in my family about laziness and pushing, about not getting comfortable and not letting yourself off the hook. Or at least I’ve understood it that way.

How much pain for how much gain? And at what cost?

My fear is that if I don’t push myself hard all the time, I will be lazy and crap, and still fat. The relationship between fatness and assumed laziness has been an ongoing issue for me. The desire to prove that my body shape is not a consequence of lack of effort or lack of discipline on my part, has been with me since my teens.

Faced with the impression that there’s a crisis, my body stores fat. I am fantastically efficient in this regard. The impression of crisis can be created by missing meals, and otherwise reducing calorie intake. It can be created by sudden bouts of intense exercise, fuelled by shame and not sustained. Ironically it turns out that on a higher calorie diet, I am more likely to lose weight. No pain, no gain around the middle.

Do without doing suggests a state where how you are gets the job done. Getting more sleep has encouraged my body to think there isn’t some kind of emergency going on and to stop stocking up. There’s reason to think that stress caused by what happens when you’re fat can help keep you fat – again it’s about the feeling of emergency and what a body does with that. My physical survival method is clearly not to be able to run away easily, it is to be able to sit out the problem and have another go when things calm down. Doing without doing.

I’ve never really listened to my body. I’ve internalised the idea that expressing discomfort was just making a fuss, so when my body complains of pain or weariness, I have tended to over-ride that for as long as I can. Whatever gain there is seeming more important than the pain. Only in the last few years have I started listening to my body about what it might like to eat. Extra toast, and more protein have featured heavily. And yet I am not gaining flab. It’s almost as if my body knows what it needs to be a healthy size, and what it needs is not what I had been told it needs.

Trusting my body and going with it looks a lot like do without doing, to me. Not a big, sweaty push for change, but a softer acceptance of what actually works. Letting my soft animal body get on with things rather than trying to flog every last ounce of effort out of it. It’s possible that all the things I have done to try and overcome pain and fatness, have in fact been making the pain and fatness worse for me because it results in my body feeling threatened and under pressure all the time. But as a culture this is what we do to fat people, layering on the blame and shame and the pressure to force change and not asking why a specific body reacts as it does.

Fat, I am inclined to think, is really a symptom of other issues, and the key thing is to find out what the other issues are and deal with those. Comfort eating has emotional reasons driving it. Storing can be driven by all sorts of physical pressures. Body chemistry, malnutrition, stress… there are many reasons a person may store fat that have nothing to do with discipline and effort. Try to solve that by adding to the strain, and for some of us, there can be no winning.


In search of the comfort zone

I’ve learned a lot this weekend. I have learned that I am not an infinite resource. This may sound blindingly obvious. Intellectually I know I’m not an infinite resource, but nonetheless I’ve spent most of my life acting like I can push and run and whatnot indefinitely. I really, really can’t.

I’ve spent a lot of the last few days lying down. Which of course isn’t productive! It’s clearly time for a radical rethink. At the top of the list is ‘more rest’. We have some new household rules. No one starts work before eight in the morning, and no one works after 8 at night (unless they’re excited about something and need to follow the inspiration). There will be other reshuffles to the day.

I need to tackle the underlying thinking. I need to stop treating effort like virtue, especially when the effort is impacting on my health. I recognise that I am someone whose identity is deeply tied up in ‘doing’ and I am not going to take myself apart to change that – it would not, I feel, be good for me. However, I can re-think ‘doing’. Taking care of my body counts as ‘doing’. Feeding my imagination can go on the ‘doing’ list and so can investing time in my marriage. Meditation is ‘doing’.

I realise that my ‘doing’ has been too much about appeasing an observer. This is not irrational, but there’s no one watching me now who will criticise me. I don’t have to keep appeasing the people who expected me to look busy. Much of the stuff I really need to be ‘doing’ doesn’t look busy from the outside, but it’s no less valuable. No one else has to see it.

The most productive things happen at the margins. The edge of the comfort zone is the best place for innovation. I need to backtrack and find it. I realise I’ve spent a lot of years mostly outside my comfort zone, and that’s no more productive a place than always playing it safe. I end up too afraid and too tired to be creative, and that’s not clever. So in the short term, I will be pulling back (perhaps not visibly) to find my comfort zone, and to get comfortable in it, so that I can go out to the edges from there in a hopefully more meaningful and sustainable sort of way.