Now if you have a minute, I’m going to tell you the tales of two terrific ladies who have walked different health and wellness journeys thus far in their lives. Who doesn’t like a good [true] story? We will start with “Consistent Cathy” and after I give you a window into her life we will move on to “Erratic Erica”. In doing so, I hope that you will be spurred on toward love and good deeds through their examples. You don’t have to do everything “perfect” to be a success! Isn’t it great to know that God uses imperfect people? I, for one, am thrilled that because of grace, I don’t have to attain to flawless law-keeping to please God. And, in following through with healthy-living initiatives, there is no perfection – only progress (even if progress feels like regress)!
"The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step" (Chinese proverb)
Cathy came into my life because her loving husband found Luminaries online and decided to give me a call. Now, normally people who call for a loved one don’t get too far with them because the loved one perceives their recommendation as intrusive – like, “what do you mean, I need to go away on a retreat and learn how to live a healthy lifestyle?! You mean, like a fat camp?!” Insert angry emoji (if they were texting back and forth). “No dear, not like that at all, just a place to separate yourself from the foods tying you down and find a place of renewal and rest. Plus, it’s in Wisconsin and you know they like cheese and beer there so it can’t be all bad, and its only like zero degrees outside most of the year so it’s not that big of a deal, just pack a coat”. Okay, first off, its only really cold in December and January (usually!). Secondly, cheese is on the menu occasionally but no beer. (Just wanted to clear those points up).
Photo taken of the St Croix River on a recent retreat, JJS Photography, 2018
A few days after Cathy arrived, I perceived that she was all-in. No going back, no cheating, no complaining, no excuses. Period. 2 work-outs a day? No problem. Seminars and cooking classes all day? No problem. Sugar Detox? No problem. Weigh, measure and track everything you eat on MyFitnessPal? No problem. Wow, I thought, this is going to be a breeze with her – just tell her what to do and she’ll do it (I thought, why can’t my sons get this mindset into their heads?!) Now, did Cathy lose weight? Yes, she did, a significant amount while she was here and for the next 4 months at home, yes, all goals were met. Once she went home, how did she continue being so strict with herself when there wasn’t the Luminaries accountability happening all the time around her? Clearly, before she came she didn’t have this self-discipline, so what was the key to the change? I really believe it has to do with a mindset. She did not come to us from across the country to go back home and fall into her old habits. She truly wanted the consistency – it was a safe place for her. Some might call her habits rigid but it worked for her. The safety was in the consistency. After 4 – 6 months of daily dedication to a plan, you might lose the memory of what it was like to eat frozen cookie dough straight from the freezer. You don’t forget the shame, though, so the internal and external rewards of being consistent and seeing results was the positive reinforcement that keep Cathy on the straight and narrow. Tip, if a cute kid comes selling frozen cookie for a fundraiser, JUST SAY NO, and give them a donation. Donation with no cookie dough = WIN!
How did Cathy get in the situation she found herself before she came? Every story is complex and its never like a perfectly wrapped package tied up with a bow. But, through our time together Cathy and I worked out that indulgent food had become her one acceptable vice in a life where everything seemed perfect on the outside. Being a servant-hearted, God-centered, family-doting woman, she had served and served and given and given (which is a beautiful thing of course) but in the process, had lost herself. Her food habits had been a zone-out, mind-numbing way to cope with the stress of being everyone’s everything. One of the things we focused on was the fact that if she took care of herself by living out the healthy initiatives of grocery shopping, meal prep, cooking, tracking, exercise, accountability and support groups, and time to sit down and enjoy the meals and activities; she would be better equipped to serve everyone else. For a “do-er” it is important to recognize that healthy living can also become another thing to “do” and can become an obsession actually – portioning, tracking, fasting, all these initiatives can be positive but for the hyper-consistent person they can also mask the underlying stresses and self-validation that comes from consistency. Cathy has learned to use her greatest strengths and not let them accidentally become weaknesses – progress not perfection.
But, even being “Consistent Cathy” has its downfall - when she plateaued, discouragement set in. She thought, “I’m doing everything right, why am I not losing more weight?” Sometimes your body is going to plateau for a while and although its discouraging, it is your body’s way of settling in to a new lower weight set point. Nevertheless, the fitness and dietary plan should be reworked and tweaked and for her, it was. Most importantly, though, she has not gone back to using food as a coping strategy for stress.
At the one year mark, I am thrilled to say that Cathy is living a mentally and spiritually healthy life with weight loss and muscle growth to boot. She has not yet met a weight loss goal that she originally set, but fit ness is so much more than a number on a scale. Setting up boundaries with the ones she loves to serve was an important practical application of her time at Luminaries. Boundaries = freedom.
“Erratic Erica” came to us for a few weeks and although she started off gung-ho, soon there were physical set-backs that got in her way of fully realizing her Luminaries goals while here. There were a few mild muscle/joint aches and a binge of sugar over a weekend that caused her grief. Although some elements of our program were thoroughly useful and even fun for her, there were other elements that put her in an uncomfortable place (comparing herself with others at the gym, having to delve into past relationships, etc). Although we all encouraged her with Scripture, prayer, and group support, there was a deep emotional tie to sugar (family rewards were strong in her childhood) and the process of letting it go was tough. However, it was very rewarding for us to see her try many new fitness things for the first time in her life (resistance training, cycling, and strength-based workouts). Erratic emotions and level of commitment could have easily been a source of discouragement that overwhelmed. However, by the grace of God, even though it wasn’t “perfect” she still managed to get a lot out of the retreat and as the weeks went by, there was some major healing and insights into food behaviors that were enlightening to her.
Back at home, Erica was excited to live more naturally and with more fresh food with less dependence on take-out and fast food. However, the mochas at the local coffee shop were always calling our dear Erica’s name and one day after being home a few weeks, theirs calls were no longer silenced in Erica’s ears and she whipped through the drive-through and said, “oh, this is the sweet nectar of God that I’ve been missing” (just kidding, I have no idea what she said to herself as she sucked down 600 calories of caffeine and sugar). Although one grande mocha isn’t a total falling off of the bandwagon, it was a gateway drug for her to slowly go right back to the old habits that had brought her so much misery in the past. I personally love sugar coffees, too, so no judgment, but I felt bad for her particularly because those coffees represented so much more to her commitment to herself and to God. I think she was still enjoying a daily green drink so you take the good with the bad.
Months go by and Erica has many reasons why she can’t do the things she did while at Luminaries. Preferences can be changed and many of her preferences had changed for the better, but there were excuses crowding out the resolves that she had once thoroughly enjoyed (except, who really enjoys saying “no” to junk food when cravings are strong?). Obstacles are often put in our way to try us and see if we can emerge stronger, happier, more faith-filled, confident in the grace that leads us every step of our erratic road. Eventually, though, light broke through the darkness for Erica, and slowly, slowly, she started embracing changes again. All-in-all, she has lost and kept off a significant amount of weight but the real victory through the journey is not the destination but the process. She has lived out the sentiment that the apostle Paul penned, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13).
December 2017 retreaters (no, not Cathy or Erica but rocking the fat-tire bikes nonetheless!)
Ladies and gentlemen, no one is perfect and no one should set unrealistic standards to which it is impossible to succeed. But, don’t let that deter you from taking the first step today – your journey will be different than Cathy’s or Erica’s and it is valuable. You are valuable. Your body is valuable. A circuitous route to a healthy destination is better than not taking one step at all.