May 21, 2019

If you charted your weight over the course of your life, you’d have an upward swoop from birth to adulthood, while your body is doing things like forming bone and growing muscle. Common knowledge (and medical history) says that your health is best maintained if the chart then levels out and you live on the flatlands for the rest of your life. River bottom land; good soil there. Stable. Maybe the occasional spring flood, but for the most part, the living is easy.

I’ve come to see that my weight is FAR from the best measure of my health, but it’s certainly a convenient one. My doctor says she can spot potential problems if she weighs me even when I come in for a skin thingy. I think she’s just doing it that way because doctors have always done it that way – “step on the scale” being as automatic as “and your co-pay is how much?” But she thought she could spot malignancies if the weight fluctuated in surprising ways, and my annoyance  at that is trumped by my superstition; there’s a lot of cancer in my family, and she shuts me down with that one.

Where was I? Oh – weight is not the only measure; it’s not even a particularly good measure. But it’s one I’ve known over time – and I know that the chart of my weight would look like the approach to the Rocky Mountains.

There’s a gradual slope up in the foothills of the college years, and then the first of the low mountains. Then I “got a grip” and lost some weight, only to discover I was now climbing an even higher mountain. This pattern repeated, and every time I lost weight, I’d put it back on plus more, until I got up to 260 pounds.

That’s where Barbara stepped in.

I’ve been working with Barbara at Body Dynamics in Falls Church, VA for some three years now. She told me in the beginning that she could help my cardio endurance (and she and I ran and walked a mile today, so she was right!). She also looked at me critically and said “And I think we can take some weight off you.”

I rolled my eyes. Having tracked up and down over this mountain range for five decades and more, I wasn’t just skeptical. I was defeated. There was NO WAY she could do it – and even if she did, it wouldn’t stay off. It would be back. And more.

Today, I weigh about 240 pounds. (I’m not exactly sure because she won’t let me weigh myself anymore.) But the loss of “only” twenty pounds is deceptive. More significantly, I’ve gone from size 22 jeans to size 16s. I’ve lost more than a foot off my waist. And – see above – I can run/walk a mile without EXCESSIVE complaint.

There’s a terribly nice lady who works out at Body Dynamics while I’m working with Barbara. She’s friendly and funny and supportive and we exchange bitches happily. Today she told me I looked particularly slim. I thanked her, but said that nothing had changed; I’d lost many, many inches in my first year with Barbara, but I was holding pretty steady now. I asked Barbara to measure my waist against the number she’d gotten last December, and I was right – I’m the exact same as six months ago.

So I was ginning myself up to be fussy about my lack of progress when it occurred to me:

I’ve kept the weight off for about two years. My size 16 jeans are getting kind of old and might need to be replaced soon. My weight and size is STABLE – after a significant loss.

Do you see what’s so staggering about this?

I’m sitting on a ledge on the side of a mountain – a ledge that’s actually broad enough to be considered the high plains. From where I am, I can see the heights to which I had ascended (and believe me, there was higher still to go). I can see how far I’ve come down from the top.

I’m still miles above the rich bottomland along the river – I’m still many, many pounds away from where insurance company actuarial tables say I should be. But I’ve been at a lower level for the longest time (by FAR) since I’ve been keeping a mental chart of my weight.

I’m stable.

And healthy as hell.

I’m sitting on my landing on the path down the mountain, thinking – damn. This is the prettiest view I’ve ever seen.

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Thank you, Barbara!

Team BellyButt


You can have a favorite Avenger (are you a Captain America person, or an Iron Man type?) and you can say Arya is the baddest of the badass or you can think that’s Dany on her dragon. You can be sure Bella should have gone with Jacob instead of freezing-cold Edward, or that Kate should have thrown her chips in with Sawyer instead of prissy Jack…

…but if you’re on one team, it’s hard as hell to switch to another team.

This brilliant assessment brought to you by Team BellyButt.

Chip, one of the clever, intuitive trainers at Body Dynamics (Falls Church, VA – look it up), says that the body has “forced couples” – like Brangelina. (Yes, I’m old.)

The back and the quads like to work together, and the glutes and the abdominals like to work together. And if you’re used to using the weaker of the two couples – if you’re Team ThighBack – then it’s very, very hard to suddenly switch to Team BellyButt.

I’ve been ThighBack since the dawn of time. It’s only since I’ve been working with trainers Barbara and Chip and miracle masseuse Gwynn that I’ve come to understand that my hip flexors are ALWAYS ON.

(If I stand quietly on two flat feet – no tsunamis or attackers attempting to push me over or anything – and attempt to relax the two straps that run from the tops of my hip bones down into the thighs (the hip flexors), I immediately fall over. This dazzles Barbara, who is instinctively Team BellyButt. She can’t understand why I need to use my quads for exercises that have nothing to do with the quads.)

The problem with being on Team ThighBack is that the back muscles are strong – but they’re not supposed to be used for power. They’re supposed to be used for supple movement and the ability to stand erect. The thighs aren’t supposed to pull you through a walk; that’s not what they were designed for.

Instead, the biggest muscles in the body are in the ass. The glutes are supposed to PUSH you though a walk. The abs are big because they’re supposed to stabilize everything. (This is so foundational to good health that all of us in Balance Class have learned that it is the answer to any question Barbara asks. “How are we today?” she’ll say and we’ll shout like Marines, “ABDOMINALS, MA’AM.”)

So those on Team BellyButt have a huge advantage over those on ThighBack…

…but I’m astonished to discover that it is not impossible to switch allegiances.

I’ve been working with Barbara for three years now. We were doing squats today. (Well, I was doing squats, and Barbara was hawk-eyeing me for issues of form that meant I’d found yet another way to cheat.)

When I was done, she asked me how they felt… and I realized that it felt like there was one of those late-night-TV ad “chair lifters” under me. You know the ad; help Granny get out of her recliner with a mechanized seat assist thingy.

My squats felt like SOMETHING was under me pushing up.

And the only thing I can think is … it was glute muscles.

Now how could I use muscles and not feel myself using them? Am I THAT detached from Team BellyButt that I have no nerve endings connected in there? For three years, Barbara has been strengthening those glute muscles – and Chip and Grace have worked on the tiny stabilizer muscles that make the big muscles more efficient – and Gwynn has been releasing muscles…

…and now something powerful is working in my backside that hasn’t worked there before.

I can’t yet feel the “push” of glute muscles when I run – but I’ve gotten to the point where I can feel a push for a few steps if I focus on it while walking. It’s weird.

And sort of encouraging.

By the way – Iron Man, obviously. Arya – because Dany’s just a pretty girl without those dragons. Jacob. Sawyer. I like the bad boys…

…but maybe I’m switching sides at a glacial pace to Team BellyButt. Will wonders NEVER cease??

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We all start out innocent and unskilled. But time, determination, and a long road trip with the Hound (plus a tenure with face-changing assassins) can make a world of difference. I’m rethinking the wisdom of comparing myself to sweet, lethal Arya, but let’s go with it anyway.

The Foreshortened Pru


Without even realizing it, we all present ourselves carefully when in the presence of any reflective surface.

Me, I’m thick. When you look at me face-on, you think – meh. Whatever. But if I turn sideways, the reaction is “I hope I’m on a plane with THAT lady when it crashes in the Andes – we could live off her for a long time.”

So naturally I don’t look very hard when the mirror is to my side. (Who wants to look like long pork?!) Instead I face a mirror and pull up as tall as possible, so the bulk is stretched a little longer.

The exception is when I’m sitting in Stretch Class, which happens at Body Dynamics (in Falls Church, VA) on Thursdays at 11. (It’s really “Stretch and Roll” class because we use these tormentful, awesome, addictive foam rollers to torture and delight our muscles.)

I sit on my little mat and do my best to bend in willowy fashion, holding stretches while the starch in my muscles creaks and groans and eventually gives up the ghost…

…and then I sit up again and find I’m confronting myself in the mirror in my best Winnie-the-Pru pose of solidity and I realize that facing the mirror is NOT HELPING my self-confidence!


It’s those legs stuck out in front, looking all stubby and adorable. It’s the expanse of waist, the generosity of flesh. I look so STOLID.

And I get to giggling. There I am in a class with women (and occasionally a lone man) of all shapes and sizes, all of us attempting to be willowy or at the very least maintain whatever bendability we have, and I’m hooting like an owl. Trying to be quiet as I snigger at my own reflection. I go to the gym to look and, most important, feel better and instead I’m looking like Sweaty Buddha.

HOWEVER I’m Sweaty Buddha with a little bit more flexibility. So I keep going. Because looking good in the gym is desirable – but looking good OUTSIDE the gym is better.

When I took art history several centuries ago, we learned about a painting from the Renaissance. It was just after people had figured out perspective, and one artist conceived the unbearably radical idea of painting Christ (after he was taken from the cross) FROM THE FOOT OF THE BED, which makes Jesus look stubby and short. This was not how he’d been portrayed in every other painting ever ever ever and people were OUTRAGED.

The painting (by Andrea Mantegna) (that’s not Joe Mantegna, the actor, nor is it Joe Montana, the quarterback, although I’m sure they’re both excellent painters) is actually called “The Lamentation of Christ,” but it’s so commonly known as “The Foreshortened Christ” that I found the image on Google just by using the incorrect title. Cool image, huh?

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The takeaway is – the perspective you have on a scene affects what you see. Ragged holes in hands and feet in one case – determination masked in plumpness in the other. I guess my point is – maybe you’ve been seeing the wrong thing when you look in the mirror. Instead of focusing on the parts of you that you hate, why not look at the larger whole? At the strength and compassion and humor and goodness that create a far more complete picture of who you really are?

Let us all giggle – for we do not have ragged holes in our hands and feet. At least, I don’t.

(Upon re-reading, I feel I need to make a point: I am NOT drawing a parallel between me and the person upon whom a huge religion has been built. I AM drawing a parallel between the perspective in the Stretch and Roll mirror and the rebel artist Mantegna. I intend no disrespect to any faith.) (Or work of art, natch.)