Belly Awareness

My belly took charge of things last week.  On my trip to Costco, I roamed the aisles I usually skip: appliances and housewares, gadgets and pots, lamps and reams of paper.  I was charged with finding a handcart, something small and collapsible, to be used for events, but something in the second aisle beckoned, whispering to my belly, “you need me”.  Like one of those folks who hang out at the gas station, offering to clean my dirty windshield, a Weight Watchers scale, discounted to $19.99, noticed the slight pooch of my belly and figured we were a match made in heaven.

I haven’t owned a scale in well over 15 years, but we are not strangers. In Chicago, at the end of my Friday trip to the health club, I’d gingerly step on the medical scale perched in a corner of the locker room, and slowly slide the weights to the right until they balanced.  Sometimes I’d glance over my shoulder to make sure no one was looking, then I’d place my feet in different positions, trying out spots that would register the lightest.  Of course, it didn’t matter if I stood on my head, on tiptoe or even one foot; it all came down to the same result.   For the most part, those were happy days for me and my belly. We were nice and taut from Pilates and weights, treadmills and spin classes.

When I moved to Aravaipa Canyon Ranch I escaped the demands of the scale. “As long as my clothes still fit…” was my mantra. Ranch life kept my belly in line:  mucking the horse corral, maintaining the grounds, lifting bales of hay, painting the sheds, tending the garden, and cleaning the 7 bedroom ranch house along with forays into the wilderness did the trick.  After two years, I moved to Gold Canyon, married for the second time, and settled into a sort of semi-retirement.  Glorious but softer. 

Like a deflated, wrinkled balloon, my belly tends to sag a bit thanks to two pregnancies in my 20’s.  Exercise mainly consists of hikes with the dogs and riding my bike.  Good for my legs but doesn’t do much for anything north of my thighs.  When the sun is shining and the sky is so blue, the local health club, though reasonably priced, quickly loses its allure. Sit-ups are a chore ranking well below cooking, laundry and vacuuming.  My belly has taken full advantage of this situation, blossoming like a full blown rose that never wilts. My comfortable, wearable wardrobe has shrunk to one pair of hiking shorts (with a little elastic in the waistband), a pair of Capri’s, and several loose blouses which means I’m doing laundry every other day.  (With all that laundry who has time for sit-ups?)  When I moaned to Tom about my belly, he did the safe, husbandly thing and said, you look fine to me. My belly rumbled gratefully in response but my mirror didn’t agree.

My belly responded to the call and the scale magically lifted itself off the shelf and floated into my cart. It sailed through check-out and found a home in the master bathroom next to the cat box.  I avoided it for two days until Tom finally noticed it.

 “What’s that?”  

 I had to confess. “My belly bought a scale.”

“How does it work?”

I rolled my eyes. “You stand on it and it sends your self esteem plummeting until you’re in tears.”

“Then why buy it?”

“I didn’t buy it, my belly did.”

Now it was his turn to roll his eyes. He tapped the glass top with his foot and the digital screen sprang to life. Without fear, he jumped on. “Hmmmm, not as bad as I thought.”  He stepped off and looked at me expectantly.

Good for you!” I called over my shoulder as I followed my belly out of the room. It’s different for men.  Tom gets away with wearing loose shorts and jeans that tend to ride below his belly.  The look works for him, but for a woman baggy equals frumpy.

A week went by before I summoned up the courage to step on the scale. I needed that week to diet and exercise so that I could say the same thing when I finally stepped on “not as bad as I thought.”   I chased the dogs and the cat out of the bathroom, kicked off my slippers, dropped my robe.  The scale was icy cold beneath my bare feet.  I closed my eyes for a good ten seconds then peeked at the screen.  Seven, maybe eight pounds, had to go.  My belly grunted in disgust as I stepped off for it knew it was entering a no peanut M&Ms zone. 

Since then, it’s been up and down.  One barbecue, a couple of lunches, and dinner out conspired to put my belly once again in the lead.  But I force myself on the scale every few days and now, four pounds lighter, I am giddy with looming victory.

I can hear you now and, yes, I agree with you.  I’m turning 61 years old this week and here I sit, still struggling with a self-image issue.  I’ve cajoled myself with the idea of self-acceptance, being comfortable in my own skin, and loving me as I am, but I’ve realized two things.  First: I may be the woman who never dyes her hair or wears make-up but deep down I am a little bit vain.  My hair might be gray and worn in a simple style, but I use a hair dryer and curling iron to get it there.  I don’t own a tube of lipstick or a lick of eye shadow, but I deeply moisturize and exfoliate to keep my skin glowing. Every six weeks I visit the nail salon to have the hiking calluses removed from my feet, but I also like seeing the polish on my toes.  I am a little bit vain. There, I said it.  And that’s a big step towards self-acceptance if there ever was one! 

Second, I struggle every day, in every moment to be aware of what I’m doing, seeing, feeling, and thinking.   When you have a monkey mind like I do, eating often becomes secondary.  I’m like an opportunistic dog:  put the dish in front of me and I’ll eat it all. There are times I look down at my plate in surprise that I’ve gulped down not one cookie, but three.  That the whole bowl of chips and salsa has disappeared without a trace.  Now, I can blame this on my upbringing and the whole starving children in China thing, but what it really comes down to is mindfulness.  Scale (after that first week we moved to a first name basis) is doing a bang-up job of making me aware of every morsel that passes my lips, every mile I pedal on my bike, every hill I hike.  Hell, I even did some sit-ups and push-ups the other day thanks to Scale. 

Are you using that thing?” Tom asked the other day.

Yep!  And it’s working!”

So it is.  Scale has insinuated itself into my life and I’m the better for it.  It may not be forgiving, but that’s another story for another day.

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