The sun beat down on us as we clamored across the boulder field of Shasta-Trinity granite. It was hot, and the shade at McDonald Lake where we'd eaten lunch seemed a distant memory. Our backpacks were laden down with sleeping bags and food; no tents, we were going to sleep under the stars. As we hiked upward, our sweaty backs stuck to the nylon.
When we finally crested the last of what seemed to be a never-ending string of false peaks, we found ourselves looking down at the most magnificent slice of heaven we could have imagined. Holland Lake, nestled in a bowl of stone with one side opening to an expanse of wilderness, was the most refreshing reward I could have hoped for.
As we sat on the bank, our backpacks and shirts scattered around us, we began to discuss what this lake and that hellish hike meant to us. Tessa and I had both struggled with our own forms of body issues throughout high school, and varying levels of body dysmorphia. But there, on the sun-heated boulders in the Trinity Alps, I realized what is now, ten years later, my overriding philosophy about physical health.
“Your body is a tool,” Tessa told me. It is your vehicle through life and will carry you where you want to go. What you want to do determines how you should mold your body to suit your needs.
If, in the long term, I want to return to Holland Lake in my 70's, I need to prepare my body now. For the shorter term, whether I want to hike a mountain peak this summer, snowboard bell to bell or to live self-sufficiently off the land, my body is what I will need to take me there.
Starting a new exercise routine or nutrition plan is hard. For me, knowing that my ultimate goal is to be physically able to reach any number of goals is a much more motivating factor than simply wanting to fit into skinny jeans. Whatever your inspiration, finding that motivation and keying into what is driving you to change is ultimately going to make that change much more enjoyable and attainable.
With your ultimate goal in mind, you will be able to develop a set of smaller, short-term goals that will help you progress to that final, and possibly ever-changing endpoint. For example, if your ultimate goal is to run a marathon and you've just purchased your first pair of running shoes, your initial goal could be to jog a mile without stopping to walk. The completion of a progressive goal is much more satisfying than the endless chase of a carrot at the end of an incredibly long stick.
As you begin to adapt to a more active lifestyle, and start to look at your body as a tool for how you live your life, there are many factors to consider. To start, you ask a lot of your body each day, so it's important to recognize what you're giving back to it. What kinds of foods do you eat? There are a vast number of nutrition plans available, so do your research. Stick to the plans that focus on unprocessed and real ingredients, home-cooked meals, variety, and adequate levels of protein to allow your muscles to recover and grow. No one is really going to eat a bowl of Special K cereal every day for the rest of their life.
I am very passionate and adamant about what are the healthiest choices for me, but they may not work for you. If you find a diet or activity that looks realistic and interesting to you, try it for a month, and note your level of energy, hunger, and satisfaction. If it doesn't work, try another.
As you trek out on your journey to better health, don't be discouraged if you slip a time or three. A night of drinking on St. Patrick's Day or the overindulgence of Thanksgiving isn't a reason to punish yourself. Think of it as a layover in the shade at McDonald Lake before trudging up the peak to your destination. Keep your motivation in your sights, and remember to keep a balance while working towards that goal. We all need a layover once in a while, and we all need to be able to find enjoyment in the hike, or to at least be able to recognize the feeling of fulfillment and accomplishment when it's over.
One day I'll go back to Holland Lake. If by chance those skinny jeans end up fitting as a result, I'll put them on by the campfire and bask in the warmth of knowing that my body got me there.
Anna Gordon-Norby, ACE certified personal trainer and Membership Advisor at The Women’s Club (www.thewomensclub.com/Home) in Missoula, MT. (406) 728-4410.