On Monday afternoon, I sat in the glorious Florida sunshine and watched two of my dear friends, and about 35,000 of their comrades, complete the Boston Marathon in cold, freezing rain. Knowing the level of commitment, discipline, and tenacity it takes to accomplish any marathon, much less qualifying for one of the most prestigious races of our time, I was in awe and inspired. Wow.
Then, I took to social media to share in the energy of the running community, where my friends were posting their reactions to the finish. One post stood out for all of the hearts that surrounded it; my friend Denise had highlighted an element of the race that made me grin from ear to ear. It is a story of self-doubt, selflessness, and what I hope it a sign of the radicalization of our time.
You may have already heard it, but I am going to tell it again, and tell you about three things that 2018 Boston Marathon winner Desi Linden did that makes her like you and me, and which look to me like the extended hand of camaraderie.
She Had Doubts
It’s hard for me to imagine that a person who has run as many races as it takes to qualify for the Boston Marathon at such an elite level would ever doubt themselves, but Linden admits that in the early stages of the race, she wasn’t sure that she would finish. Now, most marathon runners will tell you that their goal is simply to finish the race, but we know that they have something much more specific in mind. So while her context of finishing a marathon may differ from yours and mine, the concept of self-doubt is universal. We doubt whether we can make it to the gym three times in the week, or if we can resist the nachos at the ballpark, or if we can keep the weight off once we’ve lost it. Knowing that an elite athlete who I admire has the same doubts that I do helps me feel more willing to keep going despite my own.
She Had Help
Desi Linden crossed the finish line alone, but she didn’t get there alone. None of us do this amazing stuff on our own. Somewhere along the way, people have helped us, supported us, and given us a leg up so we could get our footing and carve out a little place for ourselves in the world. We may think we’re self-made people, but we’re not. Having a strong network of support and guidance is not reserved for professional athletes or celebrities; it is part of what everyone deserves and needs to achieve greatness. Reaching and sustaining a healthy lifestyle isn’t always easy, and we all need a little help from our friends. If you don’t have ready access to people who support and cheer for you along the way, look online at the hundreds of positive communities dedicated to just that. Join one. Give the same to others. Ask for help and be the help.
She Had Perspective
Now this is the part of the story that I want to really zero in on. You may have heard by now that during the race, Desi Linden’s teammate and fellow runner, Shalane Flanagan, defending champion of the 2017 New York City Marathon, veered off the course about halfway through the race to duck into a port-a-potty. And in a move that was fueled both by camaraderie and strategy, Linden waited for her. She waited for her competitor to rejoin the race. And as they returned to the front of the pack together, Linden eventually pulled ahead and won the race.
So what does this have to do with healthy living? We all have doubts. We all need help. And even though there is a big skill gap between us and the people who win marathons, there is not a gap in our ability to persevere, especially when we are willing to slow down and help each other to the finish line. In an age when competitive advantage and political rivalries dominate the news, sometimes the greatest gains are made when we work together.
Do you remember the first time you held out your hand, right under a dog’s nose, as a tentative gesture of introducing yourself? Extending your hand was a signal to the dog that you could be trusted, and the wet sniffing around and possible lick of a drooling tongue was the beginning of a long-term relationship. As long as you held up your end of the bargain – feeding the dog and keeping it safe and loved – you and your new friend would have a long, happy coexistence together.
But, if that dog had been abused or neglected in the past, if it had been ignored and kicked so many times that it learned that people could not be trusted, you might not have gotten that affirming nuzzle on your first attempt. You may have had to extend your hand several times, patiently demonstrating that you are kind and trustworthy, before that dog believed that you could be trusted. Only after consistently proving your steadfastness would you be rewarded with that reciprocal relationship of unconditional love.
Well, your hunger is like a dog. When your body signals hunger to you, and you ignore it, it is like kicking that dog. Kick it away enough times, and it will simply stop coming around. You may notice that you don’t feel hungry anymore. Advice to “eat when you’re hungry” may seem confusing because you’ve ignored your hunger for so long that you never even feel hungry.
How do you get that feeling back? What if you want to stop kicking the dog but he won’t trust you enough to come over?
Regardless of whether you hear your body’s hunger signals or not, you still need to eat during the day to fuel your body’s energy needs and to manage weight in a healthy and sustainable way. Hunger can show up in ways other than a growing stomach; headaches, feeling weak or tired, grouchiness, and feeling dizzy are all signs that you have kicked the dog. Reconnect with your growing stomach by demonstrating consistently – with regular meals and snacks – that you can be trusted to provide nourishment to your body. Feed that dog!
Be intentional about eating something small at regular intervals – every three hours or so – and when you eat, make a note of your hunger level on a scale of one to five, with one being not at all hungry and five being ravenous. Pay attention to whether your hunger varies during the day and as you are more intentional about eating. If you are worried that you may eat too much, pay attention to signals that you are full, such as eating mechanically without enjoying the food or feeling pressure in your stomach. Remember, wellness is about progress, not perfection. It is okay if you don’t master your hunger signals right away. Make notes, adjust, and try again in a little while.
Yes, this means that at first you may need to eat when you do not feel physical hunger, and that does feel counter-productive. Don’t worry, you don’t need to sit down to a three-course meal! A piece of fruit with some peanut butter or low-fat cheese, a cup of protein-rich yogurt, or some crackers and hummus are low-calorie snacks that can be enough to wake up your metabolism without making you feel stuffed.
As you consistently extend your hand to yourself in a gesture of goodwill and nourishment, you will be rewarded with that welcome feeling of a growing stomach. That is your metabolism jumping into your lap and giving you a big wet slobbery kiss like a happy dog whose owner has finally come home!
Once you are reunited, all is forgiven. All you need to do maintain your new relationship with is to keep providing food, love, and compassion to yourself. It won’t always be simple and of course you’ll mess up now and then. That’s okay. A happy dog comes home eventually.