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embracing willendorfchapter ten: hitting the wall
by byron ballard

There came a point where everyone was saying—you’ve lost more weight! Wow! and I hadn’t lost an ounce. I spent an entire month losing, gaining and re-losing the same four pounds. Up I’d go, down I’d go. No matter what I ate or didn’t eat. No matter how much I exercised or didn’t exercise. The same four pounds.


I had the optimistic fantasy that by working out I was rearranging fat and adding muscle, which, as all fat people know, weighs more than fat. Wasn’t that some sort of muscle there on the side of my leg? Wasn’t that pendulous flesh under my upper arms slightly less pendulous than it used to be? Hmmm. I could fool myself into thinking I was firming up but the scale didn’t lie. Those four pounds were stopping me in my tracks.

I had hit the wall. And let me tell you, it sucks.

I tried fewer calories and more exercise. My weight actually went up. I was told that for the amount of exercise I was getting I needed to up my caloric intake. Wait a minute—you as my doctor are telling me to eat more? How can this be possible? She laughed at me, as she often does. Try it. See what happens. I did. I ate 200 additional calories that day and the next day I noticed a slight change in weight. Within a week I’d lost a couple of pounds.

Now I’m yo-yoing again. I’m down from where I was before but the yo-yo continues. I have to come to terms with the fact that what was once steady and relatively easy is now less regular and harder. Since my goal was not specific amounts of weight loss, it is not traumatic so much as annoying.

But I decided to practice what I’ve been preaching and listen to my body. I went down to my favorite river park and took a walk, ending at a wooden overlook with a little bench. I leaned over the railing and stared at the river and I asked my body what was up. No, I didn’t do it aloud. I took some deep breaths, spoke the Cherokee name of the river and listened.

I heard crows and I heard wind in the trees. And what I heard from my body, from my deep Earth self, was this—cut me some slack, for pity’s sake! I’m working overtime here, processing wholesome food, converting that food to energy, hauling us around this track and into the woods and out to play pool, wherever we want to go and play. I am adjusting to all this and it takes some time. So, give me some time. Keep doing what you’re doing and I’ll keep doing what I’m doing and we’ll be fine. Calm down, girl. This is life, not the Boston Marathon. Enjoy! Did we bring the water bottle?

See how wise my body is?

I am evidently a slow learner because I had to learn this lesson again at the first real snowfall of the season the first year of Willendorf. My daughter woke early, gleeful about missing school and having time to recheck her social studies project (which, of course, she did not do because she spent the day off playing in the snow, hanging out with her friend Erika and watching DVDs).

I check my weight every day. At this time I was in one of those plateau periods where I had gained and lost the same few pounds over and over and had come to the conclusion that I looked fabulous, felt fabulous and was, in general, fabulous. And, moreover, if I could get through the Eat-a-thon of Yuletide in Appalachia without actually gaining weight, I’d be ahead of the game. So, no worries.

I got my work schedule at the bookstore—different days off, some longer hours, the annual store birthday party—and also began planning our circle’s seasonal celebration for the Solstice. At the same time, I and my business partners were planning a pilgrimage to Britain scheduled for the following spring. So, yes, there was unusual pressure. But nothing compared to what I was about to put myself through.

The world was silent and still. I had a day ahead of me at home to do some holiday preparations. I ate half a banana, went to the bathroom for my workout clothes and, while naked, stepped on the scale.

I had gained two pounds.

And I freaked out.

I immediately planned to double my exercise for the day, to starve myself into submission. All I could see in the day before me were endless opportunities to eat. I could see myself getting larger and larger until I had to go back to Goodwill and buy back all my old clothes. I saw myself sick and pathetic and...

This is the result of hubris. Do you know about hubris? It was familiar to me from classical Greek dramas, all of which had characters who suffered from this problem. It is the pride that goes before a fall. It is that cocky feeling that we in the South call “the Big Head”. It’s the arrogant sense of superiority that always gets you in the worst trouble.

You see, I thought I was immune to those things that happen to most dieters—weight creep, lack of confidence, sabotaging friends. I was the exception and everyone said so. I was the amazing Byron, the poster child for taking control of your life and health, the zealot of listening to your body’s needs and loving yourself exactly as you are.
This could not me happening to me.

I had fallen victim to my own hype and here I was, on the scale, regaining all the weight I lost. There was no way out of it: I was going to have to punish myself and get my willful body into submission.

I dragged myself to the exercise bike because my usual walk was out of the question in the snow. Water bottle in hand, I planned a long lonely bike ride, beating myself up along the way.

And then a funny thing happened and I can’t tell you how often this is the case. As I exercised, I felt better. I felt stronger and less freaked-out. And then I felt happy. Ah, endorphins. You’ve got to love them.

My body was doing its exercising thing and my mind was calming down and I was starting to judge the “situation” without fear. I looked out the window and saw the snow. We had been blessed with a remarkably warm autumn and it had only recently gotten cold in the mountains.

Pedal, pedal, pedal. The weather was supposed to clear up later in the day but it would still be chilly.

It hit me at about Mile #2. I had been thinking the day before that my metabolism didn’t seem to be set on “hummingbird” lately. I didn’t get ravenously hungry right before meal times or need to carry an apple with me at all times to fuel the machine. Winter. Cold. Metabolism. As a woman who carefully follows the cycle of the seasons, I was being awfully dim. My body knew though, and, as I pedaled, I asked myself about this hypothesis that was forming.

You reckon we’re slowing down for the winter? Not hibernation per se, but conserving all that precious energy because we need to stay warm in this new season?

Yep, I reckon, came the response.

I had berated myself and terrified myself and been meaner to myself than I had during this whole process. I had rushed to judgment and condemnation because of two pounds, the very thing I’ve been telling people I wasn’t doing. I felt a little guilty and a little ashamed. And then I finished my biking, drank a bunch of water and started the day again. With love and trust, the Wiccan way.

There will be times when this happens in my life and in your life. We will react out of fear and it won’t be pretty. We’ll lose our sense of humor and take ourselves far too seriously. I hope you will have the presence of mind to remember what you’ve been doing and not run screaming through the house, clutching a water bottle. But if it takes you a while to remember, you’re not alone. Don’t forget to breathe. Don’t forget to listen. And try not to freak out.

And I will try to practice what I preach.

So I keep on doing what I’m doing and I give my self the luxury of time. I’m not on some frantic schedule to fit into a size 8 dress for the prom. I’m changing my whole life. I’m embracing the sweetness of doing and playing and living. I’ve got all the time in the world.

So do you.

Thank you all for sharing my Willendorf journey thus far and a special blessing to those of you who have called or emailed or stopped by to tell me that you’re finding ways to love your earthy selves. Good for you, good for us! The manuscript for “Embracing Willendorf: Loving Your Body to Health and Fitness” is now with my agent, who hopes to place it very soon. I’ll be sure to let you all know when the book is out and where it can be acquired. Until then, listen to your heart and feed that wonderful machine that is you. All the best!

© Byron Ballard



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