SWELL: a long wave or series of waves in the ocean that move continuously without breaking. Example: “The swells caused the swimmers to rise and fall during the first half of the race.”
I LOVE swimming. I’ve loved it since I was a little girl, pretending to be a mermaid in my backyard above-ground pool, holding my breath all the way down the lap lane at the neighborhood pool, and finally finishing all the swimming courses a 9 year old could finish in Denison, Texas, shy of training to become a life guard! Previously I’ve blogged about how my inhibitions began to keep me from swimming, but I didn’t mention that I had never resumed any serious swimming since I was 9 years old…until last year. I joined the local YMCA and made friends with a lifeguard who was kind enough to teach me some basic techniques for swimming laps. From there, she invited me to join her swim team where I got to learn from a whole group of experienced swimmers! As soon as I jumped in and started cutting through the water, my childhood love for swimming came flooding back (pardon the pun) as if no time had passed since I’d last been a mermaid! There is a certain kind of calm I experience, only when I’m under water, and I never have felt more graceful than when I’m pushing off or gliding forward after a stroke.
As I’ve been looking forward to plunging back into the lap pool, my “swimmer thoughts” have unexpectedly provided me with the perspective I’ve been searching for, in order to write about my dietary changes this holiday season. You see, I have been struggling with what to say about my Christmas challenge. My Thanksgiving challenge was new, exciting, and ended with obviously successful results. However, during and after my Christmas challenge, much of my old junk food tendencies reared their ugly heads. Coupled with Christmastime’s offerings of sugar everywhere I turn, there were many days I experienced a knock-down drag-out fight between me, my cravings, and my judge/jury/executioner mentality. In a nutshell…I’ve been “swimmin’ the swells”, finding myself in open waters with only lap pool training. It was sink or swim time!
Christmas morning, I weighed and measured myself to find I had gained 1 pound but lost 1.5 inches…I basically maintained. I dutifully wanted to recognize the victory in these results, force feeding myself my own medicine of “STOP, DROP, & ROLL!” (and sometimes that’s what it takes!) I had fought to stay true to the challenge, sometimes to the point of tears, during the rises and falls in the “holiday swells” of parties, food, and my personal Christmas sentimentalities. Maintaining my weight was truly a Christmas miracle that I knew I should celebrate! However, I did not feel that all my efforts deserved a result of…basically ending up where I started. I had experienced so many moments of swimming without feeling like I was getting anywhere…pushing and kicking hard through it all, only to…stay the same?! I admit that the results of this challenge left an anti-climatic feeling in my heart. I was dismally uninspired to blog about my experience because I couldn’t help but compare it to the exciting results of my Thanksgiving challenge and found it lacking a stellar lesson to be learned, bearing no results that could greatly impact others.
YOU may be able to appreciate right away that I had lost another inch and a half, PLUS maintained my weight over Christmas, but being completely honest about how I couldn’t see that victory is an important part of the stellar lesson I did in fact learn and the result which does in fact impact! In swimming terms, my Thanksgiving challenge was like my lap pool workouts, while my Christmas challenge was like swimming in open waters. In the lap pool, I swim in a controlled environment that’s basically the same no matter when I swim: calm waters, maintained temperature, and a black line along the bottom to keep me swimming straight. Open waters are uncontrollable. Temperature, visibility, weather effects, and wildlife (just to name a few variables) are never going to be exactly the same if you choose to practice your strokes in this environment. It’s no wonder that my basic training in the lap pool could only help so much in open, choppier, darker waters! Sometimes life drops us into lap pools and sometimes into open waters. Have you ever heard someone talk about swimming laps in the ocean and NOT been impressed? I’m not talking about dog paddling…I mean swimming real laps in the ocean! Whether we’re talking about navigating the ocean or our day to day lives, persevering through the rise and fall of our swells is no small feat!
Moving forward in 2014, here are some “Swimmin’ the Swells” safety tips I’ve learned:
*1-DON’T REINVENT THE FLIPPER! Beginner swimmers kick however they can to swim forward. Intermediate swimmers start to polish their kick, memorizing exactly how it feels to move their legs most efficiently, which then moves them forward as fast as possible. But everyone swims faster with FLIPPERS! No one needs to experiment with methods of manufacturing flippers in order to use them to swim faster. Buy them, put them on, and go! When I began making healthier food choices, I knew there needed to be some trial and error regarding what healthy foods worked with my lifestyle, but I definitely didn’t know all the answers before I started my first Food Post Challenge. Don’t let the manufacturing of your new eating plan become more important than starting! It took me minimal time to Google basic subjects like “Top 10 Healthiest Fruits” or “Top 10 Worst Cheeses” which helped me build a basic shopping list. I shopped for groceries, learned what combos I enjoyed more than others, made my 2nd grocery list, and went from there. Also remember that even the cheapest pair of flippers are still going to move you through the water, faster than a swimmer without any flippers…Don’t let financial excuses get in your way of making your first healthy food choices! If you start your healthy eating with buying inexpensive non-fancy vegetables/fruits/etc, they’re still better for you than the stuff you were spending your money on before! I have moved into a season of buying more organic and gluten free foods, but I started with basic fruits and vegetables from WalMart, cans, and whatever was served at restaurants (see “Recognizing The Victory”). It’s wonderful to polish the details of your eating plan, but remember that to get from point A to point B, sometimes a plain ol’ pair of FLIPPERS is the necessary first step to insure you’ll keep moving forward as soon as you begin!
*2-KNOW THE WATER TEMPERATURE! You gotta test the water EVERY DAY before you jump in! Ladies, you know we get cravings during certain times of the month, and everyone experiences certain emotions that lead to certain cravings. Maybe there’s nothing you can do to change those cravings. However, you can anticipate the inclement weather upon your waters and suit up accordingly with a comfortable yet form fitting outfit you know makes you look good even when you’re bloated, or pack your bag with satiating treats like almonds, string cheese, or even a chocolate protein shake in a thermos…because we KNOW we’ll swim past a few fast food places that aren’t going to help our stroke at all! Take the time to prepare for cravings, low self esteem…whatever you’ve come across previously that could create swells in your waters, even when the waves look calm!
*3-BRING YOUR LIFE RAFT! Pride sinks, prudence swims! Don’t swim it alone…BRING YOUR LIFE RAFT of accountability! Keep at least one person in the loop on your journey. I use this blog and my Instagram. I decided to remove the privacy of eating in order to stay accountable in the beginning of my Food Post Challenge and if it weren’t for the responsibility of taking pictures of my food and posting it on Instagram, I would not have completed my challenges! There were many moments during my Christmas challenge when I wanted to give up, run to Sonic, and leave that picture off my Instagram! Had it not been for my accountability to my followers, readers, and friends, I would not have stayed above water! One of my Instagram followers commented “I’ve lost 17 lbs with you so far…” I am encouraged again and again as I remember her words, and know that Plus Size Thought is making a difference, not only as I swim the swells, but as you swim them too!
*4-LIFT YOUR HEAD! Open waters have no convenient black line at the bottom for you to stare at to affirm you’re swimming straight. You must LIFT YOUR HEAD to see your way forward. Instructors advise finding landmarks in order to keep you heading in the right direction. I follow inspirational Instagram handles which keep my perspective focused on positive reminders and encouragements throughout the day. I also have Bible verses taped on my front door and refrigerator (I open those doors every day and can’t help but see those landmarks!). It may help to hang out a dress or a pair of pants you really want to fit into by the next season (though I can’t stress enough that your primary goal shouldn’t be to lose weight). Trustworthy mentors can also serve as “swim coaches” you can trust to blow the whistle if they see your technique is getting sloppy, but if there should ever come a time when it’s too late to call someone or no one answers the phone when you need some counsel, I offer this option: LIFT YOUR HEAD to the Lord. I believe He is around 24/7, always answers the phone, and is better than the brightest lighthouse if you’re swimmin’ the swells alone in the deep, dark, open waters!
*5-PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE REPEAT! The key to forming a new habit is repetition. The more you PRACTICE, the more you let go of the old habit, the more confidence you have in the new habit. For example, before I met my lifeguard friend, I had put in a good month of swimming laps, breathing only on my right side. When she first taught me about “bilateral breathing” (breathing both on your right and left sides during freestyle swimming), it was a big adjustment. I felt awkward swimming this new way, as I repeated “stroke stroke stroke BREATHE LEFT, stroke stroke stroke BREATHE RIGHT!” in my head, up and down the lane! During the times I was coughing up water and forgetting which side I was supposed to breathe on next, I had to trust that my repetition would pay off! I now benefit greatly from the flexibility and balance that comes with bilateral breathing, plus I can use it either in the lap pool or open waters…I have confidence that my new habit will serve me well either when my environment is easy or difficult. During the easy times of your healthy journey, safety tips may seem unimportant, but if you have done your practicing and built up stronger healthy habits, you’ll be able to breathe easy in either predictable or unpredictable waters.
*6-THE SWELL SHALL PASS! The day after Christmas, I bought two gallons of ice cream and finished them off within two days, along with pizza, chips, cookies, and chocolate…I jokingly called the next five days my “Food Post Challenge Vacation”. Cheat meals are fine, but cheating for 5 days? I was slipping into my old habit! Yes, I felt like a failure. Yes, I felt sluggish and tired. Yes, I kept eating that stuff anyway. But in the long run, I believe that I have kept on swimming…because I am not still eating that way TODAY! Though I don’t take pictures of my food anymore, my fridge is full of veggies, healthy proteins, and gluten free carbs! TODAY I’m back in the water, swimming, come calm waters or swells. So if you are by any chance swimmin’ the swells, trust that I know where you are, that there is a moment when you will not be swimming forward, no matter how much effort you are putting into your strokes. In that moment, you must have faith that your efforts are not in vain, that continuing with your strokes, no matter how anti-climatic the results may feel, is much more productive than stopping altogether! And most importantly, you must have faith that THE SWELL SHALL PASS!
However much I felt like a big disappointment, most every day, as I was plunging headlong into my old bully cravings this Christmas season…that’s also how much of a victor I now know I am, because the SWELLS FELL yet I DID NOT! Making the decision to get healthy does not mean your day to day choices will ever be polished or perfect…I actually guarantee they won’t! Some swells may pull you under and get the better of you, but I encourage you to get back to the surface (no matter how awkward or ugly your stroke may be!), take a deep breath, and dive right back in with confidence, knowing that training to improve the rest of your life happens one stroke at a time!
I encourage you to keep “Swimmin’ the Swells“!