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Getting Off The Roller Coaster

The biggest thing that seemed to keep me from pursuing healthy eating habits for any significant length of time was personal time constraints. Busy, busy, busy. Like many people today, I didn't have time to get home-cooked meals on the table regularly -- much less take the time to actually prepare something nutritious and healthy.

Then something happened that completely changed my wishy-washy approach to healthful eating.

One morning I was showering and discovered what every woman dreads: A lump. A sizeable lump. Suddenly I was at the doctor's office having x-rays and ultrasounds done, and before I really had time to fathom the full repercussions of this new chapter in my life, I was being schedule for a surgical lumpectomy and biopsy. The earliest they could schedule the procedure was several weeks away, so I found myself in "waiting mode," trying not to obsess about my health, but finding myself helplessly reevaluating everything in my life.

It seemed that in one swift, life-changing moment I'd gone from peacefully going about my quiet little life to suddenly examining every moment and activity in light of the question, "What if . . . ?"

What if I have cancer? What if I get horribly sick? What if I die? What if I don't live to see my children grow up? What if this is my last summer here on Earth? What if ...

My entire life was now under a high-powered microscope. I'd find myself looking at an activity and thinking, "Is this how I would want to spend my time if this were the last week of my life?" More often than not, the answer was a resounding, "No!"

Suddenly everything stood out like a relief map. It was easy to identify priorities in a way I never had before. And I'd lived for a long time with a clear set of priorities before me. But my priorities took on new meaning; I sensed a new urgency.

My children. My husband. My faith. My church. These priorities suddenly grew in importance as my focus changed. Other activities like writing, public speaking, Internet activities and even mundane things like house- work lessened their hold over my life. Not that those things ceased to be important, but their placement in the way I chose to spend my time and energy changed.

I even found myself looking at where I lived and deciding that if I was facing the end of my time here, one of my biggest regrets was living at the end of a cul-de-sac in a standard housing development. My heart had always been in the country with horses and acreage. If my life was over, I found that I truly regretted not having done what was necessary to make that dream come true somehow. Raising my children in Suburbia wasn't what I'd wanted for my life. I found myself wondering when I'd started living someone else's dreams.

But probably the biggest refocusing that occurred was in the area of my physical health. For many years I'd been eating a poor diet and living a sedentary lifestyle. And my poor body showed it. Out of shape, overweight, out of breath.

Fortunately the biopsy was negative.

Really? Did the doctor's office actually say the results were negative -- as in "no cancer"? A moment of numb- ness ... and then: Hallelujah! That was truly a day for rejoicing when I heard those comforting test results.

My entire life had been on hold while I waited to have the surgical lumpectomy. I was happy (jubilant? ecstatic? outrageously euphoric?) about the tests results, but I had a fairly difficult recovery time. I didn't know it was possible to bruise so badly or hurt so much. As I waited out my body's healing process, I realized the non-physical scars from this event were going to last a lot longer than any physical ones. My emotional and spiritual life had received a jolt that would leave me forever changed.

I remember lying in the recovery room after the surgery promising myself that as soon as I was able, I would start physically working out and eating better. I had a new motivation. My brush with the harsh realities of the brevity and uncertainty of life made me want more than anything else to do whatever it took to live a full and healthy life, to see my children grow up, and hopefully my grandchildren too.

In addition to this new inner motivation, I knew I needed something concrete to be a constant reminder of just how out of shape I was and how badly I needed to follow through on this health program. Enter the idea of taking a "before" photo of myself. Oh my. Can you say, "Scary"?

I dressed myself in my several-sizes-too-small swimsuit and had my daughter take photographs of me from every angle. There's no hiding the truth from the camera. When those pictures came back from the photo developer, I cringed when I saw them. Cringe is a drastic understatement. I flinched. I winced. I cowered. I may have even shed a tear or two.

Seeing my own bare back was an eye-opening event for me; my back is that part I just don't see (actually, I can't see it without a photograph or doing the contortions of a gymnast in front of a full-length mirror). I gazed at those photos, dumbfounded. What had happened to me? When did I develop the widest back West of the Mississippi? I remember being an adult and wearing a size 5 pair of slacks. Not today. Maybe I could get one leg into a size 5 now.

I looked at those pictures and thought, "Whatever happened to that thin young thing I used to be? When was my body taken over by an Alien Cow?"

Well, three babies and many years of a sedentary lifestyle and poor food choices had taken its toll on my poor body. It had been easy to look in the mirror, put on my make-up, think I didn't look too bad if I was having a good hair day ... but then never really look at myself or take an honest inventory of my health. Those photos were the most horrifying thing I've ever seen. No wonder I was always the first person to offer to take group photos so I wouldn't have to actually be in any of the pictures myself. I think I was trying to hide the truth about what was happening to my body from myself.

My goals for healthy living don't include becoming super-model thin. I want to be healthy and strong. I'm not interested so much in how I look as in how I feel. But seeing my physical self as I really looked to others was just the wake up call I needed. When- ever I'm tempted to have second helpings, or just one more handful of potato chips or a full box of Oreo cookies(!!), I take out those pictures of my back and look at them closely. And I quickly lose my appetite for junk, finding myself reaching for a piece of fresh fruit instead.

For me, the journey to a healthier lifestyle began with two steps: facing up to life's brevity and facing up to the truth about my physical condition. Anyone who's ever been able to wear a size 5 as an adult can't use the excuse of having big bones anymore. The truth was staring me in the face from those photographs.

And the truth was what was going to finally set me free.

By Deborah Taylor-Hough (free-lance writer, wife and mother of three) is editor of the free ezine Simple Times [] and author of several books including "Frozen Assets: Cook for a day, eat for a month!" (Champion Press) and "Frugal Living For Dummies(r)" (Wiley Publishing). Visit Debi at:

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