God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous, the Serenity Prayer may well be the best-known, most repeated prayer of the 20th century, and rightly so. In one brief sentence, it sums up the mental and spiritual state essential to all personal change. It crosses religious lines, with meaning even for the irreligious.
Last article, I suggested possible New Years resolutions. Now I suggest this as the overarching resolution: To continually keep in mind the line between what we can change and what we can’t change, and to frequently check in on our assumptions about the difference.
I have been as big as size 20. As I write this, I am on the borderline between a size 10 and size 12. At five-foot-two, this is no one’s idea of skinny. I have been able to change my weight, my appearance, my health; those things obviously lay in the realm of things I could change. In the realm of the unchangeable lie my height and my stocky, barrel-chested, short-waisted build. I cannot change my skeleton.
Somewhere on the border between “can change” and “can’t change” lies what we generally call “metabolism” – the ease or difficulty with which I lose – and gain – weight. It’s a catch-all term, describing the confluence of dozens, possibly hundreds, of influences: genetics, macronutrient balance, micronutrient status, age, the levels of various hormones, exercise, sleep, and stress levels among them. Some of these I can change, some I cannot – and the state of biological research suggests that things that seem unchangeable today may turn out to be more malleable than we now believe, and that, vice versa, some things that have been considered mutable are graven in stone.
So here lies the ongoing task: To continue to do the things I have had to do to go from dangerously obese to modestly overweight. To accept that all the diet and exercise in the world is not going to turn me into a sylph, and never could, not even when I was a teenager. To realize that my body is changing, and will continue to change – 54 is definitely different from 36, the age I was when I started low carbing. And to be rigorously honest with myself about which things I can, indeed, change.
I can keep up a once-every-four-days weight lifting schedule, instead of letting it slide for ten days. I can try various macronutrient ratios – right now, more fat and less protein seems good for me. I can skip the red wine as many nights as I drink it – or let it go entirely. I can get to bed at a reasonable hour. I can make the effort to record my food intake. All of those things are within my power.
I’ve already mentioned my age and my frame. Here are some other things I cannot change: The fact that there are endless ads on television touting processed junk food as a great substitute for genuine happiness. The fact that every festive occasion is going to feature carbs, often of the worst kind. The fact that other people think I’m a bit odd for eating the way I do. (Little do they know that there are far better reasons to think me odd.) The fact that there will be times when I am hungry and am faced with less-than-ideal food choices. However, each of those unchangeable things does allow choices: To turn off the television, or, more likely for me, make fun of the ads; to take something low carb and delicious to the party; to say “no, thank you” and simply not give a damn what other people think of the way I eat, to choose the grilled chicken salad at the fast food place and the almonds or the pork rinds at the mini-mart.
I believe it’s in policing the line between changeable and unchangeable that life-long change lies. Pray for that wisdom, if you’re a praying person. And whether you’re a praying person or not, keep a good, steady eye out for the difference.