Mark and I petting our calico cat Gigi, 1974

If you looked by any chance at my “Story in Pictures” post, you may have noticed that I lost weight at an excruciatingly slow rate, something like 5-10 pounds a year. That doesn’t begin to express the half of it.

This is where my fitness plan usually falls down in other people’s eyes. They find out they have to continue to exercise for, gulp, several years to see significant weight loss results, and their interest level goes right out the window. Like the teacher in the story about the man who wants to learn piano but doesn’t want it to take five years, I have the same response: Where else are you going to be in five years?

I’d been like that, too, always trying to take off extra weight as quickly as possible, regardless of the short-term suffering, figuring I’d develop good habits afterward, once I was skinny. I’d succeed to a greater or lesser extent, then find myself regaining; or I’d quit early because of the pain and vow to start again as soon as I was ready. I acted like my weight was an emergency that had to be solved in absolutely no more than three months, and then I’d fail to solve it for several more years. This approach was certainly not getting me where I wanted to be.

I took a leap of faith when I decided that if I consistently exercised for five years, I would not be able to help but look the way I wanted to. And where else was I going to be in five years, anyway? I looked at the people in the gym whose bodies I admired or envied, and it finally hit me that they really exercised like that, year after year after year.

The first few months of working out in 2006, I quickly dropped 7-8 pounds without trying, going from about 155 to exactly 147 pounds. I then proceeding to stay right at 147 for the next EIGHTEEN MONTHS. This, despite exercising more over time than I had in my entire adult life.

People ask me why I didn’t stop. Yes, I was discouraged. But for one thing, stopping wasn’t exactly going to make me lose weight, was it? It was that leap of faith thing; I knew I was doing the right things. For another, my body kept changing in appearance despite the scale staying the same. It was clear I was changing my body composition a lot. You can see in the pictures that a change of 20 pounds looked more like 40. And finally, my motivation to exercise was more than for losing weight — I wanted to feel better and look better and be healthier, and do the things I wanted, and live for a long time.

And. It was just kind of this experiment I was doing, and I became extremely stubborn about it. My mom has always said that once I decide to do something, no one can stop me. Something clicked — or, possibly, snapped — and I couldn’t even get in my own way. No matter how upset I got about the scale — and you can ask my old boyfriend, I got pretty upset — I just kept going to the gym anyway. I’d weigh myself and cry and angst and question the existential meaning of everything, then I’d shut up and go back to the gym.

I learned a lot. I was spoiled in life by a lot of things coming easily to me, especially academically. I remember watching my brother get a “D” in sophomore Mechanical Drawing, and then go ahead and sign up for it again the next year. I couldn’t fathom it; while I knew how to work hard, I hid from displaying anything I wasn’t able to master. I watched him work all junior year, staying loads of extra hours after school to finesse his tortured-looking drawings, and achieve a final grade of “C.” He inexplicably signed up again. By the end of his senior year, he got a “B” as his final grade, and he was later paid to do drawings for a local firm. My straight-“A” reputation looked idiotic to me. He, as a teenager, had put in three years of solid, incremental, unrewarded effort to finally get it. I have never admired someone’s achievement so much in my life.

Eighteen months of exercise with zero weight loss became my own Mechanical Drawing class. By the end I understood persistence in a way nothing else had ever taught me.