The Power of Cumulative

In September 2017, I spent about a month in Italy eating a lot of incredible pasta, drinking wine, and indulging in all the gelato.  So much so that (TMI warning) towards the end of the first week, my underwear got really tight. I wondered if it was possible to outgrow all my clothes in the course of a month but ultimately decided “this is Italy and I need to revel in it.

But in 2017 I was not a food and travel writer, and I was not traveling as frequently as I am these days; nor was it my job to eat everything in sight for the sake of “research.” I was able to eat whatever I wanted, while walking a couple miles a day, and then come home and balance back out. But these days things are much different. Nowadays I travel for the sake of research and, while I am on work related trips, it’s common to have one too many three too many plates of food appear in front of me.

In all of 2017 I spent a weekend in Boston, a month in Italy, and a couple days in NYC. But in the last four months, I’ve already spent time in the Bahamas working on foodie related articles, explored the New Orleans cocktail scene, went on a multi-day foodie tour of Sevierville, Tennessee, visited my grandparents in Alabama, spent two weeks road tripping across the country with Jen of Renegade Camera, and visited friends in Western North Carolina.


And, to put it as plainly as possible, I’m just not bouncing back like I used to. This was made evident at my recent annual physical. Since last year’s physical, I have gained fourteen pounds -- eight since December.

Whenever we discuss our concerns with our bodies or weight, people (even my doctors and their nurses) are quick to jump to affirmations: “You look great!” and “Nothing to worry about.” And while I agree that it is important to love ourselves exactly as we are, I also think we do ourselves a disservice when we ignore the healthy choices discussion.  Part of loving and accepting ourselves is honoring our bodies with what we know they require, instead of pretending we have no control over the situation.

My incredibly wise friend, Debi White, often talks about the “power of cumulative” choices. Back in 2012 she shared this message on her personal blog:

I will soon exit my fifties, and nothing I have learned is more compelling than the power of cumulative in the sense that whatever we bank will gain strength and power in our lives, for our good...or not so good.

As it concerns physical health, your body will express in your fifties whatever you have banked in your thirties and forties. If you have eaten well and exercised diligently, you will have in your vault of health a reserve that will combat the inevitable aging of your body. You absolutely can impact your mobility, your disease factor and your pain quotient. Little or no reserve will lead you into a bankruptcy of health.

Another time she broke down the “power of cumulative” like this:

My medical doctor brother once pointed out that if you gain one pound a year for twenty years beginning at age 30, you would be…right, 20 pounds overweight at age 50. No rocket science there, but I was so shocked. I can gain a pound in a weekend. It was a startling example of how the power of cumulative is so missed in our culture. We deal with life day-to-day and often fail to step back and remember that the accumulation of days—or anything else—is like a swift-moving river that is gathering energy either for us or against us...

If I knew that I was banking away healthy choices (exercising regularly, stretching, eating nutritious foods, and consuming the appropriate number of calories) on a consistent basis, I wouldn’t concern myself as much with the extra weight or the fact that my favorite dress doesn’t fit like it used to. But it’s more than that. It’s that I don’t feel great. My neck is tight, my back hurts, my hips are stiff, and I don’t come anywhere close to meeting the recommended amount of daily exercise (hello, working from home!). But because I don’t feel great, I avoid working out since it just reminds me how out of shape I am. But if that’s how I feel now, how will I feel after 20 years of banking what I am banking? The power of cumulative can work for me or against me, and currently that energy is working against me.

Like Debi said, “...your body will express in your fifties whatever you have banked in your thirties and forties.” Our bodies need nutrients -- vitamins, minerals, water, proteins, and healthy fats -- and movement to accumulate strength and flexibility while we are young so we have it banked as we get older to avoid the risk of serious illness, stroke, heart attack, osteoporosis and more.  

It’s taken 32 years to get my body to where it is today, so I know I am not going to radically develop a “beachbody” before summer -- but that’s not my goal. My goal is to feel better and stronger, to be able to move my body with less discomfort, to become more active and stronger. The goal is to feel better at 52 than I do at 32 and the only way to do that is by accumulating small healthy choices each day.