Sunday, October 16, 2011

Asking the Right Questions

I talk to morbidly obese patients everyday. I teach them, counsel them, eat with them, and spend endless hours reading their journals. These patients have a story to tell, but we aren't listening and we continue asking the wrong questions.
When I first read the last line of the above quote I almost stood up and gave a “Grey’s Anatomy” slow clap, but I was home alone and that would have been weird.  Nonetheless, there was a sense of “Yes, finally someone gets it!”  (Actually, there are a lot of people who get, and if you look to the right of your screen and click on the some of my favorite blogs, you will see for yourself.)  The reason this line resonated with me so much is because it is so spot on.  In our society being overweight is looked at as "you are lazy and a pig.  Just stop eating!"  But many (most) times weight loss is not simply about "eat less, move more." 
Originally, I came across the post that contained this quote from an article titled "20%-40% of Obese Women Were Sexually Abused"  .  This title did not suprise me. I know the statistics and correlation between women who were abused sexually, physically, or emotionally that end up being overweight.  Finally, people are starting to acknowledge this and that is what has me excited. 
As I continued reading I got all "You go girl!" when I read this quote:  
Yes just yes.  I and just about every other overweight person I know knows how to count calories and lose weight.  It's the keeping it off that is problematic.  For that we need to dig deeper.  To make any weight loss successful and long lasting we need to ask the right questions.  The right questions are not "How many calories does this piece of bread have in it?" or "How many minutes of cardio did you get in at the gym today?"  Real change comes when we acknowledge that one does not become obese or mobidly obese simply from enjoying one too many milkshakes or from being lazy.  It is so much deeper than that.  I know from my own personal experience it's not until you start asking the right questions that you eventually start getting the right answers.
While I can't relate to the experience of being sexually abused, I can relate to using food to self-soothe.  I was an anxious kid who has grown up to be an anxious adult.  Food was how I sought comfort.  Being the child of a single parent I often was scared of something happening to my mom--my one remaining parent.  Where would me and my brother live?  Who would take care of us?  What if my mom got sick?  If I heard my mom agonizing over bills it became: What if we become homeless? Am I old enough to get a job to help my mom out?  The worry was endless.  Overeating and being full to the point of discomfort has a way of shutting the worry off.  It numbs you so that the questions, worry, and fear go silent, even if just for a little while.  
I understand that on a physical level losing weight is about eating better and moving your body.  I get it and there is no (legitimate) doctor, pyschologist, or counselor in the world who will dispute that.  But in order to keep making the right choices, not to overeat and to exercise, you first have to work on the excess pounds in your head and (this is my strugglekeep working at it day after day.  In life worry, fear, and anxiety still come up often.  By having others around me asking the right questions I have slowly learned how to deal with these emotions without overeating.  My goal is to keep practicing this one day at a time. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Mothers and Daughters

The other day while I was laid up on the couch with cramps that had me contemplating a hysterectomy popping a few Tylenol I decided to turn on the television to try and get my mind off the pain.  I turned to this new talk show and the topic happened to be about a daughter confronting her mother about verbally abusing her about her weight.  Let me paint this picture for you:
It was a black family of three; a mother and her two daughters.  The mother was morbidly obese, one of the daughter was obese and the other daughter who was skinny.  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out this is a recipe for disaster.  The daughter who was overweight told of how her mother favored the skinnier sister and often bought her clothes and talked about how pretty she was.  However, when it came to her- the obese one- she was called “fat a$$”  “fat b*tch” etc.  The mom claimed that she was just trying to help her daughter and encourage her to lose weight.  At one point the mom stood up and started yelling “Do you want to be like me?!!?”  “Do you want to be lonely and fat like me!?!”  Next, the skinnier daughter comes out and is proud to be the skinny one and tells her sister “You need to lose some weight.”  Meanwhile, this sister has admitted to sleeping with two of the fat sister’s boyfriends.  While the talk show host begins questioning why she would betray her sister in such a way, guess what the mom does.  Yup, she jumps in and defends her skinny daughter claiming “men will be men” and “I warned the men about her”  “All men are dogs.”  This mom did not demand that her daughter take any responsibility for her actions, because she was skinny, while at the same time she blamed the overweight daughter for being fat and “always wanting something in her mouth.”  This was self-hate at its very ugliest on the part of all three women.  This is what happens when a woman who hates herself ends up raising daughters.
The relationship between a mother and daughter is always complicated.  Add in the issues of weight, body image, and self-esteem this relationship can become destructive.  The more I pull back the layers behind my own weight and body image issues I keep coming back to the fact that I am my mother’s daughter.  I love my mom and I have no doubt that she loves me.  With that said she has struggled with her weight for most of her life and she has admitted to me that she has let it stop her from doing things in her life she has wanted to do.  As a child, when you here the one person you love most in the world call themselves a “fat ass” as a joke it leaves an impression.  And not a good one.  As an adult who has been working through these very issues I can say my weight is not my mother or anyone else’s fault.  It’s not even my own “fault” per se, but it is my problem and recognizing that there are aspects of my relationship with my mom in which my compulsive overeating and body image issues stem from is one way I am working through this problem.
One of the main reasons why I want to get past these issues and learn to love and treat myself and my body with respect is because I want to be a mom someday.  When I do become a mom there is a 50% chance I will have at least one daughter.  I don’t ever want my daughter to hear me call myself a “fat ass” or have her see me look in the mirror and grab a roll of fat in self-disgust.  I want to teach her that food is nourishment for your body and that her self-worth comes from loving others and being loved.  And since I cannot give what I do not have I need to possess these qualities myself.  Because 20 years from now I refuse to be standing on someone’s talk show screaming at my daughter “I don’t want you to be like me.”

Friday, October 7, 2011

Learning to Take Care of Myself

Early on in Program my sponsor would ask me, "What nice thing are you going to do for yourself today?"  The first few times she asked me this I would respond "I don't know, umm, watch tv."  The first time I said this she accepted it by the second or third time she asked "Is tv like food for you?"  "Huh?" I responded.  "Well does it help you to zone out and go numb like food does?"  "Damn, how did she know," I thought to myself.  My sponsor challenged me to find ways outside of food and tv to be compassionate towards myself.

In the last few years I have learned how to take care of myself without stuffing my face full of food.  The progress I have made in this area has become abundantly clear to me in the last few months.  For example, today I was exhausted for two reasons.  The first being it is that time of the month and my energy level typically plummets during this special time and second, I did not get to sleep until after 12:30 last night which is extremely late for me.  I could not even complete my run this morning because my body was just telling me to sit down somewhere.  Once I got home from my run/walk instead of stuffing my face with comfort food I took a nap.  A long one.  I rested and put some things on hold that I planned to do today.  Then, to top it all off I did not beat myself up for not doing work that I wanted to get done.  Those were the nice things I did for myself today.

In the past I probably would have eaten a lot of food that made me extremely tired and thus given me an excuse to take a nap.  After my nap I would have kept reminding myself of everything I should have done, could have done, or would have done had I not taken a nap, not to mention the regret of having eaten ridiculous amounts of food. 

Today I did not do that.  Today I showed myself self-compassion, and while this is not an everyday occurrence it is becoming more frequent.  I am still very much a work in progress.  But, as we say in Program...Progress Not Perfection!