Now that I have been blogging for nearly a year, I guess I can be honest with you about one more thing: I have serious food issues. This will be no surprise to my colleagues who witness me foraging through their desktop candy dishes for late afternoon chocolate fixes. It’s probably obvious to anyone who knows me: food and body image have been core struggles of mine since puberty. My deepest fear is not flying, earthquakes, abandonment, disfigurement, death, or even damnation. My biggest fear is getting fat.

A rational person could point out, that since I am so obsessed and hyper-vigilant about my food intake and exercise output, serious weight gain seems highly unlikely. But in this one area, I admit, I am not rational.

The strange part is, I have always been pretty close to what the medical charts say is my “ideal weight.” But, paradoxically, I have usually lived far outside of my “ideal body image.” My concept of my body size is a pretty good barometer for my mood. If I feel crummy, it typically means “I feel fat.” If I feel great, you guessed it, “I feel thin.” But I am actually usually at the same weight, despite these divergent feelings and discordant self-concepts. I know it sounds completely crazy … can anyone identify with this?

I can’t stop evaluating my size, weight, and fat content. I am on a constant and vigilant search to determine whether I have gotten fatter or thinner since yesterday. And trying to account for salt intake? That takes it to an impossible level of analysis. Each angle, article of clothing, or change of lighting brings the prospect of revealing whether indeed I am fatter or thinner. This is a never-ending source of self-satisfaction or misery.

I find myself assessing the quality of any day by the number of calories I consumed (e.g. less calories = better day). And, believe me, it is usually too many. Thank goodness I am so diligent with exercise or I would be as big as a house. It is absurd, I know. It’s self-defeating, irrational, unhealthy, perhaps misogynistic, and certainly vain. But I can’t seem to stop!

My desperate goal is always this: to lose 10 pounds. That’s it. That is the source of my unhappiness. Ten fricking pounds! Why can’t I let this go?

I am hesitant to continue on this subject. It’s grueling to write about something that I don’t feel any mastery over. I find myself in a daily battle with my weight and body image – seriously, right now I can quote to you the caloric content of every morsel I have eaten today.

The topic of women and weight is so emotionally charged, so politicized, so fraught with potential for misunderstanding. Will overweight women hate me for being so self-obsessed and neurotic when I am actually NOT FAT? Will goal-oriented fitness buffs discount me as a low-self-esteem wreck? Will Birkenstock-clad make-up free therapists shake their heads in dismay? At age 48 and out of the dating pool for almost three decades, shouldn’t I be, well, over this? Perhaps the malevolent face of Madison Avenue notions of feminine beauty smiles at my distress.

I learned years ago to adopt a mindset of “What other people think of me is none of my business.” But this weight issue is more about what I think of myself, and that’s where I get stuck. It seems to me there are two choices: accept how I am, embrace it, and be happy. Or, decide to make a change, apply my best effort, and achieve it, like I would any other life goal. Why is this so hard?

The weight fixation actually gets more intense and obsessive when my stress level is up. But that is precisely when my desire to eat everything in sight ratchets up as well. It creates a ridiculous kind of push-me-pull-you sort of double-bind; my competing drives declare war on each other. Sure, it’s obviously a control issue. I’ve taken enough psychology classes to get that much. One could argue that, because so much of life seems arbitrary and uncontrollable, I zero in on some matter like weight, body size, and calorie consumption to offer an alternative method of feeling in charge of my life. Sounds like a recipe for an eating disorder. That’s not what I want for myself. There must be a better way.

I just finished reading Women, Food, and God and am attempting to apply some of the principles that author Geneen Roth suggests. She talks about how we use food to numb ourselves and to avoid experiencing our feelings.  She tells attendees at her seminars, “Compulsive eating is a way we leave ourselves when life gets hard. When we don’t want to notice what is going on. Compulsive eating is a way we distance ourselves from the way things are when they are not how we want them to be. Ending the obsession with food is all about the capacity to stay in the present moment.” She suggests that “Staying where you are with what you are feeling or seeing or sensing is the first step in ending the obsession with food.”

This is the question I keep trying to answer: Do I need to try harder, or stop trying so hard? Perhaps I just need to approach it differently. What may be most needed is an attitude of acceptance and surrender. Acceptance of who I am, what I am feeling, and how things are, NOW. Surrendering to what life has brought today. And acknowledging the choices I bring along the way. Accept what is, and embrace my capacity to make choices. Be aware of, and willing to change poor habits. Don’t numb out, don’t turn on “automatic pilot”. Really feel. Really choose. Fully experience the feelings and fully experience the food. The weight will take care of itself.

Being more gentle and flexible with myself helps with the control issues. I like the 80/20 rule. If I eat well 80% of the time, the other 20% of “not so great” eating will be okay. Disaster will not ensue. This helps rid me of an “all or nothing” mindset – which is a set up for disordered thinking and disordered eating. I also am working on living by Ms. Roth’s Eating Guidelines:

1. Eat when you are hungry.

2. Eat sitting down in a calm environment. (This does not include the car).

3. Eat without distractions. Distractions include radio, television, newspapers, books, intense or anxiety-producing  conversations or music.

4. Eat what your body wants

5. Eat until you are satisfied.

6. Eat (with the intention of being) in full view of others.

7. Eat with enjoyment, gusto and pleasure.

 

A few books on the subject of diet, health, and exercise that have provided some wisdom and guidance to me are:

Fat is a Feminist Issue (by Susie Orbach)

-Feed Your Body, Feed Your Brain (by Daniel Aman)

-Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy (by Walter Willett)

-Secrets of Skinny Chicks (by Karen Bridson)

-Eating Mindfully (by Susan Albers)

-Women, Food, and God (by Geneen Roth)

 

 

“Sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness.”

-poet Galway Kinnell

 

 

 

 

16 Comments

  1. Oh Lisa you have hit such a nerve in me with this one. I can honestly say that no matter how successful my life has been personally, professionally, or in any measurable sense I have always been a failure due to my body and my image of it. There is no good reason… I am healthy and I have a husband who has never failed to tell me how beautiful I am to him,I have two amazing successful children who I love more than anything, I have had two very successful careers-but nothing makes my self hatred go away. I would love to find some peace with this since in my mind, no matter what happens each day I have failed.

  2. Oh, Pat I sure feel your pain! And yes, you are loved, beautiful, and successful! It has to be something about what we unconsciously take on from society. It is not to our strength or advantage, so why don’t we let it go? Maybe the daily assault of images that prescribe what womanhood should be. We need to define beauty for ourselves to overcome this threat! Let’s start a revolution, you and I!

  3. I’m in! I had no idea you felt this way. Perhaps strength will come with the sharing.

  4. Any other of our lady friends up for re-defining beauty and success? Let’s take the power to define our brilliance away from Hollywood and reclaim it for ourselves. We have busted our (large, medium, or small) asses and deserve some long overdue recognition!

  5. Lisa, you know what I remember about you and your body? You could do pull ups in 6th grade. And were always SO STRONG. I worked on pull ups in my late 30s for almost a year before i could do just one. And I thought of you often that year. I don’t share your struggle, but I do have compassion for it. My irrational never-good-enough judgments usually fall in my work life. But, you. You’ve always had a strong, beautiful, healthy body in my mind. My wish for you is that your path to body self-acceptance is a short one from here.

    • Well, bless you Amy for such a sweet recollection and kind assurance. May we both know that we we always were, and continue to be, good enough! (Yeah, I used to love P.E. class and the pull up bar)!

  6. I believe we all have at least one thing that is like this for us. A mentor of mine told me that his is feeling stupid. As a boy, he believed his mother thought he was stupid and it never leaves him. He is an accomplished college professor, a published author, a sought after spiritual leader with a thriving private practice and has been the presenter/trainer at probably more than 100 conferences. He told me that whenever he is to present to an audience, large or small, he experiences that sense of being stupid, a deep sense of shame. He has learned that all he can do is experience what it feels like and step up and speak anyway. Once he gets going the feeling passes. I think that’s probably the part we have to accept, not whatever flaw or preceived flaw it is we worry about, but the fact that certain fears and feelings are hard wired into us. They are going to send their signal. We are going to experience that feeling/shame (Lisa, you know it as feeling fat; Pat, you know it as feeling like a failure). It is what gives us the opportunity to say, “That’s not true.” and then go on. How courageous that we keep going on!

    • Mat, your mentor was wise to share his own struggle with you and how he faces it. These internal critics and sources of shame often were instilled in us at a very early age (through experiences, caregivers, society), so they run very deep. It helps just to beware of them, and know that we don’t have to let them prevail.

  7. Oh, and Lisa, you are such a model of courage for sharing something so personal and vulnerable. You inspire me again and again.

  8. It is mutual Mat! Can’t wait to see your first completed full length screenplay.

  9. Michael Mikulski

    Courageously written Lisa. It is amazing how a few of these irrational thoughts come so powerfully and convincingly. I follow along with Mat’s comments and that of his mentor. Meditation and mindfulness have helped me become bemused at times to these previously mighty irrational thoughts. On a good day, I smile at them and walk over them like crushed leaves.

    • What a wonderful way to respond Mike. You are wise, and are an excellent writer yourself! Thanks for your insightful contribution to this discussion.

  10. Michael Mikulski

    Gosh. Don’t mean to sound like I haven’t struggled through this over the years. I just feel so fed up with those inner voices. It’s war!

  11. Thank you Lisa for sharing this. As a woman that has always struggled with my curves, I am surpised that you do to. You are definitely one that I enjoy to see your body & outfits (not in a sexual nature :-) ). At this point, I try to enjoy the curves I have and my personal mantra “if you don’t like what you see, then don’t look”. Lol..I always enjoy reading you blog. I really appreciate knowing you & Mat on a different level.

  12. Lisa, if you or anyone else would like to download a comprehensive mindful eating program for free, check out The Mindfulness Diet (www.MindfulnessDiet.com). (Donation is requested but not required.) No fine print!

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