What ‘Feeling Fat’ Means To Me

When I was 14 years old, I babysat for the family who lived across the street. They had two children; a toddler and a baby of seven months. The mom, Kari, was not happy with the extra weight she gained from having the baby. She constantly dieted and exercised. She and my mother often traded diet tips and weight loss stories while drinking black coffee at our kitchen table.
One time, a few days into one of her restrictive diets, Kari came over to our house and sat down. She stretched out her legs, pointed her feet like a ballerina and said, “I feel so thin today. I know I’m not thin, but I feel thin.”
Thinness, to Kari, (to all of us back then) equated with being better, happier, and more attractive. That day, I got the message seared into my brain that feeling thin was proof you had willpower and you stuck to your diet. Fatness and feeling fat was bad, even if it was proof you just had a baby.

From then on, I tried my hardest to follow a diet. I wanted that elusive ‘thin’ feeling. I thought it was the only feeling that would relieve the terrifying ‘fat’ feeling that was beginning to invade my consciousness. So, instead of trying to help myself feel happy or content or peaceful or loving, I chose to work on feeling thin to combat feeling fat.

The things that made me feel thin were -following a low-calorie diet for a few days, jogging every day, or fasting. All these things led to losing a few pounds and I felt thin for a short time. Looking back now, I don’t know how I got through college or managed to have friends. Everything in my life was less important than losing weight.

Throughout my life, I have painstakingly weighed and measured my food, counting every carb, calorie and fat gram. And I did manage, a few times, to get to a weight I was happy with…more truthfully, I got to a weight that I thought would make me happy.

The problem was, in trying to mold my body for the approval of others, I succeeded in learning how to hate my body imperfections. When you are thin, you still think about your thighs, your stomach, the skin under your arms and a hundred other perceived flaws.

So, even though I became petite, my self-esteem was artificial. I felt thin when I was actively losing weight, but felt fat if I ate too much. And inside, I had hole in the core of my being even bigger than before I lost the weight. My self-esteem was linked to the number on the scale, same as always.

Being thin did not guarantee people were going to like me and it did not give me a foundation to handle stress. In fact, it triggered more stress because I felt a more urgent need to stay slim; to not disappoint myself and others. This attitude gave birth to a full fledged eating disorder and years of unhealthy habits (which were even worse than my mom’s fad diets.)

How does this all relate to ‘feeling fat?

In the first ED program I attended, I was encouraged to express my feelings in a group therapy session after lunch each day. If I, or anyone in the group said they felt fat, we were told to find another word because ‘fat’ was not a feeling. This never helped me come to terms with the feeling of being fat, it just kept me trying to escape it. I kept  thinking I was wrong about my feelings. I felt invalidated. And even though I looked for other words on a printed out list of feelings, none of them expressed how I felt.

I agree that we need to stop equating thinness with happiness, and fatness with negativity. I spend a significant amount of my time reading and writing about this. I am on that bandwagon. But emotions and feelings are very complex subjects, and trying to explain that fat is not a feeling just complicates things even more. Only by embracing my experience of feeling fat could I learn to recognize other emotions and get some meaning back into my life.

We view feeling fat as a negative event because of our beliefs. Initially, we get our beliefs from how we are raised, what we learn from society, and the experiences we have in our lives. If we dismiss feeling fat as an erroneous emotion, we can never come to terms with it. It will forever have a negative connotation.  By not allowing ourselves to examine the feeling, it becomes this ominous thing we are afraid of.

If we are going to change the perception about fat and feeling fat, we have to face it head on; we have to study and re-define it.

Feelings and emotions serve us for survival, not to cause unnecessary suffering.  So, by allowing myself to explore my ‘fat’ feeling I can determine the cause. How I interpret that feeling is really what counts. If I keep trying to vanquish it, I will never get to what my body is really trying to tell me.

For me, feeling fat is an expression of a mild physical discomfort, it’s not a debilitating pain, its not a negative thought,  and it does not change my value as a person. It could be that I ate too much, or I feel bloated from a certain food, or my clothing is uncomfortable. Fat is the word I use to express these feelings. ‘Uncomfortable’ may be a more acceptable word, but fat fits my feeling more precisely.

Its not unlike having an itch or feeling sleepy or any other feeling you can name that requires you to attend to something about your body.  Once the itch is scratched or you take a nap, you can go on with your life.

The problem most of us have is that when we feel fat, we think it means we should lose weight.  We think it is a negative thing that cannot be alleviated by anything other than exercise, dieting and weight loss.  But if we study it carefully, we can make ourselves more comfortable in our own skin by making a few adjustments.

Sometimes these are physical adjustments like loosening our clothes or drinking water instead of soda. Sometimes they are mental adjustments, like remembering that feeling fat is not a negative event.  And like most other issues, when we acknowledge it and open ourselves up to it, we will have a clearer mind. With a clearer mind, we then have a choice to either accept it for what it is -a mild discomfort, or take reasonable measures to resolve it.

For more on trusting your body – Your Body Is Brilliant

For more on body image issues – Can I be Weightless?

 

“The breakthrough will come when we can embrace and examine feeling fat instead of trying to conquer it or run from it.”IMG_0048

 

Broken and Blessed

 Several weeks ago, I broke my ankle. In the past, I would have had a giant pity party and lamented the pain and inconvenience to everyone around me. And even though it has put me a little behind in my writing, it hasn’t dimmed my enthusiasm or caused me much distress.

I am writing about it now for two reasons. The first is, I wanted to use this real-life situation to share how negative events can give birth to positive things – that is, if you look for them. The second is, it put a tiny glitch in my binge free life that I had to figure out how to deal with.

Positives From Negatives

I broke my ankle playing tennis. I know, it’s not a contact sport, right? But I couldn’t help going for an overhead that was way out of my reach. As soon as it happened, all play stopped on three courts and everyone rallied around me. They got me to the ER and stayed until my family arrived. After a few days, and when the swelling went down, the orthopedic doc cast it all the way up to the knee.  People sent cards and called to check on me. One friend even sent me a bedside bell. It sounded just like the bells on Downton Abbey except that when I rang it, no one came to my see what I wanted, I just heard peals of laughter coming from the other room.

Since our vacation was set for the following week, my husband rented me a scooter. With one knee propped up and my good leg pushing me forward, I felt like a kid at play. It was an enjoyable conversation starter too. People commented that I needed to have it motorized. I talked to more strangers and made more friends on vacation than I ever would have in the past.

While packing for vacation, I discovered that I could pack four different shoes instead of two pair. I’m not a clothes horse, but I like shoes, so I thought this was a good thing. And since I could not drive, I enjoyed the scenery while my hubby drove from our home in Georgia to the Florida coast.

I also found myself on my knees a good bit. I had to crawl in my bedroom and up and down the stairs. Being on my knees reminded me that I don’t pray as much as I could. It helped me to get back into the habit of praying, whether on my knees or not.

The Glitch

About two weeks after my ankle broke, I noticed my pants were feeling a little tight. I had gone from being active every day of the week to being non-active. At first this caused concern. The old thoughts started taking over.

“I can’t stand this.”
“I have to control my eating so I won’t gain weight.”
“What if I gain so much weight I won’t be able to fit into my clothes?”
“What if I get so bored, I can’t stop eating?”

I spent a couple days trying to work out what to do about these thoughts. And during that time, I noticed my anxiety level was high, my eating was erratic, and my pants were getting tighter. I finally remembered that my body is an amazing biological machine and it did not need me to tell it what to do. It knows how to heal my ankle and it knows how much sustenance I need to make that happen. I had to get back to trusting it.

So, I did what I have trained myself to do from the beginning of this journey. That is, I acknowledged the existence of the anxious thoughts without judging them as good or bad. This means accepting them as being a normal part of my (or anyone’s) journey. This quelled the thoughts and opened my mind up to a better understanding of my situation, which is -I don’t have to restrict my food.

My body will tell me what I need to eat to heal. And if I listen, it will also tell me when it’s time to increase my activity to strengthen my muscles.  If I gain weight during this time, it’s not a bad thing. I can still trust my body without expecting it to be any certain size. This attitude allows my body to function at an optimal level.

If I had not already been on the binge free path, this broken ankle may have put a major dent in my life and caused me much angst. But I thank God every day for my blessings, despite the broken ankle and other trials. It is true for me that mindset, and not circumstances, determine my happiness. This experience has cemented my belief that when I look for the positive, even in the negative, I will find it.

For more on beginning a binge free life start here.

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Choose To Be Present

Roll call in middle school. The teacher called out names in alphabetical order. When we heard our name, we responded “present.” That may be one of the only times I paid attention in school. Most of my time was divided between talking to my desk-mates, writing and passing notes, daydreaming or doodling in a workbook. I said I was present, but I wasn’t.

A good part of my life was spent trying to improve myself, constantly looking for books with detailed instructions on how to make something happen that I wanted to happen in my life. Mostly it was about losing weight. I thought the weight made me different than others. The only problem was, sometimes I wasn’t overweight, but I still perceived my body as problematic. This was just another way of not being in the present moment.

Mind-drifting and distraction may be a tool that allows us to function in a situation where we feel overwhelmed or unsafe, but we don’t have to stay in this mode. We can choose to live in the present, accepting everything as it happens, even if it is unpleasant or confusing.

When I first tried to be present, I took a hard look at the truth of my life. I saw myself as a person who was just trying to make a decent life the best way she knew how. It was difficult to accept that bad things happen and that I may not be right all the time. I wanted to make everything perfect, not just for me but for my family, for everyone if I could.

I’ve learned that being present is not about trying to be present or mindful as much as it is about allowing whatever happens to just happen. That is, I can allow things to happen without reacting to them or trying to make things the way I think they should be. Even if I think someone else is wrong, I can let them be wrong. I don’t have to judge them, give my opinion or make corrections.

This also means I don’t have to worry about what others think of me. I don’t have to get angry or upset. I can choose to not feel guilty about past mistakes or stupid things I do. The less I react to my behavior and surroundings, the better I can see it for what it really is and make adjustments to bring my life into a healthy state.
I am not suggesting that you can be completely immune to hardship or pain. I am saying you can allow yourself to feel however you feel without determining if it is good or bad. Not judging yourself, or others, is one of the first steps to acquiring a healthy state of mind.

Being in the present is very do-able. But you have to figure out how to accomplish this your way. It’s good to read about how others have overcome obstacles and learned how to be peaceful. But I don’t think there is any one sure way to do this. If you have the desire to live in the present moment, you have already learned most of what you need to know to make it happen. Trust yourself and let it happen.

I used to think that if I accepted myself the way I was at any given moment, then I was settling for something other than my best. But I found I must accept myself the way I am now to find the love and self respect which will push me into my full potential, my best self.

Thoughts on building a core of happiness, click here.

If you struggle with bingeing or overeating – start here

 

It’s not my job to judge everyone, its my job to love them.

beach pixabay

What Makes You Happy?

A few years ago, while attending a rehab retreat in Iowa, I had the opportunity to hear motivational speaker Ward Foley, AKA ‘Scarman.’  Foley was born with serious birth defects requiring many years of painful surgeries.  While working in a donut shop as a teenager, he burned both arms, up to the elbows, in a vat of hot grease.  A few years later, he was almost killed by troubled teens he was trying to help.  He’s been in a serious auto accident and his best friend died of cancer.

Despite everything he has been through, the first words of his presentation were, “I am the happiest person I know.”

Those words burnt a hole in my heart.  I couldn’t imagine how anyone who had gone through what he went through could ever say that.  I always thought happiness was situational.  When things were going my way or were better than expected, I was happy. When they didn’t, I complained.  And when I thought things were really bad, I got depressed or anxious.  This seemed normal to me, being at the mercy of my circumstances.

For a few weeks after I heard Foley speak, I tried to figure out what could make him be so happy after living a life so full of pain, humiliation and heartbreak.  And he wasn’t just happy at this stage in his life.  Throughout his talk, I realized he had been optimistic his entire life.  I thought the secret was that he had a close relationship with his mom who showed him love and support while growing up.  I figured since I didn’t have that, I could never be that content with life.  I was adopted as an infant and didn’t bond with my adoptive mom.  I felt like I missed out on this important love and support and used it as my excuse for not being able to sustain my own happiness.

But something kept me searching for that elusive happiness, anyway.  I eventually realized that I didn’t need an excuse to be happy or unhappy.  In other words, I didn’t have to have everything going my way to be content.  I didn’t need to have been born happy. I didn’t need a loving and supportive parent while growing up to make me happy.  In fact, I didn’t need anything in particular, I just had to have the desire to be at peace wherever I was at this point in my life, and I could choose to be happy for no other reason than just because I wanted to be.

hAPPINESS

That fact that happiness doesn’t have to be sought after is not obvious or popular.  For years I thought happy people were either born that way or had a perfect life that made them happy.  And that could be the case, but the reason someone else is happy has no bearing on my life.  It doesn’t mean I can’t be happy right where I am now.  It took time and effort to learn, but I am glad I stuck with it.  The secret to happiness is, well, there is no secret.

The erroneous thought that I had to do something to earn my happiness is gone.  I no longer feel like I have to wait for a time when I feel worthy, like when I’m thinner or more accomplished, or when things are just right in my life.  And since I decided to be happy regardless of my circumstances, I have developed a foundation of joy inside.  I no longer feel like I have a hole in my core. (which I used to try to fill up with food) This core of joy is what sustains me when bad things happen around me.  I’m not giddy or bubbling over all the time, and things happen around me that are troublesome.  But I do smile a lot, and regardless of what happens around me, I have an inner peace and an optimism that things will always work out.

To be happy and at peace, you don’t need to be thin or rich or possess any certain characteristics or personal qualities.  You don’t need to have everything just the way you think life should be.  I challenge you to figure out a way to say, “I am the happiest person I know.”  Take the risk and watch your life change.

More info on Ward Foley- Scarman.

The picture inside this article is a work by artist Rodney White called ‘The Hardest of Easy Choices’ .  For information on his art and other works, click here.

Sunset image from pixabay.

brake-clipart-13309573511112670181decorative-lines-2_large-hi“Instead of trying to find the thing that makes you happy, be happy and you will do what you are meant to do.” MD

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The Binge Is Gone, Now What?

The thrill is gone.  The food police have left the building. The scale is broken.  The party is over.  But it’s not an ending, its just a beginning.

All this doesn’t mean I don’t overeat sometimes or that I lost tons of weight or that I eat exactly what I want all the time.  In fact,  the first few months of binge free living, I found myself eating just because I could.

But truthfully, food just doesn’t turn me on that much anymore.  I still love to eat, but my tastes have changed.  It’s almost depressing, knowing that a piece of homemade chocolate cake won’t send me over the moon.  If I don’t have cravings, why do I still eat those things?

One reason is that I am still proving to myself I can eat whatever I choose.  And if I have to work too hard to eat something healthy over junk food, many times, I’ll choose the junk food.  It seems obvious how to change this.  Just make it easier to eat healthy food.  But in reality, you have to work with what you have, play the cards you were dealt, make lemonade out of  lemons… you get the idea.

I’m not making excuses, but I live with my husband, my mother in law and my son.  My son is 24, a college graduate and has a great job, but he also has student loans, so we told him he could live here for awhile after he graduated to get a handle on the loans.  And after my husband’s dad died, it became pretty clear his mom couldn’t live alone, so we made room for her in our home.  That leaves my husband and I in the classic position that characterizes our generation, sandwiched between our progeny and our parentage.  All who eat completely different than me.

I’ve often pictured how I would eat if I lived alone, or with people whose palate was more akin to mine and I always prefer to be with my current family than alone or with someone who shared my dietary likes.  So, yes, I AM using my family as an excuse to eat less than the best I know and want to eat.

I want to eat colorful veggies at every meal, they all want meat, cheese and starch. I don’t typically care about snacks; my hubby snacks throughout the day.  I can’t complain about my son because he’s not here half the time for meals, and when he is, he’ll eat just about anything that isn’t nailed down.

So, how do you eat what you really want at any given meal without cooking three different entrees?
I could just cook for myself, but in my household, I do the cooking for everyone and mother washes up the kitchen.  I like this state of affairs, it keeps her feeling like she has a responsibility and it keeps me from cleaning (win-win).  I also figure that if I cooked exactly what I wanted all the time, everyone in the house would eat bologna sandwiches.

I’ve given up trying to change their eating patterns and help them eat healthier because, well…because it doesn’t work.  I realized this the day my husband chose to make a sandwich over a balanced meal I had prepared.   I can’t make them eat any differently than they have always eaten just because I am eating differently.  I can encourage them, but decided this is not good either since it puts me in a position where I am trying to control the behavior of other adults and I don’t want to be in that position.   I just got OUT of that mindset!

I could make this another dilemma in my life, but I don’t focus on it.  Somehow, we get through each day.  We have ‘fend for yourself’ days, we go out to eat some days and sometimes, I do cook two different meals, but I keep it simple.  That mindset seems to work for me.

To read how I thwarted a binge and never went back, click here.

 

“Take care of itself, the outcome will, if you focus on the process more.” MD105_0403