By Marlene Sexton LMFT
Date: January 23rd, 2019
In Part 3, I left off by mentioning a dilemma I have. I promise I will get to it, but first let me give you a bit more of my story.
When my husband and I were blessed with two daughters, it hit me how important it was to model the behaviors I wanted our daughters to learn. This meant I would not make disparaging remarks about my body, and I would also no longer comment on other people’s bodies. I knew I could not change a society that tolerates weight bias, but I could have teachable moments with our girls to help them avoid the pitfalls of negative body image.
I also had to keep learning about and practicing a healthy relationship with food, which, as you know, is quite a challenge given the food culture we live in. There was a time when I saw food as my worst enemy; I know others who see it as their best friend, always there for them when they “need it.” Although I no longer see food as my enemy, I also can’t reconcile with some our cultural views about food.
For example, all of us use food to describe things in our everyday conversations: “That test was a piece of cake,” or “She’s a smart cookie.” Food is even referred to as love(think Papa Murphy’s “Love at 425 degrees”). We often see food depicted as “medicine” by ads that encourage eating sweets after a stressful day, or magazines and TV shows that focus on food as entertainment. In fact, product placement on TV shows and subliminal advertising are intended to make us snack while watching our favorite programs and reinforcing our belief through character roles that we should be thin.
We may be encouraged by our friends and family to lose weight, but then any effort is sabotaged when the host insists we eat the dessert they made “especially for us.” While I recognize that many families are going hungry, it is because of a lack of food, not choices. If you want to see a four-year-old have a meltdown (and who does?), look what happens when he or she is asked to pick out one candy bar or a box of cereal from the abundant choices in front of them! I read that we make about 250 food choices a day, but with social media, online ads, and programs like the Food Network™, we can’t count how many food “messages” we get daily. Again, living in our culture is a challenge when it comes to eating healthy.
Although I gave up “dieting” when my kids were little, I had yo-yoed for years because that’s how diets work, right? You might lose 10 pounds, keep it off for a while, gain back 12 pounds, and then diet again. That cycle can continue until you have lost literally hundreds of pounds and have spent years and years depriving yourself, beating yourself up for “blowing it,” and thinking about your weight all day! Before I made changes, I weighed myself two or three times a day to determine my“worth.” I know how dieting and weight can easily become your “life” and believe me, it is not a good life!
I spent years repairing my self-esteem and body image by changing my relationship with food. I became conscious of why I was eating and began to understand I needed healthy foods in order to feel well. But, I also stopped thinking I had committed a felony if I ate a piece of cheesecake!
I then started self-monitoring to determine if I was hungry or maybe just bored or stressed. I developed skills to manage difficult emotions, and I became assertive and no longer worried if people would still like me if I disappointed them. I no longer allowed strangers, acquaintances, friends, or family to comment on my weight or body.
I can’t put into words how freeing this revelation was to me, but it did not happen overnight. I had to work at it. Remember, being overweight, (or unhappy, stressed, and so on) is hard, and changing is hard. I chose my “hard” and worked toward self-acceptance and self-worth; I wouldn’t go back to my old ways for anything!
But, finally, here is my dilemma:
I have been a therapist for almost 25 years, and you can imagine it requires a lot of sitting. A few years ago menopause hit; my metabolism and body shape changed. And although I absolutely love my job, I commute over two hours each way, which interferes with my well-established self-care plan of meal planning, healthy eating, fun exercise, and focused meditation for stress.
Like you, I want to maintain good health and prevent diseases that come from being overweight. Once I started to feel good about my body, I gave up weighing myself and learned to create good feelings by my thoughts and actions, not by the scale. I decided to determine my weight by my energy and how my clothes feel, which was going well until I got curious and started using InBody, a device that measures body fat, lean muscle, etc., a much more accurate tool for determining healthy weight. Long story short, I found out I need to lose weight and build some muscle! I don’t need to lose much weight, but the idea of depriving myself, counting calories, weigh-ins, good food/bad food, and so on terrifies me. I refuse to go back to those days! But, and this is big, my health is very important to me.
How do I lose weight without falling back into the “dieting cycle”? Stay tuned. Next time, I will tell you how I am working on this issue.
In the meantime, take care of YOU!