“The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.”
I’m beginning again a journey that I’ve begun more times than I can count. I’m hoping that this time I can see it through to what seems from here to be the end (though I know better than that if I’m being honest). Either way, though, I’ve got to get to a place where my body functions more healthily than it does now.
I can’t really recall the last time I didn’t have any weight to lose. In high school I was maybe only about 15 lbs. over the ostensibly-healthy weight for my height, but as a junior and senior, some of that was the muscle born of being an athlete. I didn’t really start to pack on extra pounds that weren’t muscle until I graduated.
I suspect that my tendency to turn to food as a source of emotional comfort and stress relief, however, began after starting a new school the year our parents picked up and moved us from where the three of us were born to the state I still call home to this day. October is a hard month for a child in school to move; classes have already become their own little ecosystems, and “new kids” can have trouble assimilating, even in the best of circumstances. However, because I’m not your typical female, and never have been, the set of circumstances were stacked against assimilation for me. I remember throwing a fit when I was maybe 5, refusing to wear anything pink, anything with a skirt, or anything girly ever again. So, by the time I was 8, as you might imagine, I was a complete tomboy: boy-short hair, boy’s jeans, shirts & shoes. See for yourself:
The first thing any of my new classmates said to me was, “Are you a boy or a girl?”
Now, as an adult with the benefit of years of life experience, a degree in education and several years of classroom experience with elementary-aged children, I understand why they asked: they actually had trouble telling. Kids are tactless and brutally direct because they haven’t yet been taught all the ways to be gentle in the way you ask people questions about themselves. It’s part of the reason, after all, that they go to school: to learn how to socialize and get along with all sorts of others in an environment where work has to be accomplished. So, in hindsight, and especially looking up at ol’ Third Grade Twenty up there, I get it. As an 8 year old girl whose femaleness had never before been questioned by classmates, however, I was ashamed and hurt. It was heartbreaking.
If that had been the extent of the painful things that had been said to me, the emotional eating may never have been an issue for me. However, that was the first of many painful things said to me over the years about my supposed lack of femininity. I’m not going to go into detail on every one of the experiences that wounded me; that’s fodder for another blog, if I even ever decide to write them all down. All I know is that by the time I was a 6th grade student, I was coming home from school every day and putting away an average of 4 Little Debbie snacks before dinner (remember Star Crunch, Oatmeal Cream Pies, and Swiss Rolls??), then eating dessert later in the evening after the meal. I didn’t know then that this habit I had begun would be the basis of the issue that now plagues me. Any time I’m frustrated, stressed, wounded, bored, sad, angry or lonely, the urge to turn to food is there. Anyone who has never experienced this urge will not be able to attain the level of understanding that those of us who live with it have. It’s very often an urge that is impossible to resist, because it bypasses the intellect and hits in the areas of the brain that are responsible for survival. It feels to me as if it creates a white noise that blocks out all focus on why I’m eating and only allows me to feel the good feelings that eating induces in my body and brain. I don’t only eat when I’m feeling the negative emotions above, either. Food is very definitely a celebratory thing in my family. We get together on birthdays, holidays, for football games, and for weddings, and they all involve food in some way. Many families, I know, have a similar experience. So when every family gathering is an excuse to eat really amazing food (my sister is a trained chef and Mom is no slouch), it’s as hard to separate food from happy times as it is to stop using it during not-so-happy times.
None of this is something I can blame on my parents or family with any accuracy, however. It’s not their fault that I learned how to deal with the emotional stress of harassment at school with food. It is not my father’s fault that his genes include a propensity for carrying extra weight, nor my mother’s fault that hers bring a propensity for hormone imbalance and digestive issues. I just got the body that really likes to hang on to whatever it can. Perhaps a tribe of my ancestors were in perpetual starvation mode generations back up the family tree, and now I’m stuck with a body that’s ready for a long, cold winter 365 days per year.
So, if I’m honest, this journey toward better health is one I’ve been on for a long time, only I got turned around on the path and headed the wrong way several times, even when I knew which way I was supposed to go. The fact that I am too intelligent to really put up with the situation only serves to irk me to no end. I know WAY better than this, and I ought to be able to just put my foot down, stop eating when I’m not hungry, and be healthier. If it was that easy, though, I wouldn’t have been on this stutter-step, stop-and-go feedback loop for 15 years now, trying to get rid of the excess weight that keeps sneakily piling on. It’s not an easy thing to change when your body is telling you that you are *hungry*, damn it, even though you ate lunch an hour and a half ago, and the only thing that will make it better is melted cheese over tortilla chips or 10 fun size Snickers Almond bars. Oh, and catharsis…is there ever catharsis to be found in food. The catharsis of crunch is something that I can never explain well enough to people who’ve not experienced it, but chewing my way through a bowl of popcorn is one of the best stress relievers I’ve ever found.
In the last year and a half, I’ve gone through quite a transformation. I left what was originally my dream career and have begun pursuing one that actually makes me happy. I am calmer and happier overall than I’ve been in a very long time, but now my body is so used to the extra calories that even scaling back a little is hard. I have a long way to go before I’ll be able to truly beat the urge to eat emotionally, and I know it. It’s such a daunting mountain to climb that it has resulted in my trying and failing more times than I can actually remember. The dialog in my head of, “You-need-to-lose-weight-but-it’s-so-hard-but-you’re-not-healthy-but-please-let-me-just-wait-until-after-_____” is constant and exhausting. Nobody who tells me that I need to go the other direction is telling me anything I’ve not told myself daily, multiple times, for literally years. It’s enough to have made me seriously consider weight loss surgery more than once, even though I know I really don’t want to have it done.
I’m not putting this out into the ether of the internet to garner sympathy, and I’m not begging for donations of money or time on the part of anyone who happens to read this. I’ve got to get this out of my head and into a space where someone will see it, though, and then maybe once it’s public, I’ll be able to hold myself accountable to what I know is right. It’s a route on this 1000-mile journey that I’ve never tried, and who knows, maybe it’s the one that will lead to success. Then, when this thousand is done, we’ll see about the next.