I've always turned to food for comfort. Whenever I'm stressed or tired or sad or confused or bored or even celebratory, the first thing I reach for is food. What I crave the most is feeling full. More like stuffed. I'm not really satisfied until I'm in pain, stomach groaning, begging for mercy. That's when I stop.
I've struggled with my weight my whole life, but I don't think I was ever really conscious of it until high school. The first shaming thought I can remember having was just before I went on a beach vacation with my friend's family and couldn't stop stressing about everyone seeing my thighs. What I would give now to have those thighs again! Then, I kept a sarong wrapped around me the entire trip. Wore oversized t-shirts over my bathing suits. Got into the water only when no one was looking. Made sure a towel was always close by for as soon as I got out. Sixteen years old and I was terribly self-conscious. I guess what 16-year-old isn't?
But despite all of it, I never changed my eating habits. I never went on a diet or tried to work out. I kept eating the same crap I'd always eaten, and just felt worse about myself afterwards.
When college came, I most definitely gained the Freshman 15. More like 20. I pulled all-nighters drinking 32 oz. fountain sodas and subsisted mostly on pizza, burgers and fries. Heck, I was busy and that's what the cafeteria served. When I came home from school that summer, my parents made some mention of my appearance and I joined a gym the next day. But after seven weeks in bed with Mono, I never made it back to the gym and was even a few pounds heavier. When my mom encouraged me to try to lose some weight before heading back to school, I spent two weeks fasting and lost 12 pounds. Even though I was so tired during the day I could hardly keep my eyes open and my head was splitting, part of me felt like a million bucks.
I went back to school feeling skinny and suddenly boys were noticing me. That certainly wasn't the reinforcement I needed, but that's how it works, and that's when conditioning kicks in. Three weeks into my sophomore year were the attacks on September 11, and my world came crashing down. I went into a deep depression and spent the rest of the school year sitting in front of the TV eating pints of ice cream. My sweet roommates often invited me to come work out with them, but I always declined. I wanted to feel like shit and I saw to it that I did.
When I graduated college and got my first full-time job, I was at my heaviest. Between finals and the job search, I had eaten myself into oblivion. Not to mention I had thrown my back out a couple months prior and was self-medicating to numb the pain. And my grandma was dying and there was nothing I could do about it. Man, those days blew.
My new best friend at work, a 40-year-old married guy who I was painfully infatuated with, ever-so-gently encouraged me to start eating better now that I was officially an adult and living on my own. He and his wife taught me how to shop at the farmers market and cook my own meals. I sought out a nutritionist to learn what I was supposed to eat for the first time in 23 years. By the time I was 24, I was slim and turning heads again. I worked the online dating sites like it was my job and had free meals lined up every night of the week.
The next few years were a blur of ups and downs and ups and downs. In my bouts of anxiety and depression, I found myself stuck to the couch again, Chubby Hubby in hand. Then every so often, a kind friend would come along and rescue me from my despair, inspire me to start exercising and eating well again, and I'd lose it all. And again.
Less than a week after my 29th birthday, two dear friends who were reading The 4-Hour Body strongly urged me to read it and join them on their new "eating plan...definitely not a diet!" When two men friends — one whom you not-so-secretly have a major crush on — encourage you to read a diet book, you read it and you go on a diet. Two weeks later, that friend and I were finally in item, and now were on a healthy eating journey together, cheering one another on. In the three months until my best friend's wedding, he lost 45 pounds, and I lost 17. We cheated a bit over the wedding weekend, but were back on track by the next week. He kept losing and I maintained for the next six months until our culinary vacation to northern Spain. Clearly all bets were off there, and we both came back having gained 10 pounds each. It was a week before my 30th birthday and our one-year anniversary of starting 4HB.
We got right back on the wagon, lost all the weight and kept going. That summer I took a three-week solo retreat in Upstate New York just to write and think, and stayed on plan the whole time. By fall, I was back to my wedding low and determined to keep it off. I knew the yo-yoing couldn't be good for me, and it would be even harder to keep up as I got older. "Make good choices" became my mantra, and when I remembered it, I did.
In the two years since then, I'm not sure I can explain exactly what has happened. We made a dramatic life change when we sold all our furniture, gave away all our belongings, and left New York for the Florida Keys. Even though it was everything we wanted, it was still an emotional toll leaving everything we knew and going to the middle of nowhere where we had no friends and even fewer resources.
As always, food became my constant companion. When my emotions are running amok and the world is swirling around me, I can always sit down with my favorite snacks and revel in the familiar. When I'm feeling lost and empty, I can make myself found and full. But because I was biking everywhere and going to yoga every day, the weight didn't creep up on me as fast as it usually did. Not until we decided to head west to San Diego and spent two weeks in the car eating our way across the South. Savannah, Birmingham, New Orleans, San Antonio — these places are known for their food, and who am I to pass it up?
By the time we hit California, I couldn't fit into any of my clothes. And in the year since we've been here, I haven't been able to get it off. Well, more like keep it off. That's the issue — I know how to buckle down and eat better and exercise more, but only for the short term when not too much else is going on in my world. As soon as the stress kicks in, the depression rears its ugly head, financial or family troubles crop up, bad news hits, and I lose my resolve, I gain it all back. And lately, despite so much in my life going so right, I seem to be burying something deep.
Today I am close to my all-time high. I feel like I have constant indigestion. I'm not even enjoying the food that I'm eating, but I eat it anyway. Fredrick, who I unfairly relied on to keep me on plan, now works nights and isn't around to help me make good choices. I pretty much drive everywhere and rarely get my walks in. I've been traveling for work almost every week and haven't been to yoga in months. I can't even remember the last time I took my vitamins.
While we are living our dream life in the city we love aboard the sailboat we call home, sometimes the pressure of keeping it all going is just too much. The last six months have brought enormous change to my business and I'm still getting used to it all. My work has become much more personal and I have no doubt I'm internalizing my clients' emotions with overactive empathy. I've never really owned anything before, and the responsibility of owning and maintaining a sailboat is probably the most "adult" thing I've ever undertaken. And while I am deeply grateful that I have so much momentum in my business, the nonstop travel is certainly taking its toll. My sleep schedule is totally off, my back is a mess, and my to do list is a mile long. And worst of all, being away from Fredrick this much is the worst pain in the world.
Tonight my massage therapist told me that she can tell I've been detached from my body. Maybe I've been detached from my body all along, ever since that 16-year-old gorgeous girl worried so much about people seeing her thighs. Maybe I've spent a lifetime not really knowing my body. Part of what's taking me around the world this year is a presentation I'm giving on mind-heart-body integration and the necessity of living our lives as whole human beings. But as I like to say, we teach what we need to learn. And apparently I still need to learn how to be whole.
Tonight she told me that eating my feelings is a literal suppression of them. To prevent them from coming out of my mouth, I eat to push them back down to my stomach where they stay silent, but festering. They cloud my intuition and put up defenses around my gut. I'm pretty sure I already knew all of this, but I needed to hear it from her.
"What is your gut telling you?" she asked. "I'm full," I said. And I didn't mean food.
Enough has never been enough for me. I can't seem to accept when I'm done, and to let myself stop. It's that way in all aspects of my life, and it always has been. If I actually acknowledged that I have enough work, enough clients, enough money, enough love and happiness and peace, I would have to stop trying. I would have to stop doing. And then what would life be like? Then who would I be?
I think I've been afraid to find out.
It's time to admit that I'm full. To stop adding on more. To let myself empty out. And then to stay empty, for as long as I can, and to see where that takes me.
To finally take the weight off, once and for all.