Thursday, December 31, 2009

Be Kind to Yourself

I have struggled with my weight for years, along with a lot of my female relatives. A few have managed, somehow, to win the war either by losing it or by accepting it, but most of us battle on. We worship at the Church of Weight Watchers, and while math is not our strong point we can convert calories to points quicker than most people can blink. That formula is our 11th commandment. Growing up, “being good” meant iceberg lettuce and cottage cheese for lunch while staring wistfully at the box of cookies perched on top of the fridge, an altar to whatever the Patron Saint of High Metabolism might be. Even now, I cannot go into a grocery store without hearing my mother’s voice in my head as I survey the contents of my cart: last night, Cool Ranch Doritos were buy one/get one free, and as I put both bags on the conveyor belt I could hear her saying, as if she were standing next to me, “A moment on the lips, forever on the hips”.

To which I mentally replied, “Well, at least I put the Haagen Dazs back”.

Then I came home to find a Weight Watchers magazine in my mailbox, which was odd because I didn’t subscribe to it.

Subtle, huh.

The truth is, a few years ago I rebelled, quit “The Church” (for at least the seventh time), and spent an entire year in therapy trying to get to the route of my food issues. In retrospect it sounds ridiculous, but at the time I didn’t realize that what I had been doing was considered binge eating – basically, bulimia without the puking. And it honestly wasn’t that I felt bad about myself, or had no self-esteem, or even that I was bored – it’s that all this awful stuff had happened and I had utterly no idea of how to cope with it…so I ate. I knew how to do that. And then, for reasons I don’t remember, my doctor (not my therapist) set me up with a very old-school nutritionist, who in one 45 minute appointment managed to undo six months of therapy by insisting there was no emotional component to food. Yes, I’m pretty sure she sucked lemons for fun.

Recently, I discovered the show “Fat Friends”, another BBC gem (for which I cannot find a good internet link). What I both hate and love about BBC programs is their utter, brutal honesty. They have a way of creating characters that on one level are stereotypical – but at the same time so complex and real they almost make you want to cringe because you can so relate…like the fat boy who gets beat up by his schoolmates, who turns out to be overeating as a result of his parents divorce and feeling like he is responsible for taking care of his mother (who is clearly incapable of taking care of herself and has reassigned her son to the role of “man of the house”). Or the woman who finally loses a ton of weight because she thinks her husband is ashamed of her, when it turns out he actually, genuinely loves her regardless of how much she weighs, but was living in terrifying fear that she was losing weight so she could leave him. The program underscores two things for me: one, being overweight is so not about the food, but about the underlying emotional turmoil; and two, if we spent half the time we use up obsessing about our weight and the size of our bums on something really productive, the world would be SUCH a different place.

And yes, I would like to send the Lemon Sucking Nutritionist a copy of this program.

I write all this because it’s New Year’s Eve and I’m on the precipice of, yet again, trying to get a grip on my weight. Since leaving NYC I’ve managed to put back on the weight I lost a few years ago, partly because a whole NEW set of things happened that I didn’t know how to deal with. (That’s the thing about life, really – you can stop making old mistakes, but there are always new ones that come along.) It’s also partly because I got really unfocused, and started confusing “self kindness” with “self indulgence”. In her book “When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair”, author Geneen Roth makes some critical distinctions between these two things, chiefly that self-indulgence is “continuing to do what is harmful to you after you realize it is harmful”, whereas self-kindness is “stopping doing what is harmful to you”. The proverbial light bulb went off in my head when I read this last night, and I realized that more than anything else, “Be kind to myself” would be the best possible motto for 2010, and a great way to frame my Happiness Project work in the months to come. Because isn’t being happy the ultimate kindness we can show ourselves?

Happy New Year. (Champagne has 2 points).

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