I will eat my second bowl of mashed potatoes as quickly as possible so that no one notices.As I ate my Thanksgiving dinner spread, I thought about it as I sipped on some potatoes. Calories don’t count on holidays, right? Whatever. I’ll exercise harder tomorrow.
1998 was the year. Two and a quarter months after my delivery, I was 35lbs heavier than the pre-pregnancy weight. However, I felt more at home in cute jeans and a sweater than ever before.
I still felt like people were looking at my plates. Susan! It seemed paranoia to me so I ignored it.
As we ate, the conversation soon turned to diet and weight loss, my family’s favorite topic. Is there a diet everyone follows? What’s working? Who’s gained weight? Anna Wintour told Oprah to lose 20 pounds ― maybe someone should tell Susan the same thing, Imagine my family talking to each other.
After feeling some criticism, I spoke up and shared my thoughts. “I was trying to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight,” I replied. A family member turned to me and said something that’s still burned into my brain, 23 years later:
“At what point do you stop blaming your pregnancy weight and take on the responsibility of losing weight as a woman?”
I was stunned. Embarrassed. Angry. Ashamed. Oh, so it isn’t all just in myHeadThat was what I had in mind.My weight gain is the reason why everyone judges me.
Caught in a whirlwind of emotions, I quietly muttered “I don’t know.” And as waves of shame rolled over me, I felt extremely conscious of everything. The way my 5’3” body sat, my curve-hugging jeans that were digging into my belly, the gravy on my plate.
I’d gained 70 pounds during my pregnancy and lost at least 35 pounds soon after delivery. Can’t they see that I’m trying? I was ready to cry.
I felt a burning anger in my stomach. They made such harsh comments about my body! My body is my business. While I didn’t look as big before my pregnancy, I was healthy. Yet, even though I told myself all these things, my doom spiral began.
My food intake was restricted for several weeks and then I would allow myself to indulge on holiday foods. This led me into a vicious cycle. Then, I would start exercising too much and continue the cycle. My weight fluctuated all around the place.
For the greater part of a decade, I had a love/hate relationship to food. It was a difficult time for me. Not only was I stuck in an unpleasant real estate job, but I also had to deal with sexual assault survivors. And I had my two young children. For comfort, I turned to food.
If I felt like a terrible mom? My happy place was wine and brie. It was a long and soul-fulfilling day at work. Cookies and chips made all the difference in this world. Food soon became the answer to everything — a treat, an act of self-care, a solution to a shitty day, and even an activity to occupy me if I was bored.
It was obvious that I needed support. At a friend’s encouragement, I signed up for a Weight Watchers program, but I soon found a way to cheat the system. I stayed away from the “bad” foods and focused on gorging on the “zero point” foods. It worked. I lost a little weight. However, it was at the expense of my physical well-being.
It was horrible how I looked and felt. Blotchy skin, excessive hair loss, sallow complexion, bloating — you name it, I had it. It went on for many years. I was miserable, but I held out hope that soon I’d be at the weight I wanted to be. Soon, I’ll feel good. Soon, I’ll be living the life I long for.
“Soon” never came.
My daughter, 6 years old, secretly took a photo of me wearing my swimsuit one day. It made me feel sick as she showed it to me. I felt sick as my inner mean girl attacked me, barging on with insult after insult.
Lazy slob! Cottage cheese ass! You’ll never look good again…
That was the moment I reached rock bottom. It was then that I realized I needed to be helped. You need serious help. It was possible to locate a coach who could help me with my problems.
“Please help me,” I begged the coach during our first phone call. I started to cry before she was able to reply. Through my tears and snot, words came tumbling out ― words that I desperately needed to say.
I spoke to her about the horrific sexual assault. I spoke about my anger, grief, confusion and subsequent spiral into compulsive eating. She heard how powerless I felt in front of food, and that I was confused as to what and when I should eat. She was shocked at my shame. I felt ashamed for having gained weight. It was a failure to lose weight.
My coach was patient with me. Then she asked me a very simple question: “Susan, what would feel like ‘love’ right now?”
She went on: “The next time you are feeling stressed, angry, bored, lonely, or full of grief, instead of automatically opening the fridge and searching for a snack, I want you to ask yourself: What would feel like ‘love’ right now?”
She suggested that a walk could feel like love. Or a bubble bath. A great book. Snuggling with the children. If you’re truly hungry, maybe a nourishing plate of food would feel loving, rather than an entire bag of Cool Ranch Doritos.
I was skeptical, but nothing else had been working for me, so I gave my coach’s approach a shot. I was shocked and amazed when her suggestions worked.
When I was deciding what to eat for breakfast, or when I was feeling stressed and craving a distraction, I asked myself: “Susan, which choice feels like love?”
Whenever I paused long enough to ask myself that question, my body’s intuition would point me in the right direction. It works every time. Without fail.
I decided that all food was acceptable and added my personal twist. Food doesn’t have a moral value. It isn’t sinful or naughty or evil. We don’t need to run from carbs like a character in a horror movie.
Instead of looking at food in terms of power or pleasure, I saw it as one of two things: power and pleasure. The power food you eat is full of nutrients that will make you feel energetic, strong and alert. Pleasure food might not be particularly nutritious, but it’s decadent and fun! A caramel-infused latte, milk chocolate, a melty grilled cheese sandwich on white bread ― yum!
My experience taught me that dieting was not always the answer. It’s always a temporary fix, and it was only after I began to approach my food mindfully, and Listen It was because I listened to my body’s needs that I lost weight naturally. I lost years of my life to diet culture. I was miserable and insecure because of it.
The diet industry was worth $2.5 billion last year. $71 billion. Each year nearly 45 million people decide to lose weight. Ninety five percent fail. Why? Because dieting isn’t pleasurable, realistic, or sustainable.
I lost my time, energy and confidence in the diet industry. Time spent trying to make different diets work will not be returned. back, time that could have been spent doing something else ― writing a novel, hiking across Thailand, learning a new trade or skill, strengthening our careers.
It was one of my most powerful decisions. Now, after 10 years of being a victim to my own inhumane words and cycle, I have decided that compassion is better than perfectionionism.
My weight is not what I’m proud of, nor my food choices. The number on the scale does not determine my self-worth. If I overeat, it isn’t the end of the world. I don’t deprive myself of food or excessively work out to burn thousands of calories to make up for it. Asking questions is how I take care of me. How can I be supportive of myself now, to make me feel better?
I’ve gone from viewing food as an afterthought, or an activity, to listening to what my body is asking for. Is it hungry for its greens Is it craving blueberry pie or greens? Self-love is the act of feeding my body.
No longer am I content to just sit there and wait for my family to judge me on Thanksgiving. Instead, I gleefully get that second helping of mashed potatoes with gravy, because I know it’s what my body wants.
What if somebody makes fun of my food? They are wrong and I make an incident. They can “Bah humbug” while I’m out here savoring my cornbread.