Just Finished, Up Next

Just Finished, Up Next

What I'm reading and how it helped. . .

 

Just Finished
Women, Food and God, by Geneen Roth

Six weeks ago, I walked into my local Weight Watchers center for what felt like the eight hundredth time. Months had passed since my last visit, and I needed to re-register so I grabbed a form and clipboard and got on line.

When it was my turn to weigh in, I dropped my purse, kicked off my flip-flops, and handed my completed form to the receptionist. Here I am, again, I thought. I sighed and stepped on the digital scale.

I didn’t want to be there. Even as I drove across town I wasn’t sure I’d follow through, but I felt compelled to go. I knew my weight was high -- higher probably than at any other time in my life except pregnancy. At my last physical, my doctor had used a selection of kind words to tell me to get my shit together in the weight department. I hadn’t.

The lady behind the counter clicked her mouse to record my weight, a number associated with normal-sized men, and explained the payment options.

“The best deal,” she said, “is to pay for the next three months in advance.”

“I guess that’s fine,” I said, ignoring my gut, which was telling me not to waste my money or my time. I handed over my credit card, anyway, affixed my sticky-backed name tag to my shirt and grabbed a seat.

As I waited for the meeting to start, I glanced around. Wednesday morning is not my usual meeting time, and I realized I didn’t recognize a single face. Weird. On Saturdays, my normal day, I see faces I recognize from as long ago as eighteen years, which is sometimes a comfort. Other times, it’s an annoyance, like seeing my still overweight reflection in the mirror year after year.

I sorted through my welcome packet. Included was a little pamphlet with colorful balloons and the words, “Get happy!” on the cover. Uh oh, I thought. I’m dubious of anything that implies we can or should feel happiness longer or more often than other emotions. I flipped the cover to see where this was going and was met with a quiz. “I need to. . .” 

#1 Lose Weight to be happy or #2 Be happy to lose weight?

Bob Barker, I’ll take what’s behind door number 2!

I’ve gained and lost weight enough times to know that losing it doesn’t make me happier, at least not for any length of time. Still, I was confused. Yes, I knew I needed to lose weight, and I knew I should be happy about it, but I didn’t feel motivated to count points and weigh and measure my food. Why was I sitting there?

It wasn’t until I saw the following week’s topic—mindfulness—that I smiled and understood that serendipity had been my chauffeur that morning. That’s also when I felt the shift. I knew—right then—that I would never be back at another Weight Watchers meeting, not even the three months worth I’d just paid for. I didn’t need it anymore, and that one word proved it to me.    

Thirty four years of riding the billion dollar diet industry roller coaster on an endless and unsatisfying loop was officially over. Not because I’ve reached a healthy weight -- oh no -- but because I finally understood something critical about myself. I had recently finished reading Janeen Roth’s book, Women, Food and God, and I believe wholeheartedly in her basic hypothesis:  Change happens by love, not by trying to “fix” oneself, and the key to ending an obsession with food is about the capacity to stay in the present moment. In other words, the capacity to be mindful. Being at Weight Watchers could not give me that. Only I could give me that, and I knew exactly how to do it.

Had I read Roth’s book when it first came out, I would have considered the woman a lunatic. But that would have been before 2012 and the suffering I experienced over the combination of my mother’s death and my daughter’s illness. That would have been before I gained forty pounds as a direct result of trying to numb that despair. That would have been before I discovered mindfulness and began to study it. And it would have been before I experienced some small but profound emotional relief as a direct result of that study, which also awakened me from my food-induced coma. It would have been before experiencing myself the truth of Roth’s words. “. . .our relationship to food,” she says, “is an exact microcosm of our relationship to life itself.” Yes, it certainly is.

Reading Women, Food and God helped me make sense of how the concepts of presence and consciousness and practices like meditation fit the larger picture related to food and weight. Weight is a by-product.  “Women turn to food when they are not hungry because they are hungry for something they can’t name: a connection to what is beyond the concerns of daily life.” Speaking of the beyond. . .

I never could reconcile myself with the God of my Catholic childhood. “He” was not a loving or forgiving God. He was a God of guilt and judgment, a God of thorns and blood and tears. I had an epiphany when my daughter was in treatment that the spiritual void in my life was bigger and deeper than I’d realized. When I read WFG, I realized the animal style double doubles I chowed down were an attempt to fill a void shaped like God, but a God that made sense to me. I promise you: No amount of burgers can fill a hole that size. Roth’s definition of God is one I can wrap my brain around: “I don’t believe in the God that most people call God, but I do know that the only definition of God that makes any sense is one that uses this human life and its suffering—the very things we believe we need to hide or fix—as a path to the heart of love itself.”  Studying mindfulness, raising consciousness, working toward the end of suffering -- for some people, including me, this is spirituality. And this is the place where I finally understood spirituality’s relationship to weight.

I wish I could say that directly upon finishing WFG, I instituted a daily practice using Inquiry, the meditative process Roth outlines at the back of her book, and that since then, I’ve become so self-aware and present that food is now just food—no more, no less—and that I’ve lost several pounds. Not so. I still love food. Food still comforts me, but that’s okay and here’s why.

There is no answer, no magic bullet, no potion “out there.” For a long time I believed I took up all the wrong kind of space in this world. I judged myself, harshly, based on the double digit size of my pants, and I felt “less than” because I didn’t live up to society’s expectations of how I should appear, or my own. Reading this one book didn’t eradicate this belief, and I still have plenty of tough days, but this one book did remind me there is something better than “endlessly pushing the boulder of obsession up the mountain.” And that is to put it down. Mindfulness is the path to “putting it down,” I just hadn’t made the connection with food.

After a lifetime of judging myself, I sometimes still do, but in this present moment, I know that I am okay. In fact, I’m better than okay and it has nothing to do with the shape of my body. Eating too much or too little doesn’t determine my worth. I am falling in love with myself, one lesson at a time. WFG was one stop on my long journey to accepting that there’s nothing I need to fix because there’s nothing wrong with me. I put the boulder down, and in so doing, I realized that I am enough and I always have been. That’s why I walked out of Weight Watchers that day, resolved never to come back.

I am not anti-Weight Watchers. Of all the weight loss programs I’ve tried, which is most of them, WW has the most integrated approach. Connection, participating in a group, and receiving support from like-minded people, will always be preferable to going at life alone. But I have a new program now, a support group of one. I will love myself, and that’s how I will make peace with food.
 
Food for thought: Have you ever considered religion’s connection to your weight, no matter the number? What did you think about it?

Up Next

The S Word, by Paolina Milana

I learned about The S Word from my teacher and editor, Jennie Nash. Jennie worked with Paolina on this book and wrote on her blog about the book’s path to publication. If you’re interested in that aspect of publishing click here to read Jennie's post. I’m reading The S Word for a couple of reasons.

One is that I love a good memoir. What better way to feel connected and to understand our experiences than by reading a personal and moving story by an author willing to dig deep. I’m particularly interested in the subject matter. Schizophrenia is a severe and debilitating mental illness, and many of the students who sign up for the NAMI Family To Family class I co-teach have loved ones that struggle with this brain disorder. As a teacher, I am always on the hunt for meaningful resources that can help people clarify their situation, give them guidance and inspire hope.

Every person willing to share a story of mental illness chips away at the monolith that is stigma.   

 

  • 9 July 2015
  • Author: Tracey Yokas
  • Number of views: 2736
  • Comments: 6
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6 comments on article "Just Finished, Up Next"

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Jan Myhre

7/12/2015 2:14 PM

Insightful and well written, Tracy. I resemble your struggle. I also am falling in love with myself. Without that effort, how can anyone love others? I'm experiencing epiphanies right and left and writing about them down as my life unfolds. I am also working on my memoir, which I started, quite by accident, in 1995. Twenty years is a long time to be at this work, but in the final analysis I will know that I have grown; I have healed; I have learned how to love. I believe it's worth the time spent. Laura is encouraging me to publish and that is still on the table. But, for now, the writing is the thing. Thank you for your words of hope. I'm buying those books. ~Jan


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Susan

7/14/2015 2:31 PM

Great post, Tracey, and I'm happy you are learning to accept all there is about you, the wonderful person you are! Weight does not define anyone's character and character is what is truly important. I've recently begun to realize that a large part of why so many women have body image issues is that there is a strange duality in today's society.

First, we have the need to nurture our bodies with food to sustain life and if so chosen, to have babies and nurture them (in utero and when breastfeeding). In our ancestors' hunter-gatherer days, women got a lot of exercise (walking, running, digging for root vegetables, etc.). With their lifestyle, foraging for food, the nutritious value of the food eaten and keeping eyes out for the young ones, women didn't worry about being "overweight." In times when food was relatively abundant, attaining some fat storage was appropriate for times when food sources would be more scarce. That stored energy was what allowed them to survive, maintain pregnancies and nurture their babies. Before the inventions of farming, mass food production, supermarkets, fast food, shipping/trucking food over long distances, food processors... oh, list goes on and on, people had to work hard to get the food they consumed.

The second part of the duality is in understanding how different our society is today with food being so easy to obtain, and with how little we physically have to do to consume those calories.

So it recently hit me... Boom! Our bodies were made for being active, but the way our mindset has developed since hunter-gatherer days has been to make life easier in many ways, including how we obtain our food. I'm not saying I regret buying utensils, a blender, a microwave and a dishwasher, or a car to drive to the grocery store! ha ha ha

I love these modern conveniences. I don't want to have to search for food in a field, dig up a raw tuber and bite into it for lunch. My point is that in the human effort to continually invent ways to make our lives easier, we burn less calories, in general, than our hunter-gatherer counterparts compared to what we consume and we have created food products that are not as healthy as what our ancestors ate. And, instead of eating nuts, seeds, berries, tubers and freshly caught fish and mammals, we consume chemicals, preservatives and a lot more of these: salt, fat, sugar, carbohydrates.

Of course we are each responsible for what we eat and how much we exercise. But society has progressed to making processed food that isn't as healthy as what people used to eat. Plus, in the food industry's effort to grow sales, many companies entice us with food that we get addicted. Just think of all the fat, sugar or salt that gets added to basic ingredients, whether you are buying the food at a grocery store, restaurant, or movie theater.

Juxtapose all that with the pressure from TV shows, TV commercials, local gyms, etc, that being thin is the way we need to be. Cook books and diet books are both huge sellers (at least they were before the growth of the Internet, but you get my drift!). Diet programs and gyms make a lot of money off the growth of the food industry.

It's hard to not eat the food we have come to love. Not only is a lot of it not nutritious, but the effects on our bodies has taken a toll. The rates of many disorders have increased as the availability of the type of diet a typical American eats becomes available. I'm talking about Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart conditions...

So now I am trying hard to not eat unhealthy foods. I want to lose weight. And I've been on a yo-yo diet for 5 years now, obviously finding it hard to deny myself those sugary and fattening treats. But instead of thinking I'm "denying" myself that so-called food, I've turned my outlook around. Staying away from "crap" is a gift to myself! Eating healthy food is a gift to myself! And I've already lost a couple of pounds. If I continue to think in this mode, I will feel good about my weight soon, and I'm sure I will feel better physically because of the better nutrition choices.

So, being raised in our society of overwhelming bounty, we have not truly learned what is good for us. As a society, we've learned to eat what isn't healthy because it tastes so good and the big food and restaurant corporations know how to reel us in. Just looking at the staggering number of people who are obese, who have Type 2 diabetes, heart problems or osteoporosis shows us how the majority of us have gotten caught somewhere in this trap. Taking the time to seek out better quality food and preparing it ourselves takes more time and effort than we are accustomed to. But I think it's worth it. Not just for our health, but for the health of our children, who have and still are learning from us, and for our grandchildren, who will hopefully be growing up in a more health-conscious environment that we have now. Society has a long way to go to turn things around, in search of healthier citizens instead of fat corporations.

I believe that for most women who struggle with weight and body image issues, the way our society has evolved has been counter-productive to letting our bodies naturally settle into the way each of our bodies was genetically programmed to be since conception. I don't believe that an individual who grew up in our society and developed weight issues can be solely blamed for his or her food choices. What needs to happen is getting some insight on why one consumes more calories than his or her body needs. What that insight is will differ by individual. Tracey, I hope you truly have found yours! For me, I hope my latest revelation is the end-all one because I'm tired of hating the fat on my body and how I let make me feel like less of a person.

My new mantra: Just because I can buy it and eat it doesn't mean I have to.

One meal at a time.

My brain is still out on the exercise issue. I walk a fairly decent amount, but I'm not up for growing and then digging up yams and turnips with a stick in the backyard. Nor am I going to join a gym or hunt for squirrels.


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Linda Heckendorf

7/16/2015 9:55 PM

Susan, I can't agree with you more!


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Katie Jenkins

7/22/2015 7:38 PM

So gorgeous Tracey! I love your view on it. The part where you talk about seeing the same faces and your overweight reflection. Oh my god, that was beautiful. After reading your post, I now can recall why, at the time, I wouldn't allow the book to help me. I desparately needed something more immediate, more concrete. Just tell me to do a, b and c and the pounds will drop off. But a book that teaches mindfulness??? I had "heard" all of that before and I simply felt I couldn't waste my time on something that may or may not help me lose weight. (Of course, NOW I feel it's the mentally healthiest way one could eat!) That entailed months of work to see, if any, changes taking place. Oooh, now I remember why I was on my search for help. I had a little over a month before I had to be on stage wearing nothing but a nude two piece. It's all coming back to me now! I'm sure that's WHY I strongly disliked the book back then! I needed a quick fix and that is something you won't find in this book. Now I feel I need to go back and revisit the book and see how I view it 5 years later. Thank you so much for your post.


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Tracey

8/2/2015 12:16 PM

Thank you Katie...I really appreciate you taking the time to share your experience with the book. It's so weird, isn't it? First, how much we change over time! And, how much our view on something specific like this can change based on our experiences...Yes, exactly. There is no quick fix. And as Susan mentions so eloquently in her post, there are so many social and biological factors at work it's mind-boggling. Additionally, of course, not everyone has the same type of problem, compulsive eating to self-medicate. There are as many factors as there are people in the world. Someone who has never stuffed feelings down with mountains of food probably can't relate to any of this! Thanks again for sharing!


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Tracey

8/2/2015 12:27 PM

Susan- Thank you so much for your thoughtful and thorough comment! Thank you for sharing your difficulties. I agree with everything you wrote about the ways in which societal changes are influencing our lives in general and our waist lines! I agree, I like my car! I don't want to give it up although I do try, once in a while, to walk to the mark .5 mile from my house instead of driving! I also love what you wrote about looking at eating nutritious food as a gift to ourselves and our bodies! This is so true. Hard to do, but true. It is, I think, the polar opposite from what I do, which is to use food ostensibly to self-medicate, but it is really to punish--just not to the same extreme that someone with a diagnosable eating disorder would. What a beautiful way to change your point of view about the food you put in your body. (Although I also admit that I'd get pretty cranky passing up my mint chocolate chip every day for the rest of my life :) ) And that's an excellent mantra to be sure. We don't have to eat food just because we want to! What I also think is interesting though is that it doesn't seem to matter much how overweight or not we think we are--our feelings about our bodies are similar. You talk about hating the fat on your body and how it makes you feel, these feelings are identical to mine though our "overweightness" is extremely different. My point is not to say one is worse or different than the other or anything of that nature. My point is that it seems no matter where were are on the weight spectrum, many if not most of us feel bad about our bodies. This, along with all your other excellent points, must change! Thank you so much again for your thoughtful and detailed comments. xo

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