“That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet.”
— Emily Dickinson
Stop waiting to live life until after you’ve lost the weight, found a spouse, bought a home, been hired for the perfect job, purchased the nicest car. Life is fragile. Life is short. Life is sweet. Eat the damn danish and savor every. last. bite.
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More specifically, what’s the story you’re telling yourself? Is it a true story? Does it need to be rewritten? Who helped you write it? Was it a parent? A friend or adversary? The media?
Like a bedtime tale, the stories unfold while we fall asleep until one day we wake up and find they were just faerie tales all along.
nce upon a time I carried a story around into my forties. It said that I am just like my mom. I remember the distinct moment I challenged that story. I was at work, wiping the speckled black countertops liked I’d done every day for a year. Suddenly a thought popped into my head.
I am not my mother.
That’s all. Yet, there it was. It doesn’t sound like much, but it was the tipping of the first domino. Some called it my mid-life crisis. Some called it my late bloom. Knowing what I know now, I can tell you it was the changing of a story; a story I’d been retelling every time I started my diet anew.
We all tell ourselves stories. And once we’ve decided that story is false, we can’t just stop telling ourselves that story. We have to fill it in with a new one. One we can trust.
So when I falsified that story, the new story was . . .
I am me.
Nothing in the universe says I need to face the same challenges my mother faced. Nothing says food has to control me. The new story rang true, and I felt, for the first time in my life, at the age of 45 . . . normal.
I’d always been normal, but for the first time ever, I felt it. Inwardly, I had changed. Outwardly, people noticed. Friends said I glowed. Acquaintances walked by me without realizing they knew me. Yes, I had lost weight, but there was more than that. I had a different story. I am me, and I was not only normal, I was everything I had always wanted to be. I was like Dorothy realizing she had been home all along.
So why and how did I find myself back on the diet treadmill, going nowhere fast? It started when I turned 50. It was just a number like any other. If anything, I was gearing myself up for an amazing decade.
And then it happened.
The Change. The Big M. It was more than a ceasing of the monthly cycles. My skin lost its elasticity. My hair lost its sheen. I lost noticeable strength in my hands, back and arms. My shape changed even before I started putting on weight. I didn’t recognize myself. I mean I literally asked out loud, “Who the hell’s body am I in?”
And I fell sleep to a new story . . .
I am old.
I tried to control it in the only way I knew how. I dieted. Okay, you can stop laughing. But I get it . . . it sounds funny as I write it too. Now, where in the world could I ever have gotten that idea?
The diet industry brings in $20 billion every year, and we’re forking it over like blueberries and yogurt. Do you really want these people writing your story?
So when I woke up and saw the story for what it was — a horrid faerie tale with a bad ending, I needed to write a new one I could trust.
I am aging. Thank goodness I’m aging, because as long as I’m aging, it means I’m still alive. And as long as I’m alive, I have the potential to grow and learn and love. There is no promise of tomorrow. There is only now. And right now . . . life is good.
Sometimes the Universe speaks to me. You might call it God. I call it coincidence, but it’s fun to think the Universe is speaking to me. The day I decided to quit dieting, the battery on my scale died.
This is significant, because another first step to intuitive eating is letting the scale go. You might need to take a sledge hammer to it, or give it to a charity thrift store, or if the Universe is so aligned, let it take the juice from your battery. Because if you’ve been dieting almost your whole life, you won’t even know how to feel until you step on that thing. Sometimes I’d step on it twice in the same day, because using the bathroom might have changed the number. TMI? Anyway, that’s how I’d know how to feel about the day ahead.
So when the Universe spoke, and my battery died, I put it in a closet, and there it’s been ever since.
But as it turns out, there are several ways to measure your body and how it makes you feel for the day. And at the same time that I was trying to imagine what the scale would say if it hadn’t been rendered mute, I was learning the fine art of body acceptance.
The first few days of eating intuitively I went crazy with bananas and avocados. And amazingly, what was supposed to happen, happened. By the fourth day, bananas and avocados were no longer the forbidden fruits. They were just bananas and avocados. Eureka! I mastered it! This was going to be a snap.
That fifth day I had a hot fudge brownie sundae for lunch. I repeated that three times in the same week. But none the following week. A few months later I had another and realized that craving had probably run it’s course. So yes. I was getting it, but how many foods was I going to have run through? How many foods had I even forgotten were on my forbidden list? How long would this take?
Cream cheese? Why had I stopped eating cream cheese? Was it forbidden, or just disliked? Unlike a diet, these intuitive eating books didn’t offer a complete turn-around in 30 days. There was no 8-day foolproof detox for my diet-brain, and my list of demonized foods was long.
Oh . . Fried Chicken. Golden brown, steaming hot, perfectly seasoned, juicy, crispy, battered and fried chicken. For six months I ate chicken from every grocery store, family restaurant and fast-food chicken place I walked into. Colonel Sanders found his way into my hottest fantasies. I had chicken fingers for lunch. Deep fried chicken for dinner. Broasted, nuggets, tenders, wrapped sandwiches, wings, pretzel-bun sandwiches, salads; I couldn’t get enough of the stuff. Until eventually I did.
But along with all my other food exorcisms, this took a toll on my pants size. Like I said, there are other ways to measure your body than with a scale. And while I think I could have learned to accept my body at any stage along the way, that goalpost kept shifting. Just when I was about to accept my body, it changed. So okay . . . let’s accept this size. Fried chicken for dinner? You bet!
What I learned is that the only way to fully accept the body you’re in, is to be in the present. This bears repeating.
The only way to fully accept the body you’re in, is to be in the present.
Because at any time your body can change. You could lose a limb. You could contract a disease. And yes. Your weight could change.
You only have the body you are in. Right now. You can never have the body you had ten years ago. You don’t know what body you will have ten years from now, or even tomorrow.
This is the body you are given today. This is your Universe. And it speaks to you.
Once I gave up dieting, sold all my diet books to the half-price bookstore, and unfollowed all my diet social media, I began the process of learning how to decide what to eat on my own. That sounds so silly, doesn’t it? I’m a grown woman who raised four human beings into adulthood. I’ve been buying groceries and cooking for forty years. And I woke up that first morning like . . . now what?
One might think I dove headfirst into a tall stack of buttermilk pancakes with real butter, pools of syrup dripping over the edge of the plate. But I didn’t. I reached for a banana, because it was familiar and safe. I grabbed a knife, and in my mind I was deciding whether I should eat a half or a third. Numbers danced in my head. Calories.
And then I did the unthinkable. I ate the whole damn banana.
It wasn’t that I’d never eaten a whole banana before. Usually I ate it in segments; a half banana for breakfast, calories logged, with a serving of oatmeal and skim milk. Midmorning I might browse through the kitchen and snip off another quarter, justifying that it was a harmless fruit. After lunch the last quarter would go into a scoop of ice cream with chocolate syrup and whipped cream, if we had it. I might even have added nuts.
And there it was. I’d blown it.
By 4 PM I was crabby, defeated, and angry. Fight or flight. Except I’d used up all my fight trying not to eat that sundae, and consequently wishing I hadn’t. So I’d fly into the kitchen and look for that One Thing that was going to make me feel better. I’d eat toast. Nope, that wasn’t it. I’d try fruit. Not quite. Maybe something salty? Gooey? Protein?
Eventually, I’d sit on the couch, stuffed to the gills. I no longer felt angry or crabby. The demons had been sufficiently numbed. Sometimes I’d sleep, waking groggy, guilty and full. But there was one more phase — keeping the secret.
Because . . . This was embarrassing, this weird afternoon rage through the kitchen. So I would fix a perfectly normal dinner for Bubba and I, with meat and vegetables, maybe a salad or potatoes. And I would eat that too. Because otherwise I’d have to admit I had already eaten toast and fruit and chips and candy and cheese and god knows what else. And having him forage through the fridge looking for something to eat on his own would have deepened my guilt. Then the meat and vegetables I had planned to cook would rot in the fridge, and I’d have to throw them out. More guilt. Better to keep the secret, eat like a bird, and end the night in gluttonous discomfort.
So, yes. That first day I ditched dieting I ate the whole. goddamn. banana.
I ate it with whatever else I had for breakfast. But I remember that full banana because it was the first full banana I’d eaten in years without bargaining a smaller bowl of oatmeal, or promising myself I’d leave the rest until the next morning, knowing full well that fucking thing was going to land in an afternoon sundae.
And I was full until lunch, when, making my salad, I picked up a ripe avocado. I pulled out a sharp knife, and sliding it through the rough skin to the inner buttery flesh, numbers began to dance through my head. Calories. Should I slice up a third or a fourth?
Then I sliced half of the avocado and laid it gingerly on my salad . . .
Quitting the diet scene wouldn’t be so hard if it weren’t so terrifying. It’s not just knowing what, when and how much TO eat. Four decades of intense diet mentality had proven to me that I couldn’t trust myself to STOP. Clearly, I couldn’t be left to my own devices without raiding the refrigerator or finding myself inexplicably in the nearest drive-thru.
Realizing I had a trust issue with myself sent me into a tail-spin. I pride myself in being trust worthy. It’s my brand. It’s who I am. If I say I’m going to do a thing, I do it. I’m reliable. You can count on me. Yet here I was saying that Icouldn’t even count on me.
So I realize it gets a little weird because I talk about myself as if there are two of me. If you can keep all the Game of Thrones characters straight, this ought to be a breeze.
I decided I would have to actively work to rebuild the trust I’d lost with myself. I, being my best friend, was not going to allow this mistrust to ruin the relationship I’d thought we . . . er, uh . . . I shared. With myself. Try to keep up.
As you can imagine, healing trust issues takes time. It takes demonstrating consistent reliability to show that you can be trusted. It takes communication, which requires listening; lots of listening. And so I began the arduous task of listening to my body’s cues. Was I hungry? How hungry? Was I satisfied? Full? Overly full?
I didn’t hear anything. Nothing at all. I’d spent so many years letting diets talk over my own inner voice, telling it what I wanted it to say, that it had stopped speaking. I was afraid the voice had died. That I had killed it, and it would never speak again.
I listened harder. I mediated, and when I did I cried.
One day, I followed the tears to a corner of my heart where a child version of myself hid, alone and all but forgotten. I coaxed her out where the air was fresh, the sun shone, and bees buzzed. We were alone in a woods, and I let her lead me to the tiny things she found interesting. In silence, we found a connection; a trust in one another. She understood I would listen if she spoke, but that it was okay if she didn’t. Together we walked into the light and I awoke from my thoughts.
Now, I know this all sounds a little woo-woo. But it was one of the many corners I’ve turned on this journey, and the thing about corners is that you never know what’s around them. This path I walk is big enough for the both of us, me and myself. Sometimes this inner voice speaks loudly, and the voice is wise and strong. And sometimes she speaks softly until I slow down enough to sit quietly and hear.
She still resides in my heart, but it’s a lovelier place. The inner child is doing some redecorating in there. It’s sunnier with flowers and colors — lots of colors that make me smile.
And I am no longer afraid to trust myself. Surely, I will make poor decisions that affect how I feel, but I trust myself to listen and learn. The pendulum will swing. Life has a way of balancing itself. How can I possibly be different?
I’m a firm believer that walking can be a metaphor for anything in life. A journey of a thousand miles . . . the path less traveled . . . it’s not the destination, it’s the journey . . . the straight and narrow path . . . two steps forward, one back . . . am I right, or am I right?
I’ve been on a bit of a journey lately, and frankly, I was afraid to take you along. I thought you might jinx it. I felt fragile. Like writing about it might break it and I’d have to go back to the start. Besides, the introvert in me likes to travel alone, and you might talk too much. You might disturb my inner thoughts or suggest a different trail.
Well, I decided it might be good for me, and maybe even you, if I tell you where I’m at, what the terrain looks like, how far I’ve come, and maybe where I think I’m headed.
The trail is called Intuitive Eating, and there’s a book by the same name. There are many books by other names, and social media pages you can find by Googling Body Acceptance, Self Compassion, Body Love, BoPo, and Anti-Diet. It’s a movement that encompasses bodies of every size, age, color and ability. It’s about inner peace and love, and you know I’m all over that.
I’m not a stranger to beginning a journey. I began anew every morning and by nightfall felt lost. I cried alone in the dark. At daybreak I’d set out again. It’s a cruel circle. I’m talking about dieting. I was a self-proclaimed, out-of-the-closet diet junkie. I’ve described it as trying to stand still in the surf. It’s impossible.
Wading into the water, there will come tides and surges. There is no controlling it, only adjusting to it. And sometimes you need to let the waves carry you in or out a little bit before you find footing again.
Dieting isn’t that. Dieting is willing yourself to stand still. Most of us just end up face-planted in the sand wondering what happened. Then we wake up and try the same thing the next morning, maybe from a different spot on the beach, exclaiming over the roar of the surf that, “Today we will stand!” And expect a different result.
I’m afraid I’m mixing up my metaphors, but let’s just imagine this trail meandered somewhere along the ocean and opened up on a beach. And that’s just it! I’m not sure exactly where this trail is going to go next. But I do know it’s already taken me to some awesome overlooks and some really rough terrain.
So if you can stand the poetic metaphors, I invite you to lace up your walking shoes and join me. If you just want to sit at home and read my posts from the couch, that’s okay too. I’m not a trail expert by any means, but I am an expert on the steps I’ve taken. There are historical centers and information booths I’ll point out along the way, but if you ask me, all I can tell you about is my own experience and send pictures of the view from here.