Tuesday, February 19, 2013
So this has turned into a therapy session in a blog post, and I'm actually going to have to make a series of these. I've identified a lot of contributing factors to my weight gain and to my lack of success in losing it in the past, and I really feel like working through these is going to be critical to finding success this time. I'm bad about examining the negative in my life... I'm much more comfortable with either being far too critical of myself or pretending that the negative doesn't exist at all, so finding a happy medium here is going to be important. As I started getting into the first contributing factor I could identify, it turned into an in depth post of it's own that I had not anticipated. After some crying and catharsis, I'm feeling better, and know that doing these with my other triggers and reasons will be really helpful. That said, if you read it, I'd love feedback. Apologies for the length on the front end.
As much as some things on the Biggest Loser really frustrate me, one thing that's stuck with me from every season I've ever seen is the idea that there is always some underlying reason that people get fat. Be it depression, anxiety, or whatever else, emotional issues lead to behavioral issues lead to being obese... perfect formula. I don't necessarily buy into the idea that anything related to weight loss or weight gain is a simple formula, but I do think with any behavioral change, you have to look at the reasons your behaviors were negative in the first place, and then you have make sure you change the conditions the behaviors occur in, or you're never going to make a lasting difference.
So for me, what was it? What led me to eat so much and stay so sedentary that I ended up over 300 pounds? What was it that prevented me from finding success with previous attempts at weight loss? What was it that prevented me from feeling motivated every single day to seize control of my health and do something about it? I'm sure that the answers to these questions will continue to reveal themselves as I continue down this path, but some have become apparent even in the month and a half I've been really focusing on this.
I'm going to go more in depth with other causes later, but for this post, I want to focus on the relationship with food I learned by word and example from my parents. Fair warning, as it turns out, part of me is really angry about this.
My dad can pretty well control what he eats, but he prefers higher fat foods that are simple and familiar to him and he's not especially adventurous with his foods. He would seriously eat salads, bagel sandwiches, chicken pizzas, and a bowl of ice cream every day, and he'd be perfectly content. He's made some attempts to make these staples much healthier (he uses whole wheat tortillas as pizza crusts for example), and none are terrible in and of themselves to begin with. He eats too much, and I think he knows that, but he's also mostly disinterested in trying to learn new foods. The one possible angle with him is that he grew up in a farm, and he really identifies with the real foods movement.
My mom, on the other hand, has the worst relationship with food of anyone I know, and it's unbelievably frustrating to watch. About 4 years ago, she had gastric bypass surgery, and lost about 110 pounds. She started slowly taking small bites of all her favorite foods, though, then drinking a glass of wine here and there, then eating full meals of the same stuff she used to eat and drinking two or three glasses of wine two or three days a week and how she's gained back about 45 of those pounds. She is downright defiant about eating what she wants to when she wants to, and she views making changes as drastic, unfair deprivation. When we have family holidays, she insists on making eight or nine side dishes so that we can have a "real" family holiday. Every tradition, every memory she tries to make, every celebration is somehow wrapped up in food for her.
Mom was also, always, for as long as I can remember trying to lose weight. I remember her driving over the TN border to KY with a neighbor to get a phen-phen prescription, I remember her going to Nutrisystem meetings, I remember Weight Watchers points, and every other diet fad out there ever. For her, weight loss surgery was an easy way out (which, it doesn't work like that if it's going to work, which is why she's now gaining weight back), and her latest diet fad is Sensa. There's no telling how much money and time she's spent trying to accomplish this goal. She's definitely spent at least 25 years on it.
My mother's rule has always been "you eat what I make or you don't eat," and so I grew up eating terrible processed foods that were loaded with fat and sodium and simple carbs, and I grew up believing that food means happiness and security. Furthermore, I developed her anxiety about food and weight loss, and I remember thinking I was fat for the first time at 6 years old.
I adore my mother in so many ways, and I've been unbelievably lucky to have her as a mom. I've experienced unconditional love and support in most every area of my life, and precious few are lucky enough to have that. At the same time, sometimes I feel SO MUCH RESENTMENT that I have such an unhealthy relationship with food, and that it looks JUST LIKE what I've seen her have my whole life. I've tried talking to her about this, but she usually agrees, and we both cry and she commits to work, and then at the next meal we have together, she'll defiantly load her plate with something unhealthy and insist "I'll never lose weight if I feel deprived." Yes, True. You'll also never lose weight eating that much of that stuff!!!!
I love my mother and a lot of my anger about this is that I really want her to be around for a while. She's 56, and both of her parents died when they were 60, so I really don't want to be without her in 3 or 4 years. It terrifies me that what seems so obvious to me seems so hard for her to grasp, but it also gives me hope that my ability to see this will help me break the cycle and avoid falling into the same pattern she had.
I also get really mad at my dad about all this. He eats much better, granted. And over the last 6 months or so, he's finally begun standing up to my mom about what she eats. She'll load her plate with food she'll never eat, and he'll point that out to her. A few weeks ago, I heard him say to her "Lately you're eating almost as much as you ever did before surgery," and my heart literally leapt out of my chest with hope. At the same time, it's taken this long for him to finally stand up to her about what food we have in the house and what she and the rest of us eat. Maybe I'm being too hard on him, and it's just becoming evident. I know marriages are complicated, and certainly my parents' marriage is no different.... I imagine pointing out that your wife eats too much crap isn't among the top tips for making a relationship stronger. Even so, part of me feels like he should have stood up to her for my brother, sister, and for me.
When I moved out of my parents' house to go to college, I actually lost like 50 pounds. No Freshman 15 for me... just eating less crap and having less around, and the weight just disappeared. Every time since college that I've moved back to their house (a total of 3 times since for about a year and a half total), I've gained a significant amount of weight. Most recently, my fiance and I both lived with them while saving up money for a house and while he found a job in my home town (since he was wonderful enough to agree to move here with me). In the 6 months we were there, I gained 40 pounds. I realize that speaks as much to how much those foods and that environment are triggers for me, but gross. Just gross.
Ok, now I feel a little better and a little guilty. I really don't want to seem ungrateful for everything my parents have provided me. The fact that they would even let me move back in at 29 with a fiance in tow just so we could save some money - yeah, that's love. At the same time, I know that a lot of my issues with food and weight loss were learned from that house, and I've got to identify and work through that to get better.
Emotionally, though, I get angry about this. I also get terrified... terrified that my parents won't be around as long as I'd like them too, and terrified that I'm going to turn out exactly like my mother in terms of her relationship with food and weight loss. I also get really, really sad. I honestly don't know what else I could do to help my mother develop healthier habits and to be more open minded to trying to eat in healthier ways without feeling deprived.
So with all this sort of processed and worked out, what do I do now? What action steps do I take to work through this and avoid falling into the same traps with them?
I know that I need to avoid going to dinner there too frequently, which I also know will cause a little friction with my mom. What I'd like to do instead is to invite them to dinner at our house and make healthier, tasty meals. After all, when we're in my house, they eat what I cook or don't eat, right?
I also know that eventually I need to figure out how to really be direct about all this with both of them. I need to explain that I'm terrified of having my own kids because I don't want to pass on these habits, and I need to tell them both that I'm terrified of them not being around to see any future kids because of what they put in their bodies. This will be way easier said than done as my mother is a lot like me and will get instantly defensive. But I've got to get this off my chest.
I've also got to be ok with giving it up if they are unwilling to change. I'm a perfectionist and a control freak, so being ok with the reality that there may be nothing I can do for them will be very, very hard for me to handle, but at the end of the day, I have to focus on me if I want to get better myself.
So, if you're still reading through all that, what else? How else can I work through this and work on this?
Since this would be a novel if I tried to write them all in one post, I think I'm going to make a series of posts. Next post, I'll focus on the perfectionism and avoidant behavior I tend to use. Time to get a little introspective.