The first time I gained a significant amount of weight, I taught night school, my first teaching job. I had been stressed as a student teacher, but it was nothing compared to how ill-equipped I was to handle night school. Many young people are made to go to night school as part of their punishment for a crime they’ve committed. Then there are the people who fell through the cracks long ago, maybe undiagnosed reading problems, maybe a trauma, maybe a baby. So an array of emotional and mental problems awaited me every night. An older African-American man called me a racist because I was told not to let anyone stay in classroom during break and had no idea that he had been an exception to this rule.
Every day at 6 p.m. someone new hated me. Every night at 10 p.m. I came home, turned on MTV and crunched my way through a bag of chips (or two.) That was stress eating. Every bite down on the crunchy salty substance felt like a minor victory over my crappy job. Where was my classroom? Crunch. Where were my honor students? Crunch. When would I ever get past discipline and into actually talking about literature? Crunch.
Before I knew it, I’d gained 20 pounds. And then over the Christmas holidays I gained 10 more. Because another kind of emotional eating is celebrating good times. And ask anybody, I really like to celebrate and I was too unaware to realize that celebrating with food might feel good, but it was harming my body in ways very clear in the mirror but that I refused to see.
People didn’t recognize me after that 30 pound gain (which became 40 as the school year dragged on). I didn’t recognize myself, either. Thus the cycle of the lose and gain began. I’ve lost hundreds of pounds. Ten, twenty, thirty, but always, almost as soon as I threw away my fat clothes and bought new sizes, gained the weight back. It was that fast. For a few weeks I’d wear my new cute outfits and guys would flirt with me and I felt pretty again and then bam, back to fatland. Because I really didn’t want to flirt or have an affair to get my sweetness fix and being fat made sure that was not going to happen.
Guys. I hate to admit that I like attention, but I’m going to be honest, my marriage is comfortable but not all that sweet. I have a great husband, he took on a single mom with two kids, he supports my writing, helped me through college, shares my personal goals. But he also is just not a naturally affectionate person. When I think of my husbands, none of them were. Yet, I craved touch. Hugs, kisses, sweetness. Meanwhile, hubby was at the NASCAR race or the hockey game or the football tailgate party. Or he was working. Saving for our future.
I read once that when a person craves sweets, they lack sweetness in their lives. I’ve never forgotten it and I think it has some truth. A friend told me once that she had a lonely weekend coming up, and she was not looking forward to it. I patted her knee and said “here’s what you do” then proceeded to tell her my routine whenever the boys were at their dad’s and Al was away on a golf weekend or some other guy thing. First, I laid in supplies. Only food I wanted to eat. Strawberries, chocolate, Ruffles, rich gooey Brie cheese, good wines, baguettes, bagels, filet mignon. Then I’d go to the video store (remember those?) and choose several films, none of them involving action/adventure. Finally I’d hit the bookstore, stack a tower of new hardcovers by my favorite authors in my arms, and ring up a tab that more than equaled the food and the movie bills combined.
“See? You just have a “me” weekend. And you can shop for a pretty new outfit too.”
How deluded was I? Very. I know. But I was giving myself sweetness in the only way I knew how.
Lisa, after I related this coping mechanism, asked about my anxiety. She said “The anxiety you take pills for and what you are trying to do instead with the sweetness, that’s all part of the problem. Because I think this kind thing is often why people overeat. That and just having a fun time, too. But all those things play into it.”
So what was her solution to my sweetness dilemma?
Have a clear, set intention, and a positive mental outlook to make things happen.
My intention is to stop hurting myself with comfort foods (the shortcut to happy) and to start loving my body with regular check-ins with an amazing doctor, yoga, meditation, and walks in nature. I’m not perfect yet, but I’ve come a long way from the woman who had a battle plan that looked more like a sugar coma. When Al goes away now, I plan more positive activities, like outings to local art fairs or attending writing retreats. I take myself out to the movies these days, and thanks to a cracked tooth acquired eating popcorn, I don’t even want the stuff.
When I joined a yoga studio, I found that if I drank too much wine the night before, I’d feel sick in some of the poses. Ditto with meat. So through yoga, gradually I became vegetarian. But vegetarians can eat ice cream and cake, and I was still, even on Lisa’s Plan, indulging my need for sweet. Sabotaging myself. Then I got back-to-back bad sugar reports from my doctor, which scared me into finally giving up everything with sugar in it: meaning everything I loved.
Yes, I had to let my health get out of hand before I could really take the final positive step I needed, but every step in the process came from setting that first positive intention to love my body and take care of it.