(This post is in reaction to watching The Weight of the Nation. The direction in which I’ve been taking my blog is in direct correlation to how I feel about the current state of our society and my weight/food concerns over the years. My goal is to continue to produce healthy recipes and easy-to-use resources that make fresh healthy food more accessible. Below is completely opinion based and a lot of my life story that has led me to this point in my life.)
We can’t expect our youth to know good food values based on school change and society campaigns. The phrase “do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work. It starts at home.
I have to be honest with you. I hate the word diet, in fact, I despise it. The word “diet,” in the sense of restricting what one eats in order to loose weight, already sets most people up for failure. Too often people say “I’m going on a diet” and after a few days or weeks, it’s abandoned and considered a failure.
After awhile, we begin to ask ourselves, what’s the point? The weight clearly isn’t going anywhere. In this case the cliche “easier said than done” is truth. The problem is, we act as though after we “diet” and loose weight, our eating habits can go back to how they were.
Some people, myself included, talk about a complete lifestyle change which admittedly can be overwhelming. The idea of completely changing the way we eat and exercise seems like a lot of work and time- to which the American public seems more and more adversed. The idea of going on a diet seems like it would be easier. To give up foods for a bit until enough weight is lost to feel satisfied.
The problem? Too often those diets never lead anywhere. No success and no feeling of satisfaction.
I’m not sure what kind of impression people take from this blog but one thing should be made clear, I didn’t always eat like this. In fact, only about five years ago, things like whole grains, unprocessed foods, and vegetarian were words that never crossed my mind. Which is why I am writing this. I’m about to get real and tell you things that I only told my mother yesterday because I didn’t want her to be surprised when I spilled it on here.
I’m not saying that changing the way we live is easy. In fact, it’s downright hard with ups and downs. For me, it’s been a six year battle that I occasionally still fight but if you take one thing out reading this: it’s a battle worth fighting.
Seven years ago, my father had a major heart attack at the age of 45. He had a quadruple bi-pass surgery and that was the scariest moment of my life. Am I surprised now this happened? No. We ate like the average American. Fast food at least once a day, more soda than water, and hardly any quality produce. I just finished my freshman year of college and discovered (what I thought) was the amazingness of the cafeteria and any exercise I did was in the form of walking the short distance to class. I weighed just over 200 pounds and at one point in time, my cholesterol was over 300. Yeah, that’s fairly scary.
The sad part is, even after my father’s heart attack, I continued to eat the way I always had. I convinced myself numerous times to try and loose weight, but I didn’t know how. I felt lost and sought motivation in random places. I’d write reminders on my hand but usually after one day, I’d give up. I felt frustrated, alone, and fat. (I hate this word too but in the instance, that’s how I felt.) I knew I was overweight but my willpower was not match for my “love” of junky food.
I went through my sophomore year of college watching my dad recover from his surgery while still stuffing my face with horrible food. I can remember days where I would hate myself because I knew what I was doing to my body was wrong, but I couldn’t stop. While I was with friends I’d keep up a happy appearance but every time I was alone, I’d cry and then pity eat. It was a horrible cycle. I’m sure my weight increased but I wouldn’t know, I avoided the scale.
What happened during the summer changed my life. The event wasn’t near as scary as my father’s heart attack but something clicked.
My grandmother asked to see my parents and I. We had no idea what it was about, so we were all a bit surprised since this was the first time she had ever asked to see us all (my parents may have known, they didn’t tell me.) We sat down in her living room and without warning, she started talking to me about my weight and diabetes. My grandmother is known for telling a person how it is, I just never expected to be on the receiving end. This was the first time that someone had really looked me in the eyes and told me the path I was on would kill me. At the time I was stunned. I cried and felt partially angry that she would do this to me. That she didn’t love me because she thought I was fat. But what she said got my ass in gear. I hate to disappoint anyone but disappointing her was the biggest fear. I’m sure she knows this, but I ‘m ever grateful to her and those words.
I started counting calories and hitting the gym. By the end of the summer I had lost 20 pounds and went back to my junior year of college feeling like I could really do this for the first time in my life. But when environment changes, everything changes. I bought a hot plate and started eating a lot in my room. I was meticulous about counting calories: 300 for breakfast, 400 for lunch, 500 for dinner, and 200 left for snacks during the day. I counted everything to the point of becoming obsessive. The problem, however, was all my friends didn’t care. They still wanted to eat out and drink. I felt like I lost control because I was doing well. By February I was down to 155 but it’s all I thought about. Looking back, this is why I’m not a proponent of calorie counting. My calorie counting led me in to a six month stint of bulimia. Every time I would go over my calorie limit, I’d force myself to vomit. I didn’t think I could hate myself anymore than I did when I weighed 200 pounds but this moment was a low point. I became so disappointed in myself and it hid it from everyone, for years. I felt like any calorie consumed and left in my body that was over my allotment was a failure.
The following summer was hard. I found out I had the ovarian tumor, wasn’t going back to school my fall semester of my senior year, and I still wasn’t comfortable in my body. I had surgery and thanks to a 13 pound ovarian tumor, I woke up weighing 115 pounds. I was underweight for the first time in my life. It was a strange feeling and I didn’t really know how to handle that situation.
I went back to school and did what any other senior college would do: I partied. I ate and drank whatever I wanted but fought with myself the whole time. I gained 20 pounds back but got so angry with myself. I remember the nights I would drink enough that I would be sick the next day and all I could think was, “whew, those calories I ate and drank won’t count.” (that sentence hurts to think about.) When I finished school, I ended up in a long term relationship which helped me pack 30 more pounds on (30 pounds I had worked hard to loose.) My eating habits slowly crept back in to eating processed foods and not exercising. I remember days when I couldn’t fit in my jeans anymore and I felt the earth had shattered. Poor Mike didn’t know what how to handle me because I’d cry and say I wanted things to change, but they never did. I blamed everything but myself. I didn’t take control of my situation. I tried dieting again and again, every time I failed. This time I felt worse because I had already done this before. I had already lost weight and I knew how to do it, I just couldn’t. I felt extra failure because I was competing with my past self.
This went on for almost three and a half years. Through grad school, through uncertainty, through a lot of sadness and depression. The poor relationship I had with myself reflected in to the poor relationship I had with Mike. Everything felt wrong.
This takes me to March, of this year. I got out of that relationship (after almost four years off and on), I moved, and I really started reassessing my happiness, my personal well-being.
Two major things have changed: I don’t take unhappiness as an okay state and I don’t eat processed foods. I’ve made a complete lifestyle change. If I want a brownie, I eat a brownie. If a couple of onion rings, I eat a couple of onion rings. I walk 30 minutes a day, I cook almost everything I eat, and the main thing I concern myself with is my own well being which includes exercise, food, and projects.
When I stopped dieting and began cooking whole, unprocessed foods, everything changed. When I gave up focusing on appearance and started started listening to my body, everything felt right.
Now I eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full. I don’t beat myself up if I eat a bit of extra rich things but I don’t do it every day. I stopped weighing myself because it really just made me upset and instead, I listen to my body.
I never thought I would make it to this point. It’s been a long, tough journey.
It starts with baby steps. Change one meal a week to include a few extra veggies. Go for a walk a couple times of week. Skip over the overly processed snacks and take time to educate yourself. Knowledge is a powerful friend and food doesn’t have to be the enemy.
It took me until now to realize this but my war isn’t on diet or fat. It’s on processed foods and lack of exercise- both of which have became rampant in the United States. My point of sharing all of this isn’t to discourage or to say everyone should follow my path but instead to say: hey, it’s okay to be confused. It’s okay to struggle. It’s not okay to give up.
You have the power to change, sometimes it’s just hard to remember that.