I’m 32 years old, and I have been very overweight for most of my life. It’s been a steady increase over the years, and I’m pretty sure that I’m at my very heaviest today.
The story of my life, in regard to weight, goes like this. I grew up in a home where everyone else was more or less of a normal weight. My mother was a few pounds overweight and one of my sisters would always be complaining because she was a size 10 and wanted to be a size 6, but everyone was “normal.” For some reason, I was born with the extreme overweight gene and also a preoccupation with food.
I remember never feeling full or satisfied, even as a child. I was always thinking about food and snacks and wondering when I would get to enjoy my next treat. I guess I was always obsessed with food. I still find myself thinking about food a good part of the day. I go to sleep thinking about what I’ll have for breakfast in the morning, and after breakfast I’m already worrying about whether or not I can make it to lunch without a snack. Usually I can’t.
What I’ve finally come to realize, and now I’m officially accepting, is that every time I go on a diet — any diet — whether I last a day or even a few weeks, I wind up feeling so deprived that when I break the diet, I binge so badly I end up weighing even more than I did when I started the diet. When I diet, I feel like I’m a balloon and someone is blowing it up to the point where eventually it has to burst. And that’s why I’m now at a weight that is so high that, in my wildest dreams, I never would ever have imagined I would see this number on the scale. Like I said, I’ve never been heavier.
I’ve decided that I can’t obsess like this for the rest of my life. It just takes up too much of my energy and I’m always feeling so sad and like such a failure. I have to just accept the fact that I was meant to be a very heavy person, stop dieting, and figure out a way to be happy with myself despite my weight issues. I’m not like other people, or at least not like most other people. Nevertheless, I think I’m a good person; I have many positive qualities, I have a good job, friends, and many reasons to feel grateful.
So here I am, talking a good game, but knowing deep in my heart that I’m not so sure I can accept this fact. I’m wondering whether you have some tips for me regarding working on my mindset so that I can still live a full life, looking the way I do, while abandoning the idea of dieting since it’s become so clear to me that it’s only made me heavier and heavier during my lifetime.
People accept all kinds of disabilities and it doesn’t mean that they can’t live fulfilling lives. I want to view my weight as a disability and then move on. I want to stop thinking about it, stop obsessing over it, and focus my energy going forward on things that are more in my control and that can give me satisfaction.
Is this even possible? Am I being realistic, and do you believe I can achieve this goal? Basically, I’m giving up and almost feel like I need your permission (since I’m not brave enough to discuss this decision with anyone else) to work on this goal. What do you think?
Dear Giving Up,
It’s not my permission that you need right now. After all, who am I — or anyone else, for that matter — to give you, an adult, “permission” to make decisions for yourself that you have come to believe will improve the quality of your life? Perhaps what you’re really looking for is my understanding and compassion. That you have in spades!
I totally get how even just the word “diet” can set off a chain reaction — not only in your brain, but in a visceral reaction throughout your entire body that creates a sense of danger for you. After all, it sounds as though you’ve been struggling with this issue from a very young age, without success. Failure after failure does something to a person. It can wear a person down and create a defeatist attitude that can become one’s very identity. Whatever the reason for your lack of success when it comes to losing weight — which, frankly, is not my focus right now — it must be extremely hard and painful for you to keep getting back on the horse, only to be thrown off again and again.
The ins and outs of what you’ve tried or haven’t tried are not the purpose of this column. I’m here to validate and perhaps share a few thoughts that may be helpful to you. So let’s get started. Let’s assume that you’re ready to throw out all the diet books, Oprah magazines, food scales, etc., and begin this chapter of your life anew, with renewed energy toward feeling positive, accepting, and loving toward yourself. And for now, the word “diet” is not going to pass through your lips or your mind. The question is, can you create some lifestyle changes that will add joy and other perks to your life?
For example, when was the last time you danced? Really let loose, without inhibition? Could you blast some much-loved music for a half-hour every day and just let loose? You’d be amazed at how much fun you’ll have and how good you’ll feel afterward.
When was the last time you walked on the sand, at your own leisurely pace, looking out to the ocean, and connecting with nature in an amazing way? We’ve got plenty of beaches in this neighborhood and many are accessible to the public.
You say that you spend a great deal of time thinking about food and your next meal. Can you find other things to think about in such a determined way? Maybe you can “obsess” over how you alone can make the world a better place. Is there time in your life for volunteer work, or even just one-on-one, finding a person, place, or thing you can impact in a positive way? See if you can mix up the way you think and the target of your thoughts.
And without getting too close to the dreaded “diet” word, is it possible, nevertheless, to decide that this week, you are going to eliminate just one food from your diet that has been particularly harmful? Just one. This is not a diet, just an experiment. Or maybe you can decide that, despite the fact that you’re not on a diet, you will decide on a certain time of the evening after which you no longer give yourself permission to eat. I’m suggesting examples of little tweaks you might want to consider implementing in your daily life. Not because you’re on a diet, but because it might be interesting to try.
At the end of the day, whatever changes you implement in your daily life that will hopefully have some sort of impact on your general well-being, it’s important that you remind yourself, day after day, that you are not defined by your weight. We are all so much more than our outer packaging. Your worthiness lies in your very being. Having said that, live it, own it, and transmit that message out into the universe. People respond to the vibes we emit, and you should want to radiate the very best feelings of self-worth and self-acceptance.
And sometimes, when we’re not even looking at the bottom line, interesting things happen. Good luck!
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals, couples, and families. Esther is presently offering phone sessions. She can be reached at email@example.com or 516-314-2295.