“This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
I barely greeted Mary in the waiting room as she brushed her large framed body past me, marching to my office out of breath fretting, while mumbling she was ten minutes late. Mary contacted my office a few months ago desperate to lose weight and get a grip on her obsessive volume eating. Mary is most focused on losing weight and less interested in the spiritual and emotional piece of her recovery journey. More than once she (and most of my eating disordered patients) requested to see my heavy pictures to confirm I truly once experienced the caged in desperation she did—that like her, nothing mattered to me except being thin. Reluctantly, I pulled out two.
In the photo below I was 29 years old and on the upswing again with my weight. I recall gritting my teeth and saying to my best friend Yvonne, who was taking the photo, “Do you have to take a picture of a beached whale?” I rarely got roped into taking pictures because they represented my truth. I was fat. And with that truth I bought into the idea fat meant dumb—a total loser. What I didn’t get during that photo shoot was that I was a sad young woman distracted with obsessions of food and weight to avoid living in the present life at hand.
When I was twelve I began to notice I spent the largest part of every day thinking about what I wanted to eat that I shouldn’t and what I should eat that I didn’t. The weight piled on and the diet sagas began. My obsession with weight was more sensational than anything that happened between me and boys, money, or girlfriends. I was totally absorbed in me so I could not be hurt by another person.
When I looked deeply into Mary’s sad eyes I saw my own reflection of a once desperate me. I so wanted to save her, to pull her out of the misery she’s swallowed up in—to convince her there is a better way than jumping on one diet after another. Mary, like many compulsive eaters, believes if she loses weight she’ll attract a desirable man and that all of her “issues” will miraculously disappear. But truth be told, what she’s really doing is numbing out with food to avoid the chance of being rejected by someone, hence blaming the problem on the weight. A true vicious cycle. Mary claims she wants to experience blissful love but blames her excess weight from making her dreams come true.
Is this truly what’s going on? Mary’s rejected by men because of her body? Or is Mary blocking her emotions to men with food. Mary doesn’t know how to engage herself with a person, only with food. Oh sure Mary had sexual encounters and short stint relationships but she avoided intimacy—surrendering totally to another with deliberateness to face, rather than run from, the worst of herself. She didn’t dare allow herself to be vulnerable to another, instead she blamed food and her obsession with her body to take over present living. As long as Mary eats compulsively, her life is about what she eats, how much she eats, how much she weighs, and what she will look like, dress like, when she stops addictive eating. A scenario I was once quite familiar with.
Yes, it’s true Mary grieves her unhappy childhood and will never be able to re-write the script. She missed it: a mother’s love, a father’s acceptance, sleep overs with girlfriends, the feeling that she mattered—that she was important to someone—anyone. No, she will never get the childhood do-over she’s been screaming about for fifty five years. Screaming and flailing fists is not emotional, spiritual, or physical healing. Emotional, spiritual, and physical healing is another story—a different journey.
The first step in Mary’s healing is to own the truth of her childhood story and acknowledge her losses—grieve about them. And to know she is not her story. She doesn’t have to define her existence as the little girl who was abused and never got the love she so yearned for, hence making it the same adult story. To no longer identity with the lost child and begin living in the present instead of living in reaction to the past.
My second photo, I reluctantly showed Mary, was of me sitting under an orange tree on a breezy spring afternoon in South Florida trying to hide my body behind the baby—so ashamed to once again get caught in a picture.
My focus today is on living my best healthy life not my weight or what I ate or failed to eat. I now recognize that my obsession with diets and weight was a game—it wasn’t being thin I wanted, it was getting thin. It was a game of diet-binge-diet, only to once again binge. I would rush out to purchase a pile of junk food shoveling it into my mouth as fast as I could while simultaneously reading the newest diet book on the market. Mary does the same thing.
I want for Mary what I now know—and that is, diets don’t work nor does diet mentality. When Mary lets go of the focus on her weight and the newest diet offered and instead puts her attention on spiritual and emotional recovery her gift is physical recovery. It works every time, all the time.
The last photo, which again I reluctantly bring to you the reader, is how I look today. Although I am not my body, that I’m much more than a frame, people want to see and know that it’s possible to reach a “normal” weight (whatever that might be for you) without putting the attention on the weight.
This is the miracle.
Put your attention on your spiritual recovery; daily eat three meals and a half-meal consisting of foods that are whole and balanced; run, dance, walk, or do jumping jacks (whatever moves you); and connect to the Divine Source—and watch—watch for the miracle.