Weekly Wellness is a community driven project to help each of us adopt a more mindful lifestyle. It is a twelve week experiment wherein we (Laura, myself, and whoever else wants to join) commit to one small change for each of those weeks in an effort to see how even a small shift can reap big rewards. (For the introduction read this and this.)
I must apologize for missing last week's recap. What follows here doesn't deal with one specific week of the challenge, but I wanted to share it nonetheless. While I'm not one to usually pay attention to stats and numbers, I can tell when a post is read more than others, and I'm constantly surprised that the posts dealing with health and body issues are among the top. It is my great wish that there is information contained in what I've written over the years that others find helpful. (This is my way of saying: thank you--for your continued support and kind, kind words).
I didn't know what a calorie was until I went to college.
I mean, I have a vague recollection of the 2,000 calories per day dictum, but beyond that, nothing--I had never looked at a nutrition label in my life.
I grew up on chicken and rice and peas. Every night. For dinner. Bless, my mom because she made the dinner each night and around the table we sat--food only part of the experience. But, to this day, if I ever go out, chicken is not my food of choice. I've had enough of that bird to last a lifetime.
When I got to college and gained the standard freshman fifteen the proposition of losing weight was daunting. And that was the task at hand: losing weight. Not switching to a healthier diet, or a healthier lifestyle, not learning to read the whole of the nutrition label, but learning to lose weight and quickly. And what that meant was learning to read calories.
And learning to read calories was, as it turns out, my very own Pandora's Box.
My pediatrician recommended Weight Watchers. And then my gynecologist, as well. And so I embarked upon that path. And I did what I was told. I ate the fruits and vegetables and I made sure to eat no more than my 20 points, and no less either.
And it was so easy. So easy that I wondered how anyone could ever struggle with their weight when, with the right information, to lose it was the easiest thing in the world.
Oh, the hubris.
Now of course I look back and can see I was a woman obsessed--a woman who went to bed each night with the pain of hunger just below my ribs--a woman fed by information that was totally and completely wrong.
I lost my period immediately.
And so I went to the same doctors who had suggested the diet plan and I told them I didn't have a period and everyone told me not to worry, it'd be sure to return.
And it did. Months later, when I began to eat again.
I followed the plan. I ate the allotted points. And those allotted points added up to roughly 1,000 calories.
1,000 calories is not enough for a woman of my height. At 1,000 calories I was starving myself. This is not opinion. This is fact. And I know this now because other (more informed) doctors have told me this. Someone once commented on one of my posts saying that Weight Watchers is not about deprivation, it would never endorse starvation. But I'm just laying out the facts: I ate the points suggested to me for my weight and height--in a program recommended by more than one doctor and I starved. Until my body couldn't starve any more. And it did what it had to do to make me eat: I began to binge.
You know how if a person hasn't slept for a certain amount of time (I'm talking days) the body will collapse--actually inducing sleep? Or if blood isn't getting to the head fainting occurs so that the head is on the same level of the heart and blood can reach it more easily? The body takes control. It takes over.
That's what binging was. The body taking over. That's why it felt so beyond my control. Because I was starving, my body bypassed my conscious mind (my will power, if you will), and it fed me. A lot. Fed me to the point of over-feeding, because my poor body was so damn terrified that it would never be fed again. And then it clung to every single calorie and I watched, helpless, as the weight accumulated.
I was at war with myself--my body engaged in trench warfare, shoveling in food, because it couldn't trust that I would ever again feed it.
I still eat too much sometimes--enough that people would label it a binge. But I know better, it's not a binge, it's just too much food over a short period of time because I'm feeling guilty or bad or just worn down--the reasons are many and often without sense. But I am not driven to binge the way I once was. I am not possessed and out of control.
I used to say that recovery is like a grain of salt tunneling through a glacier. It takes ages. It took my body a really, really long time to trust me again. I would sit on the train and have an unhealthy thought like I've had enough today, I need to eat nothing else and I'd feel a tightening in my chest--like a large door closing and immediately I'd be hungry. I'm now pretty sure that tightening was panic on a cellular level--was my body recognizing the thought and preparing itself for what was to come.
It took a lot of time, and quite a bit of proof (food) too, for my body to forgive me and know that I'd never again withhold sustenance. And only once that trust was built was I returned to myself.
It's still a process. It's still slow. And that gran of salt is still trucking. And it moves by the small choices I make day after day, week after week. A little more water, a good book in my hand, more vegetables, and getting myself to the exercise class even when I think I might lose my lunch during the worst of the squats.
That's why I'm so enjoying the Weekly Wellness challenges that change with the weeks. Because it's to say, yeah, I'm doing this, I'm in this. I'm doing what I can to make my life better. It's not an overhaul--it's small, mindful choices tunneling through the crap of processed food and a society with ridiculous beauty standards and a whole diet industry that says the calorie count is the end all be all.
I had to learn how to unlearn what a calorie was. That's been the game-changer. Giving up the low-fat and fat-free and "healthy" foods. Forgetting the points assigned to eggs and tortilla chips. Trusting that my body will tell me when it's had enough if I can quiet my own fears and the hum of all-that-wrong-information enough to listen.