This is an edited version of a blog post I first published in December, 2016. When making a big lifestyle change, to make change that lasts, it's important to go back and revisit why it is we're doing what it is we're doing. To remember why we've made certain changes in our lives. I was recently reminded that living a healthy lifestyle, maintaining a healthy weight or achieving weight loss is like training for a marathon. Except, there is no finish line.
I very much related to this analogy because a handful of years ago I became an avid runner. Admittedly, I wasn't a "natural"; running was something I had to work at. I would participate in local 5K races fairly regularly and even completed a 16 mile trail run a couple of years ago. Not exactly a marathon, but, still, I had to train and run regularly to increase my time, run more efficiently and prepare to be my best for the big race day .
Unfortunately, I hurt my knee on that last trail race which has inhibited me from running ever since. If I tried to run a race today, I probably wouldn't be able to do it very well or at all because I'm no longer running.
Maintaining weight loss or losing weight and living a healthy lifestyle is quite the same. What it takes to be able to run the marathon or 5K (lose weight or maintain a healthy weight) is what you have to do every day. Even after the race. Even after you get there.
Life has a way of managing the mystery in our lives. Catching us off guard with those life-changing events you couldn't possibly see coming. The one that forces you to take a left when you never considered not going right.
The first of these often happens when we are young. We develop a self soothing/sabotaging behavior to cope and often go through much of our life operating from that wounded place , until we make the conscious decision to choose differently.
My first realization of my toxic relationship with food came during a weekend visit with a relative not long after the death of my 3 yr old brother in 1983. I was 11 years old and had gone to spend time with family... to get away, to play and forget about life for a while. I overheard this relative talking with my mother over the phone sometime after I’d arrived.
“She’s HAD to have put on 20 pounds since the last time I saw her! What have you been feeding this child?!”
It is my very first memory of having felt shame around my body and what I would put in my mouth, in the presence of others or in secret, from that day forward. I tell you this not to place blame on or fault my relative, whom I love dearly, or even the tragic event that brought my family to its knees, but rather, it’s a bookmark in my early life where I can make my first connection to COMFORT = FOOD.
I went on to spend the rest of my life on a diet...any diet. ALL the diets.
Weight Watchers, through all its evolving phases, Atkins, The Cabbage Soup Diet. My roommates and I actually went on a hot dog diet of some kind during my sophomore year in college (strength in numbers). I took diet pills (the over-the-counter and over-the-border kinds), seriously restricting my calories, and once even tried to purge after feeling really bad about what I’d eaten; a scene that just ended in tears, not even being able to get that right. Desperation leads to desperate measures. I was chasing down every "magic pill" out there. I was a runaway train of sorts...and by the time I pulled into the station the only thing I was able to find were a few extra pounds.
In 2007 I began a new focus of healing old wounds and my toxic relationship with food. By this time, I had my share of life changing events; marrying my high school sweetheart, becoming a stay-at-home mom to three growing daughters, relocating multiple times, reuniting with my birth mother and with a promise of a bright future and new business venture, we packed up our family and moved back home to where it all began.
I started looking at my connection to food, not only my emotional connection, but my lack of connection; my unconscious, self-soothing behavior that began when I was a child. I also began to pay more attention to what I was eating and began noticing the food commercials on television in a whole different way; the clever marketing, the way grocery stores will fill their end caps with shitty food, signaling us to get it while it’s hot and feed it to our children. I started reading nutrition labels and scanning the ingredients lists. It took forever to grocery shop and at one point I thought I’d gone blind from reading such small print. I read Kathy Freston’s book, Quantum Wellness which laid out the benefits of following a diet that didn't include animal products, and in the middle of reading the chapter on factory farming decided to close the door on meat forever, to go vegetarian and I have never looked back. (They say if slaughterhouses had glass walls we would all be vegetarian.)
I was always one of those people who said, I could never give up cheese. But, after several failed attempts, in 2012 after watching the documentary, “Forks Over Knives” and with the support of friends in the plant-based community, both real and Facebook, I did. And then real magic started to happen. No more constipation or bloating, which, frankly, I just thought was normal. (People poop every day??? What a wonder!) And 10-15 unwanted pounds sort of fell away (you know, like you hear people talk about, but you just can’t relate?).
At this point, my primary goal had shifted from weight loss to simply eating real food and just plain... feeling good. I began to discover that my behavior and my environment were also critical in reaching my nutritional goals. It wasn’t really enough to have a shelf-load of fabulous recipe books and gorgeous produce in my fridge. I had to actually do the work of prepping meals ahead of time and have them on hand. Healthy food needed to be ready and waiting for that moment when I would come home from my crazy-busy day, emotional baggage in hand, having a could-eat-the-ass-end-out-of-a-rhino moment.
Throughout my trials and many errors, I had made an obvious discovery: I am the gatekeeper of the food that comes into my kitchen, of what’s in the pantry, of what’s in the fridge. I know I have to eat mostly home cooked meals to have that sort of quality control over what I eat and to be successful in managing a healthy weight and prevent disease.
Over the years I have learned a few things...implemented some short-cuts to cooking and preparing food, learned a few "work-arounds" for trigger situations and have found ways to be more satiated eating plant-based. It has been an evolution, really; how I eat today looks very different that it did even just a few years ago.
Full Disclosure here…
I’m not perfect. I fall off the wagon from time to time... and I start again with the next meal..and again if I have to. It’s PROGRESS over PERFECTION for me. It’s how I can stay honest and stay on track. I look back on the past 3 decades of my life, losing and gaining those same 10 pounds. I had just grown so tired of it. Since April 2012, I have had a 23 lb. weight loss, my cholesterol numbers have dropped into the normal range, and having just celebrated my 45th birthday, I have, really, never felt better.
I now practice yoga, meditation, journaling, and spending time in nature as a recipe to live more intentionally and manage my emotional eating. We cannot choose exactly what comes our way, but WE CAN CHOOSE how we show up in the face of change and adversity in a way that allows us to not only survive, my friends, but to THRIVE.
Jeanmare and Cristy are creators and contributors of the Living Simply Nourished Blog. Grab a cup of tea (or coffee!), find a cozy spot, scroll around, read some stories, find some inspiration, and enjoy!
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