DEAR FORMER FAT GIRL: Every morning I wake up saying that today will be different. As the day goes on, though, all I can think about is where I'm going to get food and what I'm going to eat. I plan my driving route around my favorite eating spots, secretly hide my eating, and then live with the guilt. I am 59 years old. The weight is an issue but mostly it's being out of control that is the worst. I don't want food to rule my health and my life. Can you give me advice how to stop the sabotage?—Alicia
DEAR ALICIA: Before I launch into advice, know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. There was a time when I did the same thing, when I was bathed in guilt 24-7 because I couldn’t stop. Either I was eating, thinking about eating, thinking about how bad it was that I couldn’t stop eating … you get the drift. And I never really knew how many other people did the same thing until I spilled it all in my book and started getting the most amazing emails and letters from other women, like you and me. So maybe you won’t feel so alone …
The fact that you are focusing on your lack of control—rather than on dropping pounds—is a step in the right direction. Because for you to lose weight, you really need to address the emotions and circumstances that have led to your weight issues in the first place. When I finally realized that the weight wasn’t the problem, it was a symptom of fear, insecurity, a feeling of unworthiness (among other things), I was able to start chipping away at those things and start building a healthier image of myself, in both body and mind.
So my first bit of advice is to stay with that focus, and start plumbing it. Have you always been like this? If not, when did it start? Can you relate the beginnings of your food obsession with an event that happened in your life—a divorce, a death, the loss of a job, your children going off to college? It’s possible that your eating could be an expression of unresolved grief, depression, anxiety, a loss of purpose.
Regardless, I would consult an expert. Now, I don’t know what your attitude is toward therapy—some folks HATE the idea. But I don’t mind telling you that I have spent some time on the proverbial couch, and it has been extremely valuable in helping me get perspective and find solutions. Many health insurance plans pay for a certain number of counseling sessions or have a co-pay for mental health treatments. Some even cover weight loss counseling sessions—look into what your benefits program offers.
There are other ways to get assistance: Overeaters’ Anonymous, a 12-step offshoot of Alcoholics Anonymous, is highly respected and recommended. And many churches and community groups are creating support systems for women and men who are battling weight issues and overeating. The thing about OA is that it is anonymous—you and the others at the meetings are prohibited from speaking about what goes on there or identifying group members—and that anonymity may give you some comfort. There is so much shame at the heart of weight issues and overeating that might make it really difficult to bare your soul even among fellow church members and friends.
I also think it would be valuable for you to really understand the impact your eating is having on your body. Go get a complete physical to see where you are healthwise, and where you might be headed if you continue down this road. Connecting your day-to-day actions with your physical health might also give you the motivation to make a change.
And, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, start keeping a food diary. I know I say that in answer to just about any question, but do it. We are all SO good at fooling ourselves into thinking we’re eating less or exercising more than we are. We need to be brutally honest with ourselves about what we’re putting in our bodies. The reality of what you’re eating—every BLT (bite, lick or taste, to quote Weight Watchers)—may make it harder for you to continue your unhealthy habits.
Please know that it IS possible to make a change, no matter what your age. You deserve to have a better life, one—as you said—that’s not ruled by food. Make it your goal today to take one step in a new direction, even if it’s simply to research what services your health plan might cover. Tomorrow, set another small goal; the next day, another, and so on. You are the only one who can decide when to start your journey: Why not now?
Lisa Delaney is editor of Spry magazine and author of Secrets of a Former Fat Girl. To submit a question, visit spryliving.com/experts.