The F Word
At Home Tennessee columnist, Mandi Gaskin, discovers that the key to unlock the door to permanent weight loss is through facing her biggest nemesis: Fear.
I have never been a skinny girl. As my grandmother often put it, “You are built strong” which always brought to mind disturbing images of an Ox. But I never thought about my weight until I went to the doctor for a checkup when I was 12 years old. The doctor looked down at me as he tapped the chart in his hand and proclaimed, “Your weight is off the charts.” I could still taste the remnants of the Snickers bar that I had eaten only an hour before while I stared at him in horror. Up until that point I had been enjoying a heavenly diet of sausage biscuits, French fries, and candy bars. My friends would come to my house and raid our cabinets like it was the 7-11 because my mother believed that Little Debbie was part of the food pyramid. But from that day at the doctor, one message registered with me for the next 15 years- Fat=Failure, Thin=success. And from that moment on food and I became Frenemies. We would go weeks loving each other in a blissful relationship of pasta and fried chicken to breaking up for days while I shamed myself into eating carrot sticks for a “cleanse.” By the time I reached my twenties I took on this obsessive behavior like it was a full time job. If there was a bandwagon, I was normally driving it and yelling from a bullhorn for people to hop on. Nothing excited me and tortured me more than a diet. I would plan for it like I was training for the Olympics, buying grapefruit juice by the case in order to gear up for my Grapefruit juice and soup diet. By the seventh day I was 5 pounds lighter and so irritable that I almost picked a fight with the sweet Wal-Mart greeter who didn’t hand me my shopping cart fast enough. And then I tried jumping rope- like, for hours- because I once heard Naomi Campbell say that it helped your cheeks have that “sunken in” look, or maybe it was from her steady diet of cocaine and cigarettes. But even when the numbers on the scale descended down thirty pounds, the fear and self pressure to maintain my new weight would feel like climbing Mt. Everest and cause me to dive into a cheesecake and avoid the gym like I was Howie Mendel at a Handshaking convention. The cycle grew stronger and stronger with each new diet plan that I committed to and inevitably failed. It wasn’t until I was almost 30 and took a step back to really look at my 10 years of losing and gaining the same thirty pounds that I saw the pattern that had evolved. And what I found had nothing to do with the food, or even my thighs (gasp!). I have always known I was an emotional eater-choosing food to fit my mood like many people pick a fine wine with their dinner. But what I didn’t realize was how I was using food as an escape door from something that I didn’t want to face. Whether it was stress from a job, or from feeling hopeless about my expanding waist, or from disappointment that I haven’t yet won the Nobel Peace Prize (did I mention that I have ridiculous standards?) Rather than sitting with my feelings of fear or disappointment, I would use the food to escape- even if it was just for 10 minutes- from a reality that I wasn’t happy with or felt like I couldn’t control. Now I would love to tell you I am as Zen as a Buddhist monk since learning this revelation but sadly I am a slow learner and am not very adept to change. And so I still have my days where I look at the lovely paunch that remains from childbirth with distain or feel hopeless and start looking for the nearest chocolate chip cookie; but I also have those times of awareness where I can stay present and really try to understand my fear or disappointment and listen to my body instead of bolting from reality. And that, my friends, is a step in the right direction.