With Thanksgiving looming on the horizon, thoughts naturally turn to turkey and dressing, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie and other decadent culinary creations. My mouth is already watering in anticipation, but I have a confession to make.
I started a new diet this week. I hesitate to use the “D” word, because I know and have often preached that dieting does not work. I have experienced firsthand that the steps taken to lose weight must be lifestyle changes, not gimmicky quick-weight-loss solutions involving cabbage, grapefruits or special prepackaged meals that cost a small fortune.
Now, I’m only talking about my own experience and what has worked for me or, especially, not worked for me. Others, I know, have had great success with various trendy diets-of-the-week. But not me.
My struggle with body image began when I was a teenager. I remember very clearly the first time I looked at my body critically. It was the summer of 1980 and I was shopping for a bikini to wear to the Texas Jamm concert at the Cotton Bowl (with cut-off jean shorts, of course, as was the style in those days.) In the first store I visited, I found a cute sky-blue terry cloth bikini adorned with multi-colored beads. I quickly found my size and took it to the dressing room to try on. Standing in front of the mirror, I frowned at the bikini’s too-snug fit and felt the first stirrings of displeasure over my body’s natural curve. I bought the bikini anyway and hid my hips under the cut-offs.
Not long after, I had my first child. I didn’t gain much weight with the pregnancy — only 10 pounds — and after my daughter’s birth I weighed less than I did before the pregnancy. But my body had irrevocably changed and I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror.
Now, 33 years later, I would give anything to have the body I had when I was younger — the same body I have criticized every year, at every weight, since 1980. On one hand, I believe this is it, this is all there is. I am a woman of a certain age and some things are inevitable, thanks to genetics, hormones and lifestyle choices.
On the other hand, I cringe when I see my reflection in store windows. So here I am again, trying something new. This is Day 5 of the new “D” and let me tell you, it has been a struggle. But the battle has not been with hunger, but with my emotional dependence on food.
I love it. Sometimes it’s my best friend. Food gives me joy, comfort, entertainment and stress relief. I blame my mother for this. Not really, but she did have a hand in what I believe is the root of my obsession. When I was a little girl, I sucked my thumb until I was 6. To get me to stop, Mom made a deal with me: If I stopped sucking my thumb, she would take me to eat at Wyatt’s Cafeteria. Well, guess what? It worked. Eating out at restaurants was a rare treat and one of my favorite things to do. I may have stopped sucking my thumb, but I exchanged that comforter for another.
This diet, so far, has done so much more for me than prompting weight loss. I’ve been forced to face the demons that have haunted me for years, the ones that tell me to reach for a snack when newspaper deadlines approach or when I’m disappointed, bored, sick and blue. If I can defeat them and stop using food as a crutch, I may get that better body back. At the very least, maybe I’ll start looking at myself differently and appreciate what I see in the mirror.
I have faith I’ll have it all. Bringing darkness into the light is the first step to healing, after all.
That, my friends, is something to be grateful for this year.