Once upon a time, this 56-year-old curvy Goddess body was tiny, coming into the world at five pounds, four ounces. My mother told me that in the first day or so, I lost a few of them, since I would fall asleep when it was time to eat. As a child of the sixties, I have memories of both nutritionally sustaining and more pleasurable junk food. Chips, candy, pretzels and soda sat right along side apples, carrots and bananas. Growing up in an Eastern European Jewish family, food equaled love. My Russian immigrant Bubbe (grandmother) made blintzes and borscht with the encouragement in Yiddish: "Ess gezunterhait," which translates to "Eat in good health." Well rounded, with peasant hips and zaftig breasts, she clearly enjoyed her own cooking.
As a whirlwind, active child, I rode my bike, roller skated, swam, played hopscotch and jump roped. I had no thoughts about being overweight, despite the fact that my mother struggled with that issue throughout her life. When I turned 4, I was diagnosed with asthma and was prescribed steroids. When I have looked back at elementary school photos, I saw a skinny kid blow up like a balloon in a year's time. The odd thing is that although children can be cruel to each other, I don't remember ever being teased about the extra pounds. As soon as I was taken off the medication, the weight came off as well. At age 11, as suggested by our family doctor, I joined a swim team and for the next 10 years, I was in the pool for hours at a time, honing a lean swimmer's body. Since butterfly and free style were my primary strokes, I developed a narrow waist and broad shoulders. All these years later, I still have the latter, wishing for the former.
My prom dress was a body hugging size 7 and all throughout college, I rocked tight jeans and tube/tank tops. I was able to maintain that petite presentation into my late twenties. My wedding gown was an eight and it wasn't until 1992, when I had an ectopic pregnancy and the lower abdominal muscles were cut, that the rounded belly appeared. It was also a tumultuous time in my life and thus began the roller coaster ride of emotional eating. It didn't help that my husband was a creative cook who used ingredients that were rich in flavor and sometimes high in caloric content.
I watched the weight fluctuate in the past few decades and had convinced myself that as long as I was still active and could fit into my clothes, all was well. Many of my friends were my size or larger, so I could engage in denial that it could become a problem for me. When my husband passed in 1998, and I had other lovers, there were never complaints from them. The only lingering doubt came from me; it sneered at me and told me I wasn't as attractive as when I was in my slim and trim 20s.
When my mother died in 2010 of congestive heart failure and diabetes, I began to take a hard look at my own relationship with food. I went on a rather restrictive plan and in three months time had shed 40 pounds. People noticed, commented and I felt a huge sense of accomplishment and empowerment. This "new me" only looked good on the outside. Hiding within was the woman who doubted her own "enoughness," and as a result took on the proverbial "weight of the world," as a therapist, friend and family member. Being an empath who absorbed other people's emotions made it that much more challenging to accept only what was mine and leave the rest behind.
Working a crazy-busy schedule had me eating on the fly, in the car, wolfing down what seemed to be primarily healthy fare and also brought back some of the original weight. It wasn't until the heart attack that arrived on June 12th which called for dramatic dietary shifts (low sodium and low cholesterol), that I woke up to the reality that I had been denying. I have a tenuous/tumultuous relationship with food and with my body. Having worked with clients that have eating disorders, I can safely say that while it has not tumbled into that realm, there is a slippery slope down which I could slide if I am not careful. Mindful eating, asking myself if I am truly hungry, has become a necessary practice. I attend cardiac rehab four or five times a week, peeling off the inches, but I am still dismayed that the numbers are not what I would like to see as evidence of my hard work. My therapists in the program remind me that it is "just a number, not a measure of your worth as a person." The inner critic that I call 'Perfectionista,' scoffs at that. I use the affirmation "I am healthier and stronger, slimmer and trimmer, lighter and thinner every day,' while I am sweating on the cardio machines and doing strength training.
Am I glorifying thin-ness; the hot bod I had in my teens and twenties? I tell myself that this five and half decades old body has absorbed love and adoration that the itsy bitsy one could only dream of. It has survived injuries and illness for which I am grateful. It has offered and received pleasure and anticipates more of same.
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.