"I do not understand the things I do. I do not do what I want to do, and I do the things I hate."
The Apostle Paul, Romans 7:15
My name is Stephanie, and I am a disordered eater. You may think that calling myself a disordered eater is cruel and unfair. But I do not see the phrase as self-loathing or harsh. I believe, to quote Iyanla Vanzant, in "calling a thing a thing." To that end, I am calling myself out for using food as comfort and excess weight as protection from more trauma and pain. This has been my hardest and heaviest chain to carry. I have been chained to this distorted thinking for far too long and desperately want to break it.
At the outset, I must disclose that I am a Lifetime Member of Weight Watchers. When I first joined Weight Watchers 32 years ago, I had just graduated from college and was attending graduate school. I had never lived on my own and was motivated to eat properly. As a young single woman, my life was very simple and I found the program easy to follow. Over the years I returned to Weight Watchers while in law school and to lose post-baby weight. In between, I was able to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle for extended periods.
However, in 2007, I returned to Weight Watchers weighing substantially more than I did when I delivered my first child. I was also deeply depressed, emotionally spent, and running on empty. At the time, I was in the middle of a divorce, searching for full-time employment, and parenting alone with no support. Despite these major life transitions, I managed to lose 80 pounds. People noticed, congratulated me on my weight loss, and proclaimed that I looked good. What they meant as encouragement left me feeling naked, vulnerable, and afraid. I found myself craving the anonymity that seems to come with carrying excess weight on my body. After losing 80 pounds, I was only 10 pounds away from my goal weight. At that point, I hit an internal roadblock that ultimately derailed my progress. Mentally I resisted going any further and started rolling backwards. I needed to identify the source of my mental roadblock and pull it out by the root so that I could finally lose those last 10 pounds.
Before I could determine why I was mentally stuck, medical symptoms that I had experienced only sporadically for 18 years returned and stayed worsening over the months that followed. My focus shifted to my physical health. As a result my weight gain went into overdrive. Once I was diagnosed with what are chronic medical conditions, I understood that losing weight and changing what I ate was critical to stabilizing my health. So I researched and identified an outstanding weight loss and wellness program that includes a social worker, dietitian, and sessions with a behaviorist. I even started working with a personal trainer to rebuild my stamina. My stamina improved but I lost very little weight.
Despite all that I knew about losing weight and my health needs, I continued consuming food that was simply not good for me. For some reason, I could not tap into the same motivation that pushed me to lose weight in the past. Instead, I was caught in an internal tug of war between giving my body what it needs to be healthy and using food for comfort and excess weight as protection against the trauma that hung over my life. In this instance my desire to use food as comfort and excess weight as protection was stronger than my need to be physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy. Ultimately I decided to leave the carefully researched weight loss and wellness program. I spent several more months floundering and consuming sugar laden foods which put my total weight gain at a whopping 95 pounds.
About six months ago, I decided to return to my old Weight Watchers meeting. Even though I was still floundering I made the commitment to keep going back. Over the last several weeks I have uncovered some new truths. First, I am not the same person who joined Weight Watchers 32 years ago and returned over the years. Consequently, my approach to the program must change in recognition of who I am today. Essentially, I must let go of the beliefs about losing weight that no longer serve me. Second, I keep focusing on the how; meaning trying to reignite the motivation that I had successfully used in the past to jump start my weight loss. That motivation is dead. In reality I must focus on the why; why should I lose weight and eat food that nourishes me. Third, I must also reframe my thinking to consider the what, meaning what will happen for me if I lose weight. I will feel better and have less stress on my physical body. My mobility, stamina, quality of life, and health will improve, Most importantly I will be better equipped to be of service to others and fulfill my life purpose. Within the context of why and what it becomes less about food and weight loss and more about my purpose and core values. I will not be chained to the pain of my past and doing that which I hate. I will be free to live and finally strong enough to walk, run, and dance unencumbered into my destiny.
Stephanie Mitchell Hughes
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.