How does life change when you are made to feel different? When you are not empowered to embrace what made you different but instead are encouraged to fit in when you couldn’t even if you tried. It could be enough to break the strongest person, but Maria’s story is one of strength, courage, kindness, and resilience. Her life did not begin with emotional eating and poor self-esteem, but as she got older food became the only comfort in her life. It helped her get through many tough years of moving to a new country, job losses, friendships broken, and a battle with cancer in which she exited a survivor. Here is the story of Maria. Food and weight have been a struggle her whole life and she has a powerful message for others who want to escape the battle. Maria is the first to share in this new Interview series: Quiet Courage: Stories Behind the Battle with Food and Weight.
Favorite music: I grew up in the 70's and 80's and I loved the music of Donny Osmond, Michael Jackson, James Taylor, Carol King, Olivia Newton John and Linda Ronstadt. My favorite groups are Chicago and the Eagles.
Favorite Color: I don't have a favorite color. Is that weird?
Favorite Food: Asian cuisine. Particularly Japanese, Chinese and Korean.
Favorite Memory: My first arrival in the States. San Francisco, California. I loved the city and exploring all over.
Feelings I Want To Feel: Independent, Free, Empowered
I grew up in Manila in the Philippines until after college when I came to the United States. Growing up I knew I was different. I was five foot seven and heavy set. There were not many people who looked like me and I was always aware of that fact. By the time I was a teenager I did not even know what I was good at because I was so self-conscious and my confidence was low as a result. One time when I was fifteen years old I remember there was a family wedding and my mother told me if I were not fat I would have been one of the bridesmaids. It was not torture growing up; it just was hard not having good self esteem or confidence. I had a few good friends, but I did not like groups because I felt so different. I think my hearty appetite and lack of activity due to low self-esteem really contributed to my size getting bigger. Food was not a conscious choice. I don’t recall thinking too much about it. I just remember how I felt different from everyone around me. And the comments at the dinner table about not eating as much and about my size didn’t help. I understand it came from a place of love but it was not done in a way to make me feel loved. The worse I felt about myself the more I would turn to food.
In my twenties we came to Queens and I got a job. I followed my family and friends who came over at the same time. I always struggled health wise to lose weight because of emotional issues and then being diagnosed with endometrial cancer in my thirties. I guess food was comforting, a way to cope. Between the hormones and feeling scared I resorted to more food and weight gain. Even now into my fifties it is still a struggle. I have chronic pain from arthritis and when the pain is high I binge a lot. I turn to food for practically everything. But it scares me to see people on television who are so huge they can’t move around so I am doing the work so I won’t gain more weight. I know my triggers to binge are my pain from the arthritis and wanting to feel connected. It helps to know why they start. So now I keep a healthy routine with food and explore ways to feel more connected.
My relationship with my mother is complex. There is a lot of love. I say complex because I feel like I was a failure in her eyes. I am the oldest in the family. I am the caregiver and the caretaker. I don’t mind doing it. I just feel like a failure in their eyes. There were a lot of life goals that I did not achieve at this point. I never met the right person. I never found a stable job. It could seem on the outside nothing worked out for me. However, for me I am a simple person. If I feel peaceful and happy that is enough.
I went through a lot emotionally and my friends who I needed support from shunned me. As the years went by, they are not my friends because the value was in having a powerful job and a relationship not who you are on the inside. I thought we shared a bond coming to United States at same time. As you go through crisis you just realize not everyone will be there for you. I know worthwhile so while it hurt me I can’t be friends with people who don’t share my values or appreciate who I am inside. I love that I am articulate, good with people, caring, and nurturing. When I think about how I want to feel moving forward it is empowered. I always wanted to find a group or support group but never know where to start but I am going to find one now. It is time to surround myself with people who lift me up.
What would you want to say to another women struggling with food and weight?
I would tell them to hang on. To believe we can still do it a little at a time. Never give up. That is what I am doing right now. I still want to live not just survive. My hope for the future, the next chapter, I want to see myself as more independent. I don’t want to just hang on anymore. I want to feel empowered and independent. My story is about having hope and feeling positive about the future no matter where you are in life.
It is not easy to be treated poorly but this has taught me that I didn’t realize how resilient I am. I can be strong in the midst of challenges. Right now I find joy in all the little moments and look at the future with hope and excitement. The best is yet to come.
The hope for this series is for those struggling with emotional eating or the diet binge cycle will no longer feel alone and feel more inspired to reach out for help. For updates on future interviews visit The Free Life.