This blog is for the women who I met at the Diabetes Expo last month. They asked me to address the ‘publicness’ of obesity…
Being obese I have, at times, been treated like my weight issue was open for public discussion and comment just because people could see it.
I mean, there is no hiding 392 pounds.
I recently had a discussion with a group of women at a diabetes expo where I was speaking. We were talking about comments and ‘helpful remarks’ others, including loved ones, make. We all agreed that intentionally, unintentionally, pointedly; comments relating to food and diabetes and weight simply fuel shame and lack of confidence and fears…
Not one time, regardless of the speaker or the intent, did we ever find those comments truly helpful or motivating.
We all had stories.
We all agreed that shame can paralyze you.
This stuff HURTS. And we, the obese, have no real way to hide. Because people can see our bulk, it seems to mean we’re fair game for comments and criticism and remarks.
It’s an emotionally vicious cycle.
‘Can’t you just eat less?’
‘You’ll never get married/date/be happy if you don’t lose weight.’
‘Don’t you wish you were normal sized?’
‘Should you be eating that…?’
‘Don’t you love your family enough to be healthy?’
I remember exactly who made those comments to me, when they happened. With clarity. I remember how I BURNED with shame for days/weeks. How my self-confidence would hit bottom and start digging an even deeper hole…
When lobed one of those questions or comments I usually tried to smile and say something generic like ‘thank you… mumble… mumble…’ The goal was always to get out of the situation posthaste.
Ashamed and sad and hurt.
Shame and lack of self confidence seem to go hand in hand for me. (I know they are NOT the same, but they sure tend to show up together.)
I ALWAYS responded by placating my wounded soul and emotions with food. Food was how I managed, buried shame. Food was my stalwart comfort and companion during these episodes.
You might be thinking that those are mean, thoughtless, careless things for someone to say. Or maybe just plain rude.
BUT here is the catch…
If I am being totally honest…
I was THINKING those exact same things about MYSELF.
If they were just being mean you could actually brush it off a little easier. BUT when you, yourself, think it, believe it, own it…
And then someone says it OUT LOUD…
Shame comes barreling through the door. And lack of self confidence strolls in right behind her…
With cake in hand.
I wish I could tell you how I corralled shame, fought it. How I don’t wrestle with lack of confidence anymore. I don’t really have a good, clear answer just yet. I’m still working on all of it.
But I’ve been really thinking about MY shame/food/weight/confidence issues since talking to those women a few weeks ago. Here’s what I’ve been thinking about… For me, at some point, things tipped and shame no longer DROVE what I did… Or what I did NOT do. It was still there, for sure, but I could shut it up for periods of time. I FINALLY reached a point in my life where I wanted to LIVE more than I was afraid of what I would have to do to reclaim and save my life. I was ready to change. Everything. I knew things could be totally different than they were. I knew it would be excruciatingly lonely, hard work.
But this time around I knew all of that and was STILL ready to do the work. EVERY other emotion or fear or thought – even shame – was edged out by that intense readiness.
The whole lifestyle shift I embarked on became a black and white, life and death issue for me. And I purposefully kept my thinking along those lines… It wasn’t confidence. It was fear and blind bravery. I really didn’t do anything knowingly or strategically to battle shame directly. I just got busy discovering and starting to tear-apart some of the basic issues. I was finally working to get honest about WHY I was obese so I could figure out how to ‘solve’ the issue once and for all.
I was vulnerable. Big time. By choice. I knew if I was not hiding something, it could not be used against me. I would not be able to use it against myself either. (That may not make sense to everyone…)
Even if it was something as publicly visible as weighing 392 pounds.
So what about now?
The growth that I’m proudest of?
The growth I talked to those women about at the Diabetes Expo???
In those horrible moments when I feel ashamed or someone is mean or confrontational or says something that jabs at who I think I am/who I want to be; I NO LONGER reach for food.
I mean, yeah… It takes ALL I HAVE IN ME not to grab food for comfort and confidence. Even now. Almost 4 years into this adventure.
BUT the difference NOW, no matter what strikes me emotionally; I do NOT reach for food. I breath. I go for a walk. I talk to a friend. I listen to some music. I pray. I think about why I’m reacting… I do lots of things to soothe my soul, gather up my confidence and let shame walk RIGHT back out the door…
None of my new coping mechanisms involve food. I have been careful to build a ‘tool kit’ of skills that don’t involve food.
This is a key habit that I have to keep strengthening and practicing.
I think it was Madeye Moody in one of the Harry Potter books that would preach ‘Constant Vigilance!’
How do you ‘soothe your soul’ without using food?