After several days of struggling, I remembered my commitment to the truth. Perhaps I hadn’t done enough to understand the emotions connected with my eating. Clearly I remembered everything I’d been taught in the program. I knew enough to teach their classes. I got it. But it wasn’t enough.
So I redoubled my effort to understand my inner life and started reading three to five books a week. I claimed my inner child, healed the shame that bound me, and was codependent no more. The reading was interesting and evocative but my eating was still out of control.
Each year the obesity research program had a reunion for their successful patients. Holding on by the tips of my fingernails, after one year I was still managing to keep enough weight off to be in that exclusive group out of the hundreds who had gone through the program.
After a brief lecture, we could ask questions of the program’s doctors. I’ll forever remember a woman I met there, we’ll call her Sarah, who quickly raised her hand. She told the panel of doctors and behavioral psychologists that she’d kept her weight off for a number of years. She said, “I know by all standards I’ve been successful, but I need to know, does it ever get any easier? I am struggling every single day to stick to my food plan. I’m hungry and always fighting cravings. It’s hard and I’m constantly at war with myself to eat right and exercise. It’s a huge effort and takes up most of my energy. Does it ever get easier?”
The answer Sarah got from the experts was, “Don’t stop doing what you’re doing. You are a success, you’re one of the few. You’re doing great. Keep up the good work.” Had they not heard her? Couldn’t they hear her suffering? My heart broke for this woman. I thought, that is not freedom. What this woman is describing is not freedom. It’s like trying to hold a beach ball under water for the rest of your life. How long can you keep that up before it eventually pops up?
What if someday she has a terribly difficult life situation, someone close to her dies or she loses a job or there’s some other trauma or incident in her life that takes all her energy and attention? What happens when, for whatever reason, she just can’t hold that beach ball under water anymore? And even if none of those things happens, is that really a life? Being constantly at war with herself? I really didn’t think so and for the first time I saw the experts’ knowledge as incomplete.
From my reading I knew that Geneen Roth had a better understanding of this part of the equation than did the doctors in the program. When I brought up Geneen’s work to the behavioral psychologist as a possible alternative for helping Sarah with her struggle, she shot me a look like I had just praised the devil in church and effectively said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Rather than give up, I was even more determined to discover the whole truth about weight loss.
It was clear to me from my own experience and from Sarah’s that true freedom from emotional eating and permanent weight loss was only partially about food and exercise. I was beginning to see that even more fundamental to long-term success was the inner life of the person. My heart was set on revealing exactly what needs to change internally so that our bodies naturally and harmoniously change externally. This mission led to my doctoral research on women’s psycho-spiritual process of healing obesity.
While I successfully maintained my weight loss at the one-year mark, I didn’t make it to the second year reunion. I too struggled to keep the beach ball underwater and it popped up during my second year when I met and married my now ex-husband, Chip. Like the snap of a rubberband, I gained all the weight back and then some. The shame, anger, embarrassment, and disgust I felt toward myself was tremendous.
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