Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Ending the War with Food by Geneen Roth

I love this story from Geneen Roth:

Ending the War
with Food
Imagine this: You are walking in a meadow on a fresh autumn day. The leaves are turning a burnished gold and red. You come upon a long table covered in a white linen cloth with vases of flowers at perfect intervals. Then you notice the food.

The food!

It is as if someone knew you were arriving, because the  table is laden with every food that you have ever loved -- even the foods you won't let yourself eat because they're too expensive or too fattening. A platter of poached salmon, fried sweet potatoes, three different kinds of dessert, including Chocolate Decadence Cake, cheesecake, and the exact flavor of ice cream you love. Homemade bread and every cheese imaginable. And food from your childhood is here: Hostess Sno Balls, roasted marshmallows, mashed potatoes, butterscotch pudding. It is a feast and it is just for you. Only you.

If all those foods were equal -- if you could eat bread with the same recklessness that you could eat broccoli -- what would you choose?

Take your time. There is no rush to decide. The food will be here.
Now, ask yourself: Would you take small bites of everything? Would you settle on one thing, eat as much of it as you want, then go on to the next? Or, given free rein,would you feel so overwhelmed that you'd just start with a fork in both hands and wild abandon in your heart? Are you like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day when he realizes that he can eat all the pie he wants and not gain weight?

"I'd eat everything!" you say.

Or "I'd dive into the triple-cream Brie and never come up for air."

"At last," you say, "I get to ignore my diabetes and scrape all the icing from the carrot cake and eat it with a spoon."

And some of you say, "Gimme a break. Cholesterol is real and so is my heart condition. And, by the way, what's the point of this fantasy?"

Before I get to the point, I want to tell you one of my favorite stories about eating what you think you want.

Years ago, a woman named Oona attended one of my 
workshops with her 11-year-old daughter, Miranda. At the time we met, Miranda was what my own mother used to call me -- pudgy. Round cheeks, round knees, round hands. A body that looked like it was made of circles. Miranda was not exactly fat, but her mother was very worried. She watched over Miranda's meals, commented on what she ate, took desserts away. Oona had been a fat child, had struggled with weight most of her life, and didn't want to see her daughter suffer the same way.
All in all, it was your basic mother-daughter war. Miranda hid food from Oona; Oona was enraged that, despite her hyper-vigilance, her child was gaining weight.

My solution floored both of them. I spoke bluntly to Oona: Fill up a pillowcase with Miranda's favorite food -- M&M's -- and give it to her, and whenever it gets even a quarter empty, fill it back up again. Stop commenting on her body. End the war now. Come back to me in a month and tell me how it's going.

Miranda thought she had died and gone to candy-coated heaven. Oona just wanted to strangle me.

A month later, Oona was convinced that miracles did happen.

During the first week, Miranda took the pillowcase everywhere; she even slept with it. For the first time, she could eat what she wanted without feeling rejected by her mother.

During the second week, she stopped taking the pillowcase to school. She ate fewer M&M's.

In week three, she hardly touched them. By week four, she never wanted to see another M&M again.
But more important than the M&M's was that the war had stopped. Miranda no longer needed to eat to pay her mother back for her constant disapproval. She no longer needed the comfort of M&M's to make up for the hurt of her mother's rejection.

Although this story actually happened, I'd like you to take it as a metaphor rather than as an example of something you should try with yourself or your daughter, because the point of both stories is not the food but your attitude about it. The point is stopping the war you have with yourself and your body. The point is that we can be free from the endless cycle of depriving and restricting ourselves if we cultivate tenderness and kindness toward ourselves.
Most of us want to get thin because we believe that then and only then we will be entitled to like ourselves and treat ourselves well. We want to get thin because we believe that then we will be happy. As if you are only allowed to take up space here on Earth if and when you are thin. And although what you eat really does matter in terms of how you feel in your body and the kind of energy you have to sustain the life you want, the size of your thighs at this very moment should not determine the size of your life.

What would happen if, right now, you gave yourself permission to like, respect -- even adore! -- yourself without first having to earn it by losing 10 or 20 pounds?
Consider how your food choices would change if they were based on self-respect and on what made you feel well, alive, and radiant. If you liked yourself immensely, you'd be unlikely to seek comfort in the all-ice-cream, all-the-time diet. You'd know that eating ice cream for dinner would probably make you feel happy for a second and then a little spacey and then tired. Soon you'd be cranky, yelling at your kids, picking on your spouse.

This new self-respecting you wouldn't need to seek comfort in food because you would no longer be rejecting yourself every minute of the day. No one can handle that kind of perpetual criticism without seeking solace somewhere, and the mint chocolate chip does nicely.

Most people say they gain weight when they eat what they want. But the truth is that people gain weight when they eat what they DON'T want -- and then eat copious amounts of what they believe they do want because they're afraid they'll be deprived again. They gain weight because they argue with themselves constantly and then, bruised from the argument, eat ice cream to comfort themselves. Most of the time, and I know this is hard to believe but it is the truth, what we eat has nothing to do with the food itself; it has to do with the internal dialogue of warring with yourself. When you end the war with yourself, your food choices radically change. Every single time.

True kindness has no calories. True kindness is deciding right now that you deserve to respect and honor yourself -- here, today, no matter what.  When you make your food choices with that sort of kindness, your whole life becomes a feast.

Fighting for Life

I think that it is time for me to do a non-race running related blog. As I have said before, my running is directly related to my emotional state. For better or for worse, what I am feeling can be used to fuel my run, or hinder it. I have seen both happen in the last year. A while ago I asked for prayers for my Mom. Around Easter, her health started rapidly declining. She has plateau for the most part, but I will get to that later. Easter was also the Lincoln Presidential Half Marathon that I bombed. I know in large part because I was struggling with coming to grips with my Mom. She had a rather severe case of strep in her hand (yes, hand) that made her very ill. For those of you that may be unfamiliar, my Mom was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) about 9 years ago. A month before my wedding, actually. Through those 9 years she has been in remission. My Grandpa (her Dad) had and died from the same CLL. My Uncle (her brother) also has the same CLL.  They say CLL is an acquired disorder, and reports of truly familial cases are exceedingly rare, but I have a VERY real example of how that may not be the case. Mayo is making quite a study on our family and why my Mom and Uncle have it, and my other Uncle and My Aunt don’t. Anyway, her CLL makes it very difficult, sometimes next to impossible, for her body to fight off even minor infections.
After her severe episode around Easter, she ended up spending 40 days in the hospital with low blood cell counts, fevers that would top out around 104F (106 F was the highest). She had blood transfusion after blood transfusion, bag of antibiotic after bag of antibiotic, to try and get the fevers under control. To make a VERY long story short, we are now on a path to raise her counts high enough that she is strong enough to do a bone marrow transplant. Mom has a genetic marker that makes most conventional treatments to control CLL ineffective.  For the first time, I was faced with the very real possibility of losing my Mom. “Expectations (prognosis) How well a patient does depends on the stage of the cancer. About half of patients diagnosed in the early stages of the disease live more than 12 years.”  When my Grandpa was diagnosed (I was in the 4th grade, I believe) they gave him 6 months. He lived for 12. I remember. I remember what happened to his body. How thin the fevers and illnesses made him. So frail. I don’t know if I am strong enough to watch that happen to my Mom. Not enough time in the world will prepare me for the day I have to tell Hayden that Ama went to live with Jesus.
Work may not have been the best place to write this blog, but I need to write it. Mom isn't doing as well as previous testing indicated. The combo of steroids and antibodies that she has been taking since her hospitalization has showed promising count results in her blood tests. After the fevers, she consulted with doctors at the University (of Iowa)  hospitals to get a second opinion. More tests showed that, as I mentioned, she has genetic markers that indicate she would not respond well to treatment of this type of cancer, and that the fact she was in remission for so long was a miracle. They decided to get the ball rolling on a bone marrow transplant, as an option to have waiting after the results of the current therapy is known.

She got the results of her bone marrow biopsy back, and they found 95% cancer cells. You have to have at least 50% healthy cells in order to have a transplant, so she's not even eligible. They told her, "We need to get more aggressive on your treatment. Yesterday."  Those were the words she left me with as we handed off Hayden for the weekend when we left to go to Ohio for AFM. (Hopefully this mascara is as waterproof as they claim!)
As I said, my emotions can fuel my run or destroy my run. How many times did I want to quit during that marathon? I thought it would be so easy to just sit down and quit. It was too hard. My body hurt, I was weak, by the end all the Gu and various fuels were starting to make me sick again. When that part of my brain kept telling me to stop, I had that little voice that kept telling to keep fighting. I wasn’t done yet, keep fighting. I don’t know if I was telling myself that or my Mom that. Maybe simultaneously, I was urging us both. Just putting it out in the universe for us to both keep fighting.  Not that I think for even a moment that my Mom will ever give up, which is exactly what I fed on in those weak moments. Seriously? If she was going to, quite literally, fight tooth and nail to her dying day, I could finish a little marathon.
 In the large scheme of things, yes a race is a small thing, but it isn’t, at least, what it represents, isn’t a small matter. I feel like I have been working up to that race for years.  Even before I started on my weight loss journey. It was all leading to that day, to that fight. To that one decision made time and time again to not give up. Don’t Quit. Keep Fighting. These are my goals, and my dreams and if I don’t fight for them, who will? This is my life that I saving. Its my life that I am fighting for. Am I just going to sit down and give up? Or am I going to trudge on? One step at a time. One foot in front of the other until I reach where I am trying to go. That is what I decided when I finished that marathon. No more sitting down. Its time to start fighting again. I need to because I have a big new goal. One that will push these new boundaries I have discovered. Did you know that if you push hard enough you can redefine your limits and blow past those boundaries? Yep, you can too.
My Mom is one of my very best friends, and I know there will come a day when I have to say good bye and I know that no matter what, whether it is two weeks or 30 years from now, it will be too soon. I don’t want her to be in pain, or sick or suffering, but I am selfish enough that I don’t want to let her go either. I know that day will come. And there is a very good chance that when it does, it will break me. I know that, but I also know that until that day comes we will both fight our own battles for our lives.
Until Next Time, Run On and Be Happy!