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by Linda Goodrich, RN, PHN
Health and Lifestyle Counselor
(taken from the first in a series of articles by Linda Goodrich on ending body hatred and dieting forever. For the complete article, as well as Linda's other articles, please go to the Grandstyle Women's Club Lounge.)
If you are among the many women who reach for food when something is upsetting to you, then I think that these articles will definitely be of help and perhaps just might encourage you to begin kicking the habit. I too am a woman who reaches for food when something is up that I cannot readily explain or grasp. Then I feel better, after I have eaten something. Depending on what I am trying to soothe and calm, it can be cold, and very sweet, or hot and filling.
I am also a woman of size, and working on accepting myself just as I am. So, welcome to the journey into the new paradigm of ending body hatred and dieting forever campaign!!
Along the way we will deal with many issues related to this reach for food. In this the first of a series of articles, I'd like to introduce myself by way of my personal experiences and life history. I believe that many who read this will identify with me. As the weeks and months go by, please feel free to share your own experiences with me, comment on what you read here, or ask me any questions you may have about the process.
Memories, Oh Sweet Memories
At the age of about 2 years old, I began to get very finicky about the foods I would eat and remained quite thin. I have since learned that it is quite common and was entirely normal. But because of my mother's insecurity and her constant anxiety about me and that I be healthy and look well cared for, she force fed me foods that would "fatten me up." Quite understandably by the time that I was 8 years old I had become quite the "chubby" little girl. And then of course, she became very anxious about me being too fat!
So, when I was about eight years old, my mother put me on a diet. She would hide the cookies, the chocolate, the candy, etc. I can still recall the searching for the foods that I knew where there because I would see her eat them at night, and never offer any to me. The endless searching for the foods that I craved. I usually had very little money and so was unable to buy anything outside. I can still recall the painful experiences during our nightly dinner mealtime. My father and mother and myself would all have dinner together. She would always serve us, and define the amount that we would each have. My plate was always unsatisfactory to me. I never had enough of the pasta that I loved, or the fried fish cakes that we always had on Wednesdays, or the bread with butter. The soggy vegetables were always more that I wanted.
My father used to play tricks on me to get the food off my plate when my mother wasn't looking. The game was, he would all of a sudden say to me, "Look at that on the wall, oh my God what is that?" I would look up to see, and that's when he would quickly grab something that I wouldn't have eaten yet. I always felt guilty that he didn't have enough, he was also put on a diet by mom. We were the fat ones, and she was the skinny one, who never wanted to eat, except at night all the candy and ice cream she wanted. And, she never gained any weight!!! (What a concept, the one who ate whatever she wanted never gained any weight!)
I learned in those days to please my mother with my eating. The trade off was that I became less and less in touch with myself and my feelings. I got to control her anxiety sometimes and gained some power, but I lost a sense of my self-esteem. By pre-puberty my self-identity and food issues were extremely confused and the confusion was internalized.
During puberty I began to feel very ugly, very fat, and self-conscious. I became very depressed about myself and my lack of self-worth. My very painful self-consciousness led to an inability to learn in school with much underachieving, and to socially inappropriate relationships with my peers. I felt that my mother was keeping me from developing in a healthy way, and I deeply resented her and my father. I found that I could get subliminal pleasure from hurting her or revenge, and that food was my only pleasure and solace. Food was my only source of comfort.
Becoming a Woman
As I reached young adulthood I chose to become a nurse and continue to help other people rather than have to face my own problems and become self-aware. Nursing school also afforded me the chance to get out of my parents home and live by myself (along with 250 other nursing students). This culture shock really catapulted me into a new phase of my life.
Three years later, I emerged an RN. I was married the same month that I graduated from school. Way too young and pregnant with my first daughter. The immense pressure that I was feeling during my pregnancy and while dealing with the first year of marriage along with a new job as a staff nurse on a medical and surgical floor of a large hospital of course led to a weight gain of about 50 pounds. My inability to communicate my feelings was still a major problem for me, and my marriage suffered as a result. Although we continued to live and sleep together and have two more daughters, we were miserable.
My marriage lasted for 8 years and ended in a very painful divorce. However, it was also the beginning of long term growth through 5 years of therapy for me. It was my biggest benefit in my life so far. I began to look at who I was and what I wanted in my life. The path of self-discovery still continues for me.
I eventually was able to return to school, began working in my chosen field of public health, and began learning how to become a good parent. I earned my undergraduate degree in psychology and sociology, and several years later as a result of my many years experience working as a public health nurse, a PHN license to practice in the state of California.
I have served my community in many varied positions both as a clinical nurse and a public health practitioner. My career took me from New York to California. And my work ranged from hospital staff nursing, nursing supervision, outpatient clinic nurse, public school nurse, Lamaze natural childbirth educator in private practice, founder of an alternative school with my husband, forensic adolescent nursing, nursing administration in Home Health Care, a nursing instructor, and finally a Health and Lifestyle Counselor.
When I did move from New York to California, I met and married my second husband (who I am still married to, by the way) who worked with me for several years in our alternative school, The Peer School.
He and I also consult to health agencies who are seeking better ways to organize and manage work and communication in the office.
Dieting Through the Changes
One constant remained—from one coast to the other, in one marriage to the next, from one job to the next, in or out of love, pregnant or not, working or out of work, I was always pleasing others and eating, and then dieting, and bingeing through the changes—ending up at 240 lbs.
The first diet was MOM'S; the next dozen or so were my own. First was the amphetamines on and off for about 15 years; then there was Weight Watchers on and off for about the same length of time; then I tried Macrobiotics; then all the rage in the 70's was the plastic food called the Nutri Systems Diet; then that good old Dr. Atkins Diet; and, another plastic food queen Jenny Craig; and then the stop the insanity guru Susan Powter low fat and high exercise diet; and the 3-Day Diet; then, just don't eat, and see how long you can survive diet; the worst of the madness was the diet pills with the speed that raises you to the ceiling and creates a living monster, dries you out and damn near kills you, and then the downers to help you sleep with all that speed inside your body, and the water pills so that you will weigh as little as possible, and the palpating heart and the dry mouth.
Then, finally some semblance of sanity and humanity enters with the emergence of people like Geneen Roth, and Susie Orbach, Kim Chernin, and Jane Hirschmann and Carol Munter with their enlightened and feminist views about why diets don't work. And how women can finally start being themselves and happy with bodies that are specific to their own heredity and eating patterns, and self-images that are strong no matter how much they weigh or what shape their bodies are currently in.
One Unforgettable Day in l990—A Discovery
It's really funny how I found out about the concept of not dieting anymore, and how one could reach one's natural weight that way. My daughter and her friend and I were walking along the beach one day with the baby, (and just doing the girl thing) talking about this and that, you know, sex and love and relationships. I was asked if I'd ever heard of a book called Feeding the Hungry Heart by Geneen Roth? It was about how to stop dieting and why they do not work. And, that there was a better way to reach normal weight and eat all the foods that you love. "Stop dieting?! are you crazy?!" I said. "No, I am not crazy, and in fact I am doing just that and it is working". "WOW, what a unique concept—stop dieting??!! How could I lose weight if I stopped dieting??? Eat anything I want and still reach my normal weight??? Am I hearing right? Wouldn't that be a trip?" I thought.
She loaned me the book, and I found myself reading about other women's experiences with food and weight that just exactly mirrored my own!! Much to my surprise, we were talking about an epidemic of eating and food and body size issues. We all shared the same painful stuff with diets and bingeing and worst of all the self-hatred. I saw that I was not the only one who suffered from the inexplicable and terrible desire to use food in place of a lover, or a friend, as a means to pleasure, and to communicate my feelings. Women were all in so much denial about so many issues that we could hardly begin to name them. Until now. I found myself beginning a journey that has lasted six years and is still unfolding as we speak.
An Invitation and Closure
If you have enjoyed reading this article as much as I have writing it, please join me in a reading of my next article entitled "Why Diets Don't Work." I discuss some stories from my workshops in San Francisco and some of the women's issues that were challenged and conquered. In that article, I hope that you will be able to see that diets are one of the major causes of overeating, compulsive eating, and the binge/purge cycle. You know, it's human nature—take away something that we desperately crave, and the desire intensifies!! Just a taste (no pun intended).
– Linda Goodrich
San Francisco, CA