Recalling my maternal grandmother and my own mom, I realize they indulged in emotional eating to deal with their frustration, anger, sense of being powerless to control their health choices, or the downhill spiral of eating too much sugar, white flour, high carbs, with little exercise in their final decades. The food appropriate for working on a farm didn’t work well for sedentary aging with crippled limbs. My Grandma was overweight and seriously under-nourished. The medical advice in her time gave her little help to change her habits. She died refusing to take her many meds, for she was tired of living with so many medical complications and feeling she a was burden on her daughter. My mom spent five years in assisted living with terrible food, then four more years in a nursing home where she was wheelchair and bed-ridden, a far cry from her very active earlier years. When mom no longer cared about food, I knew her will to live was failing. The strokes had been debilitating, progressively taking away her quality of life.
I too used emotional eating to cover up my depression, anger, and grief as I faced the end of a twenty-year marriage, the death of the family we once were. I made muffins, pizza, granola, and other foods with high calories that were the comfort foods I grew up with. My Grandma made delicious raisin-cinnamon rolls when she came to visit. To have energy when we went skiing, we started the day with glazed doughnuts, then sandwiches for lunch, with candy bars when our energy sagged by mid-afternoon. Desserts were the highlight of holiday meals, and I didn’t learn to make homemade soups rich in veggies and chicken stock until well into my marriage. We ate what was fast, convenient, and tasty with little regard to the impact of our choices in the decades to come. We were physically very active, so I didn’t start gaining excess weight until my early forties. My siblings are still slender; they can be much more active than I am because they are healthy, and have a very different metabolism. They can eat dairy and pastries without gaining weight, but I cannot.
I also had an unexpected pregnancy at the age of 42. I gave my identical twin daughters to new parents in an open adoption, for I envisioned them healthy, bright, and needing a home life I could not give them. I was a single parent without job credentials to secure a decent-paying job to cover basic expenses. I had moved to Ashland the previous summer when I had neither time nor energy to create a circle of new friends and begin to make a living as a massage therapist, so my stress level was off the charts. Mom wanted me to come live with her, but she lived with a sister who was seriously depressed, and it wouldn’t have been a good move for my son or me. Healthy eating was a priority for me, but I overate to deal with all the stressors beyond my control. Being a single parent requires multi-tasking big time.
My dad’s mother, Nana to me, had many ailments that gave her abdominal pain, but the doctors of her day had no answers, for they knew little about nutrition. She was a very disciplined and contemplative person, traits I have inherited from her. Grandpa was alcoholic, governed more by his addiction than his passion for living a meaningful life. Nana had little emotional support in her later years, and her dreams lay dormant, rarely expressed or realized. She lived to be ninety-four, and did make a deliberate choice in her will to bestow her life savings on the generations to come, including $2000 to each of her great-grandchildren. This dream she held firm to, telling no one, and it gave a nest egg to her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren to do with as they chose. It meant a lot of self-sacrifice as well as discipline to carry out this intention. It had tangible benefits to me, as well as some savings for our children, thanks to my investing wisely in their childhood years. It meant I could afford to be a mostly stay-at-home mom and we lived on my husband’s income. It also meant I did not have savings of my own, as my inheritance went into paying our mortgage. I did not foresee a divorce, and the need to have some financial independence.
My mom was active into her sixties because she was addicted to amphetamines, giving her a false sense of energy that likely contributed to her strokes in her 80’s. It wasn’t common knowledge how dangerous these drugs that gave the user a high were, but mom wanted to keep up with dad, so she never thought twice, and rarely drank water. Being dehydrated is one cause of strokes, along with inactivity and poor food choices. Most of mom’s retirement income from teaching twenty-five years was spent on assisted living and nursing home costs. End of life in such facilities is a very expensive way to die!
Choosing to eat well can be expensive and requires self-discipline and willingness to take the time to prepare food well. As my own health began to crumble, I didn’t have someone to support me in finding new directions or paying for good nutritional advice. It turned out I had osteoporosis, partly due to the depletion in my body from carrying 15 lb. of babies and not having appropriate health care after their birth. I did my best to eat well, but was definitely dealing with depression, financial stress, overwhelm, and weakened adrenals from so many years of stress. I held inside a vision that recovery was possible, despite much evidence to the contrary. I came close to dying, and my son Jeff coming to live with me helped turn that tide. Today I listen to a tape of Wayne Dyer’s about imagination. Imagination is the inner connection to possibilities that our identity is not defined by others expectations or by our past. Einstein said logic can get you from point A to point B, but imagination has no limitations. When John Lennon wrote the song Imagine, he had no idea decades later it would still be song around the world by folks who share his image that peace is indeed possible, a world without wars can exist.
I believe I shall someday lose this unhealthy belly fat and weigh 125 pounds, or whatever is my healthiest body weight. I’d like to be there within a year, and am taking steps to make this happen. Fear of the past when I weighed 82 pounds in the 1990’s has been one cause of my overeating and obsession with having a full fridge and finishing my plate, even when I am no longer hungry. I am wiser now. I am learning to trust and honor the unique, special, lovable woman I am. I let go the worries, doubts, fears, and sadness that have burdened my life, making me settle for a very limited life. This is a process of course, and I do backslide, but not as often!
Yes, it takes patience, self-discipline, time for much self-care, and support from others as well as my own perseverance to change old beliefs and habits that have undermined my wellness, my moving in the direction of my dream of living in a healthy body with a sound mind, able to envision and manifest goals completely unimaginable to the generations before me. I am a writer who yearns to share her journey in poems and prose in ways that inspire others to believe in themselves. We must first befriend ourselves at a deep level, before we have what it takes to open to our own power and wisdom, sharing with others. I am able to share now on the computer, and with special friends. One dream is writing more consistently, getting it all organized on the computer so the poetry chapbooks will be ready to publish, and in time, memoirs and essays will be shared too, with a wider audience. So with this piece, I am moving in the direction of my dreams, with greater love and much less fear. Another dream is being more consistent with chi gong, walking, water therapy and other exercise that I enjoy. The quiet desperation of my ancestors who either died young or old, with many of their dreams never voiced nor manifested shall not be my destiny. I am choosing a path once more not yet trodden, and I intend to make a difference that will be helpful to future generations in my own family, and beyond as well.