I stared at myself in the full-length mirror on the back of the bedroom door. Just as I was thinking, Hey, I look thinner, the clock radio popped on.
"Heavy in all the usual places," the announcer barked.
"How could he know?" I laughed at the coincidence. He was just doing his job, reporting the Metro-Detroit traffic, but it might as well have been a report on my weight-loss saga. Weight-loss struggles marked my early married years with a series of discouraging starts and stops.
I felt trapped inside myself. Thoughts of liposuction scared me. Stomach surgery sounded painful. Most frightening of all was the idea of dieting. My husband, Jeff, supported me in my efforts. He even participated with me in some of my diets. I had tried the eat-until-you're-full diet, but my full button never flashed on (or I just ignored it). Jeff liked the quick-easy-shake-gelatin-and-salad diet, but it made me sick (literally). At the end of the first week, I wanted to gag at the sight of leaf lettuce.
I hadn't always been overweight. As a single woman, I kept active riding horses, water-skiing, snow-skiing, jogging, skating, playing tennis, swimming, bicycling, or aerobicizing. But emotional eating finally caught up with me when I married and my activity level fell to a sharp low. I remember responding to normal newlywed issues by second-guessing my true feelings, saying nothing, or laughing off issues I should have worked through. For example, instead of talking with Jeff about how we wanted to spend holidays and then communicating this to our parents, I went along with everyone else's wishes.
I Am Not a Pie Crust
Emotionally, I felt like a piece of pastry, stretched and rolled so thin I had holes. I wanted to please Jeff; I wanted his family and friends to love me. I communicated no boundaries and said, "Okay, sure" to whatever plans were made, however inconvenient to myself or our new marriage. People had no way of knowing the demands of our schedule. Jeff had no way of knowing the private turmoil going on inside my heart. Instead of communicating healthy boundaries, I stuffed my feelings down with food. It was my attempt at "helping" the situation by means of a candy bar, cream-filled sponge cake, pizza, or whatever.
I found myself overeating to great excess at get-togethers. I ate so much, I felt sick. Then I turned around and ate more. One day someone handed me a picture. Who was that 200-pound woman wearing my clothes, my face, and my smile, sitting in that lawn chair? I stared incredulously as I recognized myself.
After praying for God to help me lose my extra weight, I finally joined a weight-loss group. They defined their program not as a diet, but as a healthy lifestyle change. They stressed low fat, high fiber, exercise, portion control, and drinking six 8-ounce glasses of water per day. In the past, I had thought of the term "diet" as depriving myself in order to attain a lower number on the scale. I didn't realize this mindset created a problem; once the dress size was met, or the number on the scale realized, cravings drifted me back up. The plan was built around deprivation and superficial goals. It did not address the "why" of emotional eating to the depth that I needed.
Somewhere along the way, I came to see that my body was the only body I was going to get. Not only that, but God gently reminded me through Scripture that my body was his temple and that I was his workmanship. I was a steward, responsible for taking care of my body. I was also a steward of the body my husband married; we were one flesh. He had only one me. Although he applauded my every effort, he wasn't going to take control of my eating habits.
Partaking of the Fruit of the Spirit
I read in the Bible that a fruit of the Spirit in my life was the ability to control myself. So it wasn't just up to me. God was right there helping. God was there with me on my journey of discovery as I began to lose those 70 extra pounds.
I remember coming home from my first weight-loss group meeting. Taking my calendar off the wall, I walked over to the kitchen table and sat down. Pen in hand, I scrawled my weight-loss goal on each week, for nine months. If I lost about two pounds a week, or eight pounds a month, over nine months, I would meet my overall goal. "I'm pregnant with a diet," I said to Jeff. He laughed. Although a silly mind trick, it worked for me.
I found it helpful to tell Jeff what I needed for my success. For example, I needed for us not to have pizza for a while, until I could learn my limits. It was a food over which I didn't seem to have will power. We also started buying different types of groceries. Instead of all the high-calorie snack foods, breads, and sugary items, we bought more fruits and veggies. We changed to low-fat or fat-free dairy products; we bought more chicken and fish. Every once in a while Jeff needed reminders not to indulge my food cravings, but even when I stripped the cupboards and freezer of foods that sabotaged my weight-loss efforts, he didn't mind.
Not a Cheesy Self-Love, But Self-Respect
As I started taking control of my life, an interesting thing happened: self-respect grew. I don't mean a cheesy self-love. I started valuing myself more like the way God must. I started understanding my feelings a little better, praying about them. Often I took a notebook and wrote my prayers to God.
This affected my marriage. Seeing the words on the page helped me identify the heart of my issues. When I read, "God, it really hurt me when Jeff …," I knew I had to talk through an issue with Jeff. He sat and listened, communicating gentle understanding. He seemed to appreciate these glimpses into my feminine mystique. He had been a bachelor for a long time, and I think he sometimes felt baffled by his woman. It helped to explain my feelings to him. As much as I wanted Jeff to read my mind, I had to open my heart's door to show him what was going on inside.
Sometimes I drove through the countryside by myself and prayed aloud. Other times I found a quiet place in the house and prayed through what I affectionately termed my "hour of power." I experimented with hour-long prayer times. It seemed to be about the right amount of time to release all the burdens weighing me down.
I remember relating strongly to an episode of I Love Lucy that Jeff and I watched. Ethel and Lucy worked in a chocolate candy factory. During one of their shifts, the conveyor belt went crazy-fast. As the candies flew at them, they stuffed them in their pockets, in their shirts, or in their mouths. Early married life sometimes felt like that conveyor belt. Issues came flying at me faster than I could handle, but God was teaching me to keep tossing my burdens to him and to take time to talk honestly to my husband.
Love is Not a Gooey Chocolate Mess
I came to realize that loving my husband didn't mean melting like chocolate with every decision or pushing my feelings down when Jeff did or said something that hurt me. He didn't mean it. In fact, as I began expressing my prayed-over feelings, I saw a glimpse of how much he loved me. I saw that I really counted. My opinion did matter, and my viewpoint could positively affect the outcome of family choices, even choices like where my husband and I spent holidays.
In my former mindset, I used to stuff my face with snacks from the vending machine while I watched my husband play late-night hockey. I was so proud of his great athletic skill. But as I became aware of my feelings, I began expressing things like how my husband's excessive absorption with playing and watching sports leached the lifeblood from our relationship. (Some of the ladies married to men who played hockey actually called themselves "hockey widows.") I began humbly expressing to him that I needed a little more of him emotionally, in healthy ways.
My husband's need to relate to people and events through sports was real and valid to him. I played some sports with him, and I could keep up with sports news to converse with him. But he needed to know that as a woman, I had different needs than his sports buddies had. I needed a deeper level of emotional intimacy. Of course he could still have sports, but in a more moderate way that left room for meaningful relationship.
Melting Away Emotional Fat
As a writer and musician, my feelings ran deep and intense. This stuff-your-feelings-with-food mode of operation had kept me in a vicious, defeating cycle. As I began to take personal responsibility for managing my emotions, I began to sense God melting away my many layers of emotional fat that kept me from really living and robbed me of a more intimate emotional relationship with Jeff.
Previously forbidden feelings such as anger took on importance as I explored my personal boundaries. I began to value my new sense of free-to-be-me. I got to know the original person God created in me. I jumped off the bandwagon that I'd always ridden before and began to experience the consequences and payoffs of voicing my likes and dislikes. Instead of just going along with everyone and feeling squished, I found my own voice.
Jeff loved me at size 16. My weight loss didn't change his love for me. I was learning more about what I needed from him. I was learning that it was okay to communicate that to him; he needed to know how to love me. As unromantic as it sounds, it actually supercharged our marriage. He began studying my face and looking in my big brown eyes for twinkles or tears. Sometimes he could anticipate my reactions to things. I almost wondered if he knew me better than I knew myself.
One evening after I had lost my extra weight, Jeff and I sat at the supper table; I caught him staring at me with a look of enthrallment. "What are you doing?" I asked.
He looked at me with soft eyes. "I'm memorizing the lines of your face," he said. I loved that.
I loved the way he searched the library shelves for The Flintstones episode when Fred was trying to lose weight. We sat there on the couch belly-laughing together. As my soul mate, he walked alongside me during my weight-loss journey.
After more than 10 years, I'm somewhere between size 6 and 8. I lost almost 70 pounds. People can hardly believe it when I tell them I used to weigh close to 200 pounds. I have pictures to prove it. They beg to know how I did it, so I tell them a little about my weight-loss journey.
These Chips Will Never Satisfy Emotional Hunger
Every so often I'm in the middle of a munchies attack at the refrigerator or pantry and I catch myself eating when I know I'm not hungry. I set down the bag of low-fat tortilla chips. It's at those times when I remember how far I've come. I never want to go back. I take a moment and ask myself, "Why am I eating? Is it because I feel lonely, unloved, unchallenged, unfulfilled?" Sometimes I take a moment and journal or I say a prayer aloud. Sometimes I call Jeff for a chat. I remember food can't do anything to meet my emotional needs. When I'm starving for affection from Jeff, need him to understand, need fulfillment or just a hug, I communicate that need. I reach for life instead of food.
The term "marriage" is not some vague entity. It is a man and a woman learning what it means to be one. Oneness doesn't mean you stuff down your individuality, your needs, or your talents. It doesn't mean always saying yes to everything. As I was honest with Jeff and he valued me as God's unique creation, our marriage deepened. The reflection of God's unconditional love through my husband empowered me to become the woman I always thought I could be. I have challenged myself by stepping out and embracing some new adventures, which Jeff wholeheartedly supports. I love seeing his satisfied smile when I've performed a song I've written, given a powerful speech, or published another article or poem.
I think the life lessons God began to teach me on my weight-loss journey prepared me to face some tough years Jeff and I had ahead, when he eventually lost his 12-year position and fell into serious depression. John 10:10 says that Jesus came so we could have "a rich and satisfying life." This verse applies to all aspects of life, including marriage. With God's help and his gift of a responsive husband, I have learned how to stop stuffing my emotions down with food. I have an appetite for living!
Tammy Bovee sometimes gets lost in clothing stores and drifts into the plus-size section. Inevitably someone will ask, "What is someone your size doing in the plus sizes?" She enjoys using this opportunity to share her journey of how she went from a size 16 to a size 6.