Sunday, November 10, 2013

Eating to Live

I wrote this post almost two months ago but couldn't bring myself to publish it yet. It isn't that I didn't want to publish it, but the timing didn't feel right. But I think it is time now. 

My name is Katherine and I am an addict. I am addicted to food.

I eat when I'm bored, when I'm upset, when it is convenient and when I'm hungry. I eat to celebrate, to nourish, to socialize, to console. I eat and I have a very hard time controlling my eating.

My difficulties with food began when I was little and continue to this day. I'm 5' 4" and have weighed everywhere from 222 pounds (my worst after my freshman year in college) to 140 pounds (my best, the day I got married).

I've come to realize that while my eating really does revolve around my emotions in addition to any natural instinct of hunger, it is the worst when it comes to fear. When I was pregnant with Cecilia, I was always afraid my baby would be lacking something, so I made sure that didn't happen. 60 pounds later, she was born. I managed to lose over half of that before I got pregnant with Felicity. Basically, I gained less but also lost less with each pregnancy. I will munch before bed to avoid being hungry trying to go to sleep. I will eat before I go out just in case I would have gotten hungry while I was out. I will eat breakfast even if I'm not hungry just so I won't get hungry during school time. You get the idea.

I'm also a visual eater. If it is there, I'm much more likely to eat it. And, of course, fresh is generally better than leftovers, so I tend to overeat at meals. A monsignor once told me this was the German in me. Regardless, it is very problematic when cleaning up meals after the kids who usually leave food on their plates.

I always want to lose weight, but I find every reason not to and, indeed, when the food is available my willpower often fails me. Of course once the baby is born, dieting is forbidden until after 6 weeks to establish a good milk supply. Then, for, oh the next 5 months, I'm always afraid cutting calories will mean a reduced milk supply. I can be too tired to exercise restraint. Too bored. Too frustrated. Add in feast days, parties, celebrations, visitors and trips, and there is always an excuse to not hold back.

A few months ago I came across a series of posts by Elizabeth Arlinghaus at Bearing Blog. They span several years so, no, I have not read every single one, but I read through quite a few of them and a fair amount of what she said resonated with me. A while ago I had also come across a few posts on Jennifer Fulwiler's blog Conversion Diary, in which she writes about what she calls "The Saint Diet". Both bloggers approach food from distinct angles but there is the common thread that simply asks, "What is my relationship with food and what should it be?"

Being of the type of mind that likes the big picture questions, (that would be the melancholic in me) this approach kept coming back to me. Jen asks if what and how one eats effects one's ability to be close to God and live in Christian Charity. Elizabeth points out the importance of making lifestyle changes, changes that you can live with, learn, and live the rest of your life. These seem to me to go side by side towards a healthy life physically as well as spiritually.

Now, in the past, I've done Weight Watchers and had success. I've done Atkins and had success. But, obviously my success has never proved effective in the long term. In fact I find it easier to operate on the extremes of either overeating or extreme denial of skipping whole meals but find the middle ground especially difficult. Once, in high school, I consumed only 1 apple over the course of a 4 day period. I had no problem doing it and loved watching 10 pounds drop in 4 days. Then Friday came and I gorged on pizza. I've never been bulimic and I've never been anorexic but I swing between extremes with food finding a happy balance very difficult to attain. And I find it even more difficult being married and having kids. When it was just me, if I could just not buy something or have it around, I couldn't eat it much less overeat it. But I can't impose strict limitations on everyone else in the house just because I have control issues.

So I'm trying something new and making some rules for myself with the hope that, with God's help, I can effectively create a lifestyle for myself that not only exercises control with regards to what I eat and how much thus improving my weight as well as my relationship with food, but also draws me closer to God through improved mastery of my own will and appetites to which I have very much felt enslaved.

So, here are my new rules for myself:
  1. No eating after 7pm. There may be exceptions to this, like if we are driving all night or something, but generally speaking, I go to bed by around 10 and then read for a bit and go to sleep. I have had a tendency to snack after the kids are in bed. There is nothing wrong with going to bed without a full stomach.
  2. After I finish my meal, if I am tempted to munch on the girls' leftovers, I will chew gum while I clean up so as to avoid the temptation of finishing their food for them. (H/T to Elizabeth for this brilliant trick!)
  3. I won't eat unless my stomach growls at me, at least until my hunger signals are normal again. Right now they are royally screwed up and can urge me to eat when my stomach is no where near empty. Ever burped lunch after you've had dinner? Yeah, didn't really need that dinner then.
  4. Eat each meal so as to just be satiated. In other words, so as to be hungry for the next meal. Or, if I do eat a bigger meal, I don't eat the subsequent meal. 
  5. Pray for the grace to overcome my bad eating habits and the ability to embrace good ones.
  6. Eat what I like and what I will truly enjoy. If I try to force myself to eat foods I hate, I won't stick with any positive changes and I don't want to be eating something simply because it is there. This is not a diet. It is a lifestyle.
  7. If I must eat something between meals it should be a vegetable, fruit or a string cheese. And if I am heading out I can easily bring an apple or string cheese just in case I do get hungry and don't need to eat beforehand when I'm not hungry. 
  8. Make sure I drink enough fluids, be they water, tea, milk, juice or soda... I'm terrible about staying properly hydrated.
  9. Be deliberate to savor and enjoy what I eat. Don't rush through a meal. Being truly hungry makes everything I eat taste even better.
This part I am adding today.
I've been working on this lifestyle change for almost two months now and I'm happy to say, despite struggles, setbacks and my birthday, I've lost over 10 pounds an am now back to my pre-Brigid and Pre-Teresa pregnancies weight! (They both were within a pound of each other.) My next goal will be my pre-Elizabeth pregnancy weight, which is about 7 pounds away. Slowly but surely.

I do think, while not easy for me to stick to constantly, this is a lifestyle I can live with, but it will take a long time for me to make it a habit and I do have to constantly remind myself what the purpose of food is and constantly examine if I am truly hungry or if I am not. My signals still get screwy sometimes. I still have my good days and my not so good days, but, even if slow, I'm glad to report I am progressing.


  1. I totally could have written this post. I have struggled with my weight my whole life as well (I come from an Italian American family, so I'm sure you can imagine what our Sunday dinners/any possible holiday or birthday/weekly dinner table looks like!). Something interesting I noticed about myself these past few years; I never do New Years Resolutions anymore because I give in after a few days. However, I've given up sweets (a major vice for me) for Lent the past three years, and I don't cheat. I really think the spiritual aspect has a lot to do with it. If I'm just doing something for me, I lose interest and/or motivation. If I'm giving up something for God, I almost always follow through. I'm currently nursing our second baby, who is seven months old, so I have the same concerns with dieting and weight loss that you do. Thanks so much for this blog post! :)

  2. Thank you for sharing this! I have similar food issues and have been as high as 230 and as low as 150 (though that was very short lived!). I have a lot of fears of what will happen next year when I'm home full time, especially since I'm overweight now and don't get the chance to snack/overeat much at the office. I think I'm really going to have to limit what's in the house more than I do now because I will fail every time if the temptation is there. Thank you for the blog post suggestions; I'm going to check them out!

  3. Katherine, I so admire your honesty in writing this. I think you are very wise to set intermediate, reasonable goals, rather than take on the big picture--that's overwhelming. Good for you! Please use your blog audience as a support group on this--so many of us struggle with this. Food is such a comfort and so easily accessible.