Potatoes and Grace

“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Psalm 103:6

 The year was 2007. In the middle of the produce aisle, I smiled sheepishly at the camera while holding ten bags of potatoes. I wanted to mark this occasion with something tangible. I had just lost one hundred pounds and was the smallest I had ever been in my adult life. Always my willing accomplice, Terry passed me the bags as I held in each hand five ten-pound bags of potatoes.  As the camera clicked, I promised myself I would never again carry these “potatoes”, full of yellow globby fat. But promises to yourself can be broken, and in a few years, ounce by ounce, and later pound by pound, I was carrying those potatoes and more. I don’t remember being aware of gaining weight or when I needed to buy new clothes. I don’t remember ever discussing it with my husband. I just knew that, at one time, I felt thin and then I didn’t. Research has shown that fat cells have memory, and within those yellow fat cells lived years of memories of shame and hopelessness that I didn’t deal with until recently.

Last week, the calendar marked the official start of fall accompanied by a cool breeze blowing in my open windows. Pumpkin Spice has tantalized my taste buds for weeks, and fabric pumpkins and acorns are scattered throughout my home. If you have read my blog for any length of time, you know I celebrate each fall with gusto. It is my favorite season where the colors, smells, and sounds combine to form a harmony that makes my world brighter, clearer, and cozier.

 I am in disbelief that 2022 is close to three-quarters of the way done. The year has been a whirlwind of family celebrations: Maggie’s and Will’s wedding with family and friends, birthday parties, and the arrival of a beautiful granddaughter. I can also see some things that I haven’t accomplished. Besides doing research, I have barely touched the memoir I am writing. We still haven’t found a place to move into, which makes my life seem in a holding pattern. I haven’t been spending as much time outside as I had last year. And I haven’t been able to get consistently back into the habits of eating healthy and exercising.

In the past, I’ve discussed the importance of reminding myself I am on a journey and to show myself grace. These are truths that I hold onto and would encourage my friends if they shared similar struggles with me. I have solid reasons as to why some of these things have not been happening. I was consumed with the wedding for the first half of the year. I pushed myself during that season, causing my RA to flare, depleting my energy, and leaving my body struggling to move. I have also been doing a lot of internal work dealing with my past. This has consumed a good portion of my emotional energy. All these reasons are good and plausible explanations.

 But my clothes are tighter, my face is fuller in the mirror, and I am losing some of my strength and flexibility. This reality and my plausible explanations are forcing me to ask myself some hard new questions. When do explanations become excuses, and when does the journey look like I’m turning the wrong direction? When does not recording my food choices and hitting the snooze on my alarm become a sign of avoidance instead of engagement? When does grace look like enabling myself to stay where I am, comfortably eating to soothe myself with hard emotions, and sleeping to avoid doing hard things?

 I’ve learned a lot about myself on this journey to better health. One of the areas I have discovered is that I didn’t have an awareness of my body. I wasn’t aware of the space I took up, often stepping into other’s personal space or bumping into things resulting in unexplained bruises. In the gymnastics unit of PE, I recognized that I couldn’t do anything on the uneven parallel bars. But I wasn’t aware of my awkwardness when channeling my inner “Mary Lou Retton” in the floor exercise routine. For years, I blissfully walked around without any discomfort until my friends pointed out that my socks were sideways on my feet.

After doing some research, I realize this was a result of my childhood. Often when a child experiences trauma, they can cope with the abuse by dissociation. This affects memories, emotional attachment, and, in my case, awareness of your body. I disconnected my mind from my body by not paying attention to signals of pain, discomfort, and fluidity of movement. This coping helped me to not only ignore the painful abuse but also avoid the truth of my morbid obesity.

                By inviting God into this weight-loss journey, and with regular exercise, Pilates, and some deep breathing techniques, I am rediscovering my sense of space. I feel like I move differently, step more lightly, and pay more attention how my socks fit on my feet. Although I still get the unexplained bruises, I am fluid when I work out, feeling less awkward and less unsure of how to move. Along with this self-awareness comes the awareness of the weight slowly creeping back on. I feel the weight clinging to my body, feeling more bloated than I did 150 pounds ago. And that’s a good feeling, one that I am grateful for: a good God who loves me enough to address hard things.

 God doesn’t use shame tactics or feelings of contempt to address any areas in my life. Instead, as I draw closer to Him by indulging in the spiritual disciplines, I will be less inclined to indulge in the bowl of caramels sitting on my counter. When I set my alarm at night, I will ask God to be with me when I work out in the morning. As I eat my meals, I will thank God for the good gift of nourishment and pleasure, trying to be aware of feeling full and satisfied. But all these things involve some movement of mine towards Jesus: I draw closer, I set my alarm, I ask God, I thank God and I pay attention. My movement positions me to receive from Him all I need from Him.

Grace is not just about showing myself kindness when things are hard. As Max Lucado says, “Grace is the voice that calls us to change and then gives us the power to pull it off.” My whole life, not just my healthy journey, is positioning myself to receive from Jesus, to be tapped into His spirit, so that I can change and grow.

Distortion to Health and Wholeness

“Behold, I will bring it health and healing: I will heal them and reveal to them the abundance of peace and truth.” Jeremiah 33:6

After recording what I ate at my daughter’s wedding shower, including the cupcake, this message popped up on my screen from the food tracking program I had just joined. “Life is hard. Go easy on yourself. Slip-ups can feel like the end of the world. They’re not. Take a breath, listen to a 5-Min Coaching session.” What was meant to be a word of encouragement frustrated me. Although it wasn’t their intention, I felt shamed for making a conscious decision to enjoy my daughter’s shower by making sensible choices. I had one cupcake, and a Panini sandwich. I was aware that this would put me over the suggested calorie intake. But an application only sees what you record, not your thought process.

Once again, I am having to address a small weight gain. The weight gain was enough to make my clothes uncomfortable and for me to notice the difference. It was a tough winter, and I found myself creeping back into old habits, using food as a comfort. I knew I needed to address it and my old methods of tracking didn’t seem to be enough. I needed another form of accountability, so I joined a weight loss program I had used before, hoping a different system would inspire me to be more faithful.

This latest program has me asking some deeper questions: what is healthy eating? and how do we change our habits to eat healthy? As I am counting according to this new program’s system, I am finding myself frustrated. It does personalize it to your lifestyle, so currently eggs, avocados, quinoa, and chickpeas are not counted. But nuts, which are a good source of protein and fat, are penalized. Just ¼ cup of sea salt assorted nuts cost me almost 1/3 of my suggested daily intake of food. I find myself “cheating” by not being as diligent according to the program’s rules. And why do I see this as cheating?

I found this picture a few years ago, and I feel that my position and expression indicate some of the trauma that I was experiencing. It is about this time that I started gaining weight, moving towards obesity.

Like most sensible weight loss programs, they use some scientific research for their program, and are trying to help you become more self-aware of what you are putting in your mouth. Over the course of the winter, I had forgotten that my beloved pistachio lattes with oat milks are a huge percentage of my suggested daily intake of food. The program is doing its job, reminding me that I need to be more conscious of what I eat. But it doesn’t answer the deeper questions.

I noticed something with my almost 2-year-old grandson. He loves to eat, and mealtimes are one of his favorite parts of the day. It is not enough for him to be sitting at the table by himself, he likes to be with his family and interact with them at the table. He also likes a variety of things: fruits, eggs, vegetables, and whole grains. But when he is done, he is done! He tells his parents “aught” which is his way of saying “all done”. He eats enough to fuel himself up and then is done with mealtime and ready to move.

Do I know when I am done? Do I eat a variety of things, and turn down things I don’t enjoy? Do I focus on the company or on my food? What has interrupted my God-given internal sense of knowing when enough is enough? And how often, when I am done with a meal, do I feel like taking a nap instead of moving? And is it possible to get back to that same place where my grandson resides?

All weight-loss programs are businesses at their core. They are businesses with the goal of helping people get to a healthier version of themselves with the additional goal of making a profit. I don’t believe they are trying to take advantage of people and I believe that the programs can help you get started on your journey to being healthy. But I don’t think any single program is the answer.

I just started reading “It Was Me All Along”, a memoir by Andie Mitchell. It is about a woman who decided to lose weight and find happiness in her twenties. I am in the early chapters but one thing she said resonated with me so far. She said, “That whenever I start to feel even one inkling of boredom, doubt, anxiety, or anger, food would soothe me.” Food has habitually covered all my emotions over the course fifty years. I may have started out with a healthy relationship with food, but my pictures from two years old and beyond mirror the distortion I had with food along with the distorted life I was living. Trying to address that distortion and have a healthy relationship with food was a journey I started four years ago. But habits are hardwired and take lots of consistent and deliberate actions to change. And sometimes I just get tired, angry, and anxious, and use pistachio lattes to soothe the difficult emotions.

And sometimes I get it right, like I did at my daughter’s shower in April, and external sources, even if it’s an automated response, shame me into thinking I did it wrong. This post has taken me since April to write. I thought maybe I would come up with a solution to share, or an epiphany of thoughts. Instead, I am still in the same place I was earlier, still trying to grapple with the answers to the questions I asked earlier.

Maybe I am not in the exact same place. I am no longer mindlessly using pistachio lattes to soothe me. I could joke and say I have switched to iced lattes since it is summer. And although that is my drink of choice right now, I am consciously choosing when to have that drink and when to set it aside. And as far as that weight loss program, at the end of July, I will cancel my contract and continue with the program that seems sensible to me.

Finally, I recently showed my niece and nephew a picture of me when I was at my heaviest, neither of them recognized me. I also don’t recognize the young girl in the photo in this post. It is so easy for me to look at the scale or clothes that don’t fit as well as they used to and become discouraged. But numbers and sizes don’t show the transformation that God has been doing in me both internally and in my journey to healthier living. What has been distorted in the past, God is making whole, where I can enjoy a cupcake without shame, eat for nourishment, and move towards freedom.

There and Back Again

“Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of the creator.” Colossians 3:9-10

Most mornings, I start breakfast and the coffee pot. Terry then comes downstairs and pours me a cup of coffee. Not only does he add the perfect amount of cream, but he also selects a different mug each morning to delight me. Some mornings I get the salmon-colored mug that declares “Good Morning Gorgeous”, while other mornings I might get my Rifle bibliophile cup with the gold handle. If it’s a cold morning, he might reach for my blue stoneware mug from Laurel, Mississippi and if he’s feeling especially formal, he’ll reach for my pink First Lady cup from the Smithsonian. I love the routine of coffee every morning but enjoy the spontaneous choices of mug from which to sip my happy juice. And, for those of you who are Marie Kondo enthusiasts, yes, all my mugs spark joy!

 I think having a routine but balancing it with the ability to mix things up are good principles to live by. If your routine is too rigid, you might find yourself unable to adapt to the inevitable changes in life. If you constantly live by spontaneous behavior, you might miss the long-term benefits of consistent habits. By nature, we all lean towards one side or the other, but in practice, its important to find the balance that works for you.

For almost two years, I had developed consistent habits with exercise. I was going to the gym five to six mornings a week, working both with weights and cardio. I enjoyed this routine and had gym friends that I talked to each morning. I loved the benefits of consistent exercise: weight loss, more strength, more flexibility, and extra energy.

But when the world shut down, so did my gym. I had to find a different way to exercise, so I started walking. I attempted to lift weights at home and do Pilates regularly, but the only thing that stuck consistently was the walking. Last year, I set a goal to walk 320 days. It was an ambitious goal that Covid-19, travel, and occasional bad weather prevented me from accomplishing. Overall, I walked 290 days averaging about three miles a day. This is more than I had ever walked in my entire adult life. The fresh air, exercise, and being out in nature was good for my mental health and helped me, for the most part, to maintain my weight loss.

I say for the most part because, in the last few months, I have realized my clothes are not fitting quite as well as they did in the past. I can see the difference in pictures and, more importantly, I can tell that my energy, strength, and flexibility have regressed a little. I could stubbornly try to continue the same practices of last year, walking outside, which I enjoyed. But, based on the evidence, I knew I needed to do something to jump start my body into getting fit again.

So, I joined the gym again. The first time I walked through the doors, I knew how I left the gym was not the same condition as I was returning. I knew that I couldn’t jump on the weight machines and do the same routine I was doing in the past. I knew that my endurance on the treadmill would be shorter and less intense. Without the right attitude, these facts could be a recipe for disaster. I had to walk into the gym with low expectations and determination.

 I started this health journey about three and half years ago. And I use the word journey instead of goal for multiple reasons. Too often, I have set goals and not reached them. Instead, this time around I have taken the approach James Clear outlines in his book, “Atomic Habits”.  He says, “True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. It is about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement.” This journey has been about me creating healthy habits that would manifest themselves not only in weight loss but also in building strength, flexibility, and higher energy. It was about choosing to live, and uncovering, underneath all the layers of fat, a woman who was energetic, loved the outdoors and enjoyed physical activity. It was discovering that the space I took up in the room didn’t need to be measured by my circumference but what I had to offer in the gifts and talents God has given me. It was about surrendering all of me to God, and letting Him fill me, instead of filling myself with ice cream and bagels. And finally, it was letting Him lead me on this journey and giving me the strength to continue, pivot, and grow.

I know this journey has had its ups and downs. It hasn’t been a linear path from 361 pounds to the weight I am now. It has never been about the numbers, but about learning to trust God in the process. I haven’t completely conquered any of my past habits; they are still chasing me and sometimes I go back to eating out of anxiety or using food to find comfort. Sometimes, I honestly don’t care and want to eat the whole cheeseburger and fries. But whatever missteps I take, I show myself grace and move forward. Moving forward this time meant joining the gym and starting fresh.

 I still have no final weight goal in mind. I want to feel healthy, be active and find all my fulfillment in the Lord. What that looks like in 2022 will be different than it was in 2021. I do know that, like my coffee in the morning, I will have some consistent habits but still mix it up occasionally like my mugs.

15-20 and Not Counting

“For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he wills with good things.” Psalms 107:9

Recently, someone asked me if I was still on my weight loss journey.  I was a little taken aback by the question, freezing for moment and unsure of how to respond.  Questions raced through my mind.  Did this person see me at my lowest and know that I keep hovering a few pounds more on the scale?  Do I say that I still hope to lose 15-20 pounds more but have been in a stand still for the last eight months?  Does the fact that I cannot give an increase in the number of pounds lost mean I am failure?  I mumbled something about staying healthy and just being at a plateau, ending the conversation with a feeling of defeat.

Our society likes winners.  We cheer for others when we see their victories, whether it is a job promotion, wedding, birth of a child, or weight loss.  These big moments are celebrated with pomp and circumstance, glitter and balloons, and blogs posted about 170 pounds of potatoes.  On the flip side, we support people during major losses: health crises, funerals, and divorces.  Where we fall short is encouraging others when they are doing the everyday ordinary hard things: raising toddlers, sticking it out through marriage difficulties, or exercising on a regular basis.  Even more disconcerting is how we view ourselves as we go through the nitty gritty of life.  We feel like failures when we lose patience with our children, respond badly to our spouse, judge our friends, or eat a pint of ice cream in one sitting.  These may be just isolated moments in our lives, but often we let these moments of negative internal messages define our self-worth.

 I had the privilege to watch my sister run two marathons.  Marathons are amazing events with runners of all different ages, sizes, and backgrounds. Unlike other athletic events, the majority of those who run are not in it to place first.  Instead, most are either trying to run their personal best or just being able to cross the finish line.  It is fascinating to hear some of their stories about how they almost gave up, usually between miles 15 and 22.  There are usually two scenarios that spur them on.  Sometimes, they hit a spot in the course where there are a lot of spectators cheering them on.  This encouragement gives them the boost they need to continue.  Other times, the runner him or herself will have a moment where a memory of something flashes in their mind, and this gives them the momentum to continue.  Whether it is external or internal encouragement, this boost helps them cross the finish line.

When relating my healthy living journey to a marathon, I want to be clear that a certain number on the scale does not equal crossing the finish line.  I have had an unhealthy relationship with food for over forty years.  In no way do I think that losing a significant amount of weight is going to solve this problem.  Rather, it might take the rest of my life of creating healthy habits and consistent pursuit of the Lord to develop a truly healthy relationship with food.

 At the same time, I want to acknowledge that I feel like I am at mile twenty and need an internal boost to continue.  I have decided to reread Full: Food, Jesus, And the Battle for Satisfaction and reexamine my relationship with food.  Readers, you are welcome to join with me and be a part of the discussion in my book club.  Click here to join.  This is an opportunity for us as a community to gain some external encouragement in finding our full satisfaction in God.  This is not just a book for those of us who struggle with food, but any area in our life that we find to be out of balance.  Once you join the Facebook group, weekly, I will be covering some of the chapters, sharing some of my thoughts, and listening to others.  I want to be clear this is not a diet plan, or how to lose twenty pounds in two months, or a list of foods you need to avoid.  Instead, it will help you uncover your current relationship with food and draw you into a deeper relationship with the Lord.

 Marathons are hard!  Often people take a lot of time to professionally train for a marathon, only to run one single race in their lifetime.  I am in this better health marathon for the rest of my life.  I need to continue to find ways to educate myself about healthy living.  I also need to be honest with myself about my food relationship.  I hope you join me as I continue this journey.