The Limits of Thin
by Geneen Roth
My romance with IT things began when I was 6 and convinced that having a Patti Playpal - a life-size doll with a blue-and-white plaid jumper - was the answer to, well, everything. Soon after that, my fervor for clothes, shoes, and jewelry were unleashed. There was the white fake-rabbit-fur jacket I spotted when I was 14, the antique garnet choker I couldn't live without when I was 22, the black sweater with the huge embroidered flower that I coveted when I was 25. And let's not forget the major IT thing of my teens and 20s, the number one thing that I was sure would give me a glorious life: being thin.
During all the years I dieted and binged, I was utterly convinced that being thin would make me happy. I'd pose in front of the mirror, stick out one of my thighs so that only half of it would show, and imagine the life to which that thin thigh would belong. It was a glittering, shimmering, perpetually happy life. In my fantasy, there were no broken hearts, no illnesses, no deaths.
The reality: When I lost weight and kept it off, it was wonderful to be lighter, to wear pretty clothes and pants without elastic waistbands. But when I opened my eyes in the morning, I was still the same ole me. My body was thinner, but the rest of my life was the same.
I recently got a note from someone who pinned a Weight Watchers ribbon onto her letter. The embossed writing on the ribbon said, "I lost 10 pounds," and underneath the embossing, she hand-wrote, "And I still feel like crap."
Yup. We think it's the weight that makes us miserable, and to the extent that it limits our movements and affects our blood pressure and our knees, extra weight really does make us uncomfortable. Not looking great in clothes can make us feel self-conscious and sad. But the belief that losing weight will give us a magical new life prevents us from making the most of the life we have now, whatever we weigh.
A woman named Mollie told a story at one of my workshops. She has spend her adult life overweight, miserable, and broke. She decided that having lap-band surgery was her only chance at being thin, happy, and healthy. So she talked her equally broke sister into lending her the money for the procedure. "When I told her how important being thin was to me and that I thought it would be the answer to all my prayers, she came up with the money for the operation," Mollie said. "Now, a year later, she is coming to see me for the first time since the surgery. The thing is, I've gained back almost every single pound I lost and she doesn't know it, and I am too ashamed to tell her over the phone. I am desperate. I am frantic - and I am fat again."
I was curious about what actually happened when she was thin. I asked Mollie if it was, indeed, the answer to her prayers.
"It was great to be thin," she said. "It was definitely easier to move around and my joints didn't hut so much. But I hadn't realized that being thin wouldn't fill all the empty holes in my life. I thought that somehow when I lost weight everything that was wrong would be right. It wasn't. I still didn't have a relationship, my mother was still sick with lung cancer, and I was still broke.:
"And what happened when you realized all this?" I asked.
"I was so disappointed. I started eating again to make myself feel better. And since after the surgery I couldn't eat in quantities that I ate before, I had to eat smaller portions - constantly - until I gained back every ounce."
All of us want to believe that someday we will have worked hard enough and be thin enough to reach the land of no problems, the universe of no pain. If emotional eating is a challenge for us, if we suffer because of the size of our bodies and our relationship to food, then somehow we end of believing that getting rid of the fat will take away the suffering. When it doesn't, we feel so betrayed that we eat to comfort ourselves.
Give yourself a reality check. Think for a moment about the IT things you've wanted and gotten - the sweaters, the boots, the earrings. Pick one. Think about what went through your mind when you first saw it and what you believed your life would be when you got it.
Now, remember what your life was like when you did get it, the initial excitement, the thrill of having something you wanted so badly. Then remember the days after that. If it made you happy, how long did the happiness last? And how quickly was it replaced by the next IT thing?
OK, now think about all the times in your life you've lost weight. Think about the times you reached your goal weight (even if it was for 10 minutes). And answer this question honestly: Did losing weight make you happy forevermore? If it did, why did you gain the weight back? And if it didn't, then why do you believe it will make you happy now?
Often, we forget the eventual disappointment that results from getting what we want and go right back to wanting something else we don't have. We lose weight dozens and dozens of times, understand for a second that being thin isn't the magic we thought it would be, and then gain the pounds back, which lets us look forward again and say, "Then, oh then, I will be happy. Then I will not be in pain."
Hanging on to an IT thing that will make the bad stuff go away perpetuates the fantasy that a life without pain is possible. It also keeps us from plumbing our lives for the things that really will make us happy.
In my own case, I'd spent so many years believing that when I lost weight, I would turn into a different person - an easygoing, thick-haired, long-legged, Angelina Jolie type - that it took me awhile to get used to the thinner version of the same old me. But then I realized that I had a life that no one else could have. I stopped writing poetry (which I was terrible at) and started writing what only I could write - my books about emotional eating from a personal perspective. When I gave up wanting to a life that wasn't my own, I was able to grow into the life that was already mine, waiting for me to see, inhabit, and live it.
Try this experiment: Instead of wanting to be thin to be happy, try being happy right now. Live as if you were already thin, as if you liked yourself, as if you chose to have the life you have right now.
My bet is that you will discover the real IT thing: the riches of your own life that were yours all along.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
The Limits of Thin
I just finished the MOST inspirational article I have EVER read! It was in the April 2008 edition of Good Housekeeping, and I am going to share it here with you now: