My stomach turned as she described her childhood--alcoholic parents, frequent beatings, screaming, and incest. She didn’t mention any trips to an amusement park or a memorable birthday party. She had parents who didn’t protect her and didn’t seem to care. Things didn’t get any better in the teenage years—drugs, sex with anyone who was interested, and multiple suicide attempts. She dropped out of school; she got pregnant. She was on her own, still, nobody seemed to care. I suppressed my emotional reaction as much as possible and just listened. I was starting to understand how she developed such a complicated relationship with food.
Another patient wiped away tears and told me about her loneliness. She had an emotionally absent husband, not a single friend who understood what she was going through, and co-workers who were self-absorbed. She was convinced that happiness could be found beneath her feet, with a smaller number on the scale. Yet, food was her comfort, her make-believe friend she couldn’t live without.
His friends probably thought “he has it all.” He made lots of money as a corporate executive. He had a huge house, nice cars, an attractive wife, and smart kids. But life had no meaning. He didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning. When he finally did, he went to the office and worked long hours. He felt guilty about missing the kids’ soccer games. He felt even worse for moving his family multiple times to fulfill the needs of his company. He was trapped in his profession, trapped by his wealth, trapped in his lifestyle with no clear escape. He drank too much. His weight continued to climb. He felt trapped by it too.
Life is complicated and it makes seemingly easy things hard to do. Managing weight is as simple as eating healthy and exercising regularly, but that isn’t simple, is it? Sometimes it’s like walking on ice, singing on a speeding rollercoaster, or sneezing on command. So how do we do it when our past trips us up, we feel alone, or we can’t muster the energy to work on another project? I won’t pretend to have all those answers, but here are a few suggestions to get you started.
Find Your Calm
It is hard to think clearly and make good decisions when emotions are running high. Find a peaceful place, breathe deeply, take a nature walk, meditate, or pray.
No, physical activity won’t fix everything in your life. But it can change your mood and your attitude. We often talk about health in terms of things to avoid (smoking, excess drinking, unhealthy snacking, etc.), but exercise is something you do. You will feel better physically and psychologically because you’ve accomplished something. If you long for more interactions with others, find a gym, take a Zumba or yoga class, join a walking club or enroll in tennis, dance, or tai chi lessons.
Sleep restores our bodies and our minds. Turn off the TV, silence your phone and get in a routine of 7 or more hours of sleep each night. Better sleep will make it easier to think clearly, make good decisions, and control appetite.
Take a different perspective
Have you ever been asked to give a persuasive speech on something you disagreed with? As a result, you most likely learned to appreciate different points of view. This approach can work very well for us in our own lives. We can choose our perspective when we describe ourselves, others, or our past. We can instill hope as we begin to live out a future that is filled with peace and health. The first story could be told from the perspective of the survivor rather than a victim. The second story could become an uplifting account of finding friendship, living healthy, and letting go of numbers. The example of the “man who had it all” could be a story about a person who found freedom through the goodness of God and the unconditional love of his family.
Life can at times feel burdensome. It’s easy to get stuck in our thoughts about the past, worries about the future, or details of daily to-do lists. But life is full of little things that make it worth living and living fully. These little things can help us stay true to our commitment to healthy living. Here’s my list for today: My son’s laughter, my daughter’s smile, the sunrise and the quietness of the night; new friendships, the sound of musical instruments and high-fives from toddlers.
(Each patient example was a compilation of clients I've interacted with at some point in my career.)