May 28, 2015

Ask Me Anything: Woman Struggles with Food & Weight Obsessions. {Weekly Advice Column}


Dear Elephants,

Welcome to this week’s Ask Me Anything, where no question is out of bounds! To submit questions for next week, please email me at [email protected].

I look forward to hearing from you!

~ Erica


Dear Erica,

I’m a single mom of two kids, aged 3 and 5.

I’ve been divorced since the youngest was under three years old but we’re doing okay. I have a good job as the manager of a large horse stable which I love and the kids seem pretty well adjusted.

My problem is, I find myself obsessed with my weight. I think about it to the point that I feel like I’m going crazy, every minute, every day. I am not overweight, but I am also not skinny. I guess you’d say I’m normal, around 5’6″ and 140 lbs.

I eat normally, but I’m hyper aware of every bite that goes in my mouth. I know the calories, fiber, sugar and all the nutritional components of all the food I eat to the letter. I can’t just eat a sandwich or a piece of pizza, I have to go online and research it first so I know exactly what it is in it.

If I go somewhere socially where I can’t find out what’s in the food, I either don’t eat or I throw up as soon as I get home. The thought of having food in my system that may sabotage my diet freaks me out. Sometimes when I drink too much I’ll end up binging and I throw up at those times as well.

This is making my life miserable. Why can’t I just accept myself? Some days I’ll start to feel better, and feel the grip of my obsession loosen, but then I’ll see a young, pretty girl at the stable or the store and I start beating myself up all over again. I feel like a huge, disgusting monster.

I hate thinking that I am modeling this attitude for my children. I try and hide it from them, but kids are smart and they really see everything on some level. I don’t think my problem is a full on eating disorder—it’s not like I’m wasting away. But something is definitely wrong with me.

What can I do?

— Obsessed


Dear Obsessed,

I think you represent untold numbers of women suffering from this same problem.

The culture we live in worships thinness and youth, and the messages that we are not thin or young enough bombard us from the minute we wake up to the minute we go to sleep each day. Companies selling every kind of product under the sun profit from our self hatred.

This is an easy thing to know, but a hard thing to separate ourselves from.

Also, obsessing about our weight gives us a way to avoid dealing with other problems. Although you have a good life, a job you like and healthy children, you—like everyone—still struggle with painful issues. Sometimes it seems simpler to understand what’s in a muffin than what’s in our hearts.

To make some headway on this fixation I’d recommend a couple of things.

First, go on a media diet rather than a food diet. Even if it doesn’t seem like you watch a lot of TV or spend much time on the internet, it’s probably more than you realize. Take a week to carefully observe your media habits including magazine reading, radio listening and computer time. Then resolve to minimize your exposure.

Cut out magazines (unless they are literary or subversive) entirely. When on the internet, don’t click on ads or subscribe to any weight loss or health sites, and unsubscribe to any you currently belong to. Get offline as quickly as you can.

If you’re listening to music, use or make your own playlists to avoid hearing commercials. Physically turn away from images you see on billboards or on magazine covers in the store.

See how you feel after a couple of weeks of your media diet. Do you feel lighter? Less judgmental toward yourself? More able to think clearly?

Next, try making the majority of the food you buy unlabeled. Buy grains, beans and nuts in bulk, choose fresh produce and things that look colorful, interesting and appetizing.

Cook these foods without being rigid about weighing and measuring. Pay attention to how they taste and how you feel as you eat them. Ask your kids to help you cook and allow yourself to become absorbed in their faces as they chop a carrot or taste a broth you’ve made together.

By forcibly switching the focus of your environment, you can change the way you perceive yourself and the world. If you can begin to define yourself on your own terms, you might feel less inclined to measure yourself against others—who are in great part fictional creations anyway.

Once you begin to feel comfortable with this shift, you may find that it is easier to feel your feelings rather than focus on erroneous information as an escape from them.

This will be a lifelong endeavor, but hopefully this is a solid place to start. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and know that you can set a wonderful example for your children of health, independence and free thought.


Author: Erica Leibrandt

Editor: Alli Sarazen

Photo: arileu/Flickr


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