Dear Mrs. Bluth,
Being an avid reader of your column I realize my problem does not fit the usual reason people write in, but I desperately need your help and appreciate your honest and candid advice. The last thing I want is sympathy with a sugar coating (seriously, no pun intended) because my situation has become a matter of life and death.
I have never been thin, in fact, as far back as I can recall, I’ve always been what they call “zaftig.” When I got married, I was the thinnest I had ever been – that was because I took diet pills for a year and was a nervous wreck, a very thin nervous wreck who barely ate, barely slept but managed to catch herself a husband. All I could think about under the chuppah was that as soon as I left the wedding hall I would never have to pop another pill again and go back to being the happy, content young woman I had misplaced for more than a year.
I lived in my kitchen, planning dinners for my husband and company and cooking up delicious delicacies. Everyone loved coming to our home and I loved hosting because it validated my need to prepare and serve copious amounts of amazing food. My husband was so happy and proud – all his friends envied him – he didn’t seem to mind that we were both putting on some weight. By our second wedding anniversary, we looked nothing like our wedding pictures. My parents, who are also overweight, were fine with this, but my in-laws, especially my mother-in-law, was very worried. She served meals that were 90% vegetables with a dollop of protein. She said I would not be able to conceive if I got too heavy. Lucky for me she was wrong and we gave her six beautiful, chubby grandchildren over the next twelve years. But none of the pregnancies were easy and the last two were fraught with problems due to my excessive weight.
Somewhere between baking and babies, I realized that I was not in a good way and neither was my husband. My husband developed heart problems and I was diagnosed with pre-diabetic symptoms. Most painful of all was that our children, too, were suffering. They were the butt of jokes because of their weight and had no social life.
Last year, my husband joined a gym and consulted a nutritionist (with his mother’s encouragement) and began seriously working at losing the weight. I just couldn’t do the gym thing and every day I told myself I would start to diet in earnest, but something would always get in the way. My children followed their father’s lead and began exercising and preparing their own lunches. It took just a few weeks for them to start seeing the results. I, however, was the only holdout.
I don’t know why I can’t do it, but I can’t. I’m so afraid that once my husband loses the weight (he’s more than ½ way there and looks great) he will lose interest in me and my children will be as disgusted with me as I am with myself. In fact, I hate myself and what I see in the mirror, but I am terrified of taking that first step. What is wrong with me? Why isn’t the threat of a heart attack or stroke motivation enough for me to want to work at losing the weight?
Too much of anything is dangerous – eating too much most of the time or eating next to nothing all of the time. Excess of anything becomes habitual and bad habits can become addictive and hard to break, even when they are life threatening. But you already know that. I empathize with you because I once was where you are and reading your letter brought it all back: the self-loathing, the feelings of guilt and helplessness because losing the weight seemed impossible, the shame of going to simchos and having people ask me when I’m due… when I wasn’t pregnant. But the worst was what I was doing to my own children and the fear that I might not live to see them grow up (the thought of my husband leaving me wasn’t up there in the top three on my hit parade, but it may have crossed my mind once or twice).
Back then there weren’t many options. There was the Atkins diet which was great for about four days and then I got sick of eating only protein. After that I tried a program that consisted of vitamins, water and three horrible shakes a day and nothing else. Let’s just say I got an up-close first hand experience of what total starvation felt like. I stopped short at wiring my jaws shut because speech would be a problem.
I don’t mean to make light of your plight; I’m simply explaining that times have changed. Yes, gluttony is an addiction as much as drinking, smoking, gambling and drug abuse only instead of these substances it is food that you are addicted to.
I will not go into the psychology of why you abuse food, but I will answer your question of how to overcome the fear of making the effort to start on the road to good health. First and foremost, the threat of death, as with any addiction, is very real and if you love your children more than you fear the diet, then you will find the courage to fight for the privilege of living long enough to see great-grandchildren. Obesity is no longer a loner battle fought in solitude. While there are a great deal of fattening fast foods and sugared drinks, there are also many options for those looking to lose weight including safe gastric and bariatric surgical procedures. However, along with any method you choose, counseling comes highly recommended, so that you understand why you have the need to turn to food for comfort, solace or security. Knowing and understanding why you need to overindulge, partnered with whatever method you pick to help you lose the weight, will help ensure your success.
I wish you the very best of luck and a life filled with nachas, joy and healthy pleasures and a sliver of chocolate cake every once in a while to sweeten your journey. Please let us know how you do; we’re rooting for you.