I got this note on Facebook yesterday from Sara:
“I need you to please write me a blog about how to be motivated to exercise and eat right when there is a death in the family. Trying to be good to my body, but fed my kids & myself popcorn for dinner last night. I need your inspiration today, please!”
Oh, hermana, I so understand. If I had had the guts, I would have written the same message years ago. I’m afraid I learned my lesson about eating and loss the hard way: it’s the reason I spent the last 16 years 100 pounds overweight.
I had always told people that I was carrying around all that extra weight because I never lost the 100 pounds I gained in pregnancy almost 16 years ago with my son Carlos. But then about five years ago I was changing the picture in a frame in my office when a photograph dropped out from behind the one that had been in the frame for years. As I picked it up, I saw that it was a shot of me and Carlos from a carnival when he was about 14 months old. I stared at it, almost not recognizing myself. I looked good! But wait, I had thought I’d been fat since he was born…
I took the picture with me to my next therapy session, and expressed my confusion to my counselor. “What happened in the year after that picture?” she asked me.
“Well, nothing much. Carlos was a great kid, Doug and I were happy, and….oh.”
It was then that I realized it was a year after the picture that I had lost my second son in my 20th week of pregnancy.
I mean, it wasn’t like I’d forgotten about it: I will never forget about it, no woman ever does. But I had managed to block it from my mind when looking for reasons why for years after I was always tired and obese.
My therapist’s voice was even gentler than usual, “How much weight did you gain with the second pregnancy, Ann?”
Fifty pounds. Putting me at the exact weight I was in that moment, five years later, sitting in her office. Had I been keeping myself at the pregnancy weight to deny I had lost him? Or was the 100 extra pounds insulation from my grief? It was probably a bit of both. I broke down in her office as the delayed feeling of loss washed over me.
The hardest part? My two-year-old son had come with me to my doctor’s appointment that day to hear the baby’s heartbeat. When the doctor couldn’t hear it and went out to get another Doppler monitor, Carlos took my hand and said, “The baby’s gone, isn’t he Mommy?” They rushed me to the hospital for a sonogram to confirm the worst. He was indeed gone. 24 hours later I went through a mockery of the birth process and went home with my arms empty.
Who wouldn’t insulate themselves?
The realization was good. Though I was someone who had battled her weight all her life, the 100 pounds was excessive and now I had a sense of why. But adding insult to injury, weight loss didn’t follow once I knew. Five years of struggling with diets and exercising five times a week to no avail. Even with a daily dose of Lexapro, food was still my solace, my medication of choice.
So what changed in January when I was deep in the rainforest in Puerto Rico? Other than what I’ve already told you in my first article, I don’t know. Perhaps I just hit bottom, or, more likely, I found a foothold and started to climb up from bottom. But for whatever reason, when I came back I no longer used food as a crutch. It wasn’t easy, some days it still isn’t, but the interesting thing is, when I’m able to push through with the hardest work my trainer can put out, when I am able to pass by a bowl of chocolates without eating one, I’m reminded that I can get through anything, and come out of it even better than I went in.
I will experience more losses in my life. Will I comfort myself with a blanket of empty calories? Maybe. But I’m hoping that over the last 10 months I’ve learned that the most peaceful moments of my week are to be found at the gym. That there’s much more solace in a bowl of quinoa than in a bowl of ice cream. That if I could get through the loss of my second son, I can get through anything, and come out the other side a stronger, better person.
And Sara, so can you. Don’t fret about eating popcorn for dinner, but remember that you don’t need food or lethargy to insulate yourself. You will come out on the other side, and it is so much better to be healthy once you get there.