How did you get so fat? I get this question more times than I probably should. It never really comes as a shock anymore, I’ve had strangers ask it, family and doctors in some form or another. I think for the population of thin people that there are in the world, most can not fathom how someone, anyone, could “let themselves go” and gain so much weight. I really wish that I could go back in time and find the exact moment that I could have changed it all, and that I could erase the horrible memories from growing up as a fat kid.
But the question…
How did I get so fat?
… is a complicated one, and maybe the better question is how did I stay so fat.
I want to start out with a warning for parents. If your child is overweight right now, or if you are feeding them a diet that is filled with junk foods, animal products and dangerous addictive chemicals and hormones, you are setting them up for a life time of problems. I am not a parent, I don’t know the ins and outs of parenting and what is hard and not hard. I do know a lot of healthy vegan kids who have a love for food though. Obesity in children has hit an all time high, almost HALF of the type 2 diabetes cases in this country are now kids under the age of 18. If that doesn’t scare you I’m not sure what will. An obese adult generally was an overweight kid, or a kid who did not eat healthy growing up. If you set up addictions in your kids at a young age, they will come back to haunt them and hurt them later on. Your kids might not understand why all of a sudden you stop going to the fast food places or why there is no more sugary cereal in the house, but you are their parent, and you love them, and you do not want to introduce a world that I can assure you is painful and hard.
I started gaining weight when I was 11 years old.
In one year I gained nearly 70 pounds. At the time my parents had no health insurance (and what medicare covers sucked) and so the doctors didn’t do any tests, they just told me to “eat less, work out more”. This started a life time of bad diets, and beating myself up for not being able to lose weight. At 12 I was going on fad diets, starving myself and then binging, sneaking food and hating myself even more. Little did I know that at 12 I was setting up some really powerful addictions and patterns that would be with me for a long time.
If you are overweight, or obese finding the reason why, might involve going back to when you were a kid. There are some really powerful patterns that can start when you are young, that might be giving you trouble now, as an adult. Maybe you were rewarded with food, maybe you were restricted from eating as punishment, or maybe you had to finish every thing on your plate no matter what. These are all patterns that start in childhood and become something different as an adult.
Food as a reward:
It started out when your mom would tell you if you cleaned your room you could have ice cream or if all of you kids were good for the week you could go to McDonald’s on Saturday. This was a way for your parents to reward, and it might have been just fine as a child, but as an adult it could manifest itself into something more dangerous. If you are using food to reward yourself it is something that needs to end. Food should be tasty and good but used to nourish and feed your body. There are plenty of delicious foods that do not lead to a bigger pant size or heart disease. If you are a food reward person start substituting that thought. Know that being healthy is reward enough, treating your body well and living a healthy life is far better than that nasty dairy ice cream. Reward yourselves with healthy things! Save that junk food money and get a massage, get your hair done, go to the movies. Or do something else that is rewarding in other ways – volunteer at an animal shelter, visit a farm sanctuary. Do not make rewards about food.
Food as punishment:
It started out by having to eat things you really didn’t like, or having to eat something like Brussels sprouts because you kicked your brother. Now, you eat every time you do something wrong, you eat when your boss yells at you, when you mess up as a spouse or a parent. You eat to hurt yourself. You feel like you don’t deserve anything better, but to feel like crap. Food is not punishment. Food is meant to nourish you not to punish you. If you fall into this pattern, there might be some really deep things to work through. If you find yourself doing this a lot, I highly suggest seeking professional help. Doing anything to hurt yourself is reason for concern, especially when you know the end results. Start writing out all of the things you are feeling before you binge for punishment. Do you really hate your life right now? Do you not care for your life? Do you respect your life? Instead of eating, try pausing and going for a walk, or a trip to the gym. Use the energy for healthy things. Work out, make art, play music, find a punching bag. Get your emotions out, but not using food. I also highly recommend getting away from the kitchen, or fast food parking lot, or wherever the food might be. Take yourself away from the situation and breathe.
Or maybe it was that food was taken away as punishment. You weren’t allowed to sit down for dinner till your homework was done, or you got in trouble at school so you can’t have dessert. This now becomes a rebellious action as an adult. We have freedom now, and no one can tell us that we can’t eat. So we eat when we want, and what we want. We eat in spite of a bad day at work, or any other area we might have messed up in. Instead of being punished and not eating, we now turn to food and eat to punish ourselves, and out of a deep rebellion to what happened when we were children.
Finish what you started:
I grew up poor. We were homeless some of my life, and so when there was food, we ate. We would never leave a bite on the plate, because that meant we were wasting money, money that my Dad worked really hard to get. This pattern took me a really long time to break free from. I still tell my husband that I’m not going to finish something, and that it is okay. He always reassures me that it’s completely fine, and that getting rid of food is something he will never get angry at me for. This has become a lot easier over the past year, I don’t make nearly as much food as I did before, and I buy a lot of healthy foods – it’s hard to want too much kale. But I never beat myself up over not finishing my plate. In fact, now I look at that as an accomplishment. I am learning to know when I am full.
Think of this as re-training your body. You might be someone who has always eaten until you feel completely full. Try eating less each meal, to see when you are satisfied. You won’t feel that full, like you can’t fit another bite in, but you will not feel hungry anymore. Eat slowly, and really pay attention to how your body is feeling. Do not aim to finish every thing on your plate, aim to not finish every thing on your plate.
Food as love
You might come from a family where food meant family time or for some, it meant love. A big dinner at Grandma’s on Sunday brings back really good and warm memories. You associate food with love and being loved. Now you might long for that big family get together that is completely centered around food. When your family gets together it is all about food and how much people can bring, what they can bring and how good it tastes. Dinners together become these long planned out events of who is bringing what, and how good Aunt Martha’s peach cobbler will be this year.
Last year I had to put a halt to family dinners and celebrations that involved food. As a new vegan, I really could not be around all of the excess animal products that seemed to be all about the holidays. I decided that I wanted family get together ‘s to be about family, not food. This didn’t go over so well with some of the family, but I was doing what was best for myself and my health. We went out for Christmas Eve dinner instead of cooking a huge Italian feast (turns out everyone really liked this option). We ate breakfast before going over to my husbands families house for Christmas morning, and just played with the kids and opened presents. We left before they had a big dinner, and we went home and had a light dinner, nothing fancy, just dinner.
If your family is caught up in the food as love problem – start suggesting doing other things as a family to be together. Sign up for a “fun run” on Thanksgiving morning, go pick blueberries, volunteer somewhere together, go on a long walk, paint pottery, go to the movies. And if a food gathering is a must, make it a healthy one. If you are on a plant based diet, offer to cook a plant based meal for everyone. Ask for help from your cooking relatives and teach them some tricks of the plant based recipes. Ask them for suggestions and come up with your own creations. Start changing the way food is a central part of your family life, and help to make it not about eating a huge meal together, but enjoying time together.
Food as memories:
I grew up Italian. That meant weekends at my Grandma’s house, and it usually meant a lot of food. I learned to cook from my Grandma, and I loved being with her. We’d make all sorts of foods, pasta dishes, desserts. It was my time to be with her. As an adult all I wanted to do was get that feeling back. I’d cook the same meals, and just bask in the scents. I’d enjoy watching as others enjoyed the same meals my Grandma used to serve to all of us.
Now I’ve turned that into making really delicious, healthy meals where people are just as thrilled to eat them, and even more surprised when I tell them that they have no animal products, or that the meal is actually healthy. I’ve turned that desire to make cheese drenched pastas into something that is good for everyone and delicious.
Digging a little into your past might be the key to ending unhealthy eating patterns. Look at your patterns of eating and determine if they are something that started in your childhood and then start working to reverse those patterns that have been a part of you for several years.