Lexie’s Story: Overcoming Your Past
For those who do, weight is often a symptom, rather than the problem. Focusing on weight loss rather than coming to terms with the past is just a distraction. In many cases, it further compounds the problem.
Lexie’s difficult story is punctuated with food-related memories and insights. It is story of hope.
Family, Food, and Weight
Before she hit puberty, Lexie was underweight and looked a lot like her mother. “My mom saw herself in me. She seemed proud that I was a skinny kid-that is until I started to look ‘normal’. When I was a freshman in high school I hit 5’4″ and 130 pounds and she put me on a 1200 calorie diet,” Lexie explains. “My mom was verbally abusive and often said things like, ‘Are you sure you want to eat that?‘” Her mother often called her “a pig” so Lexie assumed that everyone else saw her that way too.
Now Lexie realizes that her mother was suffering from bulimia and anorexia, though sadly undiagnosed despite numerous hospitalizations for low potassium and passing out.
Lexie says she also got conflicting eating messages from her stepfather. He was morbidly obese at 400 pounds and liked having her company for his eating. Whenever her mother was hospitalized for her “mystery” problem, her stepdad seized the opportunity to make spaghetti. He always fed her large portions and made her clean her plate. She painfully recalls that he promised that he would take her out to dinner if she made the honor roll, but didn’t. It was one of many disappointments and betrayals.
She and her stepfather had a diet contest that went on for a year. Lexie says, “Neither of us wanted to be on a diet but both of us went along to please my mom. The two of us ate salad while my sisters were given ‘normal’ food.” Lexie soon began sneaking into the kitchen at night to eat and “cheating the scale” by moving the counter balance to the left before she stepped on and called her mother in to weigh her. These were her first memories of lying about what she ate and what she weighed (or even caring about such things), but it signaled the beginning of decades of sneak eating and feeling shame about her body.
The Tip of the Iceberg
The conflict over food was just the tip of the iceberg. Lexie told a a trusted high school teacher that her stepfather had been sexually abusing her for years. She recalls that during the rides home from court, she and her mother would stop for a cheeseburger, fries, and a Coke-a special treat that fortunately only cost $2.00. It was the only time that life felt happy and normal. Her stepfather was put in jail and her parents divorced. Lexie says, “I felt responsible for my family falling apart and all the financial stress it caused.”
At home, they ate baked potatoes most of the time because they were cheap. Lexie says, “Because we didn’t have a lot of money and all my mom’s issues with food, I went hungry a lot as kid. I see how that led my fear of being hungry and to overeating from feelings of scarcity.”
Lexie gained weight throughout high school. Though they were eligible for a low-income lunch card, Lexie was too embarrassed to use it. Her sister got a job and gave her money for lunch. By her senior year she thought she was fat at a size 12. “Looking back at pictures, I can see that I was pretty normal.”
She had a fight with her mom and moved in with the high school teacher. Lexie recalls, “They were really nice to me but I didn’t know the rules about eating in someone else’s home since mine had been so messed up. I was afraid they would think I was ‘a big fat cow’ if I let them know when I was hungry. I started working at McDonalds and ate free food at work and took food home to eat in my room.”
Wherever You Go, There It Is
In college, the dorm included a meal plan along with a large buffet on Sundays. “I ordered pizza so much that I don’t even like it today.” Lexie had a lot of difficulty sleeping due to her past and ate Ramen noodles in the middle of the night. In her freshman year Lexie says, “I outgrew my clothes and had to go shopping. I cried when I realized that I was up to size 18 jeans.”
When Lexie moved back to her hometown, she had no furniture, no refrigerator, and very little food in the house. She went back to work at McDonalds and says, “I overate whenever I had the opportunity because it seemed like food wouldn’t be available when I needed it.”
She moved in with her best friend Ann, “a completely instinctive eater.” Again, Lexie resorted to hiding food because she didn’t want Ann and her family to know how much she was eating. Ann’s family would ask, “How do you gain weight eating so little?” Lexie admits that it made her feel a little proud even though she knew it wasn’t true. “Ann would occasionally find the wrappers from packaged meats and cheese in my room but she never said anything.”
A Turning Point
Years of therapy (DBT) had taught Lexie that her past “was not who am I, it’s just what happened.” She was doing much better psychologically but she continued to struggle with food issues.
Lexie lists some of the diets she tried: “Cabbage soup then all bananas and milk one day and add meat the next day; Weight Watchers of course; 1000 and 1200 calorie and low fat diets-but I could never lose more than 25 pounds.” Lexie acknowledges that, “Weight loss determined how I felt about myself. When I was on Weight Watchers I wouldn’t eat on weigh-in day then pick-up Chinese food afterward.”
When she was introduced to an Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Workshop (facilitated by Dr. Lori Hurst), the concepts all made sense to her. Am I Hungry?® * echoed what she was learning in therapy about caring for herself with compassion. She also learned to recognize whether she was hungry or not and how to cope with many of her triggers. She lost about 35 pounds then felt stuck again.
Another Critical Step
Lexie’s dieting habit was so deeply ingrained that she continued to restrict herself unconsciously for the first two years after going through the Am I Hungry? Workshop. She finally decided to give up on trying to control all of her food, stop weighing herself, and just trust her body. By then, the skills she learned through Am I Hungry?* were so deeply ingrained that she practiced them effortlessly.
Unbelievably, she lost 50 pounds in about five months without realizing it. Lexie says, “I kind of felt like a fraud because I didn’t work hard on losing weight. It just happened when I quit restricting.” She still doesn’t weigh herself frequently and recently found that she had lost another 20 pounds and had gone frrom a size 28 to an 18.
“Ironically, I cried when I realized I was a size 18 again!” Lexie says with a laugh. Lexie adds, “I have to admit that it scared me a little though. If I lost weight, I wouldn’t have anything to hide behind. This is definitely a process.”
Putting the Shame Behind
“One of the best things Am I Hungry? has done for me is give me ‘permission’ to talk about food and eating issues with people,” Lexie explains.
“I still spend many weekends at Ann’s house. Before Am I Hungry?, I didn’t feel like I could eat ‘her’ food when I felt hungry. Since Am I Hungry?, I’m able to talk to Ann about my eating issues. She had no idea I felt uncomfortable eating ‘her’ food or that I felt I needed to hide what I was eating. She knows I need to know I have permission to eat her food. I make it a point to tell her if I am going to eat something at her house-not because she needs to know but because she knows I need for her to know.
“When we ate out in the past, I’d order the meal that would give me the most food for the least amount of money. Now she knows I try to order what I want and what I need instead. She used to suggest sharing something and that would freak me out. I didn’t want to eat more than my ‘fair share’ so I’d eat more of the other food out of fear of going hungry. She has stopped suggesting we share food-now I’m the one that suggests it!
“We used to go to the movies together and she’d get popcorn and I’d want dinner. To her, dinner was the popcorn. I didn’t care about popcorn and didn’t consider it ‘dinner.’ I finally talked to her about it and we started going to dinner first. She gets a small salad, saving room for her popcorn, and I get dinner and skip the popcorn. It has worked well; I’m so glad I was able to talk to her about it.
“When we spend time together I am no longer ultra focused on when I’m going to get to eat. I used to be so shy about asking to eat because I felt like I didn’t need food because I am fat. Since she is often the one driving when we’re out, I was on her schedule. She didn’t feel the need to ask if I was hungry…she assumed that like most ‘normal’ people, I would eat when I was hungry, or say, ‘Hey can we stop and eat?’ For awhile she made it a point to ask if I was hungry or needed to stop but eventually I learned that I can say when I am hungry and that I want to stop. If she isn’t hungry at the same time, she doesn’t eat and it’s okay that I want to.
“Ann had been a great friend to me. She doesn’t understand my food and eating issues on a personal level but she understands and accepts that I have these issues. She even did the Am I Hungry? Christian Companion Guide with me and enjoyed learning more about it.”
In Charge, Not In Control
Lexie shares an example of what it feels like to be in charge of her eating instead of trying to control or sneak food:
- I move easier, I breathe easier, and I am happier.
- I started with a relatively healthy cholesterol level (under 200) but this past year, my “bad” cholesterol (LDL) has gone down 30 points…without dieting. I don’t purposely eat or avoid eating certain foods to lower my cholesterol; I just use Am I Hungry?* to guide me.
- My “good” cholesterol still needs to go up a little; I think it was at 46 and needs to be over 50. I added exercise last fall and that will help with that.
- I feel “off” when I don’t exercise. Exercise is either the pool, the treadmill, dancing, and lately I’ve added “easy” park hikes and geocaching. I have to be careful about hikes because of my vertigo and I always have a chair handy when I dance in case I need to grab on and get my balance back.
- My blood pressure is stable and healthy-it always has been even with being overweight. Unfortunately, I don’t always have money to buy insulin so my diabetes isn’t always well controlled.
- I use an online journal to help me stay mindful. I’m very conscious about whether I’m becoming restrictive.
- I focus on asking “What do I want and what do I have?” (from Am I Hungry? Workshop 5 and Chapter 5 of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat).
- I am amazed at how much of Am I Hungry? has become second nature. I don’t have to work at it all the time or think about it all the time. I’m truly becoming an instinctive eater and I couldn’t be happier about it. I sometimes still struggle with trying to be perfect, but I’m light-years from where I was.
“Living, Thriving Proof”
Not only has Lexie overcome her past, she is looking forward to using her experiences to help others in the future. “Eventually, I plan to become an Am I Hungry? Facilitator. I want others to experience this! Today, tomorrow, and forever, I intend to share what I have learned and experienced with anyone who will listen.”
*NOTE: Am I Hungry? Workshops are based on Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle.