Let your heart breakWhen you accept that hurting and healing are part of living, you can give up the fantasy that being thin controls your happiness
His name was David, and I was crazy in love with him. The way his shiny dark hair curled around his collar, and how his long fingers waved oh so eloquently in the air as he talked. Every breath he took, every word he uttered seemed as if it was designed to crack my heart open. I wanted to spend my life with him, grow old with him, have more children than Angelina Jolie with him. The only teensy problem was that he didn't feel the same way about me. "I'm not attracted to you," he said. "It's not the same for me as it is for you!" he exclaimed.
Picky, picky, picky, I thought.
I was certain I could persuade him to love me, that he wasn't seeing clearly, that it was my job to show him that we were meant for each other. I was also certain that when I finally lost the 10 pounds I'd been losing and gaining for a hundred years, he'd be smitten.
And so I pulled out all the stops. I developed a sudden fascination for 18th-century architecture (his field), I baked coconut layer cake (his favorite), I dyed my hair blond (his preferred color). And most of all, I starved myself. I ate nothing but Grape-Nuts without milk for six weeks (don't ask). I chipped a few teeth, leached most of the calcium out of my bones, and probably depleted my muscle mass by half, but I did finally lose those 10 pounds. A few months into Project David, he fell in love with a size 16 brunette and moved 3,000 miles away.
Most of the people who come to my retreats and workshops believe in Control-of-Life-and-Death-by-Weight. They are convinced that loves and losses can be titrated in pounds. That if only they were thin or thinner, everyone who didn't love them would love them. Life would be magical, easy, illuminated. In other words, they believe what many of us believe: If we control what we put in our mouths (and the size of our bodies), then we can control everything else. So we spend our lives focused on losing weight, believing that thinness will provide invincible protection from rejection, grief, and sorrow.
But as you probably have already guessed (or experienced firsthand), when you are as thin as you can ever imagine, the people who didn't love you before will still not love you, and the people who did love you before will love you still. People will come, go, leave, and die, no matter how much you weigh.
Talk about busting childhood myths. As children, we all believed that it was in our power to make our parents happy. If our mother was depressed, if our father was absent, if our parents fought incessantly, we were convinced that it was in our power to make things better. It wasn't. But how we self-medicated those hurts with food was, and still is.
Listening to me say this, one woman in my workshop said, "But wait a minute! The problem is that I'm not in control of what I put in my mouth. If I were, I wouldn't be here!"
I responded, "If there is one thing about which we are in absolute and irrevocable control, it's what we put in our mouths. I understand that you don't feel that's true. I understand that you feel at the mercy of potato chips and pizza, but truly it's only you who lifts your fork or fingers and puts the food in your mouth. It's completely up to you.
"And," I continued, "if there is one thing about which you are not in control, it's who loves you, stays with you, gets ill, or leaves you."
As long as you are saying, "Well, I may not be in a relationship now, but when I get thin, I will find the perfect partner," you give yourself the illusion that you're in control. You may not be happy now, you tell yourself, but someday soon you will make a change and Prince Charming will suddenly show up at your door. You fool yourself into thinking that you have total control over when your unhappiness will end and perfect happiness will begin. And it has something to do with your weight.
Next: How heartbreak can lead to overeating
Yesterday I received a letter from a woman who weighs 350 pounds. She wrote, "I have always believed deep in my heart that if I would just lose this weight, my parents would love me. They would also stop yelling, stop drinking, stop leaving. My husband would pay more attention to me. My money problems would vanish. My house would be clean. What if I lose the weight and those things don't happen?"
Losing weight does bring a feeling of lightness; more freedom to move; it puts less pressure on your joints. But it doesn't pay the bills, clean the house, or prevent people from getting sick or leaving or dying.
Before my father died, I tried everything to keep him alive. I bought him athletic shoes and exercised with him. I made sure he ate well. Part of my motivation, besides wanting him to be healthy, was that I was positive I couldn't live without him. But when he died, I grieved, I cried, and then life went on. When my cat, Blanche, died, I thought life was over. And then it wasn't. My best friend, Isabel, moved to Australia a few months ago, and I thought I'd never have another close friend. And then I did. Seems as if I've been wrong about quite a few things. But the thing I've been most wrong about is that having a broken heart is something to avoid at all costs.
It's the nature of hearts to break. It's in their job description. When a heart is doing what it's supposed to be doing, it holds nothing back. And sometimes it gets broken.
The hard part of emotional and compulsive eating is that in trying to avoid big heartbreaks, we break our own hearts every day. We eat more than our bodies want, we binge on foods that make us sick, we carry weight that makes it hard to move around. We tell ourselves mean stories about our thighs, our arms, our bellies. The cost of having the "when I am thin, everything will be fine" fantasy is that we end up trading the heartbreak of being alive for the heartbreak we cause ourselves.
And it's all to avoid something that can't be avoided. While we are postponing our joy for a future time when everything will be perfect, life is going on with or without our consent and we are missing it. People come and go, pain comes and goes. But so does joy. And if our hearts are closed because we don't want to suffer, they won't be open enough to recognize the joy as it flies by.
Hearts are made to be resilient. Think about it: Is there one thing that's happened to you that you haven't survived? Here you are, right now, reading this article despite all the heartache you've had in your life. Something in you is still awake, alive, eager to learn, ready to be moved.
And once you know that your heart is resilient, once you accept that part of being here on earth is, as a friend of mine says, living among the brokenhearted, then you can take in the huge streaks of delight, joy, and happiness as well. Once you understand that everything will end, you can finally let your life the one you already have, not the one you imagine you'll someday lose enough weight to deserve begin.
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