Grief, Grad School, and What I Ate
“…By choosing food as your drug—sugar highs, or the deep, soporific calm of carbs—you can still make the packed lunches, do the school run, look after the baby, stop in on your parents and then stay up all night with an ill 5-year-old—something that is not an option if you’re regularly climbing into the cupboard under the stairs and knocking back quarts of scotch.
Overeating is the addiction of choice of ‘carers,’ and that’s why it’s come to be regarded as the lowest-ranking of all the addictions. It’s a way of screwing yourself up while still remaining fully functional, because you have to. Fat people aren’t indulging in the ‘luxury’ of their addiction, making them useless, chaotic or a burden. Instead, they are slowly self-destructing in a way that doesn’t inconvenience anyone. And that is why it’s so often a woman’s addiction of choice.
I sometimes wonder if the only way we’ll ever get around to properly considering overeating is if it does come to take on the same perverse, rock ‘n’ roll cool of other addictions. Perhaps it’s time for women to finally stop being secretive about their vices and instead start treating them like all other addicts treat their habits. Coming into the office looking frazzled, sighing, ‘Man, I was on the pot roast last night like you wouldn’t believe. I had, like, POTATOES in my EYEBROWS by 10 p.m.’.“
– Caitlin Moran, author of How to Be a Woman, excerpt from I Know Why the Fat Lady Sings
I gained about 20 pounds this winter.
My cat and my dog died just a few weeks apart from one another.
I was already pretty exhausted from pushing through my final semesters of grad school, including grinding out my capstone (on resilience building for caregivers – oh, the irony), while working and teaching.
Then I fell into an ocean of grief, bringing a cruise ship full of vegan Ben & Jerry’s and ALL THE CARBS with me.
If you were working with me over the winter, spring, and summer, you probably didn’t notice I was snorkling through pint after pint of PB & Cookies, because, as Moran so astutely points out, you can be fully functional and overeating.
I did good work, I got straight As, I walked the dogs.
In August, I graduated from school. I was able to really rest for the first time in a very long time. The grief began to lift and I started taking better care of myself in all ways, including physically.
Last week I took part in a online photography experience with a group of brave, creative women. Among other things, we dared to share our bodies as they are, so we could reclaim our wrinkles and rolls. It was life-shifting. I wouldn’t be writing this otherwise.
Today I’m feeling good AND I have a big belly.
I’ve been trying to be really kind to this part of my body because it’s a tangible expression of how sad I’ve been and how much I love the family members that I lost this year.
My fat is a physical manifestation of my grief.
I talk to my sad belly sometimes. I tell it I don’t blame it for being here. I don’t hate it or want to punish it away. This is a new approach for me. I usually just beat myself up.
I’m not doing that right now, because:
- I’m just glad I made it through a really hard time. If I’m a little fatter for it, oh well.
- I’m committed to talking to myself with more kindness. I don’t want to be mean to myself anymore.
But I do want to feel better, stronger, more flexible. And for that reason, sad belly and I are, with deep affection, saying a long, slow goodbye to each other this winter. We’re working out and taking long walks and eating just a little ice cream.
This is what I know about myself: eating is my drug of choice when I am depleted, overwhelmed, and stressed. It’s how I numb out and self-medicate.
As I fill my life back up with fun, friendship, art, and relaxation it’s easier for me to unhook from the freezer aisle.
My personal work is to more consistently nourish myself in ways that are authentically sustaining during these times of intense stress and heartache.
My professional work is helping others do the same, so it always feels a little dicey sharing how I still struggle.
But that’s really the point, isn’t it?
We can know all the things and yet, we’re human. So we’re going to stumble (and if you’re like me, you fall face first into a slab of cake from Silly’s), but we can still reach out to help one another.
Each year that I’m lucky enough to be alive I understand myself better. I meet myself with more kindness and skillful care. It’s a practice.
Whatever we’re struggling with, all we can do is practice as we go.
Maybe for the first time, I feel really okay with who I am and how I make my way through the world. I am doing the best I can, sad belly and all. That’s good enough for me.
Friends, tell me: do you have mashed potatoes in your eyebrows too?
If you do, here is resource that might support you on your journey:
TEND: A Chat with Dr. Deb Thompson from Your Nourished Life – This recorded webinar is specifically geared towards helping professionals (a whole lot of us are overeating). It’s also where I got this quote from and there are worksheets.
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