Weighty Issues

My mom always told me she was 5’7 and I was 5’6.

“I have long legs and a short torso, and you have short legs and a long torso.” She told me.

I have broad shoulders, she had narrow shoulders.

“You walk like a duck” she would say to me.

I worked on my stride.

“You need to suck in your stomach, engage your muscles to hold your shoulders back.” She would remind me from time to time.

My mom was always into exercise and health. She rode bikes, did aerobic tapes in the living room, went to the gym, and lastly, before she died my mom had a dedicated Pilates regimen. She was the strongest person I’ve ever known. Her physical strength in her legs, abdominal muscles, and upper body always impressed me. Her mental strength was also impressive, and my mom was highly competitive.

“You need to do more cardio” I told her months before she died.

“I know, but I take the dogs for walks everyday” She said.

My mom did take her dogs for walks every day, she lived a healthier, more active lifestyle than most. My mom also struggled with her weight. I can’t find any pictures of my mom where she wasn’t heavy, even as a little girl she had chubby legs, extra fat on her belly and hips, arms. I can’t find any pictures where my mom wasn’t carrying extra weight, even at her thinnest when she went through her rode bike riding phase, when 50 – 100 miles felt good to her she still carried the fat on her thighs, her belly, her arms, her hips. Even when she worked with a trainer at the gym and a nutritionist she couldn’t shake that layer of fat, even when she lost all the weight it was still there.

My mom’s mom was also heavy, in all the pictures she’s in, from her time in the Army to the time she lived in the apartment above our garage where she had a sausage making machine and smoked cigarettes.

My mom never smoked, but she loved sausages. We grew up on Italian sausages and spaghetti, that was our staple diet. Ice cream for dessert. We ate lots of avocados and tomatoes, mainly in the form of guacamole and salsa with blue corn tortilla chips. We ate lots of yogurts, eggs, quesadillas, burritos and fruit and drank herbal teas. Sausage and Danishes were the only processed foods my mom would allow in our house. We never ate fast food or sugary cereals.

A few months ago, I stopped making my family spaghetti and sausage. I was addicted to that meal and it was an easy meal to make for my husband, especially after the babies were born. It was my comfort food. It connected me to my family that’s gone, eating that meal made me feel safe and warm. This week I stopped eating eggs and cheese and quesadillas too.

After I worked out this morning, I did my bike and some strength training, I read, to lose one pound of fat a week I need to burn 500 calories a day. I need to do 60 minutes of vigorous exercise six days a week. I want to do this, loose the extra fat I’ve been carrying around for all these years to hopefully lower my cholesterol. I wanted eggs so bad today. I wanted eggs yesterday and the day before. I made a tofu scramble instead. After I ate it I wanted something else, a bowl of cereal or something sweet. I went down and took a shower.

Yesterday I ate a chocolate cookie and the day before a chocolate brownie. I’m compensating for the eggs. My body wants the fat, my body craves it. And I think I’m hungry, starving after I work out, but maybe I’m not. Maybe I’m not as hungry as I think or feel. I think the fats feed an emotional need.

As I walked up the trail with my dog today, admiring the beautiful spring lilies, I had a thought. What if my eating habits are connected to the flight or fight response? My mom has talked to me about her depressing, scary, horrible, childhood. The cycle began then, with my mom’s mom feeding her fatty, emotionally, satisfying foods. My mom was unhappy, she struggled, and the food must have comforted her. When she had us, my brother and I, we ate similar foods, but with more healthy foods added. My body got used to the fat at a young age. I became accustomed in my early twenties to go on long hikes, up to ten miles at a time and eat a super burrito after with sour cream and cheese. I always ordered it vegetarian, I thought that was healthy. My stomach would be full, but I thought it was ok because I exercised. I’ve never had a big problem with my weight, I’ve fluctuated between 145 and 155 since I was a teenager. The least I’ve ever weighed was 135, but I was seventeen and on a popcorn diet, the most I’ve ever weighed was 160, but that was very brief.

I was O.K. with my body, with my fat, with my weight. But two weeks ago, when I got my cholesterol results back, I wasn’t ok with the fat on my belly or under my arms anymore. I took it to heart. This time I decided this is it, I’m breaking the cycle.

It’s not easy. We are programed, our body craves what we’ve always eaten. We are on auto pilot most of the time when it comes to what goes in our mouths. Diets are not the answer either. Counting calories or eating a raw food diet or any other fad diet, that’s just silly to me. I want to change for good. I want to change my habits and my cravings for high fat foods. I want to eat a healthy diet of vegetables, fruits, healthy grains, salads. I’m not in fight or flight any more, I can choose what I put in my mouth.

My mom used to say to me, “A minute on the lip, an inch on the hip”. But that was only part of the story, the superficial part. She had another saying for my cheese and mayonnaise sandwiches, “A heart attack on a plate”.

I just stopped eating those sandwiches two weeks ago. I love cheese sandwiches. Even after my mom died of a heart attack I didn’t change my eating habits very much. I cut out some stuff, exercised, added yoga, meditation and mindfulness, but those things aren’t enough.

I notice so many people who are overweight, I worry about them. I worry they are going to have a heart attack. I want to learn CPR.

A deep change in personal behavior is difficult. But the alternative is worse, to never have tried to become healthier and have a heart attack would totally suck. We can’t control our genetics, or the kinds of foods we grew up on. We can only control what we do now, the choice we make everyday to exercise and eat right.

I often find myself hearing all the things people have said to me throughout my life like, “You exercise too much or that dessert won’t hurt you” But they were wrong, those desserts did hurt me. I could have exercised more.

This time I’m doing it, I’m getting my cholesterol down and I’m leaving my high fat diet in the past.

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Thoughts on Motherhood Through the Eyes of an Artist