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How Did I Let This Happen?

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copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

As the calendar pages were torn away, with few left to view before the New Year, she would ask herself, "How did I let this happen?"  She knew.  Yet, she did not wish to speak to what had occurred.  It was easier, more socially acceptable to assume that she just overate.  Thus, she would look at her body and study the bulges.  There were more lumps and bumps than there had been before.  As the months passed, her bulk increased.  She could just as well have watched her frame dwindle to nothingness and asked the same question.  However, were she to be thinner the thought might not have occurred to her.  As many are, she would have been blissful to be skinny.  That definition was not hers to hold.  This woman was fat.  

Embarrassed, disappointed in herself, this daughter of Eve inquired of what, for all of her life, seemed to be the inevitable.  "How could I have let this happen again?"  She dieted in the past.  She did well, often.  During the lean times, the foods once inhaled and the drinks she imbibed were healthier.  Then, sooner, or later, she would return to her old habits.  Fodder for her was fun.  It filled her soul or seemed to for a while.

Frequently, as another year closed and the thoughts of what might be overwhelmed her she would evaluate her expanse.  Once more, the query gnawed at her very being.  "Why; why had she not maintained her healthy weight?"

The answer seemed obvious, at least to others.  She too accepted what most believed to be true.  She ate herself into oblivion.  Food was her addiction of choice.  She reflected on the past.  There it was, her problem.  It was easy to understand why she had developed as she had.

It began in November of another year, long ago.  Then, as now, it twas the season to be jolly.  Yet, for a person such as she, the winter solstice was a time of folly.  Whilst visions of sugarplums dance in the heads of children, as the holidays approach, she dreamt of deep dark chocolate, devils food cake, and a fudge so gooey it would give most a toothache with but a single bite.  Tasty temptations tantalize her, just as they did when she was a tot and a teen.

As an adult, she anticipates a table full of delicacies.  Days prior to the Thanksgiving feast, she begins to delight in reveries of turkey, dressing, potatoes, and pumpkin pie.  Peach cobbler, butter pecan ice cream, and the cashew nougat cookies, baked only in the months of November and December are never far from her mind.  The fantasies flow as she thinks of the foods she yearns for most fervently.  Oh, yes, family was part of the celebration.  Good times for all.  However, she did not savor the people in the same way she did the food.

Indeed, it seemed no matter her age, or the time of the year, this lovely lady thought fondly and frequently of what soon would enter her stomach.

It was during the holidays, decades ago, that she began her excursion, her entrée, into the world of wondrous carte du jour, and then, what occurred when more than enough was ingested.  A festival did not invite her or inspire her to overeat.  Banquet spreads did not, later, bring her to the prink of what would become her preferred habit,  binge and purge.  Daily delights were presented to her for as long as she could recall.  In her childhood home, menus were prepared a month before a meal.  

Mommy cooked, baked, broiled, boiled, and sautéed.  When no specific fodder was needed, ingredients for whatever one wanted were still available.  The pantry was always well-stocked.  She could have her fill, although she never was truly satiated.  No one would ever go hungry in her household.  Certainly, she would not.  Unless she chose to waste away, she could fill her face endlessly.

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In her family, every day was a special occasion.  Food was a symbol, a celebration of life.  

If you felt, thought, did, or were alive, you ate.  The relations dined when they were gleeful.  They consumed chow rather than cry.  Sisters, father, and friends who visited chomped on candy, gobbled goodies, and snacked on syrupy noshes.  Hence, the hour when her personal travel first began was not an unusual one.  It was just another moment in a myriad of minutes filled with food.

On that winter day, her Mommy baked beautiful cookies.  The biscuits were large and soft.  The frosty centers were sweeter than the crusts, which were covered in confectioners sugar.  The flat crisp cakes were laid out to cool.  The young women came into the kitchen and saw a solution to what had never been a problem.  She would partake.  The particulars that preoccupied her mind would disappear.  After all, she had learned in childhood, food could cure what did or did not ail her.

Indeed, she was scared.  School was a source of stress.  A graduation date might be near; she wanted no more responsibility.  Relationships had realized a point of no return.  Talk of nuptials was more frequent, although she had no desire to wed.  Financial woes had become very real.  They did not exist in that second.  However, she feared, if she finished her education she would have to search for a job.  No, a vocation.  Those in her life did not expect her to secure a viable prospect.  Nor did they think she could not.  Acquaintances, associates, and close relatives were not concerned.  The pressure came from within her.  

In truth, she was not certain that her educational pursuits, for a supposed "chosen" profession were of interest to her.  The man she loved, while wondrous was not necessarily the person she wished to spend her life with.  No one was or would be.  After twenty-plus years of marriage, her parents divorced when she was young.  She did had no desire to chance that she might do the same.

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While most would be excited by the probability of commencement, a career, and a wedding ceremony, she was not.  She was happy, sort of.  Life was good.  It truly was.  Nonetheless, important decisions, milestones, dominated her every thought.  Her very existence was overwhelmed with what might be.  A distraction would be welcome.  She indulged.  

For the next twenty-five years and three months, she swallowed and spit out quantities of food that could have fed hundreds, perhaps thousands of hungry people.  Sixteen hours a day could be consumed with consumption.  

Frenzied, poised, inspired, uninterested, enthusiastic, inert, empathetic, or numb all were reasons to relate to her best friend, food.  Many mused of her condition.  

Those who knew of her habit and persons who only observed that she was selective when she ate in public, supposed she was worried about her weight.  She did think about the pounds, slightly, although not obsessively.  Unlike friends who watched the scale and dieted.  She did neither.  A machine that calculates the body's mass did not exist in her home.  

Over the course of her lifetime, she saw her shape shrink.  Just as quickly, it grew.  The pounds fell off.  They added up.  She never knew what might occur.  To think of her heaviness would be but an unpleasant burden.  She would rather enjoy herself.  Thus, she ate.

However, each day, as she filled her plates and her stomach, she realized she depleted her soul.  She was never able to avoid the truth.  While she might separate herself from the world, and steal a few moments away from worries, woes, and the world, she was not able to fully hide.  Never could she escape what really hurt her heart, herself.

For far more than one-hundred thousand plus hours of her life, she had to face herself in a manner that was weightier than most ever do.  Alone in a room with a stove and a sink, intentionally closed off from those who might care about her more than she cared for herself, this woman, who might have been labeled with any of many "eating disorders," learned a lesson that she recalled as she read of Oprah Winfrey's own recent realization. 

Here's another thing this past year has been trying to teach me: I don't have a weight problem-I have a self-care problem that manifests through weight.  As my friend Marianne Williamson shared with me, "Your overweight self doesn't stand before you craving food.  She's craving love."  Falling off the wagon isn't a weight issue; it's a love issue.

When I stop and ask myself, "What am I really hungry for?" the answer is always "I'm hungry for balance, I'm hungry to do something other than work."  If you look at your overscheduled routine and realize, like I did, that you're just going and going and that your work and obligations have become a substitute for life, then you have no one else to blame.  Only you can take the reins back.


The female who binged and purged for more than a quarter of a century, the one who starved herself in earlier times, and who, as a child accepted obesity as her path, the person whose story is shared in this treatise would say, "How true."  She might also attest to her own awareness; "Be it a person who is a bulimic, an anorexic, or an individual self-described as "addicted" to food, the cuisine is not a cause for deep distress.  Nor is a thin or fat figure the consequence."  Groceries are sought when the spirit of a being is sorrowful.

She learned, not sooner, but far later, superficially, anyone can appear to be joyous.  Many even believe they are, that is, except maybe when they are quiet and alone with only themselves.  Still, without a sense of inner serenity, a sanity that cannot be seen, a person will continue to be ravenous.  Oh, how she knew this to be true for herself.

The adage is, "Money does not buy happiness."  It may also be said, a successful career cannot calm a craving.  Marriage will not alleviate an appetite.  A novelty, a nicety, a gem, or a grand gesture will not fill an emotional emptiness; nor will food.  She discovered for herself, as Oprah might contend, while all these are fine, they cannot replace an authentic fondness felt within.

In her own life, the former overeater, anorexic, and bulimic, the person who no longer stuffs her face, starves, or binges and purges, has faith.  She trusts Miss Winfrey will experience as she finally did; to taste the sweetness of a life in balance, and love in a way that is other than romantic whimsy, is far more sensational than food.

References and reality for many . . . 

  • "How Did I Let This Happen Again?" By Oprah Winfrey.  O, The Oprah Magazine. January 2009



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