September 28, 2010

My Tootsie Roll moment

Earlier this year, there was a period of about a month where I was completely uncertain about what I was going to do with my life. I had decided shortly after my birthday last November to indefinitely postpone my doctoral work, for several reasons: first, because I wanted to take some time and focus on getting healthy, and also, because I constantly felt like school was killing my creativity and I feared losing my joyful life.

In the second week of April, I had my oral defense of my research. After my panel discussed, they called me back into the conference room and greeted me with "Congratulations, Master!" hanging in my office with my BA just like a doctors officeIt was bittersweet. It was a huge relief, because it meant I had passed all three of my exams and could now graduate. But with passing also came incredible anxiety - I am the kind of person who absolutely always needs a plan, and now, there was a massive uncertainty. Since I was four years old, the routine has always been centered on a school year. Now, I had to actively think about what my next step was.

Luckily or not, I'm not married and I don't have any kids, so when looking for jobs, I didn't have any real location restrictions - wherever the wind took me, I would be fine. I wanted to stay in Chicago, but if I couldn't, I was sure I'd end up where I needed to be. Unfortunately, looking for university teaching positions in the city was futile. I applied for lecturer positions in Boston and New Jersey, and didn't hear anything for months. Somewhat jokingly, I started looking around Chicago for whatever job seemed interesting - it didn't have to be academic, since I figured I could certainly benefit from a change of scenery. One of the places I looked at was the Tootsie Roll factory on the South Side of Chicago.

Something interesting about the Tootsie Roll factory is that they let their employees have as much free candy as they want. (In fact, one of the requirements on their job posting page requires that applicants are "not adverse [sic] to sharing your workspace with giant bowls of tasty, complimentary candy.") When I told my brother about it, he flipped out. To a little kid, that sounded incredible. Too good to be true, even. that's just too much, lucy...As an adult, though, I can stand back and recognize that when things sound too good to be true, they usually are.

It's actually a really brilliant plan on the part of the Tootsie company. There's very little risk of theft since the employees can take as much as they want, and typically, when people are allowed (or even encouraged) to indulge themselves on one thing, they grow so sick of it that it can even repulse them. So while new employees might help themselves to plenty of Tootsie Rolls and Pops, odds are that most people only grab things here and there to give to family, friends, and neighbors - because if you had to smell Tootsie products for eight hours a day while on your factory shift, the last thing you probably want when you leave is even more of that.

With my struggles with food and binge eating, I think I was always waiting for my "Tootsie Roll moment," the rock bottom moment when I got sick of eating the way that I did. I thought it would be a miraculous instance where I suddenly saw the light and reformed my habits - and in the meantime, I maintained my self-destructive tendencies, secretly eating massive amounts of unhealthy food. One of the most important things to learn (and also one of the most difficult) is that there is no moment of revelation when your eating habits magically transform themselves. It's a process, a journey of self-education, and it takes a little time.

Now, about two months after I started eating better, thinking about eating two or three cheeseburgers or whole half gallons of ice cream nauseates me. I still want to enjoy these things from time to time, but within reason - and definitely not in excess, never again. After so many years of binge eating, and after finally seeing how amazing it feels to nourish my body with reasonable amounts of whole, healthy foods, it's becoming easier and easier every day to turn down these equivalents of the giant bowl of Tootsie Rolls.


Anonymous said...

Well said! I am overweight but I'm proportionate and people notice the 33 pounds I've lost and they get excited and they ask "what was the turning point?" As if I was supposed to have this "ah ha" moment. Like I broke a chair when I sat down or I overate and got sick as a dog. There is no ah ha moment. People get to a point where they say enough is enough and just try to do the right thing.

Congrats on doing the right thing and getting your health on track!

Ann (-50 lbs in -60 lb challenge) said...

Congatulations, Oh_ !!