December 6, 2010


I spent most of Saturday listening to Christmas records and cooking treats for my co-workers - it was finally snowing for the first time, and I was totally full of Christmas spirit. This may not sound like much, but I'm usually not over-the-top full of holiday cheer, so this was really wonderful. I think quite a bit of it had to do with the new-jeans-self-esteem high I was riding on, but whatever the source, I was grateful for it.

After cooking for most of the day, I headed to the gym to do my running for C25k - another two and a half miles under my belt! As I was leaving the gym, I noticed that I had a missed call from my family. Usually I wait until I get home to call them back, but seeing as how I had over ten minutes to wait for the bus and it was snowing, I figured a quick call would help pass the time and maybe even keep me a little warm.

My whole family was talking on the speaker phone - they were all sitting around the kitchen table playing a family game of Scrabble. With my heart full of spirit, I honestly wished that I were there. They asked what I had done all day, and I told them about baking dozens of gingersnaps, and I told them how proud I was of myself that I hadn't even eaten a single one!

There was silence. Then indistinct whispering.

Jokingly, I asked, "Are you guys talking smack?"

My sister Lisa quickly replied: "Yeah."

"What's going on?"

"You can't eat even just one cookie?!"

"Well, I could, but I don't want to. One cookie is like 150 calories. That's fifteen minutes on the elliptical machine. It's not worth it to me."

Then, my mom spoke up: "You're not going to be a freak when you come home, are you?"

Cue me, standing in the snow under a streetlight, sobbing.

I know what she meant: more "obsessive" than "circus side-show." But the tactless choice of words brought up so many deeper feelings that I've been harboring.

I spoke with a therapist a few weeks ago about my apprehensions about going home, which have been plaguing me since August when I started trying to eat better and exercise. The stress is based on more than simply maintaining healthy eating habits and regular exercise.

This is my family back in May when I graduated:

wisconsin cheese tour
This is me the last time they saw me, compared with me now:

ow oww!
I am by no means "thin" - at nearly eighty pounds lost, I'm still not even halfway to my goal. But I am thinner than I was, and (more importantly) healthier than I was, and that already sets me apart. I might not be the smallest one just yet, but it is likely that the next time I see them, there will be a huge physical difference setting me apart from them.

As I develop my identity as a formerly super obese person, I am losing a huge connection to my family.

There's always been an odd tension because my parents are blue collar folks with high school diplomas and I'm an academic professional with a graduate degree - not a problem, more of an odd distinction that we just can't relate or agree about some things - for example, my mom couldn't understand why I would want to go to college to study French literature, and my dad panicked at the idea of student loans. It's also difficult that they're all in Connecticut and I'm in Chicago, so if Mom is sick or Dan has a chorus concert, I just can't be there the way the others can. They are living a life that I am part of, but only as an extension. And so, wanting to eat healthy and exercise is another thing that sets me apart from a family I already feel hugely distant from.

I've always considered my family to be extremely close. I love them more than anyone or anything else in the world, and I would do absolutely anything for them. I know it's completely irrational, but my heart aches just thinking that they're not going to love me the same as they did back when I was inactive and overindulged on food.

My family, unsurprisingly, are big eaters - especially at the holidays. Everything is rich and heavy, and everything is excessive. I'm not planning on being a "freak" when I get home. I'm not expecting huge losses while I'm there, but I would at least like to maintain - that in itself would be a tremendous victory. I fully intend on enjoying the holidays (within reason) - but Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are only two of the seventeen days that I will be in Connecticut.

After hanging up the phone, I went home and finished making my cookies. I ate one, and it was highly unsatisfying. It didn't make me happy like it used to, and it didn't make me forget how sad I felt after what my mom said. I remember holidays past, sitting in front of the cookie tray and eating every single one of whatever my favorite kind of cookie was that year. I don't want to feel forced to do things I do not agree with because I want to fit in - I don't do that with friends or co-workers, and I certainly won't do it with my family. Hopefully doing well with my exercising will help keep me focused on eating well, and it will help counteract the occasional small indulgences - like I said, I'm not expecting the kinds of losses I see while I am out here in Chicago and completely in control of what gets bought, cooked, and served.

Speaking of exercise, as a final note, my dad called yesterday morning and, in true Dad fashion, told me that he had a surprise for me. He said he knew I was feeling pretty anxious about coming home and being able to keep up my good work, so he had a present for me: a one month membership to the gym in town. I'm so grateful - and partially relieved. I know that between that, the Wii Fit, and training for/running in my 5k on 1/1/11, I will be totally set in terms of physical activity. But the food is my big concern right now, and I'm still really anxious thinking about the pressure I will be faced with in terms of holiday eating (from my mom especially).


Anne H said...

Families can be tough!
But that's a cool present from Dear Dad!
Something you can really use!

Jessica said...

I understand your feeling...My MIL (although I love her to death) can make me feel ackward about the way I eat. She has actually made gagging noises when I spoke about making spaghetti squash, bulgar, and edamame. It makes me feel like there is something wrong with me. She says that I can't really like eating that stuff, that I am making myself. But honestly, I'd rather eat that than some of the fat laden fried things that she loves. Stay strong Mary!

Anonymous said...

It's so, so sweet of your dad to get you a gym membership! That's some high quality support right there.

About being a freak...I think what bothers people about being around people living healthy lives is how they perceive it to reflect back on themselves. I used to be afraid that people were judging me, but I was also judging myself even more harshly. So now that I do try and live healthy, I just do my best to refrain from judgement and unsolicited advice, but still stay my path. I have to do what's best for me first.

Good luck over the holidays - you're so strong and you've come so far, I know you will get through it with flying colors!

Christine said...

That was *AWESOME* of your dad. That's going to be a huge help! When your family goes a bit nutso, you can head to the gym and get your frustrations out in a healthy manner. Embrace all the progress you've made! You've lost a ton of weight and you should be VERY proud of that! Your family is going to be jealous and may cut you down a bit. Don't let them get to you, and embrace your pride.

Mary said...

[From Amy - I accidentally clicked "delete" instead of "publish," because I am clumsy]

Your dad is awesome!! That's so great!

I can totally relate to this post on many levels. Both of my parents only went to high school. My dad is like 3 credits short of being a high school graduate. I live four hours away and am a complete outsider. When I come home I hear stories that should have been shared with me weeks ago. I never know what's going on (most of my extended family lives back home too)

I love my parents more than anything in the entire world and probably have an unhealthy (not reciprocated) attachment to them. I have always been super family-oriented person, and wish I could live back home to be close to them. A lot of this came from my brother dying and it being just me and them. I miss them so much, and my mom doesn't always make me feel like she misses me. My dad says he misses me all the time. My mom puts on a tough exterior (even more so now after my brother died) and has a hard time telling me how she feels. Obviously I know she loves me, just like I know you know your mom loves you... but it's hard when you get that whole hardness from them. My mom has said before that she's jealous of me having went to school and university. That was her dream. I know she feels jealous, but is so very happy for me at the same time, because I get to do things she never got to.

When she was 18, my grandparents moved to my hometown and bought a store (which later turned into our family restaurant) and over 30 years later she is the owner and operator (while my grandparents just get paid). She is trapped in our town and is FINALLY at the point where she realizes that it's not the life she wants and is trying to sell the restaurant.

Anyways... this is already super long but I do have a point!

I think your Mom probably has some jealousy towards you. She likely has wanted to do what you're doing in terms of education and losing weight. She is poking fun at you likely as some sort of coping mechanism on her end.

I think you're doing amazing, and if avoiding every cookie is what you need to do to be able to feel good about yourself then do that... not what you think your family wants you to do because you don't want to be the "freak". They may not say it all the time, but I'm sure they are very proud and happy for all your success... it's just hard to share those feelings when we're jealous.

At the end of the day they are still your family and you still share that bond. You still love them and they still love you.

Katie Warren said...

Maybe because they can't actually SEE you and SEE your progress they still imagine you in all your former glory and wonder why you are acting this way. Maybe actually physically SEEING the differene will be enough for them to appreciate what you are trying to do for yourself. And, it sounds like dad is already on board. Mabye he can help you tackle the rest of the family. By the time you leave you could have inspired them to start a journey of their own! Never know!

Best of luck and I am looking forward to hearing how it goes. =)

financecupcake said...

Wow!! I would be nervous about going home, too. I hope your family is more supportive when you arrive. Your dad sounds sweet and amazing. Your family doesn't understand what you're doing. They haven't made the decision to change like you have. As incredibly frustrating as dealing with their reactions to the new 'freaky' you will be, I know you'll do it. Try not to let their ignorance (I use that word kindly - lack of knowledge) about living healthfully hurt or deter you. Hey, if you want someone to text when something frustrating happens while you're in CT, let me know! Sometimes it just helps to vent and to know you aren't a freak. :) Whatever you do, don't let feelings and emotions build up too much while you're home.

P.S. - Wow, you do look totally different!

Anonymous said...

Your post made me a little sad; why do families have to be the toughest, rudest critics? Keep your chin up and enjoy that gym membership (go Dad!) and everything will fall into place. Remember, this journey is about you, not them. You do not have to please them.

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

Your mother was just expressing her fear, albeit in a clumsy way.

People don't take to change readily, especially if it isn't generated from them. Dad probably recognized this on some level, and wanted to be sure you got the message loud and clear, they support you and love you and want to stay connected - thus, the gym membership.

It was sweet, kind and loving ... and I know you appreciate it a great deal.

You've grown up to be your own person, but that doesn't mean you don't honor your past or love your family. It also means, you need to be true to yourself first.

Stick to your diet plan. And during the trip back East, think of your possible reaction choices, if mom should inappropriately express apprehension, or someone else seems critical. How will you defuse the tension? Humor? Remove yourself (head to the gym)? Cave on your terms? ("I don't feel like cheesecake, but I have a craving for an apple ...")

Don't be baited into an unintentional scene. Keep the spirit of the season close, the love of you family closer, and your diet as your best friend. You can do it!

I think it will go better than you imagine, and you may even inspire some of the family members to start the new year on a healthy note. You never know! You inspire so many people, why not the people who love you most, right?

You'll do well. Mostly, have fun and create some awesome new memories. xxox

Tim said...

It must be pretty difficult for them to see their daughter totally change but I am sure they are so proud of you and your achievements and sometimes it can be hard for certain people to express that. Maybe that was your dads way of showing how much support and respect he has for you on your weight loss challenge.

Anonymous said...

Let me tell you! My mom lives in Charlotte and has been since I was a baby practically. Well, she has always harped on me for my weight. I finally do something about it and she says how proud of me she is, which I don't doubt that she is. But she comes to town for Thanksgiving and comes home from the store with a flippin KING SIZED cookies and cream hershey bar! I mean, HELLO?????? Then she went on to say "Only eat a little of it.." like she was lecturing me on what I can and can't eat which pissed me off and I ended up eating all of it and being even MORE pissed at myself.

I highly doubt your family will love you any less because of your changes! Just think of all the emotional issues you are facing losing 80 pounds. Well, think of the emotional toll that takes on your family too. I mean, for as long as it has been, your family has been THIS way and you've been a part of that. They are how they are and having you come from out of town, 80 pounds less, may make them feel a little jealous of your success and bad about their own lack of motivation. Your success points out their unhealthy lifestyles and you were ready for change but that doesn't mean they are.

Just go there, be yourself, and don't overly talk about your food intake, exercise, etc. They want their old sister to come home but their old sister is gone and a new healthier sister has taken over. My advice, eat everything everyone else eats, but only in small portions. Don't acknowledge your portions to everyone and don't acknowledge their portions to them. Exercise early before everyone else wakes up so that you don't have to pause family time to exercise. Show them that while your attitude and appearance have changed, YOU have not.