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Archive for May, 2014

So I posted that I’m on a very restricted diet this month, and I plan to really work at doing better with some of my eating habits. I do eat lots of healthy foods but my downfall is my sweet tooth. I also eat a lot of grains. Whole grains, mind you, but grains nonetheless. I am just going to have to do better at eating at least a little less of the healthy carbs and a lot less of the non-healthy ones.

Let me NOT eat cake...

Let me NOT eat cake…

I knew this going in, but it’s been pretty interesting going through this at this time of the year: May for our family is birthday month. Including the child whose birthday is April 30 (nearly May), we have four birthdays in the month, not to mention Mother’s Day. That makes five celebrations in a mere 32 days at our house. And what do we think of first when it comes to celebrations? Food. Cakes are the top priority for birthday gatherings. And ice cream. I absolutely ADORE ice cream. (My grandma says when I was just a preschooler visiting her, whenever we’d pass the nearby Baskin-Robbins in her car, I’d LEAN toward it. I gravitate toward it naturally.) My husband has gotten in a habit of ordering ice cream cakes from there for my birthday every year. I’m getting one for my oldest daughter’s birthday today and one for my third’s party next week.

So I knew I’d definitely be sacrificing some serious sweets this month. It was and still is a price I’m willing to pay to take better care of myself and to lose some weight quickly before big events — and photos — in a few more weeks. But I didn’t foresee just how much my husband and children would be beside themselves about the situation. “I was going to get you an ice cream cake!” bemoaned my husband. “We can’t make you breakfast!” lamented my daughters on Mother’s Day. Pancakes, waffles, muffins: all out. A big glass of ice-cold water is still a very fine thing. Keep me hydrated, kids, and stat.

It’s actually been kind of funny to watch them squirm. It’s not just them; I think pretty much anyone in our society today would have the same reactions. We are just THAT programmed to go right to food as the top way to celebrate. And it’s generally all the kinds of treats that are bad for our bodies; sugar is getting more and more vilified, for good reasons. (Now don’t get me wrong: an occasional treat or dessert is perfectly fine, IMHO. That’s why it’s a “treat,” though, not a regular occurrence, and I’ve had a problem with that.)

This phenomenon is part of why it can be so difficult to “diet” or, better, really change our regular eating habits. Everything we do is far too saturated with food. Emotional eating (of fat- and sugar-saturated goodies, naturally) is essentially a way for us to have our own little pick-me-up parties when everything else in our lives is far from party-like.

I’ve been telling my family to stop worrying about not being able to feed me. I’m quite well nourished, thank you very much. But I could use some quiet time, some foot massages, some more obedience from my kids. I would appreciate even more than candy or cookies to have my dishes washed and clothes folded without me having to ask for them to be done (if anyone really wants to know, I can come up with a mighty long list right here). Of course, those are harder to do; no wonder everyone just wants to give me a Hershey’s Kiss instead. But these lips aren’t puckering up for those little sugar bombs this month. And hopefully I’ll do far less in the future.

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So Mother’s Day in the United States has just passed, a day in which millions of women received handmade cards with paint-stamped body parts in shapes of hearts and various forms of breakfast, either in bed or at the table. It was a day in which mothers smiled and were gracious about the efforts of their young progeny, same as pretty much every other day of the year.

It was also a day that induced or amplified all kinds of emotions in women of all ages and stages of life, ones who have children and those who do not. So let me address one of those emotions that tends to rise to the surface yet again for some mothers on the second Sunday in May: guilt.

Yep, one of my obligatory Mother's Day photos, in which at least one kid is making a funny face.

Yep, one of my obligatory Mother’s Day photos, in which at least one kid is making a funny face.

Here’s one scenario of feelings that can play out that Sunday, particularly if one attends church, where people stand at the pulpit and talk about their angel mothers: I am not good enough. As a mother, I do not sound at all like the description often made of those amazing moms whose stories go down in the history books of being completely self-sacrificing, completely loving and giving, completely kind and always up for listening to a child’s ramblings, no matter how constant or stream-of-consciousness they may be. These women never seem to snap, never seem to request a break just for some peace and quiet, never ask for “me” time, never tell a kid to come back later.

If, for some reason, a woman doesn’t hear those kinds of talks or they just don’t bother her, then there’s still the rest of the day to barrel through, which invariably also means her husband and children are eager to make her happy. If you’re like me, someone who can get overloaded and overstimulated seemingly far too easily, and you just made a T-shirt quilt for the high school band director so her senior daughter and fellow seniors could have a personalized gift to give him before graduation, and you hosted a before-prom dinner for 16 students at her house the night before Mother’s Day (just as two examples), you probably just want to be left alone for an afternoon and evening to sleep and collect your thoughts again (and gear up for more events and to-do-list items begging for your attention). But your children and husband know it is their DUTY to MAKE YOU HAPPY that day. To them, just leaving you alone and letting you sleep, etc., translates into profound failure on their part, because MAKING YOU HAPPY means being with you every moment, attending to your every supposed need and loving on you.

So as a mother, you’re stuck. Either you take the needed time to just be alone and manage to rest up enough so you can forge on with your selfless mothering duties for the rest of the week, month, year, and lifetime, for all those other days for which you are supposedly celebrated and venerated on the one Sunday, OR you suck it up and spend time with the kiddos doing things they enjoy because they think it’s stuff you enjoy and that will make them happy.

Let’s just say that mothering guilt will inevitably occur. No matter what, you’re back at that familiar rock and hard place.

Let’s just posit this idea: women generally are and want to be selfless when it comes to their families, except for those women who truly are just bad mothers (they do exist, you know). They do make sacrifices, some seemingly bigger or more story-worthy than others, at different levels that are unique and personal and necessary for each (some even sacrifice too much, honestly, more than is good for their own mental and emotional health). So the reality is that there’s going to be at least some level of guilt on the day they’re celebrated, at some moment or hour during that day. There’s going to be guilt because there’s guilt 365 days a year; there are just a few new twists on it on Mother’s Day, in addition to the regular ol’ garden-variety guilt.

How about we just declare the day “Mom, don’t feel guilty” day? How about we ban guilt for one day? It’s a bold and wacky idea, but maybe we can give it a try. It might be very liberating.

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You know when you dream about eating something off-diet and demanding of some complete (thin) strangers walking by, “Do you ever eat?!”, you’re self-conscious (and frustrated) about your weight.

I’m half-proud, half-embarrassed for myself that I embarked on a strict diet last week, mainly because, yes, I want to look better. And I want it to happen fast. Here’s the thing: I have felt very self-conscious about my weight in photos of late, and I have several big events coming up for which I’ll be in numerous photographs, and I don’t want to look fat.

Yep, there it is.

Yep, my self-image is pretty distorted right now.

Yep, my self-image is pretty distorted right now.

As much as I talk about self-image and how bad our society is about focusing on looks, whether it’s regarding weight, age, or relative size of body parts, I still struggle with it myself. Sometimes not so much, other times mightily. As I most recently mentioned to my therapist, “I feel horrible about how I look.” Her response: “Right now you’re very stressed and not feeling good about yourself in lots of other ways, so that’s not surprising.” Meaning, essentially, try not to worry about it; it’ll pass when you manage to process everything else that’s had you down.

So I kind of feel like a hypocrite when I’m urging everyone, male and female, to be more aware of how media and society all around us dose us liberally and continually with the religion of thinness and image, of airbrushed (impossible-to-achieve) perfection, and I am struggling with it so much still.

It’s complicated by the matter of health: when I’m stressed, I eat sweets. I overeat. That’s simply not good for my body, and that’s important. So I do also want to work on that. I want to break my physical and emotional addiction to sugar and my reliance on food as a crutch. But I would like to figure out how to separate that out from my worries about how those habits affect my LOOKS.

Here’s another thing: plenty of people out there have far worse eating habits than I do, but they’re thin. So their health might be in need of improvement, but they either don’t worry about it, or they don’t worry about others seeing them as fat. Because don’t we tend to judge people who are overweight? We automatically think, They need to eat less. They need to have better self-control. They need to take better care of themselves. But health and thinness are not always directly correlated.

That’s not to say I excuse myself for slipping into bad habits. I can do better by my body sometimes. But our society judges on appearance, and I judge myself. I have a lifetime of negative messages to overcome. And that simply makes it much more difficult to just take care of myself the way I should because I’m devoting so much emotional energy to the image part of the equation, which is NOT the important part; overall health is.

I have had a lot to deal with the past months, the past year, with a few breaks in the onslaught of expectations, responsibilities, and struggles to catch my breath. I anticipate having some breaks to catch my breath and focus more accurately on taking care of my health — emotional, mental, spiritual and physical — fairly soon, but in the meantime, I’m just getting through it as well as I can.

And dieting. Like I said, I’m a little embarrassed because I’m doing it almost exclusively for the reward of looking better in pictures. It’s not the example I’d like to set but I’m doing it anyway, just because right now so much has beaten me down I don’t feel good about myself in many ways; I feel weak and run-down and just not up to snuff. I feel like I’m letting people down left and right because I simply can’t do everything everyone needs me to do at all times. So that feeling extends to how I look.

I’m going to keep working on my self-image, my self-esteem, the ways I look at myself and talk to myself. I’m going to do better. Just forgive me the lapses right now in my actions and how they don’t match my ideals. It’s a process for me, and it’s a process for us all as individuals and as a society. For me, this topic mixes my mental health awareness-raising with my awareness-raising about society and image. The intersection is a little delicate, and I’m navigating it as well as I can in this tricky time. I hope I’m making progress in it all because all I can do is just hope I’m slowly doing better. I’m going to just try to remember to pat myself on the back for what I’m doing better: life isn’t about improving overnight. It’s a journey with all kinds of intertwined paths leading to a place where we’re our best selves in all aspects.

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