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the real skinny on losing it
True confessions and divine revelations of a former yo-yo dieter
By Michelle McKinney Hammond
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2010 Michelle McKinney Hammond
All right reserved.
Chapter One Looking in the Mirror
I WAS IN CRISIS, and I knew it. Pure envy and a smidge of hatred (did I say pure?) had filled my heart. There is nothing like being in a changing room filled with skinny little models to highlight your cellulite and take what your thighs really look like to a whole other level.
Here I was, modeling for a fund-raiser for my girlfriend, renowned designer Barbara Bates, and having a weight crisis before hitting the runway. I was one of the "celebrity models." Meanwhile, the real models, little waifs with absolutely no body fat, paraded around in their thong underwear with no bras, naked and unashamed, while I bolted to the darkest corner I could find to try on my ensemble. Yes, I admit it: I looked. I stared. I swallowed the lump in my throat and thought back to when I had been that size. Then I headed for the table laden with a spread of hors d'oeuvres and reached for something with cream in it. Hey, my motto is If you can't join them, eat something.
The words from one of the millions of diet books I'd read came back to me: Observe how skinny people eat and imitate them. Those skinny little nymphs never went near the table of hors d'oeuvres. The one that finally sidled over to peruse the spread settled for one pitiful little grape. One grape! What was that supposed to do? One grape wouldn't know what to do in my system; it would have too much room to float around. It is a horrible thing to feel trapped in one's own body and not know how to get out. Watching what skinny people ate was not working for me; it only made me frustrated. And yes, observing thin people's eating habits made me eat more while my body image plummeted to even greater depths.
Oh, I knew how to dress up my weight issues. I cleaned up well, believe me. I knew every trick in the book, from my scientifically constructed undergarment foundation that had promised to take me down three dress sizes in three minutes (and did) to wearing the right colors and lines to appear smaller than I really was. Even as others looked me up and down, approvingly cooing, "Ooo, did you lose weight?" I knew the real deal. The minute I unsnapped that bad sister (my undergarment), the awful truth would once again explode. The truth of the matter was that I was naked and very ashamed. I was fat! Quiet as it was kept, after all the sucking it up and dressing it up, there was no way around what my mirror and I intimately knew.
Now most people would say, "Michelle, what is the big deal? You're not really fat. You are the average size of most of America! Men still think you are fine. When they stop looking, you're in trouble, but until then, get a grip, girl!" But in my mind I was fat, and that is all that mattered. Because I was used to being so much smaller, weight and size were all relative. You have to understand that I graduated from high school weighing 103 pounds. Did you hear what I just said? 103. That is one-zero-three. Many moons and many pounds later, I can tell you that 103 is a very vague memory. And though you live in the skin you're in, you never get used to the new you. Your mind keeps reminding you of "the way we were."
I could sympathize with Princess Diana, who went to extremes to lose weight after deciding she didn't like how she looked on camera. I could second that motion. Trust me, for every woman who has ever said to me, "Oh, you are so much prettier in person! Did you lose weight?" I cursed the camera that added ten pounds, and then I cursed myself for not getting rid of the ten pounds that would make me look on the screen the way I did in person.
Image is everything. It defines us and validates us, or so we think. It affects our self-esteem, our moods, the way we carry and present ourselves to others, and even the way we interact and love. It can make or break a relationship. It's true. I recall meeting this cute French man one Christmas holiday. He thought I was the most beautiful woman in the world until my own self-loathing drove me to show him photos of a much thinner me, just to prove I was really cute, in case he didn't think I was beautiful enough. His encouragement for me to diet didn't do a lot for the relationship, I can tell you that. Though I was the perpetrator of his desire to see a smaller version of me, I held it against him and no longer felt comfortable or beautiful. Did it make me stop eating? Absolutely not. I got rid of him and kept the food. It was more comforting. It loved me back ... or did it?
As I stood in front of the mirror looking at my lushness in all its glory, berating and insulting myself, it was as if my supersonic spiritual hearing were open. I heard the voice of God. I am not lying to you. He said, "Michelle, if you were at an art museum looking at a painting and the artist were present, would you talk in negative terms about what he had created?"
"Of course not!" I answered.
"Why not?" He asked.
"Because I wouldn't want to hurt the artist's feelings?" I muttered.
"Well," He said. "I am the artist of you, and I'm standing here with you. I created you fearfully and wonderfully. You were good and perfect in My eyes until you got ahold of yourself. Don't insult My creation. The parts that you don't like are the works of your own hands, so do something about it." Talk about a slap in the face! He was right. I was the one who had added stuff to the canvas that He had not put there. It was not my body's fault it looked the way it did; it was my fault. I kept feeding it. It simply complied to all my offerings. There it was. The cold, hard facts. The ugly truth. Ah, but the truth can set you free if you let it.
I don't know about you, but God talks to me a lot when I'm looking in the mirror, perhaps because that is where victory will always begin. One of my favorite songs by Michael Jackson says exactly that. I have to look at the woman in the mirror and decide to make the change. It begins with me. It begins with you. We're making a simple decision and remaining committed to our commitment. Sounds simple, but it's not that easy, and we all know it. A lot of things stand in the way of us and our commitment. Throughout this book, we'll take a look at those things one by one. But in the meantime, it's time to get real with yourself once and for all.
KEEPING IT REAL
What do you think of yourself? How do you really feel about your present state of being? How does your physical image compare with the image you have of yourself in your head?
How driven or motivated are you by other people's opinions of your image?
What needs to happen to make you reconcile where you are to where you want to be?
What is a realistic goal of what you would like to look like?
My girlfriend Vanessa always says, "I'm not fat. I'm just fluffy." Sometimes when you're not happy with where you are, a little humor goes a long way until you get moving toward your goal.
Chapter Two The Real Issue
ONCE UPON A TIME there was a woman who had an issue. Girl, I'm not talking about you; I'm talking about another woman, okay? Anyway, she had had this issue for a long time. She had struggled and sought help from various sources to no avail; she only ended up worse for the wear, living in the isolation that comes from wearing out people with our issues. One day she heard that this man who healed people was coming to town, so she pressed her way through the crowd to grab hold of his garment. Well, instantly her issue was solved. She could feel it. She was healed! It was a miracle! But now she had a new problem. The man wanted to know who had been pulling on his clothing. Humbly, she stepped forward and told him "the whole truth."
Hmm, what truth did she tell? And why did she have to tell him all her business? She knew it was time to face her issue once and for all, call it what it was, and put it to rest. She knew that acknowledging what had led her to the state she was in was critical to maintaining her healing. Usually the issue is just the fruit that grows from the root of something we've ignored or overlooked. There is always a story behind the issue. There was something to learn from this woman's issue. Can I get an amen?
You may have guessed by now that I'm referring to the biblical story about the woman with the issue of blood. The stranger who healed her was Jesus. I've always been fascinated with this story, not just because I'm nosy and wanted to know what the real deal was with this woman, but because of the story surrounding this incident. The chapter actually starts with Jesus going to see a young girl who is at the point of dying. Keep in mind that this girl is twelve years old. On His way to see the young girl, the woman with the issue stops Him. The woman has been struggling with her issue for twelve years. Just as the woman is healed, Jesus receives news that the child has died. The news interrupts the conversation the newly healed and whole woman is having with Jesus. Jesus leaves the woman, goes and raises the child from the dead, and commands her parents to feed her.
I've read this story several times. The same thought always comes to mind. In some sort of spiritual way, I think the woman and the little girl are connected. Mm-hmm. There is something charming about the girlish nature of a woman until that little girl begins to act out. It can rob a woman of her victory. You see, childlike and childish are two different things. Yet for most of us there is some area of arrested development—something that makes us act childishly—that endangers our health, wealth, and wholeness and affects our quality of life based on the responses we have to the things life brings our way. The number twelve was the common denominator in both the woman's and the little girl's stories. This number is spiritually significant regarding government or a thing being established or becoming law (think twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve disciples—they were foundational in establishing God's Kingdom in the Old Testament and the New Testament). Past experiences or reoccurring disappointments can develop grounded beliefs that become "law" to us and drive our behavior. This childish behavior can keep us from gaining or keeping the victory we crave so deeply. Maturity demands that we make different choices, exercise different disciplines, and stop having knee-jerk reactions. As mature women, we have to deal with certain harsh realities and not allow the way we think and respond to be mastered by our emotions. It is not until we are willing to put to rest certain childish notions and habits and feed ourselves with a healthier mind-set that we can move on to the wholeness we all long for. This can be an ongoing issue for years or until you get tired of being sick and tired.
I remember the day many years ago when I sat in a counselor's chair at Diet Center, my latest endeavor to get rid of extra pounds. I was determined to get on top of my weight. I had finally concluded—after trying the gamut of fad diets that worked for a minute before heaping back on more pounds than I had lost—that I needed supervision. The slim lady sitting opposite me at the center was so nice. She leaned in, speaking in hushed tones, almost conspiratorially, as if this were our little secret and we were in this together. That was soooo not true. My arm couldn't fit into one of her pant legs! The more she went over the diet plan with me, the more I fought against the urge to weep. This sense of mourning that I couldn't explain just washed over me. It came from somewhere deep within as if I were saying farewell to a deeply loved friend, although I had never called the roll on my stomach that. I fought back the tears, afraid that if I let out one sigh, I would end up on the floor, bawling my eyes out.
"Anything else?" she smiled as she summed up her instructions and handed me my bags of prepackaged salad dressings, pills to boost my metabolism, and booklets of instructions and menus. I silently shook my head and rose from my chair, afraid that if I said anything, I would explode. "Well, you just call if you have any questions, and I'll see you next week." Again I wordlessly nodded, managed a weak smile, and fled before I burst into tears.
Leaning against the bathroom stall, I wondered what my meltdown was all about. I felt as if I were in a spiritual tug-of-war like the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz, who screamed, "Help, I'm melting," when Dorothy splashed her with water. I think my fat was recoiling from the thought of finally meeting its demise. Something inside of me knew this was it. This was D-day. I was going to lose the weight, but then what?
Though I wanted to lose weight, I felt sad at the prospect. Why was this such a fight for me? Why was I suddenly consumed with fear and angst? That was when it struck me. My issue with food was more than pleasure seeking gone out of control. It was a safety issue. I felt safe when I was fat, even though I didn't like the way I looked. My fat kept me out of trouble. As a little underweight girl in school, I had been prey for bullies. I felt helpless because of my size. I didn't stand a chance against those who were significantly larger than me. I spent most of my childhood trying to put on weight to no avail. So I hid behind hefty friends, relying on them to keep me safe. They were more formidable foes to those who threatened me. I was the brunt of jokes. I was "Little Bit" and "Weasel." One day in art class, we took turns drawing one another; when my turn came to be the model, the guys snickered and drew straight lines while someone yelled, "We can't see her." It was a very traumatic time I wouldn't relive for millions of dollars. I was a foreigner with a heavy West Indian accent, too smart, bucktoothed, and too skinny. Not a pretty picture. And worse than the fear was the loneliness I felt in my isolated world of a place called "different." Little did I know, Little Bit wouldn't last for long. Age and hormonal changes made up for what my figure lacked as I turned the bend into womanhood and left childhood behind.
All of a sudden at the age of eighteen, I had curves! And those curves attracted all types of men I wasn't ready to deal with. I was used to being ignored. All of a sudden the tables had turned. I was overwhelmed by all the attention and naive about making the right choices. With each relationship disappointment, my weight began to increase. Before I realized it, by the time I reached twenty-two, I had the opposite weight problem, and the seesaw dieting began between relationships.
As an adult no longer afraid of bullies, another danger loomed nonetheless. Now my fat protected me from the wrong men and the drama that came with them. My realization after the visit to Diet Center was that a new, skinny me would once again be vulnerable to those men and wrong decisions that seemed bigger than my capacity to overcome or even resist. If I could subconsciously disqualify myself from the attention of those things that got me into trouble, I wouldn't have to deal with them.
There, I've said everything out loud, "the whole truth," or at least I've made a good start. As often as I had joked about the fact that, if you had to be in an awful relationship, you should at least be able to enjoy the view, no gorgeous man is really worth your health's being in jeopardy. Why should he walk away from the relationship looking as fine as when he entered and leave you looking worse for the wear? And no temptation or person should have the power to drive you toward an unhealthy lifestyle—such as being overweight. You're going to have to weather the tests in your life one way or another without succumbing to self-degradation. Think about it. Anyway, that's a sampling of my truth, my issue. What about you? What is really at the core of your weight issue?
It's easy enough to blame it on your mother's insisting you clean your plate or your respect for people starving in Ethiopia. Of course, there is truth to a woman's body changing at different stages of her life, so you can blame it on menopause, men on pause, or whatever. There are a multitude of excuses one could hide behind. But the truth of the matter is that, at the end of the day, the reason you are not at your desired weight lurks deep within you—not in the pit of your stomach but in your subconscious. The truth lies in an experience or experiences that trigger you to abuse your body by overeating, not eating enough, or just having enough bad eating habits to make your metabolism pack up all its toys and abdicate its post. There is a reason your body is not cooperating with you, and we are going to get down to the real nitty-gritty together.
I say, no matter how ugly or ridiculous your issue sounds, let it out and let the healing begin!
Excerpted from the real skinny on losing it by Michelle McKinney Hammond Copyright © 2010 by Michelle McKinney Hammond. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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