“I am too embarrassed to show you,” my client, *Sheryl said to me during our second session together, referring to the food journal I asked her to start when we had met the week before. Sheryl had come to me , exhausted and frustrated, wanting to lose a “stubborn fifteen pounds."
“Oh Sheryl, I have seen it all before, I’m sure this won’t shock me,” I said reassuringly as I scanned her food log, noticing immediately why Sharon might be low energy. “So…..Cheetos and cinnamon rolls? I asked Sheryl teasingly.
“I know, I know,” Sherylsaid unable to look me in the eye, my husband has cancer and those are the days I spend in the hospital cafeteria while he is getting his chemo treatments.” Ahhhh.
It didn’t take long into my health coaching career before I noticed a common theme. Strong, beautiful, intelligent women ( 99% of my clients were female) who wanted desperately to lose weight, and tortured themselves with very little food throughout the day. Feeling tired, stressed and hungry after a long day at the office, with the kids, or in Sheryl’s case, at the hospital, they would find themselves reaching for the ice cream carton , Doritos bag or wine bottle to fill their body and soothe their minds. Only to find guilt and shame staring at them from the bottom of the cookie box. Sometimes in my sessions with these women, I did not say much at all, I just gave them a safe space to vent about their tangled emotions around food, body, and self-image.
“This probably makes no sense to you, because you are thin,” a client, *Leanne, said to me after a tearful session, confessing her routine date nights with jumbo boxes of Whoppers. On the couch, feeling lonely, in front of the TV, not wanting to eat them but unable to stop. Oh sister, it makes so much sense.
For so many, thin is the goal. The ideal. We believe once we are thin we will no longer struggle with food, body image or self-doubt. Once we lose weight we will not be embarrassed to attend a group exercise class, we will be more confident having sex with our partner, we will be a more engaged parent, a more productive employee, a better friend. We see freedom on the other side of the “fat” door, and believe skinny is the key. I did. But it’s complicated.
I desperately wanted to help these clients attain their “thin". And I knew I could. I could give them structured meal plans that outlined what to eat (down to the ounce) and when they should eat it (down to the hour). I could give them lists of foods to avoid even if they really, really wanted to have them and I could give them intense cardio workouts to be done every day even if it got in the way of other activities they enjoyed. Of course I could and sometimes I did.
But over time it became more difficult for me, because I cared about these women. I wanted to help them nourish their bodies with a wide variety of delicious foods. I wanted to support them in discovering movement they enjoyed and offer ideas for self-care. I wanted to teach them alternate ways to manage their busy, stressful lives that didn’t include rigid rules and punishing expectations.
I wanted to do for them what I was increasingly unable to do for myself.
*Not their real names.