It all started with a heart attack.
One massive, life crushing heart attack.
When you lose someone you love, people always say they can remember that day “like it was yesterday.” That’s not quite the case for me. Oh, I remember it … the day my mother’s boyfriend ran into the room with the phone, a panic stricken face look on his face, hurling the phone at me like it was the a piece of devil-hot coal.
“It’s 911….YOUR MOTHER ISN’T BREATHING!”
That day feels like a century ago to me. And while I remember how those next 15 minutes progressed (lifeless eyes, the sound of gurgling air, the temporary disappearance of my little brother from the scene, as he attempted to cope with what was happening, the stopping of time as we waited desperately for the ambulance to get there, the physical exhaustion from the CPR…)…
It’s all veiled in a hazy cloud of time passed. The pain of that day is now, fortunately, muted by nearly 15 years.
Looking back on the months leading up to that moment, and the week beyond it until we buried my mama, makes me shake my head in disbelief.
The signs of her impending doom had been there. The building blockages that had been causing her pain disguised themselves and chronic heartburn. Her heart’s decreased ability to pump oxygen to her body presented as the fatigue associated with being a single mother plagued by a nasty, stressful divorce.
Oh…and there was that visit with the ER doctor the night before she died.
The signs were there.
She told them she thought she was having heart attack. They did an EKG that desperately screamed “HELP ME” but either (a) did not read it before sending her home or (b) did not care what it said and sent her home anyway.
She had died the next morning at home of a massive, misdiagnosed, preventable heart attack.
The signs were there.
Why didn’t anyone see them?
The Divorce Years
Rewinding a bit … My parents divorced about 9 years prior to my mother’s passing … when I was maybe around 12 years old? The years get fuzzy – but needless to say, this period of a pre-teen’s life is an extremely vulnerable one. The beginning of junior high is a time of “finding yourself.” A child needs stability more than ever as they begin to navigate this new, crazy world of personlities and cliques and boyfriends and…well you know. When I look back at pictures from that time, it’s easy to see that my weight was crawling upward slowly. I was using food to cope with what was turning out to be a horrible, nasty, bitter, kids-in-the-middle kind of divorce.
So I ate. A lot.
And so began what I believe to be the start my deep, DEEP connection between food, eating, emotions and dieting.
The Lupus Years.
At age 15, 4 years prior to my mother’s death, I was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) an autoimmune disease that affects the internal organs and connective tissues. I was pretty lucky – SLE is often a difficult disease to diagnose, due to it’s constellation of symptoms.
I was fortunate though.
My mother was a crazy, beautifully psycho Mama-Bear when it came to her kids. She KNEW something was wrong when the swelling began. I remember laughing and telling her “Hey mom! My feet look like jiggly water balloons!”
She didn’t think it was funny. We were in the ER that night. Stage IV kidney dysfunction and 3 days later, I was getting the first of many rounds of Cytoxan and high dose prednisone (which sent me appetite out of control), two drugs that together would be an unstoppable force for my lupus.
But it would also claim my hair, my slim face and thin body.
Oh – and did I mention that the nasty contention STILL persisted between my parents? The simmering tension, despite their separation, continued to smolder inside my heart and my stomach. Add in a constant cocktail of high dose steroids?
It shouldn’t surprise you that I eventually hit 300lb – almost 135lb greater than my pre-lupus weight.
I didn’t realize it then – but my relationship with food what the youth like to call a “hot fu**ing mess”
The Post Heart Attack Years
We all have moments in our lives that we call “turning points.” Massive changes in trajectories that propel us forward into scarily unknown realms.
The untimely, unfair death of mother was my biggest one.
It took a long time for me to come out from under the oppressive blanket her sudden death had laid upon me. I was 19 at the time of her passing, dabbling in community college and working part time. Sort of an “I tried to go to college for a year, (Western Mich), got SUPER homesick and came home to try and figure things out” phase. Needless to say, the blow of my loss took its toll on my life in many ways … education and career being one of them.
It was at about age 20 that I decided to “take my health seriously.” My weight had gone even higher after she died, as I dealt with depression and some the post traumatic stress stuff that followed. But the fog DID lift and I realized my health behaviors … well…
So I reduced the calories. I worked out. I lost 80lb.
And to all my HAES and intuitive eating lovelies – I’m gonna keep it real.
I felt great.
During this time, I had become a CHAMPION for prevention of women’s heart disease. I had come out of the fog and decided to turn my pain into something that mattered. I owned my story. I spoke at events for the American Heart Association. I decided to become a Registered Dietitian and preach the gospel of heart health through the use of delicious and nutritious food. I told my mother’s story on the Dr. Oz Show (before he became a quack ha ha). I wrote articles. I campaigned. I changed lives.
I was on top of the world.
The Pre-Baby Prep Years
During my time at Michigan State University, I met and fell in love with my current husband, Rich. I felt so lucky, because he loved me as I was (at the time, I was still self conscious that I needed to lose that last 50lb to be able to “find a man” We got married and spent the next few years enjoying baby-free marital fun!
Then the time came when we knew we wanted to start a family.
Well yes…except there would no “ooops! We’re pregnant”
Lupus makes for an automatically high risk pregnancy and the CellCept I had been on for years was the BIGGEST of No-No’s for pregnancy. The only solution was to wean off the Cellcept, then I had to stay 100% stable lupus wise for six straight months, and only then could I try. Trial and error found that I needed to be on high dose IV solumedrol for that six months, PLUS the oral steroids.
Before I go on – let me talk to you a little about how the idea of chronic prednisone made my insides shiver.
Like, shiver a deep, bone chilling wave of fear.
The weight was going to come back during this process. It sent my dieting self into a tizzy, but I focused on trying to keep the weight from piling on.
In the two years of preparation required before we could try to become pregnant, I gained 15lb, got off the CellCept and onto the high dose steroids. It was my new, ever present, regular medication regimen. I remember thinking “Not too shabby” as I got my first pregnant weight done at the doctor. Seemed I had minimized the “damage.”
The Pregnancy Year
Dude. Pregnancy SUCKED for me.
Like, 100%, down and dirty, hate my life
It’s quite unfortunate to think about now, now that I have this bubbling, happy healthy little 2 year old boy. But during those 8.5 months I was pregnant, the depths of my worry can not be described. For years, it had been hammered into my head the risk of miscarriage with lupus.
The risk!! They shouted. THE RISK!!!
Physically, I actually felt great. My lupus was under great control. His heart was beating every time we go an ultrasound. But I couldn’t shake the fear of loss. What if I lost him at 6 months? What if I lost him at 3? What if he died at birth? I’d have to start over. I’d be on prednisone forever. I’ll never get my life and body back. I’ll be a round balloon forever (isn’t it sad that this was just a huge part of my thought process? In a time when I should be reveling in the fact that I was pregnant…much of my energy centered on the state of my body). The thoughts were constant and oppressive. I wanted this baby more than anything, but also wanted off the prednisone, it’s horrid weight gaining and body damaging effects. My cholesterol was up and I had developed cataracts. Never once was I able to enjoy the fact that there was a life inside me. The fear of loss and ALL it could bring paralyzed me, down into my soul.
So I ate. A lot.
You know, if you look at all the “pregnancy charts”, a 15lb pregnancy weight gain is about normal. I did exactly what my body needed to do, and for that I was proud. Unfortunately, I still had this “OMG you’ve gained 30lb” cloud sort of hanging over my head. I did my best to flick it off my shoulder, because hell, the baby was out, he was healthy!
Nothing though … and I repeat NOTHING … prepared me for what was going to come next.
The Post Partum Depression Year
The dark shroud of what happened after my baby still makes me again, shiver, when I think about it. I needed a c-section to give birth to him safely. He came out. He cried. We rejoiced. The lack of sleep began.
However, being cared for in the hospital after a c-section was awesome. My meds were on time. We had help. We were in the new baby bliss. I was hurting, but happy. Mind blown and all. Then we went home. The horrific roller coaster of emotions literally started about 1 mile from our house. I cried. Just cried for no reason. Then it was over. Then I got home and showered, in pain, and cried again.
If you’ve had a baby, you know the hormone swings I was talking about.
It didn’t ease for me. The darkness just kept on going. I hated my life. I hated myself for hating my life. I resented my baby. I regretted my decision. I was in pain. I couldn’t exercise. I couldn’t sleep. I was stuck at home, done with my career (decided prior to be a stay at home mom) and felt not one ounce of joy. So in order to keep this black hole from sucking me in…I turned to one thing that was always stable and always there. Food.
So I ate. A lot.
The Post-Post Partum Depression and #MyDietRebellion Years
When the fog of my deeply dark days lifted, I realized I had gained some more weight. It was shocking, but I had started to adjust to my new life as a mom. The routine was in place. Exercise was a thing again. I was thinking clearly. I could “undo” the damage.
Boy, was I in for a treat.
During the times of pregnancy, I knew that I wanted to start my own business, helping women lose weight like I had previously. I was really looking forward to this entrepreneurial life and to my up and coming weight loss. The weight loss that didn’t happen. The gravity of this was hard for me. No matter how much I tried to diet or lose the weight, the stress of the dieting overcame me. I could no longer be “perfect” with my dieting habits (being a mom won’t allow for it). The harder I tried, the more psychotic I felt about food. I couldn’t lose the weight. My eating habits were whack. I saw my dreams of becoming my own boss fly out the window. How could I counsel on things I couldn’t make happen? I can’t recall the exact point in time I embraced the intuitive eating lifestyle. Maybe it was in the middle of a desperate crying fit of frustration with my dieting efforts. They weren’t getting me anywhere but highly stress, bigger than I was before and completely distracted from my life. This, my friends, is how the #MyDietRebellion was born. The Health at Every Size and Intuitive Eating Movement had started to seep into my life. Not sure how. The book had been on my shelf for a while but never acknowledged. I wanted so desperately to feel good and strong again. I wanted to enjoy eating healthfully and lose the militant exercise. It drained me, deep to my soul. And if you’re a mother, you know how beautifully soul sucking motherhood already was.
I had less than nothing left to give.
I was tired of looking the mirror and literally saying out loud “UGH” to what I saw. I was tired of feeling guilty if I consumed sugar. The feelings of failure that constantly tornadoed around me had whipped me into an angry frenzy. I wanted my life back. I wanted to be there for my son. I wanted to be there for my husband.
I wanted more…for ME.
Thus I began to build a new way of health for myself…a diet rebellion of sorts, and committed to caring for myself in deeper ways than the number on the scale. I knew the time had come to accept that diets did not work. It would be easy for me to say that a lightbulb just CAME ON one day and BOOM, I was at peace with food and my body. But it didn’t. Anyone who tells you otherwise should be given a real solid side eye. I’d describe it more a slow burn, one that smoldered in the back of my mind for a very long time. It kept whispering the truth to me, but I didn’t want to fully accept it. I mean, if I’m gonna be honest with you? Sometimes there are days when I still don’t want to accept that diets are damaging.
I want to believe that if I could just dig deep enough … for just long enough … that THIS time, the weight will fall off and all my problems will disappear. That I will suddenly experience the level of self love I’ve pined for all my life.
That I will finally be worthy.
But I know it’s all a lie. My eyes have been opened, and they can’t unsee the truth of what has been seen.
The truth that I AM beautiful, no matter my body size.
That I AM worthy of love, no matter my body size.
That there truly is a HAPPY, HEALTHY life outside of diets.
And friend – THAT freedom has been sweeter than any diet has EVER been.
Does this story resonate with you? Or have you gone through anything similar? Please – I’d love to have you comment below and share your story. It helps to know you are not alone!
With the warmth of an oversized grandpa sweater,
So many of you have asked me how I came to where I am today – this is my story. I started the tale in my formative years, because I believe that is where I created the very difficult bond between my emotions and food. My parents’ tumultuous divorce combined with the insertion of a chronic appetite stimulant (prednisone) into my life, it’s VERY easy to see where my issues with food began. The devastating, unnecessary death of my mother was the thing that drove me to nutrition, originally as an outlet for channeling my grief. My baby story? That’s almost one by itself.
The major reason I am telling my story is because I want you to know that I’m in the thick with you. We all have our stories, some more tragic than others, but none more important than any. We all got to this same diet desperation. Just all using slightly different paths. The stress and the self-hatred and the anxiety caused by food can be debilitating. And then there are the times when life ITSELF becomes debilitating. So many of us fall back into food as a source of comfort…which in my personal professional opinion ISN’T the problem.
The PROBLEM is dieting and the diet culture we live in. It tells us to IGNORE what our bodies innately know what to do. It uses a small mechanical monster (the scale) to drain our feelings of self worth.
It makes you feel WEAK and that you LACK willpower. That if you just “tried harder” you’d be perfectly healthy and thin or whatever. It makes you feel gross and ugly. You feel like a failure. You wish you could sew your mouth shut, so that you can lose the weight, so all your problems will go way.
It’s a cycle of vicious proportions.
So let me help you break it.
“Prior to Christie’s challenge, I HATED my body. I had tried all kinds of diets in an effort to change myself but they always left me MORE stressed when they inevitably failed. I would start to feel guilty about everything I ate, and that was hard, because I love food.
This challenge has changed me – I’ve finally realized I don’t need to diet to be happy, and that I have permission to love myself right where I am. I am always a work in progress – but now that I’ve seen that the grass is greener on the other side – I don’t want to go back!
Thank you Christie, THANK YOU, for all the life changing advice and guidance this challenge gave me!