oprah quote

Well, today is the beginning! I started my day with my shake and consumed a large handful of supplements to help with the cleansing process. While this program is focused on my eating and exercising, I am being intentional about including a  mental and emotional detox as well. This is an opportunity to take advantage of the clarity that will come from my purification to sort through my mental attic and decide what I want to keep, donate or toss. My expectation when I decided to start this cleanse was that I would come out the other end feeling better physically and, hopefully, shedding some unwanted pounds. Now, I am even more excited about the idea of unburdening myself from some unwanted thoughts and ideas.

This cleanse requires that you keep a log of your food and activity intake for each of the 21 days. As much as I love to write to process my thoughts and feelings, I loathe keeping a food journal. It seems invasive and shameful to me and evokes a potent memory of when I was 9 years old and my mother sent me to Baltimore, MD to spend a week with her sister and family over the Christmas break. I never liked my aunt very much, probably due to the fact that I sensed the tension that existed between her and my mother. As sisters, they struggled with an underlying competitiveness that was reinforced repeatedly by my aunt. She was the older sister and, despite the fact that, by all accounts, her life was far more successful, she could not restrain herself from continually positioning herself against my mother. My aunt had married a man who spent his career as a government official and, together, they raised a family, amassed wealth and my aunt was a prominent member of her community in Baltimore. On the other hand, my mother was the proud owner of multiple divorces, a dysfunctional and broken family and several trips to the ER after some thwarted suicide attempts. Throughout the years I would hear my mother lament my grandmother’s effusiveness and pride towards my aunt despite the fact that my mother lived closer and was often more readily available to care for her as she got older. My aunt walked on water, even though she was consumed with her life in Maryland and my mother was always viewed as the failure. The competition that my aunt manufactured ran deep and she often extended it to me and her son. My cousin and I were just three months apart in age and as close as we could be, only spending time together when they came up to visit our grandmother in NY.  He and I had wild imaginations and would pretend to be Maxwell Smart and Agent 99 or other mysterious characters as we set out on adventures inside and outside our grandmother’s apartment building in Queens. To keep us on our toes, my aunt would often create little contests between us to see who could read a book faster or quiz us to determine which of us was smarter. I dreaded her games yet felt compelled to participate. And, I was not about to come out on the bottom if I could avoid it.

I only visited my aunt and her family at their home this one particular Christmas and then again with my mother and siblings to attend my cousin’s Bar Mitzvah several years later. I was so proud of myself for traveling on the plane all by myself, overcoming any fears I might have had at such a young age. When I arrived at my aunt’s house, all my pride was immediately erased as I realized the true intent of this visit. My aunt, perhaps in cahoots with my mother, planned to subject me to her own customized fat camp to address my unacceptable chubbiness. Shortly after we arrived at the house, I was summoned to the bathroom to step on the scale and be shamed into revealing my dirtiest secret. I was an emotional eater, using food as a replacement for the love and comfort that was lacking from my family and, back then, no one cared why you overate or abused food, you simply needed to stop doing it and lose weight. My childhood was marked by the embarrassment of always being a bigger kid and the teasing and torment that I faced from the other children because of my size. Not surprisingly, when I do see the rare photos that exist from that period in my life, I was not as big as I remember feeling but it did not matter. Inside of me, I knew I was being held hostage by food and could not control what I put into my mouth because I was constantly looking to plug my holes with cake and cookies and whatever else I could find to ease the pain. My identity was completely wrapped up in my weight and, even if I was just 10 or 15 lbs. heavier than most of the other kids my age, I felt ashamed and wrong. The humiliation I was subjected to with my aunt only further reinforced that I was broken or damaged and needed to be fixed. Even my own family could not accept me as I was. Any fun that I would have with my cousin that week would we wiped away each time I was marched to the scale, leaving behind small pieces of myself in that bathroom.

I have decided not to weigh myself during this cleanse. I have a rough idea about how much I weigh but it is not relevant for me now. While I hope to lose weight, I am more interested in how I feel inside of my body. Gaining control over my eating is less about losing weight and more about removing the burden that has been buried deep inside me for 40 years. I feel inadequate and insignificant when my eating is out of control and, whether or not anyone else is judging me, I marginalize myself and let my self-image trump any other success I have in my life. My worthiness is often tied up in how well my jeans fit or how good I look in photographs. Just last night we had my husband’s family over for dinner and in the midst of dessert chat as we were laughing and sharing stories, a photograph of me and my children from three years ago caught my eye. I dropped out of the conversation and was lost in my disgust with myself because of how much better I looked in the picture. I had just lost a significant amount of weight and was working out intensely. I felt embarrassed to have the picture on display because, to me, it was living proof that I am not able to manage my weight effectively. I struggled to return to the group and abandon the negative noise inside my head.

I’m willing to track my food and exercise during the cleanse but am focusing on this activity as a measurement of matching my intake and output with how I feel. This is not an accounting of whether or not I am eating the right foods or spending the right amount of time exercising. Instead, this is an attempt to reprogram myself to understand how what I eat and how much I move affects how I feel both physically and mentally. I am trying to redirect the neurons to create a different experience. I’m excited to see if I can pull this off because it will be game-changing. They say it takes 21 days to make new habits. Let’s see if I can prove that theory.

More to come tomorrow….