It is six o’clock in the evening on a Wednesday. I am sitting in a semi-circle staring blankly ahead, trying not to make eye contact with the man directly across from me who has an oxygen tank next to him and keeps talking about how he wishes he could step outside for a smoke. There are only five of us so far. I know this because every fourteen seconds or so I look around the room as if I am searching for a clock on the wall, but in reality I am using my peripheral vision to count heads. Is that meaty woman by the door lingering there because she is afraid to commit, or is the success story for the night. I do not count her just yet.
We are all sitting on hard plastic chairs that are intended for children. That are so small my thighs are spilling over the sides. I shift uncomfortably in the seat, and I just know this will give me a rash, or deep lines in my softness, at the least. We are in the dank, dim basement of church that, five days a week, doubles as a pre-k for tired Methodist mommies who just need a fucking break for three hours in the morning so they can Zumba, then hit Publix alone.
My foot is asleep.
The woman beside me is breathing so heavy that with each intake I brace myself for the warm, garlicky steam to waft toward me. I close my eyes to pretend that I am in one of those funny sitcoms where I look over at her and we make eye contact and I say something funny and she laughs. The laughter breaks the awkward silence in the room and then we all become super best friends, bound together by our inability to control our emotional eating and our desperate desire to hide behind jokes, because that is the only way we think people will love us.
We start to meet outside of our designated meeting times. We start to have potlucks with things like kale salad (because we are trying) and Diet Coke (because we are not trying that hard) and we only refer to each other by the nicknames that we created (my best friend is Wynonna because of her red hair, and I am Momma Naomi because I like to tell everyone what to do). We start referring to ourselves simply as group.
I open my eyes to see a skinny, pale blond woman lowering herself onto a large, comfy rolling chair. Why does the skinny bitch get the rolling chair? Ah, she’s the mentor.
Twenty minutes later I say the first words I have said all night, after the blond says, Missy, tell us about yourself.
I’m quiet for an actual minute because I have learned that if you are fat, and no one knows what you are capable of, you can be quiet for so long that the silence gets awkward and the conversation goes on without you in it. This doesn’t work with the blond, because as much as I want her to be just one of the other fat people’s caring sisters who has volunteered to come tell us about Weight Watchers, she is actually a real, goddamn therapist who has been hired to try to reach us. To get us. To help us with our self worth. She continues to silently smile at me, her piercing blue eyes locking onto mine. Because this isn’t my first rodeo with a therapist, and because this is not the first time I have tried desperately to get a skinny, pale, blond woman to like me, I cave.
Hi! (I sort of wave to the group that I have actively been avoiding for the last half hour). I’m Missy and I’m a bread-aholic.
I laugh trying to ease into it. A few chuckles come from around the room and I am hoping I can figure out, by the end of the allotted time, who it was that laughed, because those my people. Meanwhile, the blond loses her smile. She ain’t playin’.
Uh, I am married and have one son and a poodle who is kinda, sorta, well he’s a shithead, but I love him. The poodle, not the husband or son. But I mean, they are sort of all shitheads sometimes, you know?
More laughter. Her smile comes back. Okay, keep going Missy.
I am 37 and have always been overweight. I was the kid who was picked on in second grade for having a big round belly, and also because sometimes I would toot when I sneezed, but never owned up to it.
More laughter. She doesn’t laugh, but her smile broadens. She is starting to like me now. I feel safe for no reason whatsoever, except that probably these other fatties get what I am going through and I assure myself that I am not the saddest sack this blond therapist has ever seen, so I decide to go all in.
Obviously, I hide behind humor. My biggest problem really is bread. Carbs. Sugar. I eat when I am sad. When I am angry. When I am happy. I enjoy over-processed foods, but could tell you what I am supposed to be eating, what I should never allow into my body, and how important portion control is. I know how sugar releases dopamine in my brain. I know that too many carbs can cause inflammation in my joints. I know that people like me, who eat a lot of added sugar, are twice as likely to die of heart disease. I know I should not drink Diet Coke, but when I’ve had a shit day, that’s all I want to do. I exercise five days a week, but I know that you can’t exercise away a bad diet. I do not jump on fad bandwagons. I don’t Keto, or South Beach, or Slim Fast. I know those are not healthy, and unrealistic for the long run. I know, but I do not adhere to most of it.
The group sits with their mouths agape. Oxygen man turns up the dial on his machine. Heavy-breather coughs. Blond woman’s smile fades away. I decide this is probably a bad time to ask if there is a snack table somewhere.
By the end of the night I haven’t realized anything that I didn’t already know. I grew up on TV dinners and pre-packaged lunch meats because we were poor and those went a long way. I never learned to read the ingredients on the box. When I was a kid they didn’t even have to tell you what the hell was in the food you were eating. This aided in a whole generation of new fatties cropping up. McDonalds became a thing in the generation before mine. By the time I was born we had so many different fast food choices it would make your head spin. It does make your head spin, because mental confusion is a symptom of bad eating. I know. But like most things, slowly but surely food and the elevated importance of it in our emotional well-being took over and no one, no one stood up to say we have to stop.
But, I also know that at this point in my life it is no one’s fault by my own for still being overweight. I have been given all of the tools that I need to succeed. Anyone can now Google how to rid yourself of sugar, how to restart your cravings. I know people who do the Whole 30 every other damn month. And they do it because it is freaking hard to stick to it. It is freaking hard to retrain your brain. Hard to live everyday in a mental fog, wishing and hoping for just a little suckle off the old fructose bottle. Because we all want to be happy, right?
I’ve never been to an Overeaters Anonymous group, and court-ordered would be the only way I would go. Though I am having a hard time figuring out what would make a court order you to a place like that. Do I need to stab someone over a lack of cheese at Taco Bell? What if I lifted a case of Little Debbie Snack cakes from the Kroger down the street? But I suspect if I did go to one of those meetings, it would end up being a lot like the scenario above, because although I do not know yet how to get a handle my emotional cravings, I do know myself.
For now I will continue to dream of the day I can pick up a stalk of celery and it can emotionally fulfill me like that bag of pretzels. I will keep refusing Diet Coke for La Croix, keep buying that damn Halo Top instead of the Ben and Jerry’s that I really want. I will keep buying the damn caesar dressing made from yogurt, because even if all that is bad for me too, it is still a hell of a lot better than I used to do, even I though I will still eat chicken wings whenever I get the damn chance.
For those of you who are struggling with the weight. Struggling with the cravings and the bad choices and the lack of exercise and all of the things, remember that you are not alone. There is help out there if you need it or want it. There really are Overeaters Anonymous groups, and if group therapy works for you, DO IT! There are nutritionists (that your insurance will indeed pay for, you may just have to ask), and there are good, honest gyms, or workout groups, or just people to walk the block with a few times a week. There is therapy to deal with the real root of your overeating, because regardless of what you think, you are probably not just a lazy, slob who doesn’t have the time. There are things, mental and emotional things, that are stacked against you. You just have to be committed to finding what works for you. And remember, one step at a time. Sometimes, quite literally.
I’m always here to lend an ear or a smack on the hand if you need me.