If I lived with you/in this house, I would weigh 300/500 pounds. I truly cannot tell you how many times, upon eating my cooking (usually a second or third helping) I have heard this comment from people. It's always one of those two numbers; it's never 400 pounds for some reason...
I was a thin, at times skinny, kid. I remember in fifth grade, standing in the dressing room as Mama cried because the dresses just hung off my slender frame and she could count my ribs. Now, I know that I had the same acid reflux problems with which my oldest has been diagnosed. Plus, it was just the metabolism I had at the time. By high school, I was at my ideal healthy weight. I gained the Freshman pounds in college, but still was at a great weight and I never had to diet or make a point to exercise.
A year after Joey and I were married, we moved to Texas from Louisiana. Joey came to attend graduate school--British History--and I was blessed to get a job teaching sixth grade. My principal was the president of the state middle school association and he made a phone call to a colleague in Texas. I interviewed over the phone the next day and was told I had the job the day after the interview. The two districts in this community can be difficult to break into, so I was very thankful that he had connections.
In October, I was outside on lunch duty when I stepped in a hole and twisted my--well--my whole body. There was work being done and the hole had been left in the playground. As the next two months progressed, I began to have trouble with my back. This was a repeat of problems I had a few years earlier, when I was in college. By the time December came around, I was unable to stand upright and I had to be driven to and from work because I had no feeling in my right foot. It was very painful to sit, as the pain would shoot up my leg. I was seeing a neurosurgeon, on the advice of our school receptionist. She had back problems years before and she advised me not to waste time with chiropractors or orthopedists as she had done. She told me to go straight to a neurosurgeon. I am forever grateful to her for that advice. The doctor followed protocol and did everything non-surgical first. By December, he decided that we needed to do an MRI. I had the MRI done the first Monday of Christmas break. I knew something showed up because the technician asked me how long I'd been like this. We took the films right over to the doctor's office and he walked in and said, "I honestly don't know how you walked into the office. What is your insurance? I don't even care; I have a space open in surgery tomorrow and I'm going to operate on you." By the way, they compared my fall in October to picking at a scab and getting an infection. The problem already existed; this just aggravated it and I filed no claims against the district. I am strongly opposed to lawsuits unless absolutely necessary.
It's actually rather nice to have only one evening to prepare and think about a major surgery. You have less time to worry. Plus, the doctor told me it would relieve my pain and I was ready to do anything to stop the constant pain. It's not easy to teach middle schoolers when you can't even stand up straight. So, the next day, he removed the lower two discs from my back. They had ruptured and he said he had never removed such tiny pieces before. Joey and my mom were terrified when they saw me after the surgery. You are face down, with your head in a brace of sorts, so your face apparently is extremely swollen and red when you come out of surgery.
I was in the hospital three days and two nights and I was not prepared for post-surgery pain. I had grown up hearing the story of when my dad had his gall bladder removed in the 1970s. The doctor on call came into his hospital room the next day and Daddy was doing exercises. The doctor looked around for the patient and sent Daddy home. I was raised to be a lady, but not a sissy, so I fully expected to bound out of the bed and dazzle my physical therapists. I could not even get out of bed the first time they showed up and since that's normal, they didn't make me. My dad felt so guilty because I made a comment about how I really tried and I figured I would be like him. He said it wasn't the same kind of surgery. The next day, they were able to help me walk with assistance.
I was sent home on Christmas Eve and those first days were a blur of naps, wrapping paper, Christmas dinner in black trays from Denny's, and dear Joey helping me with everything. I mean every little task. We had only been married two years and if we hadn't fully bonded before that, we did then.
I was on pain killers and muscle relaxers. I have my babies without epidurals, on a pitosin drip, so I have a high pain tolerance; I was able to drop the pain killers, but the muscle relaxers were necessary for a while. I would just suddenly go into spasms and fall down if I couldn't grab something. I actually continued to do that for several years, although the frequency grew to every few months, rather than several times a day. I had never experienced a loss of control of any part of my body before and it was very upsetting, to say the least. The doctor told me the surgery was successful, but I would always have to be careful and there were just things I would never be able to do. I grew up on a farm and was expected to do my fair share of the work and I had to adjust to asking for help or standing by and watching others completely do things for me. I still make apologies for not helping and I still feel guilty for not jumping in to do my share of a task. We had to hire a painter in our new house for the living, dining, and kitchen areas and I am embarrassed to tell people. Laziness was a great sin in our house, to be despised greatly, and I felt undue guilt for having to take things easier. I also had to change my teaching style. Before, I was all over the classroom and my desk was just a storage area. It's easier to maintain classroom structure with middle school students when you never sit down.
As a new employee in the district, I had not earned all my sick days yet. It was a blessing that I had the two weeks of Christmas break for surgery and recovery, but the doctor wanted me to take more time off. We were living on my teaching salary until Joey's first graduate assistant check would begin in January, so I had to go back to work after being docked for time after the break.
To survive, Joey and I ate convenience foods. I wasn't physically able to do much cooking after work and Joey didn't have time with his grueling class load. The pounds started pack on for both of us. We dated and were married in south Louisiana, the food capital of the world (even better than New Orleans) and I had added about ten extra pounds which made me heavier than the weight I had always maintained in high school and college, but still put me in my healthy range. After my surgery, though, the pounds seemed to grow exponentially. I was doing rehabilitation-type exercises and walking, but neither was at a pace or style for weight loss. I had to alternate between standing and sitting every 15 minutes (I'm technically still supposed to follow this) and at home lying on my side was the most comfortable. I started staying up late because sleeping was so uncomfortable I just tried to put it off as long as possible. I had a medical excuse to wear tennis shoes to work and I remember the first year after my back surgery, I knew I had hit rock bottom when I realized I was teaching sixth graders while wearing a sweatsuit and tennis shoes. Before and after that time, I took great pains to dress professionally, so this was a major change for me.
Joey and I had enough of our weight gain, so in February 2000, we began dieting and exercising. We discovered Richard Simmons (I know, I know...) and his Food Mover program. We did not use his videos, but we used the program which counts diabetic exchanges. By December, I lost 75 lbs. and by Feb., the last remaining ten came off for a total of 85 lbs. I was back to my normal weight, I was buying jeans in the junior section and I felt great. It was so easy and I truly believe it was because God wanted the distraction of my weight gain out of the way so He could do the real spiritual work that needed to be done!
I maintained my weight and after Emmeline was born in 2003, I began to slowly loose the baby weight. By September 2004, I was starting to fit back into some of my pre-pregnancy clothes and then Mama died. I realize I'm an emotional eater and so many of my associations with food are tied to Mama and time spent with her. Recreating her recipes and cooking like her was a way to feel close to her. It still is. When I became pregnant with Clare in 2005, I was overweight and after she was born, very few pounds came off. I had started to lose ten pounds when I found out I was pregnant with Thomas in 2008. After Thomas was born, I started to lose and by the time he was six months old, I had lost twenty-five pounds. I remember seeing someone in the store and she had to do a double-take. Then, we had to put my parents' homes on the market and I finally had to finish cleaning out my parents' last home. I had to make those last visits and close the door on those places, knowing they would never be mine to visit again. We also decided to start looking at houses and start packing our home to move. So, it was chaos all around us for several months. I gained back the twenty-five pounds and decided it was time to do something. So, I joined the gym and got a personal trainer. I just can't take a chance on injuring my back so I need supervision. It gets expensive, though, so now I'm on my own, with all she taught me.
It's difficult to get to the gym, but Joey and I are hoping to work on our schedule this summer so it will be better in the fall. I am trying to eat better, but I will not eat sugar and fat substitutes that are created in labs, so I need to control portions on real food. It gets more difficult to lose weight after babies and as we approach forty. Also, I have health issues that affect metabolism, so I have to work harder at losing weight.
It's also difficult to lose weight when you love to cook and when you're not half bad at it. Baking is my "me-time," like other women have facials, pedicures, coffee shops and bookstore lounging. I can just make a homemade pie or cake from scratch. I can have fluffy, layered buttermilk biscuits made and on the table in fifteen minutes. I make cinnamon rolls and dinner rolls from scratch. And I'm not called "The Pie Lady" for nothing. There is something so lovely about making pie. Noticing a starch pattern? I take after Mama in my love of starchy foods, although I draw the line at eating raw yeast dough.
I still cook healthier than Mama, though. She was an amazing cook. She took her midwest farm roots and combined it with what she learned in Louisiana which made for a delicious combination. She was a great fryer. We had fried foods several times a week. You know that white stuff you get in a plastic cup with your chicken strips? Yeah, my mom made real milk gravy, with the meat drippings from chicken fried steak and fried pork chops and the best of all--her homemade fried chicken. You haven't had milk gravy until you've had REAL milk gravy. Of course, hers was healthier than Grandma's because Grandma used fresh milk from the farm and Mama used store-bought milk which in later years had gotten as low as 1% or skim. I rarely fry, although I make good chicken strips (the secret is three-step breading and buttermilk), fried chicken, and chicken-fried steaks. I only make those things once or twice a year. I just can't eat fried foods often with my ulcerative colitis and since I've had my gall bladder removed. Plus, I don't like the mess and smell of frying. I actually cook healthy meals and feed my children a healthy diet. Then during naptime or after bedtime, I take just another "sliver" off the pie or cake. I grab a handful of chocolate chips here, a few Wheat Thins there, etc, etc... Let's not even mention chocolate chip cookies or Blue Bell ice cream (which I haven't been able to really eat until recent years due to reflux).
So, here I sit, rambling about food, memories, cooking, when what it all boils down to is discipline (and therefore self-control) and balance. Right now, food is out of balance in my life and when one major area is out of balance it can affect all the other areas of your life. No one can maintain perfect order and balance, but one look at me tells you food is seriously out of balance for me. Part of me honestly just wants to resign myself to being overweight. I could have a locket made with a Before picture and show it to people. "See, this is how I could look if I wanted." The funny thing is I don't think of myself as obese. I'm not sitting around miserable about my weight. I'm not a petite person and extra pounds sneak up on me. It's still shocking sometimes to look in the mirror.
I know that God loves me too much to see me stay this way. There are two real problems with my weight and neither of them involve my appearance. One, I am only a few years shy of forty and I have three children ranging in age from 7 to 2. I don't want them to deal with cleaning out houses and nursing homes any earlier than they have to, and hopefully, not at all. I have an obligation to my children to get healthy. Second, I'm Catholic. I receive my precious Savior, Jesus, in the most Blessed Sacrament and therefore, my body is a temple. It is wrong not to care for it to the best of my ability.
So, please add me to your prayer list as I seek to control portions and seek solace in Christ, not in the refrigerator or pantry.