Recently we invited my dad over for dinner, to enjoy a roast and some pleasant conversation with company. We had a guest staying with us from out of town, and his parents have been friends with my parents since long before either one of us is born. I was looking forward to a nice relaxing evening of dinner and old stories. My husband had made a beautiful roast, and we were heating up the vegetables when my dad arrived.
When he walked in, I heard him chatting with our guest for a few minutes by the door. Then he came over to dining room table, where I was setting out the plates and silverware.
“Holy cow!” He said.
I looked over at him and smiled. “What’s up?” I asked.
“No, I shouldn’t say.” He said, looking away.
Now it was getting interesting. His eyes were everywhere but on my face, and he looked more than a little bit embarrassed. But I pushed him. It was already unusual enough that I just had to know.
“I was talking about your girth,” he said, finally. “And not in a good way.”
I don’t know if I blushed, or if my jaw actually fell open, but I certainly felt a hot rush of hot blood flow over me.
My father is getting a little bit older, and he’s starting to lose his internal censor. But he’s young enough to realize when he’s made a faux pas. So I leaned over, gave him a hug, and thanked him for being honest with me.
But I’ll tell you something I didn’t tell him at that time; it was one of the most dishonest hugs I’ve ever given him. My mind was completely on myself. All that I could think about was how I looked, what had been going on with my weight in the past couple of weeks since I last saw him, and what I had been eating that have anything to do with it.
My mind went through a litany of excuses for why my body looked so much heavier that day. I had been sick for the previous week, and had had trouble exercising because of it. There was that time the week before when I ordered freshly made potato chips with my hamburger and salad at the restaurant. I hadn’t eaten the burger bun, but this place make such amazing fresh potato chips I didn’t want to deny myself the opportunity to have a few. And yes, I had noticed that my pants were little bit tight that evening.
Very quickly, my brain spiraled into a self-punishing and second-guessing state that I couldn’t seem to control. I actually had to excuse myself for a few minutes to lie down on the bed and focus my attention.
After I had been gone for a bit, my husband came in and asked me what was going on. I didn’t tell him exactly what was on my mind, but I told him that I was feeling a little bit overwhelmed with the houseguests and just need a few minutes to myself. He was charming, as always, and told me to rest. He went back to entertain everybody while I gathered my thoughts.
Since that evening, I’ve thought back on what happened several times. It’s amazing how quickly my confidence and sense of control over myself was shattered by a simple gut reaction shared honestly by somebody I love. And I know it’s not the first time in my life that’s happened. It got me thinking hard about the motivation that I have to follow a low-carb high-fat diet, and how that came about in my life.
Like many of us, I’ve grown up with the idea in the back of my mind that what I do always has some relationship to satisfying the desires and intentions of my parents for me. I’ve always been keenly aware of what people think of me, and that external focus has probably caused me to make some bad choices in my life while trying to be popular, to fit in, or to be what people expect me to be. If you’re anything like me, you can relate to this.
And when I decided to try a low-carb high-fat diet, a lot of the motivation that helped make it work for me secretly came from the desire to be seen outwardly as healthy. I wanted to be able to participate in activities that would help me fit in better with my social circle. And I wanted to be able to keep up with my friends without feeling uncomfortable.
I’m always aware of how the clothes that I wear are perceived by the people around me. I’ve grown up with the belief that you don’t wear clothes because you want to look good for yourself, but rather to show respect for the people you are with. If you can’t fit your body into the clothes that society has decided are attractive, it’s only polite to adjust your body to suit the clothes, rather than try to adjust the expectations of the world.
As I dug around in my thoughts, I was shocked at how deeply rooted these beliefs are in me. I discovered that there’s a big part of me that privately believes everything my rational mind tells me is self-defeating and damaging. And even worse, that part of my mind wants to give credit to the negative feelings for any motivation I have to follow a healthy way of eating. And it has been that way for every diet and exercise program I’ve ever pushed my body through until I finally gave up. With all the positive impact low-carb high-fat eating has had on my health, and the amazing community that’s come to support me in it, I know I don’t want that to happen this time!
But in thinking about this incident, and how it made me feel, I’m starting to realize that this particular lifestyle change really is different for me. One of the other motivations for starting to eat in a low-carb high-fat way was purely personal. I wanted the sense of control that I felt for the first time over my own appetite when I started eating this way. It was a revelation to me that I could suddenly look at foods that had controlled me in the past, and tell them that they now have no sway over me.
I was delighted to see the pounds fall off, and have my body shape change. You would think that would’ve been enough. But it had happened before with other diets, only to reverse itself when the dark thoughts that drove me to follow these programs reared their ugly heads. Unlike low-carb high-fat eating, there wasn’t anything in those diets for me personally. All they had were the external gratifications, without the internal rewards.
That incident with my father reminded me that there’s a lot of heavy baggage that follows us onto any diet. No matter how rational we may think we are, we all have to face the fact that we are multilayered, complex beings with motivations that stretch all the way back to our earliest childhood years. Depending on your religious or spiritual beliefs, those motivations may even go beyond that.
Sometimes it’s necessary to reassess your position, and reconsider why you do what you do. I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about what makes me want to follow a low-carb high-fat diet, and I notice I always frame the question in terms of what I’m trying to change about myself. But I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t want to change myself. I just want to be in control of how I respond to some of the the external factors that I’ve allowed to affect how I feel about myself. And being heavier, or being at the mercy of junk food, both make me feel less happy.
At the end of the evening, my father pulled me aside and apologized. It was a nice gesture. But I told him what I’m going to tell you right now: the relationship between a parent and child is as old as human life. I will always be the little child trying to satisfy the disapproving parent in the back of my head. We may never overcome the complexity that our environment introduces, but we have to accept ourselves for who we are, and decide what we’re going to do for the sake of our own needs, not to satisfy others.