What (Not) To Say To Your Dieting Friends

I apologize in advance for the fact that this isn’t yet the post you all are hoping for. Though we are happy, healthy, and still plugging along with the final half of Phase 2, time has been at an incredible premium lately here at the Bruce household! The last few weeks have produced a flurry of unexpected stresses from outside the program, and when you combine that with the arrival of the holiday season, things are not quite as peaceful and unchanging as they have been up until now. I’ve been taking every opportunity to rest up and make sure my mind is right for the tasks ahead of it, even if that means I haven’t been as free to post as usual.

Without going into too much detail, I have chosen to permanently cease contact with my father’s surviving brother and his wife. My aunt and uncle were very close to me in my childhood, but the grief and anguish that accompanied my father’s death in 2007 caused a rift between them and my mother, and me (still a child, then) as a result. After several years of no contact, I reached out to them prior to my wedding to John in hopes of re-establishing a relationship between myself and them. At the time, I felt that mending the relationship would be contingent on my aunt, uncle, and I agreeing to have no secrets between us; I wanted to be able to talk about my father and the events of his death honestly and openly, as adults on equal footing. Unfortunately, my choice to live by the honesty I hoped to foster caused enough pain by itself to undermine any hope of reconciliation.

Since then, I’ve been struggling to find the words and the will to end a relationship that consisted of twice-a-year hateful messages from my uncle, serving to remind me of everything I’ve lost since my father’s death. I’ve asked him repeatedly and respectfully to stop saying the terrible things that he has, only to be mocked and further insulted for asking. Between the nasty messages, there has been only bitter silence from him and from my aunt, whom I used to be able to talk to without fear of recrimination. Though I cannot imagine the pain I brought to their door when I chose to share my side of the story with them, never once did I expect the kind, understanding, worldly people I knew as a child to respond in this way. Grief is a terrible, monstrous thing sometimes.

My desperation to preserve some of the last remaining blood ties in my life, and to make something good out of a situation that produced so much pain for so many people, kept me from recognizing this as the toxic situation that it’s become until semi-recently. I couldn’t bear the thought of walking away, feeling like I could have or should have done more to respect the family that I come from; failure despite my best effort was not something I could accept. I’m now willing to admit that trying to manage this burden on my own, and taking sole responsibility (wrongly) for the memory of the father I loved, was one of the biggest contributors to the social anxiety I’ve lived with for years. I know now that my father would not have wanted this for me.

As much as I still regret that it’s come to this, I can no longer subject myself to continued suffering for things I have never, and will never, be responsible for. It’s time to go forward to live the life I always wanted; one in which I honor my father in my own way, and seek a better, wiser, more understanding future for those that will come after him. That is all I have ever wanted, and I had hoped that including my aunt and uncle in that future would add to it for all of our sakes. As angry and hurt as I am now, there will always be a part of me that loves these people for who they were, and what they represent to me, and I’ll always remember the good times with a smile. Outside of living my own life to its natural end, it’s the last thing I’m able to do for my dad.

With that out of the way… let’s move on to the topic I wanted to discuss, shall we?

As the holidays have crested the shore of our little cocoon, we’ve been talking more often with distant family and friends that we haven’t seen in awhile, and with lots of different general strangers that we meet in our daily travels. There is usually a point at which we mention that we’ve been doing this little weight-loss thing for the better part of a year, and folks start to look… shifty. Uncertain. Guilty. They ask how much we’ve had to suffer for our diets. Should the conversation change to holiday food in particular – apologies and shame emerge.

I am here to tell folks that this just isn’t necessary! John and I have made so many wonderful changes this year that we are so very proud of. If you have found our journey inspiring, or you’ve found the courage to make your own life changes through us, then we are so very happy to have shared something useful with you. But we are not – Not – NOT – here to judge you or your choices now that we’ve conquered a few of our own bad habits. It’s not painful for us to hear you talk about your holiday feast, or the Cinnabon you just ate, or the Christmas candy you’re already hoarding. (Yes, I see you…) If any jealousy still exists at this point, it’s muted by living vicariously through you! Someday, we will eat those things again too. Until that day comes, we want you to enjoy what you’re eating, sans a second helping of guilt and shame. Nobody’s pointing fingers. We promise.

I’ll be honest. I watch Food Network while I’m stuck on the treadmill at the gym. (Unless Guy Fieri is on. I used to love his boisterous and hyper-friendly personality, but the constant marathons of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives have taken a good thing and run it into the ground far enough to merge with the Earth’s core.) Most people would consider this torture, but I don’t buy it. Sure, it all looks delicious, and I know full well that I can’t have 99.9% of what I’m seeing. But half the time, I get ideas for things that I CAN make, if I just swap out a few ingredients, or reduce the butter and oil. The rest of the time, I’m learning to take apart what I’m seeing and re-assemble it through the new lens of healthy eating. I need to see and encounter these things to better understand what goes into them from a nutrition standpoint, because that will make me better able to splurge safely when the time comes.

My reaction to seeing or hearing about a cheeseburger can’t be “oh man… I’m gonna go get one of those!” anymore – and it can’t be that even when I’m done losing weight. That was the way I saw things before. I’m going to have to see cheeseburgers for what they really are (carbs, fat, and protein, just like everything else) and how they affect me. At one time in my life, that would have been an emotionally difficult decision to deny myself immediate gratification in order to gain the long-term benefit of health. That time was before 20/20, and even before my “pregnant diabetic” diet that helped me lose weight on my own. I don’t feel denied, excluded, or deprived by the things I’ve chosen to give up anymore. All I feel is happy that I’m full of delicious food of my own, I’m not off my diet, and dang that cheeseburger looks really good BUT look what I made for dinner it was good too! If and when I do eat that cheeseburger, I’ll do it with the full understanding of how to balance it in my diet and how to burn it off, which means that shame and guilt are no longer joining me at the table.

But, for the sake of full disclosure, and lest you think I’m bulletproof – I’ve given my share of side-eye to folks ordering chicken fingers and fries for their kids at the gym bistro. Oh, I’m not judging their health choices. They have to manage things just the same as I do, and for all I know, that’s their once-a-month splurge too. But I can SMELL it, and smells are literally the worst. They travel all the way downstairs into the lobby area where I wait during lunch and between other obligations, making my mouth water even if I’m not hungry. They travel upstairs into the locker room and make me want to take a shower just to smell soap instead. They linger in the bistro, making every possible safe lunch decision I could make seem like the single worst idea I’ve ever had in my life. I can look away from something if it bothers me. I can turn off the TV or change the subject if seeing or hearing about things is too much. But there’s no way out of a SMELL without leaving the room, and I was probably trying to DO something in that room, so leaving isn’t a great option…!

If we’re avoiding something at this point, it’s not because we CAN’T have it. Dr. Mark (the founder of the 20/20 program, and the nicest, most supportive man you’ll ever meet) isn’t waiting in the wings with a hammer to crack the knuckles of straying clients. There’s a joke about this in one of the videos we’re required to watch, actually! If we’re abstaining, as we do pretty frequently, it’s because we’ve done the mental math to gauge how much of a challenge the thing we want is, and determined that the cost isn’t worth what we’d have to pay. Sometimes it’s because we’ve eaten a lot already for a given day and don’t want to push it more. Sometimes it’s because we have plans for something else we want. Sometimes it’s because things just do NOT taste like they used to, and we’re not as interested as we once would have been. Sometimes it’s because certain foods are powerful mental triggers that cause our brains to focus on bad habits, which make it harder for us to maintain what we need to be doing. Sometimes we’ll even pass on the dishes you THINK are healthy. They probably are healthy for you, and that’s a great thing! They just may not always fit into what we need for a given meal/day/week/etc.

That means that refusing things, for us, is an empowering choice – not a punishment handed down from the masters of the Pro Club. Before 20/20, many of our choices were bad ones because we’d reached a point of allowing our stress, exhaustion, emotions, habits, and memories to dictate what we chose to eat, rather than our intellect and logic. Our bodies got so used to these bad choices that they came to expect and demand them; any attempts at breaking the cycle, even to moderate the occasional bad choice, made us feel worse in response. This isn’t about morality, willpower, or shame. It’s about using our new balanced health to make choices that help us feel better, stronger, and more capable in our daily lives. The decision of what goes into our bodies and brains has to be ours, and we have to be responsible for the choices we make. That means we can splurge IF we’re careful and balance it. We can refuse things we know will give us trouble, because we don’t NEED those things to be happy anymore. Emotions and desires still have a role in our decisions (this isn’t a joyless slog, I assure you) but they’re secondary to logic and intellect instead of ruling the roost.

So please – if you feel the need to apologize for your revelry this holiday season, try to remember that we all make choices. Sometimes we will join you in yours, and other times, we’ll pass because it’s something we feel we need or want to do. None of that is your fault! It’s ours, and we treasure it more than most folks realize. My biggest goal is learning to live life without unnecessary fear, and that extends to my diet. Fear and regret definitely come from over-indulgence, but they also come from hyper-vigilance and bean-counting when I should be living my life as a healthy, happy person. The happy medium between those two has always produced the best results for us on this program, and I have no reason to think that will change as we move forward. We’ve had a few big, glowing examples recently that I’ll try to get back to another time.

The only way I can find that happy medium is to keep living in this big, wide world of ours, one day at a time, and choosing when and where I’m willing to experiment, guided by my new knowledge and balance. In the meantime, the rest of the world continues to turn, one Cinnabon at a time. People continue to make choices I can’t, or wouldn’t, or shouldn’t – and they have every right to do so. Many people perform this dietary balancing act every day without even realizing they do it; it’s only so conscious for us because we’ve had to learn it starting from nothing at all. As we continue to focus on weight loss, our needs are different from the needs of others anyway, and our “healthy” and “on plan” would very much BE restrictive for a person at a healthy weight! That’s why we have to take full responsibility for this ourselves.

Regardless of what others do, we must do what is right for us. That’s the way that life is supposed to work.


One Comment
  1. Carolyn

    Another honest and informative post, Amy. Thank you. One part that really sticks out for me is where you say: “…refusing things, for us, is an empowering choice – not a punishment…”. I can really understand that. -understand what is behind that and how this is true for all of us when we are tempted by something we need to, or want to, resist. (FYI: I read this post before the next one. But, once I saw the pictures, well, I just had to comment there first. 🙂

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