Sunday, February 12, 2012

Personal Myths

I define personal myths as my attitudes and beliefs that guide my behavior and the reality that I set up for myself. I've been trying to develop awareness about my personal myths that get in the way of my weight and my health.

Some personal myths are true, and many are false. I think that, at times (scary times in Jennyland), these unconscious personal myths (the false ones and the true ones) really impact that decisions I make on a daily basis about what to put in my mouth and what I do, in general.

Bear with me while I think out loud and try to wrap my head around how I sabotage myself.

MYTH #1... Weight loss is a sign of illness.
I actually think that I got this as a child in the '60's seeing the Seven Signs Of Cancer posted everywhere. Does anyone else remember what a big awareness campaign that was in the late '60's and early '70's? I was probably more attuned to it, being the Little Child Hypochondriac that I was. It seems I saw it everywhere and that, along with Reader's Digest articles on "I Am Joe's (Body Part)", greatly added to my sense of doom after my dad died.

Little Jenny still believes that weight loss is a sign of illness. Grown-up Jenn knows that a significant weight loss in a short period of time when you're not trying to lose weight can be a sign of illness.

Those are two different statements. But, sometimes, I can only hear Little Jenny.

MYTH #2... Skinny people aren't as healthy.
Growing up, I spent every other weekend with my happy, healthy, jolly, smiley, FAT grandmother and my sickly, couldn't-get-out-of-bed-except-to-get-into-his-chair, grumpy, nearly deaf, weak, SKINNY grandfather.

My grandmother and her offspring focused on eating as the remedy for all of life's ills.

Oh, you're sad? Here. Eat this chicken-fried steak.

Oh, you've got a cough? Drink this vinegar and honey tonic and have some spaghetti.

Oh, you've got chicken pox? Potato salad will make you feel better.

Oh, you feel like you're going to throw up? Have some chocolate pie.

Little Jenny still associates having a good appetite and being overweight with general well-being. Big Jenn knows that's a crock.

MYTH #3... If I try to eat 6 small meals a day, I will eat more.
Is it a myth if I still believe it? I THINK this is a myth because everyone says so but I can't get onboard with the six small meals a day as a way to lose weight. When I try to do it, it ends up being three snacks and three hefty meals.

I can't "get" the idea of little meals.
Little meals are snacks.

So, is this a personal myth or is this a personal reality?

MYTH #4... I can't "diet".
This is a myth that I believe is true.

If I say I'm going on a diet, I IMMEDIATELY, and I mean I.M.M.E.D.I.A.T.E.L.Y., am struck by such severe cravings that I eat and eat and eat.

It's like in James Bond or Pink Panther movies where someone has been been hypnotized and given a specific word that sets off a certain behavior. "Diet" sets off cravings. "Diet" sets off compulsive eating.

Anytime I say "I'm not going to eat anymore (blank)", I have to have more (blank) RIGHT THEN. And I have to keep eating (blank) until I GIVE MYSELF PERMISSION to eat it. Then I can stop.

MYTH #5... It is not healthy for me to sweat and get out of breath.
What do people do when they have heart attacks?? Sweat. Get out of breath.
What do people do when they are about to hurl?? Sweat. Get out of breath.
What do people do when they are being held hostage? Sweat. Get out of breath.
What do people do when they have to give a speech in front of a crowded room? Sweat. Get out of breath.

And you want me to SWEAT AND GET OUT OF BREATH???

When I exercise, I literally have to remind myself that "it's OK to breathe hard." Maybe it's all part of my princess thing. A true princess should be able to have someone else exercise for her. I've tried that with my kids. It doesn't work.

MYTH #6... You can only go so long without something bad happening in your life.
Like many people, I experienced trauma at an early age. My dad died in front of me when I was eight. My mother had alcoholic convulsions and was hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital when I was fifteen. There was concern that my son had a brain tumor when it was discovered he was partially blind when I was thirty-two. My mom died when I was thirty-seven.

I know that lots of people have early trauma - much earlier than me, and much more traumatic. Maybe this doesn't happen to everyone but, for me, it has left me enveloped in a life-long sense of vulnerability. That's where Little Jenny resides.

I know that the sense of vulnerability is terribly tied into my unconscious, compulsive eating. I don't understand all the connections, but I know they're there.

And the personal myth part is that being full and being fat are not going to keep life at bay. Life, both the ebbs and the flows, happens whether you're fat or skinny.

MYTH #7... Fat = healthy in babies and old people.
As a children's protective worker, I saw many malnourished, skinny babies who were identified as being "failure-to-thrive". As a social worker, I've met skinny elderly people in hospitals and nursing homes who were identified as being "failure-to-thrive".

Little Jenny, who lives inside of me and is forever hypervigilant, therefore associates anything not skinny as thriving.

Little Jenny's misconception here is that not skinny is the same as overweight. I forget that there is a whole spectrum between skinny and fat.

I googled and learned that I won't be considered just "overweight" until I get down to 190 pounds. Right now, I'm at 212 and am considered "obese".

I hate that word.

But, I also learned that, at 244, I was considered "morbidly obese".

I am grateful that I am not "morbidly obese" now. But I probably don't have to worry about being "skinny", or even "not skinny" during this lifetime.

If I could get in the "normal" range on the BMI chart, I would be ecstatic. But, you know what? I'll be happy every day that I can just stay in the "overweight" range. I'd prefer to be in the lower end or the middle of the range, but I'll take every day that I'm not considered "obese" as a gift.

The weird thing here is - why do I have a childhood myth about the dangers of being too skinny, and not the dangers of too fat?

Is it because of my grandmother? She was forever on a diet - drinking Frescas and putting saccharine tablets in her tea.

If I was as scared of being too fat as I am scared of being too skinny......
Well, this would be a different blog because I tend to let fears rule my life! I wouldn't be fat if I was as scared of it as I should be!

MYTH #8... Gaining = getting better.
Again, it's like old reel-to-reel tapes in my head....
Talking about a baby.... "Yes, it's good. He's gaining weight."
Talking about my aunt with cancer.... "Yes, it's good. She's gaining weight."
Talking about my grandfather.... "Yes, it's good. He's gaining weight."

GIVE IT UP, JENNY! It's time to destroy those old reel-to-reels! Start listening to your new-fangled iPod with affirmations talking about YOU!
"Yes, it's good. She's LOSING weight!"

MYTH #9... Fat = happy, jolly.
Famous happy, fat people....
...and animals...
....and images....
....and me.....

Famous skinny, grumpy people...


But, again, as a grown-up, I know that fat doesn't guarantee happiness. If you read the literature, it quite the opposite. Studies show that, in general, skinny people are happier than overweight people. Contrary to the lies and justifications that I tell myself. And contrary to what Santa looks like.

MYTH #10... I'm not going to live long.
This is a personal myth that I've carried with me since I was eight. I think that, as a result of my dad's death (or maybe just some undiagnosed learning disability on my part), I've never been able to imagine myself in the future.

When I was a kid, I couldn't imagine myself as a teenager.
As a teenager, I couldn't imagine myself grown-up and married.
As a married woman, I couldn't imagine myself as a parent.
Now, as a parent, I can't imagine myself as a grandparent.
I can't imagine myself as retired.
I can't imagine myself as elderly.

And, in Jennyland, if you can't imagine or picture the future, it's probably not there.

History has taught me that this is not true. I mean, I made it to adulthood and marriage and kids. I have had a future whether I've been able to imagine it or not.

But, my sense of not having a future has impacted my life in some significantly negative ways.
1. I think it's made me live my life pretty hedonistically. I've bought/ate/gotten/done what I wanted when I wanted to.
2. It's affected my ability to understand why I should SAVE money for my old age.
3. It's made me live my adult life out loud, not using the "proper" boundaries and filters of someone who worries about a long-term reputation.

But, it's also positively impacted my life.
1. It's made me want to connect with people, to fill my life, to always say 'I love you', to hug, to create families out of friends.
2. It's made me not put off until later (retirement, more money, children gone, whatever) that which brings me joy and happiness.

But, it does haunt me. I'm now ten years older than my dad when he died and twelve years younger than my mother when she died.

But, that's where the myth comes in. I carry my parents' genes, but I also carry the genes of their parents. And their siblings. My grandparents all lived well into their 70's and 80's.

I can make having their genes a part of my belief system. Having my parents' genes may be my reality, but it may not be.

I want to be able to visualize, and plan, for my retirement. I want to plan for my grandbabies. And I want to experience it all.

Losing weight will decrease my early death risk factors and will probably increase my longevity. I realized a few years ago that you really never see an elderly fat person. Have you ever noticed that?

I want you to know that I've written this blog post over the last four or five days. It hasn't been a fun post to write. It hasn't just popped out of me like they usually do. But, I felt like I needed to try to pick apart my myths and how they hurt me and I wanted you to come on the journey.

Please give me feedback. I know that sometimes I come across totally crazy. I know that sometimes, I am totally crazy. But I know that you are, too.

Long-winded Jenn


  1. Wow Jenn! This is fantastic! I wish I could figure myself out like you can figure yourself out. I suppose I could, but I don't have your guts - I don't wanna know why I'm fat because then I'd feel like I have to do something about it. And as another princess, I don't wanna get out of breath and sweaty either! I love you and I am so proud of you!!!

  2. "MYTH #5... It is not healthy for me to sweat and get out of breath"

    What happens when I have sex? I sweat and get out of breath! So that's one positive thing I've associated with being all icky with exercise.

    This is a great post. I'm glad I was here to read it.