Thursday, August 7, 2008

It's a Numbers Game

It all started with the carbs.

About 13 years ago, I wandered through a Kmart feeling sorry for myself. I had given birth to my fourth child several months earlier, and I was feeling bad. (Bad equals fat, of course.) I had always gained 50-60 pounds during pregnancy, and this time was no exception. The difference that time around was this: I was almost 30, and the weight was not coming off, despite the fact that Joey was almost a year old.

So as I walked through the aisles of that discount giant, feeling like a giant blob, shopping for cheap pants with an elastic waist, I was praying for a solution. The rack of paperbacks next to the candy bars caught my attention. Actually, a question in bold print on a book jacket stunned me: Are you a carbohydrate addict?

YES! I practically shouted. Isn't everyone? Doesn't everyone love bread, pasta, cereal and sweets? Is the answer in this book? Can I be cured?

So of course I bought the book, and read through it that night while munching on cinnamon toast. It described me perfectly, so the next day I began the plan that would insure instant thinness.

This particular book's author (not a medical doctor or nutritionist, by the way) insisted that if I eliminated carbs from breakfast and lunch, I could eat ANYTHING I WANTED for ONE WHOLE HOUR every evening.

Crazy? Sounds like it. But I tried it. And it worked.

I ate this way for months, and I did lose some weight. Eventually I got to a plateau, and I never left it. It began to feel weird, not right, stuffing myself each evening. Could this really be the way I was supposed to eat? When the weight stopped coming off, I decided I was still consuming too many carbs. So I read another book (this one had doctors on the cover) that suggested I up my protein and drop down to no more than 30 grams of carbs a day.

So I did it. For several more years, in between my next three babies. I learned the carb and protein counts of any and all foods. I obsessed over them. Eventually if it even looked like it contained carbs, I wouldn't eat it.

I lost a little bit of weight, but I was still not as thin as I needed to be. I new that because more than my interest in carbs, my life was consumed with other, much more compelling numbers -- the ones that I saw on the scale.

I cannot remember a day in my adult life that I have not stepped on the scale at least once. Usually I torture myself with the dreaded device two or even three times a day. It became the measure of my worth, instead of what it really is: a piece of metal that indicates the effects of gravity on a given object.

So for years, the numbers have ruled my life. Are there too many carbs in that? Enough protein? Recently I decided to count calories and grams of fiber instead, realizing that I had gone too far with the carb restrictions. I bought a food scale so I could be sure I wasn't eating too many ounces of chicken. The scale in my bathroom continues to be my nemesis, but I am drawn to it like an abused lover who knows it is what she deserves.

While I'm revealing the depths of my ridiculous behavior, I'll even share this secret with you. For YEARS I not only weighed myself several times a day, I also logged this information in a notebook (along with the fat percentage numbers revealed by a high-tech new scale.) Every few weeks I would also take my measurements and record these dreaded numbers as well. (I'm happy to say I've managed to overcome at least this one facet of my obsession with the numbers!)

But since I had these handy records, I used them to alternately torture and reward myself. I knew what I weighed for every significant and not-so-special day of my life. And sadly, I still tend to do this.

My eldest daughter was married this May. I know exactly what I weighed that day, and of course I had a goal to lose some weight before the NEXT wedding, that of my younger daughter, which is tomorrow! I had seven weeks in between the two, so I figured if I counted, counted fiber and fat and carbs and protein, counted calories consumed, calories burned, counted miles walked, I would be a few pounds lighter. And that somehow would translate into this event being somehow magical, right? If the ultimate measure of my worth said I had less of a gravitational pull, the wedding of my baby girl would be so much more enjoyable, right?

What nonsense. How sad that I am even thinking about this.

And by the way, even with all that counting, you know what happened? I gained four pounds.

Such is the pull of the numbers. I share this because I know I am not alone, and that so many of us are struggling to learn that our value is not determined by our size, our shape, or how many grams of fiber we consume each day. As you can see, I'm still struggling, too. But I have to share one more number, one that I plan to discuss in much more detail soon.

145. Psalm 145.

The hand of the Lord FEEDS us; He answers ALL our needs.

When I heard this psalm at Mass last Sunday, that proverbial lightbulb was shining above my head. I have to stop obsessing about all these numbers: carbs, fat, fiber, pounds, inches. I have to stop relying on my own power to feed myself what I need. I have to allow God to feed me.

There is much more to say about this, for I know it is simple but not easy to accomplish. But just for today, I will commit to focusing on that number: 145. (And this time, not as a goal weight!)

And just for today, I will stay off that scale.

And not even consider how many carbs I'll be eating!


Kate Wicker said...

Oh, Cathy. I've played the numbers game my whole life - from my GPA in college (if I wasn't a straight-A student, I was dumb) to the scale (if I'd lost five pounds, I was strong, but if I'd gained five pounds, I was pathetic loser, only I was able to lose weight). I still have a scale. I probably shouldn't. The good news is I maybe weigh myself once or twice a week. Sometimes it's still tempting for that number to become a barometer for my self-worth, but I try to remember that my worth as a person - my DIGNITY - as a person has nothing to do with a number on a scale or any other numbers for that matter.

You are a beautiful woman inside and out, and you're going to be the perfect mother-of-the-bride even if the scale tries to tell you otherwise.

Enjoy your family's special day tomorrow!


Kate Wicker said...

Geez...sorry for the typos...Meant: "I was a pathetic loser, only I wasn't able to lose weight."

*Mia Jude* said...

The scale definitely controlled me for a long time, but I stopped going on it once I knew I gained weight. So in some way the scale still controls how I feel, even though I don't go on it. I fear getting on the scale because I know the number will not be as low as I want it to be. I actually caught myself saying.."I will see how much I weigh once this pair of jeans fit, because when they fit, I have to be at least 10 lbs lighter." So if its not the scale that controls me, its a piece of clothing that I keep hanging in the closet even though it doesn't fit me.

Congrats to you and your family on your daughter's wedding! Enjoy the day! You are beautiful!!!

Jamie said...

Cathy! I play the number game, I don't get on every day, but at least 3 times/wk. I try to only check once/wk, but it never works. It's bad. Like the magic number is somehow going to change me. You will be the perfect mother of the bride! You will look beautiful and no one will care about those numbers, you won't have time to care about them, will you? Blessings on the big day!!