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Changing The Stories We’ve Told Ourselves

by Robert Meagher on 12/06/23

Photo Credit: - Helena Lopes

I grew up in the Maritime Provinces, Nova Scotia specifically. Food, and eating, was a big part of the culture in the Maritimes. At least that was my experience, and a big part of the story I told myself about my relationship with food.

The house I grew up in saw the main door of the house enter into the kitchen. This was not an uncommon characteristic of houses in the Maritimes at the time. Where most homes today have a foyer, many homes in the Maritimes at the time saw the visitor or occupant enter the kitchen when entering the house. This lended itself to food being a central part of the culture of growing up in the Maritimes. When company would pop in for a visit, everyone would gather around the kitchen table to gab and socialize. It didn’t take long for food to appear on the table and for eating to commence.

I grew up in an era when wasting food was particularly frowned upon (when hasn’t it been!). Even if I wasn’t hungry, which was rare, I would still be encouraged to eat. “There are children starving in the world. Eat up!”…I can’t tell you how many times I heard those words. It was also very important to my mother that the children had plenty to eat, so there was always plenty of food around. And having a second helping was customary, sometimes a third serving, if for no other reason to demonstrate to my mom that I liked her cooking.

The above, brief description of some aspects of the food culture I grew up in unconsciously fed an elaborate story that I fabricated about food and my relationship to food. It wasn’t until my 30s that I began to even be aware of this story I had told myself.

I suppose I was one of the lucky ones. Even though my eating habits were overindulgent at the least, I wasn’t always overweight. Most of my family members were, however. Furthermore, the image of a ‘healthy’ person was obscured by a cultural story that plump, some might say fat, overweight people were indeed healthy, despite every known scientific journal and dietary guideline suggesting otherwise. A slim person was not considered a healthy person—not enough meat on their bones!

As I moved into my 30s, I became more aware of healthier eating habits and began to change my relationship to food. But, as the saying goes, … “old habits (or ‘stories’) die hard.”

As I moved through my 40s, and into my 50s, I learned to eat a healthier diet. I found that a vegetarian-oriented diet was very beneficial and improved my overall health. I was introduced to new ways of thinking about my relationship to food and what it meant to be healthy for my body type.

One of the aspects of my relationship with food that stayed with me throughout my 40s and early 50s, however, was a cyclical pattern of weight gain and loss throughout the year. I would typically gain 10-15 lbs over the winter months, sometimes more, only to lose the weight throughout the spring and summer months. I can remember accepting this story as normal, after having been told many times that gaining weight in the winter was a good thing—to ‘put some fat on the bones’ for the long, harsh winter ahead. This story was a leftover (pun intended) from my early years growing up in the Maritimes. It was something I accepting as normal. Yet, I began questioning that story as I moved into my 50s.

I became tired of the annual weight fluctuation. I learned about the physiology of weight gain and loss and learned that the process of weight gain and loss can take its toll on the body. Interestingly, its harder on the internal organs when the body loses weight than when it gains weight (the exception might be when quickly gaining excessive amounts of weight). Which is why those engaging in weight loss programs are generally encouraged to lose weight at a slow, steady rate—it’s easier on the body.

Last January, typically the time of year I begin to pack on those pounds, I decided I was going to try and stop the habitual, cyclical pattern of weight gain over the winter months. In addition to the stories I had imbibed from early childhood mentioned previously, there was another cultural story I became acutely aware of…and that is, once men and women hit their 50s, it’s typical to gain weight, and very difficult to lose weight. As the story goes, our metabolism slows down as we age and our ability to burn calories does also. I set out to throw all my personal and cultural stories out the window and transform my relationship with food once and for all, and for good!

So far, so good. I maintained my weight, even lost a few pounds, throughout January, at a time of year when I had always gained weight (at least that’s been the pattern for the past 20+ years). I maintained the same weight I was the previous summer. I’ve managed to change my story about the food I eat, my relationship to the food I eat, and my body image and structure. I feel healthier and liberated.

So, let’s review the stories I’ve changed:

First, overindulgent eating, some might call it emotional eating, is not the norm and it is not healthy for me. It is not how I want to relate to food. So, I changed my overindulgent eating story. I no longer overindulge when it comes to food. I eat modestly, and slowly, and see food as a critical, nutritional component of my overall health and wellbeing, rather than something that will make me feel better emotionally.

Second, being thin and lean, not underweight, but thin and lean, is not unhealthy. I had lived my life on the edge of being overweight for so long that I didn’t question it. I changed my story. I am currently sitting right in the middle of the recommended weight range for my age, height, and body structure.

Third, I had accepted cyclical/seasonal weight gain/loss was normal. It never worked for me, however. That is, it never felt good. So, I am on the path to changing that story too. I am the same weight in March as I was in the middle of summer. This is new territory for me; and I love it! It feels good.

Lastly, I had accepted that gaining weight when in your 50s was normal and that losing weight in your 50s was just too difficult, if not impossible. I’ve changed that story. With simple, moderate lifestyle changes, I’ve showed myself that this story was false. I can lose weight in a healthy way in my 50s.

The experience has been an eye-opening journey through the stories I have created and about re-writing those stories. While this article has focused on food, diet, and health as the storyline, the principal at play here is far reaching and touches every aspect of our lives. We create elaborate stories about ourselves that we may never be aware of. And the stories we create become so engrained in us that most never, ever realize what these stories are and, more importantly, that we can change them.

If there’s an aspect of your life you aren’t happy with, give yourself the gift of contemplation about the story you have created about that aspect of your life that isn’t happy. Then, change the story. You can do it. You’re worth it!

Robert Meagher has been ordained as an Interfaith Minister and certified as a Sacred Attention Therapy (SAT) Therapist. Robert is the Founder and Spiritual Director for Spiritual Guidance and Co-Founder of the Center for Human Awakening.

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