Weight Loss and Recovery: Filling the Emptiness of our Hearts

My wife and I just celebrated 28 years of marriage yesterday. In my younger days, it amazed me how much I was still learning about even her after ten, fifteen, and twenty years. Then it occurred to me (duh) the person I know her to be is far from stagnant. She continues to grow and change.

About a year ago she dropped this one on me, “How come you never ask me to dance?”

Oh geez, I dunno. Maybe because you’ve consistently refused to dance with me for as long as I’ve known you? “Yeah, but that was back when I cared what people think.”

I missed a memo.

(smiling as I say this) Now that I’ve lost a leg she wants to dance. Sure, honey. I’m in.

A little over a year ago, I started watching a pretty incredible transformation in my better half. I was dubious at first. For years I’ve watched diets, exercise equipment (laundry hung from our top of the line treadmill), and scores of unused gym memberships.

This time is completely unlike all the past attempts. She explained to me, “Diets are a set up. This is a lifestyle change. I feel better when I eat good food, stay active, and treat myself well.” I marvel at the simplicity of that and I love the results.

Hold on. Maybe you’re thinking I love how she looks. I do, but what I love far, far more is how much happier she is with herself and her health. Everyone knows the adage, “Happy wife, happy life.” What I’ve found is that the better we relate to ourselves, the more fully we live and the more completely we receive love.

Many months later, I was talking with Jackie Conn, president of Weight Watchers of Maine about the efforts of her staff in supporting weight loss and lifestyle changes. She told me:

“We want members to be kind to themselves, understand the need for self care, and recognize how they mistreat themselves and how it affects their weight and their lives in general. Feeling good about themselves starts with recognizing and honoring their personal value and how to enhance their self-worth by reaching out to help others.”

I imagine that to most folks, this sounds like a nice sentiment that we aren’t sure how to do. Maybe it seems like a chicken and egg scenario where I’d value myself more if I wasn’t overweight. Perhaps food is just a means to cope or a replacement for everything that’s missing in our lives.

I got to interview a recovering food addict a little over a year ago. She told me,

“(Food) has been my best friend since early childhood. I asked for food I wanted and got some. I asked for more and got more. If I asked for thirds. I sometimes got thirds. I always wanted more. Food made me happy, kept me entertained and made me feel better.”

This woman was describing the feelings and behavior of a ten year old girl, but as my friends in recovery say:

“What we lived with we learned. What we learned, we became.” Her form of filling the emptiness did not change when she became an adult.

A lot of us developed love/hate relationships with food. What we miss is the counterpart of how we relate to ourselves, which is much worse than love/hate. It’s avoid/loathe. It’s endlessly strive/self abuse. It’s trying to do everything perfectly and having no willingness or tolerance for just being.

If we have the willingness to identify what’s missing, we can develop the courage to pursue a fulfilling life. We can come to a place where instead of settling for the feeling of having enough we can experience feeling that we are enough.

We stand before the mirror and look at all the wrong things. Go there and look at nothing but your eyes. Who do you see there? How does she/he feel about themselves? How do you treat her/him? These are the changes that matter most and they’ll clear the way for healthier living.

It’s a cheesy metaphor, but I’ve always compared dealing with what’s in our hearts to cleaning out the refrigerator. You have to clear out the bad stuff to make room for good stuff. Connecting with kindred spirits makes this task far less overwhelming.

Self care is as simple as noticing how you talk to you. It’s as easy as looking at what you believe about you. When I serve folks as a therapist, I consistently find that folks tend to treat themselves the way their childhood caregivers did. Too many of us good to others and terrible to ourselves.

Start using the Golden Rule in reverse – start treating yourself the way you treat others.

If you’re struggling with weight loss, I cannot recommend the amazing women and men of Weight Watchers highly enough. Their approach of serving one another in the journey toward health and happiness is genuine and transformative.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.