From “Fat Kid” to Mindful Eater: My Journey with Food

By Sheryl Brehm

All of my childhood memories have to do with being the “fat kid.” It started at two years old when I learned the word “chubby.” I didn’t know what it meant, but I remember not liking the laughing that came with it. 

In summer camp, I remember waddling up to the stage on awards night to accept the “best eater” award. I was the first one in elementary school to reach 100 pounds. My second grade teacher weighed us all in class, and then had us stand up and announce our weight. I was humiliated – especially when she commented about how fat I was getting. 

I ran home for lunch that day, crying. I told my mother what had happened and that I didn’t want to be fat anymore. I’ll never forget her response. “How dare she say that. You are the perfect one. All of the other children in your class are too skinny.” To prove her point, she made me an extra peanut butter and jelly sandwich and gave me ten cents to buy two candy bars on the way back to school.

My family was very focused on food, and being from Eastern Europe and living through the depression, they believed it was healthy to have a little extra weight. I got so much approval from them about what a good eater I was. I was told what a good girl I was as I reached for my third lamb chop.

By the time I reached junior high school, I was carrying much more weight than I needed. When doctors would comment that I should go on a diet, my mother argued that I was just fine.

Me – 30 years ago

One day in junior high, one of my friends’ mother said, “You are so pretty, why don’t you lose some weight?” I was embarrassed, but also felt a sense of relief. I told her I didn’t know how to do that. She gave me a simple healthy program to follow. I ran home excited to tell my mother of my plan. 

“How dare she!” my mother screamed, followed by, “don’t think I’m going to be cooking special meals for you.” The story of our mother-daughter relationship is for another time, but feeling strong and determined (I was 12 years old), I put myself on this diet and lost 30 pounds. 

My life radically changed on the outside. I was thin and pretty. I stayed on a relatively healthy diet throughout high school. I never developed a full-blown eating disorder, other than weighing myself numerous times a day. However, my mood, my self-esteem, and my existence were measured each day by that scale. I had numerous ways of stepping on it very slowly, so that I readied myself for that number. Still, today, I dread going to the doctor because I have to be weighed. That damn scale!

No matter how I looked on the outside, the fat girl was alive and well inside me. The only time I could really see myself was in a picture – before I could realize I was looking at me. 

I managed to keep my weight fairly steady, with the occasional 10 pound gain. I was pretty good at catching it and going on some crazy diet to lose it quickly. Yes, I have been on every one. From pre-digested protein, to diet pills, eating only pineapple, even wrapping myself in Saran Wrap. 

When I met the man I was going to marry, I let myself gain 25 pounds. I wanted to see if he would stay with me when I eventually got fat again. Funny, he never even mentioned it. 

I loved being pregnant. Finally, I didn’t have to suck in my stomach. I felt free! And of course, I gained a lot of weight. So there I was, one more time, fat! I couldn’t do this again! I wanted to do something different. Something permanent. I was tired of “dieting.”

I began to look at my relationship with food. I realized that I would never be friends with someone who treated me as food did. It lied to me – telling me it would make me feel better. It seduced me, manipulated me, controlled me!

I really wanted to win this battle. I read every book I could find about emotional eating. I went to lectures and even did two-week long retreats about my relationship with food. The most important thing I learned is that there is not one problem that food can permanently fix – although it still tries to tell me that.

I eat what I like best on my plate first. This was really important because by saving the best for last, I could always finish my meal. When I ate my favorite food first, I naturally began leaving food on my plate. 

I only choose foods that I enjoy (not pineapple), and I allow myself to enjoy what I’m eating. If I eat what I’m truly hungry for, I don’t stuff myself.

And probably most important, I can feel the difference between being satisfied and feeling stuffed. I can push my plate away. I know I can always eat it later. 

These new habits took time and patience. Now, at age 71, I have been at my body’s natural weight for 20 years. 

The fat girl still lives, but we get along better now. When I think I’m fat, I check my pants and see that they are a size 2. I am reassured for the moment. I still have problems in my life as we all do, but stuffing my face has never, nor will it ever, solve any of my problems. 

A retired psychotherapist, Sheryl Brehm lives in Palm Desert, California, where she enjoys painting, cooking, knitting, and biking. She stays strong and healthy with daily exercise, meditation, healthy eating, and keeping a positive attitude.

Thank you, Sheryl, for sharing your story with our readers.

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