‘When I signed up for therapy with Sally I was already on the waiting list for a gastric band operation. Major abdominal surgery was something I wanted to avoid, so this programme felt like my last-ditch attempt to get my weight under control.
‘At the initial consultation, I weighed in at 24 stone and one pound (337 lb/153 kg). A week later, when I came for my first therapy session, I topped that with an additional half a stone (7 lb/3 kg) for good measure. Those extra pounds were a classic “Last Supper” response, coupled with the fall-out from the celebrations for my 58th birthday.
‘Clearly, I had a long way to go. I was under no illusions that my weight was causing me problems, but I was obviously not in the right frame of mind to fully focus on doing anything differently. I was disappointed in myself that I’d got myself in this state and felt pretty disgusted with myself for letting it happen. I had gone from being a well-built, strong athletic type of guy to someone who was classed as morbidly obese with painful joints, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and sleep apnoea. And, I felt like had let all of that happen to me.'
‘All those negative opinions of myself are just great ways of beating myself up and keeping me stuck. Little by little I was able to let go of that self-blame and begin to do things differently.'
‘I’m a bloke, so I like goals and structure. The first thing I did was set myself staged, with dated targets, towards my key goal of getting my weight down to 19 stone, nine pounds (275 lb/124 kg). That wasn’t an arbitrary weight by the way. That was the weight I needed to achieve to get myself out of the morbidly obese category as defined by the NHS' [UK’s National Health Service] BMI (body mass index) measurement.'
''I had to work hard to clear my self-doubts and to keep focused. When I began, I was pretty overwhelmed and certainly didn’t feel confident that I could make those changes happen. There were many two-steps-forward-and-one-step-backwards as I made progress towards my goal.'
'For me, I appreciated the hypnotherapy and visualising myself achieving my goal weight really helped me to get there. In all, it took me just under a year to get down to the 19st 9lbs target.'
'The key for me appears to be a sort of mindfulness – not only while eating but in keeping these issues, the decision to put my health first, the intention to be accountable to me, in the frame on a daily basis. This is what is difficult, because it is the opposite of what I have done all my life: putting personal issues on the back burner, but is it so good, and so successful, when I do it. And when you’re on a roll success breeds success.'
‘I achieved my steadiest, most reliable, incremental, week-upon-week, weight loss when I listened to the hypnosis-recordings every day; kept a food diary; when my wife and I worked together to plan out the week’s menu in advance; and when we shopped for our meals and snacks so that everything was available in the kitchen.'
''The food diary’s weekly tally of my drinking prompted me to face up to, and radically cut-down my alcohol consumption. That has stayed down ever since, as has switching regular takeaway dinners for more home-cooked meals.'
'I’d had a long belief that the B’s were responsible and that cutting out Bread, Butter and Beer would do the job! However just trying to cut out those with no mental support framework had in the past just been doomed to repeated failure with each pound or stone off followed sooner, or later with two back on!'
'Now, the lower carb diet worked, and is mostly still working for me, does not demand foregoing Butter – but the of course less I have the better (as Betty Botter might have said). Obviously Bread is out along with rice, pasta, chips, etc., and again, as my knees only allow me to perform limited exercise, Beer has to be off the menu.'
'The quality of the mental support framework comes and goes supported by firstly success, by personal relationships, by the hypnotherapy CDs, and by some sort of personal happiness index. – what a list of variables.'
‘It might make it sound as though my weight loss was all down to practical factors, but of course, key to all of this was me getting my head around the idea, the actual possibility, of me being able to lose the weight and that’s what I did in the therapy sessions. I had so much doubt at my own ability to make a difference in my own life that for that first year I carried on attending the hospital appointments for the gastric band procedure, just in case I failed. I kept those appointments all the way up to when I no longer met the NHS’s qualifying guidelines for surgical intervention. I had disqualified myself by no longer being fat enough!'
‘I found I struggled to stay focused when I took on a couple of property renovations and my life got very busy and stressful. It became all too easy to let my health priorities take a back seat while I focused on working hard. I began making poor food choices, often eating on the run. That whole mañana thing of “’I’ll take care of myself tomorrow” had been a bit of a theme for me for years, and had got me into the mess I’d already found myself in.'
'Being busy again, and under pressure, triggered me into those old patterns of behaviour of not taking care of myself. The therapy sessions helped me realise I could make other choices for myself, that I mattered, and that taking care of myself mattered too.'
‘The four to five stone (56-70 lb/25-32 kg) I reduced my weight by had many welcome health benefits. The practice nurse at my General Practice (GP) surgery ran the statistics and said I had improved my life expectancy by 20 percent. All of the readings from my regular blood tests were hugely better. My sleep apnoea had reduced from 40 interrupts per hour to initially 11 interrupts per hour, and now I keep meaning to return the breathing assistance machine to the hospital as I never need to use it at all, which of course is wonderful.'
‘I had a health scare last year driving back down to the south of England from Scotland with my wife. A few hundred miles into the trip I felt that tell-tale tightness in my chest and my heart was pumping ten-to-the-dozen. It was very scary.'
'We were in a part of the country that we barely knew and had to make our way to the nearest hospital, where I was admitted for tests. I was eventually diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, a heart condition characterised by irregular heartbeat which can lead to an increased risk of stroke, or even heart failure. I can’t tell you how immensely pissed off I was.'
' I had done everything I was told to do - eaten more healthily, cut down on the booze and lost weight and then - sod’s law - this should happen to me. I felt all over again that my body had let me down. I know it’s not rational, but it’s how I felt. I was back in that abyss thinking that I had allowed this to happen to me, that it was all my fault. It took a while to haul myself back up and recognise that the weight I had lost had probably made the difference from me being here today or not.'
‘I had got complacent, I guess. I thought I had done enough, but I have decided now I’m ready to lose the next chunk of weight. I’ve set a new weight loss target. I’ve gone back to keeping a food diary and listening to the hypnosis recordings every day. I want to build on the positive health improvements I’ve already gained, and I’m keen to have more of the same. I’m talking to my wife about my plans as I know how well I can do when she and I work together, and she always loses some weight too, so everyone’s a winner!'
‘I understand now that I deserve to be well and happy and that no-one can do that for me, except me, and I truly want that, and I’m willing to work for it.’
Contact me if you feel ready to lose your excess weight through changing how you think and feel about yourself and food. Click on the button at the top of this page for an obligation free 30-minute call.
‘When I signed up for therapy with Sally I was already on the waiting list for a gastric band operation. Major abdominal surgery was something I wanted to avoid, so this programme felt like my last-ditch attempt to get my weight under control.
A young mother struggled to balance the needs of her two children; her relationship with her husband and her own fears of inadequacy. She was self-medicating daily with food and alcohol to swallow down the secret negative judgements she made about herself.
Here's the story of how she transformed her life and using the insights she made from her therapy sessions with me to make the all important changes to halt a pattern of behaviour that no longer served her or her family. Details and names have been changed to protect her anonymity.
At thirty-five Melanie was the heaviest she had ever been. The previous five roller-coaster years had taken its toll on her waistline, and her confidence. As she and her husband celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary, they tucked up in bed their children age four, and two before slumping onto the sofa with yet another takeaway, and bottle of wine.
‘Sometimes I wonder where that ambitious young woman who had her career all mapped out, and her life under control went. It’s as though I’ve lost sight of her under all the effort of working full time, and taking care of my girls.’ She said as she began to explain her feelings.
‘Everyone thinks I’ve made a great success of my life. A wonderful husband, beautiful children, and I’m respected at work,’ she paused, ‘That’s everyone except me. I’m terrified they’ll find out I’m not as capable as they think I am, and my daughters will grow up to realise I’m a rubbish mum. or my husband will lose patience waiting for us to have some quality time together and go off looking elsewhere.'
Her eye’s filled with tears as she continued, “Especially as I’m four stone (56 lb.) heavier than when we got married, and I can’t bear to have him touch me anymore.’
Gently we began to unpick what was happening in her life, and what was happening for Melanie around food. She talked about her comfort eating in her break times at work and eating sweets every evening in the car travelling to collect the children from their childminder. ‘I just crave sweet things. It’s the only thing that keeps me going’.
Working through the Time Line Protocol Melanie identified her reliance on sugary treats began when she was thirteen years old when her family moved house, and she moved from a small, rural school where she knew everyone to being the new girl at a much larger city school.
‘I’ve always been a bit of a swot. I loved learning, and putting my hand up in class to answer questions made me the target for a group of girls who made my life a total misery. I remember going home unhappy every day for what felt like ages, and my mum being off-hand with me. She said I was attention seeking, and causing her and Dad more trouble.'
She explained that her Dad had lost his job through ill-health which is why they had moved and she had no real idea what effect that was having on their lives.
'Now when I look back I realise they must have been worried sick about money plus my Dad who never really showed his feelings had depression around that time too which made things even harder for my mum.’
‘Pretty soon I realised I was on my own. I became a bit of a chameleon at school. I remember making a conscious decision to fit in. I even trained myself out of my country accent. I stopped being a goody two shoes at school, and learnt to out-bully the bullies. I made myself fit it. Inside I still felt lonely, but I just kept that to myself. I started spending my lunch money on sweets, and cigarettes with the other girls. If my mum, or dad noticed any difference in me, they never said. When I noticed I was getting fatter, I began messing about with laxatives, and bingeing and sometimes purging just like the other girls did who were now my friends. I carried on with that all the way through university.’
‘Oh yes, I made it to University. Right at the last minute I knuckled down and passed my exams. Inside I was still the girl who loved learning. I had just learnt to keep that a secret too.’
‘My boyfriend and I had only been going out together for about four months when I fell pregnant with our first child. We didn’t have to get married we just chose to. The way it worked out for us meant we didn’t even live together before the wedding. I suppose that was harder than I imagined. He wasn’t brilliant at sharing how he felt. I used to joke with him that he was even quieter than my Dad. We were only just getting used to each other when shortly afterwards we were getting used to being parents. It felt like we hadn’t had a moment to find out about each other, especially when I got pregnant with our second child so quickly.’
‘My secret eating, and bingeing kicked off again after our second child was born. After six months I went back to work full time with a brand new promotion as head of department at an inner-city college. I thought I could manage everything and keep all the plates spinning. I never told my husband Vic how overwhelmed I felt, I just hid it all. I was worried that he might be under pressure as he had changed from being a single man to married man, and father of two in just a couple of years. I was also afraid that if I told him how I felt he might think I was unnecessarily dramatic just like my mum had.’
‘So I just carried on with all the old coping strategies I’d developed when I was at school and university. I just kept all my emotions inside me and drank way too much, and binged in secret whenever I had the chance. My mum broached the subject with me during a shopping trip together with me being under a lot of pressure. I must have been in a pretty bad way for her to risk saying anything to me,’ she paused and momentarily laughed before becoming very serious again.
‘Everything that should have given me so much joy just felt hollow. Even my boys, who I adored, would be hustled through bath time and bedtime with me in a bad temper so that I could get them out of the way, and open a bottle of wine.
I think my mum could finally see how unhappy I was. She had picked up a leaflet for Sally's therapy practice, and she said she would pay for the sessions. I didn’t even try to put on a brave face or deny anything. I think I knew I couldn’t keep going on as I was which is why I knew I had to see someone and sort myself out. It’s quite telling that although I could admit to her that I needed help, I still kept the sessions secret from my husband for the first few weeks.’
‘Learning to use EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) I realised how high I had set the bar for myself with the type of job I was doing while at the same time taking care of two young children. Initially, it felt like a big deal for me to consider the possibility that I couldn’t do it all. I also learnt in therapy how little of my fears, and doubts I had even admitted to myself, let alone shared with my husband. PSTEC (Percussive suggestion Technique was brilliant in helping to free me from all those horrible old memories of being bullied at school especially when no one at home wanted to listen to me. It was those early fears that I might not be heard again when I needed help that kept me from sharing how I felt with Vic.
Melanie smiled broadly, ‘I may have married Vic, but in all honesty, I had never really allowed myself to rely on him. When I was able to say to him that my life was all a bit too much for me he understood and heard me.” Melanie’s face softened, ‘I think our marriage properly began from around that time when I dared to share my real feelings with him.’
She continued, ‘In therapy, I forgave myself for not being a super-mum and for relying on booze and rubbishy sweet stuff to keep myself going. Free from all that guilt I was able to go to my Head Teacher to speak with her about reducing some of my responsibilities.
Now almost a year later even more changes have taken place. ‘I’m back to my pre-marriage weight. I’ve lost over four stone (56+ lbs), and I’ve cut my work down to three days a week.
Vic and I have monthly date nights when my mum and dad take the girls for a sleep-over at their house. I don’t drink at all during the week, and I don’t even miss it!’
She continued,’I thought admitting to my boss that I couldn’t cope would be the end of my career but that hasn’t been the case. I’m still ambitious, but I’m willing to take things more slowly now and enjoy these precious years with our daughters too. I’ve also learnt that it’s OK to ask for help. Vic is not my dad, and I’m not that young girl anymore who has to get by on her own. By asking for what I need I gave myself the opportunity to be heard instead of stuffing it all down with crappy food, and I’ve also got closer to Vic as he gets to know the real me. I feel fortunate. I could scare myself if I dwelt for too long on how things might have turned out but I’m too busy being happier to do that.
Contact me if you feel powerless in your life hiding behind drinking too much, eating junk food or carrying excess weight. You might need some outside help to transform your life from overwhelming to a life you can be proud of. It's worth a chat. Just click the button at the top of the page.
Emel’s story, given in an interview with Sally
‘The journey to the seaside was exciting and I remember being really happy. Everything changed when he took me into the bushes and did what he wanted to do to me. Everything was hot and bright. He then carried me then into the sea. I remember the waves crashing over my head and me losing my footing. I was tiny; there was nothing of me. I was five, maybe six years old. The waves were big, but he was insistent and pulled me into the surf anyway.
‘The sexual abuse began that day, with the sea’s breakers washing away what he had done to me. It was confusing and alarming. He was my Dad. I loved my Dad but he hurt me and told me to keep quiet and this secret thing of his kept happening to me whenever he managed to get me on my own.’
‘I was thinking about that memory today as I sat in my car outside your house. I was early and just sitting there waiting until it was time to knock on your door. So much has happened since then, and sitting waiting to see you, I really got a sense of how far I have come.’
Emel paused. ‘I very nearly just said it’s been one hell of a journey, but in truth it’s been an amazing journey of healing and it began here, at your door all those years ago.’
Emel had come today at my invitation to recall some of the work she had done with Liz Hogon and me in our early workshops. Now 70 years old, she is sprightly, slim and full of life, almost unrecognisable from the woman we first got to know.
At the time I was practising as a massage therapist specialising in working with women survivors of abuse. Emel had written to me explaining that she was interested in receiving a massage, but wanted to know exactly what that entailed before she booked an appointment. I can’t remember exactly my reply, but I must have allayed her fears as the following week she booked her first appointment. I was already trained in EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) and found it to be the perfect, natural complement to body work as a way of releasing and resolving the often profound emotional responses that physical touch can release.
Completing my intake form, Emel spoke quietly to explain that she had rarely ever been touched with kindness and she was desperate to know how that might feel to her. She said that growing up she had only known her father’s sexual abuse and her mother’s violent jealous rages, and savage beatings. The only real kindness she had known was the rare times with her grandmother. One time in particular she remembered resting her head against her grandmother’s knee and having her hair gently stroked.
Her arranged marriage at the age of 17, to an older man she barely knew, brought her three daughters she adores to this day, but no respite from cruelty and abuse.
By the time we met she was making tentative steps towards recovery and finding herself following a mental break-down.
She had spent great swathes of her unhappy married life on anti-depressants and submitted herself too much of what was offered through the NHS (UK National Health Service) mental health services. With her daughters grown, she had finally divorced her abusive husband and was, for the first time in her adult life, living alone in her ex-marital home. Even with her survivor’s spirit, her collected memories and experiences of sexual and physical violence had taken their toll on her. She was depressed, and her petite frame was over-burdened with excess weight, leaving her with stiff and aching joints. Her years of yo-yo dieting were regularly sabotaged by her compulsive cravings for sweet treats as her main source of self-comfort. Although, 50-something years later, cooking dinner for herself in her own kitchen, she would habitually pick and graze from food in her cupboards, even though she knew her dinner was almost ready.
‘From the age of nine I was cooking meals for my younger siblings and even as I prepared the food, stirred the pot and served it I knew there wasn’t enough for me. There was never enough for all of us and that feeling of knowing I was going to go hungry was still triggering me all these years later to over-eat, even when I knew good food was plentiful in my house.’
Emel has many vivid memories of being hungry as a child. She would sometimes steal a spoonful of home-made jam from a jar in her mother’s pantry. She was careful not to get caught as her mother would certainly have beaten her. Equally, her mother, in a jealous rage, would often beat her over the special attention her father paid her.
In her adult life, Emel would often feel restless and uneasy after dinner, and experience the same childhood compulsion for something sweet.
‘I would sit in the evening knowing that I had eaten my dinner. Eaten my pudding. I would know that I wasn’t hungry, but I would still need something nice. Something for me, and the only way I knew to have something nice for me was to eat something sweet.’
For years Emel slept fitfully and she would often wake with a start feeling echoes of old anxieties and fears.
‘Often I would wake in the middle of the night with a panic attack and feel all those old anxieties, over and over again, and the only way I knew how to calm myself was again to eat something sweet. I can remember going down to my kitchen on many, many occasions and just stuffing food down my throat, stifling my rising fear, swallowing it down.’
Emel said that having that first massage was a powerful step for her healing.
‘To allow myself to accept those good feelings in me, from being stroked and touched with kindness, was such a breakthrough for me. I began to realise I had thought it was normal to feel tense all the time, but through massage I also began to notice what feeling relaxed felt like, and I learnt to tell the difference.’
Emel had never been able successfully to lose weight following conventional diets, and she had struggled with her weight for years. She joined one of our first seven-week group workshops in London that focused on resolving and releasing the emotional connections to comfort and stress over-eating.
She recalled, ‘My over-eating and desire for sweet things was all to do with my childhood. The only way I knew how to cope with all of the memories of cruelty and trauma I experienced with my Mum and Dad was to eat. It’s all I knew.’
‘Working with Liz and Sally I realised how much I blamed and punished myself for what had happened to me. I believed it was somehow all my fault and if I’d been a better daughter then none of those terrible things would have happened to me. The gradual process of forgiving myself, and learning to love and cherish myself, was a life-saver for me and in turn, in time, I was able to forgive my parents. It didn’t all happen at once, but for the first time I had the therapy tools and trusted my intuition enough to see things differently. From the work I did I changed how I thought about myself and the beliefs I had about me. It was never, ever my fault.’
She continued, ‘The irony is that years and years later, when my Dad was an old man, I became his carer as he grew more frail and slipped into dementia, with his eventual death just a few years ago. It was a difficult time. I had so much anger towards the man who had betrayed me as a little girl and yet here was a broken, old man in front of me. I did lots of tapping (EFT). Hours of tapping!’ She laughed. ‘I could let it go. It’s over. I’ve learnt to protect that little girl inside of me. She’s safe with me. You and Liz showed me how to do that.’
‘And,’ she continued, ‘There were even moments of healing with him. I remember him being very sharp and unfair with me one day when I was caring for him. Without even raising my voice I told him that I remembered everything he’d ever done to me. It stopped him in his tracks. He was about to shout at me to shut me up, but this time I stared him out. I just looked deep into his eyes. He knew. His mouth closed and he held his head in his hands in shame as he walked away from me.’
Emel continued, ‘It’s not as though I’m completely fixed,’ she smiled, ‘ I thought I was. I’ve been very happy – much happier than ever before for many years now – but sometimes, something comes out of the blue, and I’m thrown off my feet again. When Jimmy Saville hit the news [the investigation of a high-profile Paedophile in the UK], I could feel all the anger choking up in me again and I was right back there, but this time, instead of swallowing those feelings down with food, I had the therapy techniques I had learnt, and the trust in myself to understand that it’s just another layer that I need to clear. I can do that.’
Having enjoyed sound sleep for a long time, Emel told me she had begun waking again in the middle of the night, feeling again traces of that old panic.
‘I know what it’s about though, now. Back then I never knew. I’m excited. I’m actually in the middle of selling the house I lived in with my ex-husband. I’ve got a buyer and everything is going through. It’s the next stage of my life. Those last memories of him will go with the old house. I’m buying a bungalow and I’m staying with one of my daughters while I have it completely renovated. I want everything new and fresh because I deserve it.’
Rising to leave I commented on how well Emel looked.
I asked what weight she had been when she started her work with us,
‘Probably about 12½ stone, or maybe even more (81 kg/177 lb) and now I’m 9½ stone (60 kg/133 lb) and have been for a long time.’
‘But you know,’ she smiled, ‘for me it was never really about the food. It was those old, terrible memories and all of that self-hatred I had. But it’s truly gone now. I’m a member of a theatre group. I sing; I act; I live well.’ She paused, ‘You know, I took swimming lessons and I did learn to swim. I still don’t like the deep end where my feet can’t feel the bottom. I get scared and tense when I’m out of my depth. I always need to be by the side so that I can hold on. It’s the little girl in me, from all those years ago that he was bouncing up and down in the sea, and her little feet couldn’t touch the sand. I must have passed out because I don’t have any other memories of that day other than being back at home much later and my grandmother calling to me to wake me up.’
She looked off into the distance, remembering.
‘Maybe that’s something I need to do to help heal that little girl who was so scared that day in the sea.’ Pausing again as she thought back to that day she said, ‘Yes, maybe I’ll do just that. Swim to the deep end. Why not?’
Emel added, ‘I want my name to be mentioned. I have nothing to be ashamed of. This is his shame, not my shame. I had to learn to love myself instead of punishing and comforting myself with food.’
Case Study Notes:
Working with Emel it was clear that there were many traumatic experiences and memories to resolve and release. If each memory, or event was taken one at a time it would have felt overwhelming to resolve years, and years of trauma.
The way we worked with Emel was to encourage her to note down as many memories as possible, and to write them down as a stream of conscious list with as little deliberation as possible. We worked with her using EFT while she compiled the list to reduce the distress of recalling events and memories.
Many individual events were grouped together. For instance some were called ‘The morning memories’, or the ‘Alone with Dad memories’, or ‘Mum’s cruelty around food’ memories. Once as many events as possible have been recalled we asked Emel to give each memory, or group of memories a SUD rating from zero to 10. The highest number represents the greatest level of distress connected to a memory.
We always begin focussing our work on events or memories with the highest level of distress. The analogy is when cutting down the biggest tree in the forest many other smaller trees are also knocked down at the same time. We worked through the list with Emel using EFT and PSTEC until the distress around the memory had gone and the SUD rating was reduced to zero. When returning to the list we always focussed on the remaining events or memories with the highest SUD score. It only took a few rounds of EFT, and three or four repeats of the free PSTEC click tracks to bring the highest SUD rated memories down to more manageable levels and not very long at all until they were down to zero. Checking back with the initial list Emel confirmed that she felt very little negative emotion attached to the rest of the list. We did a couple of more rounds of PSTEC to be absolutely sure those events no longer held any emotional pain for her, and that part of our work was completed leaving Emel feeling lighter in spirit than she had ever felt.
Emel’s story is certainly one of the more distressing life experiences we have worked with.
However, it is not uncommon for women who have suffered from uncomfortable experiences around sex through to sexual abuse to have this reflected in their relationship to food.
Working with issues of trauma as a self-helper it is important at all times to keep yourself safe, and only to tackle issues which you are confident feel manageable. If you are thinking of compiling your own list of negative memories, or events it may be advisable to begin your work with EFT and PSTEC at the lower end of the SUD score, and work up the SUD scale as you become more experienced working with the therapy tools. The alternative is also to seek out a therapist who can support you as you do this work.
If you’d like to book a session to explore your relationship with food and think about how EFT can work for you book in a call here
All testimonials and case studies are authentic with original correspondence held on file and open for inspection as required. (Names have been changed to protect anonymity).
Soothing Myself With Food
‘When I started therapy I reckon I wanted to lose around two and a half stone (35 lb/16 kg), which isn’t a lot when you think of how much some people want to lose, but it was the heaviest I’d been for a long time and I felt miserable, overwhelmed and tired of it all. I’d always been slim, skinny even as a child and teenager. I’d put on my weight in my 20s, carrying more with each of my three children. Somehow I always managed to claw myself back, but not quite to my former slim self.
‘Over 20 years ago, when our children were small and I was coming up to my 30th birthday, my husband had an affair with someone at work. Out of sheer bloody-mindedness, and revenge I guess, I got down to nine and a half stone (133 lb/60 kg) in under four months. It was an ego boost while it lasted, but basically my heart was broken. I had all this anger around his betrayal that I didn’t know what to do with, so in the end, I just ate and ate.
’When I started therapy I was approaching my 50th birthday. I felt middle-aged and over the hill. I was also still full of anger. Fury just consumed me. It was like a big fist in my stomach and it felt like it had been there for years. The only way I knew how to calm myself down was to eat.
‘My husband and I didn’t split up over his affair. In fact, we hardly ever spoke about it. Twenty years later, when I first talked about him in my therapy sessions, I called him every swear word I could think of. Even our grown-up children knew I thought of him with total disdain and whenever I had the opportunity to put him down, or make him feel small, then I would. I was remorseless. When it had come to the crunch, he had chosen to stay with me and I was committed to being with him, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t beyond exacting my revenge for what he’d done by taking out all my fury and anger on him.
‘When I was asked if I wanted to split up with him, I was taken aback. I began to slowly acknowledge the truth to myself about how I loved the very bones of the man and how much sadness I carried in my heart that our relationship had turned out the way it had. My anger just covered all the pain I was in and the way I coped with it was to use the ways I had learnt growing up. I was raised in the kind of family where my Dad, and even my Granddad, were casually cruel to me, my brothers and my sister. I learnt very early on not to show any weakness. If I was hurting and they could see it, I’d just get more of the same. I also learnt very early on not to speak out because as far as they were concerned I didn’t matter, or they would just use it as another opportunity to slap me down.
‘Over time, I developed this impenetrable shell.
I was as loving as anything to my own kids, but if I was crossed by a friend or a neighbour, then this hard front came down and they would be as good as dead to me. In therapy I came to see that these were strategies I’d developed to get me through my life. They sort of worked, but I paid a high price as it never felt safe for me to show my vulnerability, so everyone thought I was as hard as nails.
All of my vulnerable feelings had to be swallowed down and that’s what I did with food.
‘As I worked in my therapy sessions, I learned to get in touch with and express the emotions I’d never felt safe to express before, and with that my eating came into balance. I started to lose weight and steadily got my weight down. With my husband it began to feel right to me that I showed him how much I loved him. I simply didn’t need to punish him anymore and the changes in our relationship have been remarkable and enduring. Glen is absolutely at the centre of my life.
‘My weight loss hasn’t been without its hiccups. In the last few years I’ve had some huge challenges to face that have thrown me back into some of my old behaviours and habits. My much loved sister-in-law has an inoperable brain tumour. We all watch pretty helplessly as she edges closer to her passing, which is hard to bear, especially for my brother and our extended family. My Dad survived my Mum by several years, and the last four years have been exceptionally difficult as my sister and I cared for him at his home while he fought cancer. To the end, not once did he miss an opportunity to undermine me, say something critical, or set my sister and me at odds with each other. He remained manipulative and unkind to his dying day. That makes me sad as I so wished it could have turned out differently. I think the little girl in me was really hoping right up to the end for an acknowledgement, a kind word, a gesture of love, but he just wasn’t able to give that to me.
‘These big life events certainly threw my eating into chaos for a while.
In the past I would have responded with a downward spiral of binge eating that could have led to possibly months, or even years, of weight gain. Nowadays I recognise my old patterns and can interrupt them. It doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes feel overwhelmed with everything and sorry for myself, but I also understand that while my Dad couldn’t love me, that was his loss. It was never about me. He was damaged. I understand now though that I can love me. That little girl inside of me is safe with me, and I’m never going to let her down.
‘Key to me and Glen sorting out our marriage was me learning that Glen was not the same as my Dad. When the betrayal happened I was triggered into old responses I’d learnt from my Dad. The emotional bullying, the lack of tenderness, were just learnt habits that I used to hide behind. As I got more in touch with my real feelings the more I was able to share them with him again. He made a mistake, we both know that, and he chose to stay with me so what was the point in letting it eat me up, or even fatten me up, to ruin our chance of a happy life together? My opening up to him has been the most wonderful happening in my life and we are closer than ever.
‘I’ve figured out other stuff too that used to make me feel dreadful about myself and would trigger me to emotionally overeat. Glen has times when he needs to withdraw a bit. Sort of man-cave stuff. Maybe it’s work or something else he’s trying to get his head around, but I realise now that it’s not a judgment about me. It’s his stuff and I can let him be and I’m still fine. It’s a huge relief. Also, I used to really resent that I was the family’s social secretary, holiday co-ordinator, forward planner and generally the one the buck stopped with. I used to want him to be different, to step up. The truth is, it’s not his way and I’m good at it. I’ve found peace with who he is, and who I am. When I think back to how our marriage was, it is like someone else’s life and I’m so glad it’s not mine.
‘A while back I did lose over 23 pounds [10.5 kg] and I felt and looked amazing. I’ve put a bit of that back on in the last year just because life got in my way, but I know exactly what to do to let those extra pounds go and they really can go now. If I catch myself soothing myself with food I can say to Glen, “Can I have a hug”, and he’s always happy to oblige. My life is better than I thought – better than I dared hope for.’