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Why a Big Stomach Belongs at Thanksgiving

Why a Big Stomach Belongs at Thanksgiving

Nov 21 2012
And how my own appetite went from enemy to dear friend.

The first time I remember feeling uncomfortable from overeating was at a Thanksgiving meal at my grandparents'. Between the main course and the dessert that I still hoped to eat, I went on a walk around their property to relieve my discomfort and make room for just a bit more. Perhaps every child has such an encounter with the stomach's limits, but that meal also foreshadowed many years of struggling with food. During those years, my sense of taste seemed more curse than blessing.

By my freshman year of college, I could balance my healthy, six-foot tall father in the scales, a fact that scared me. I'd been trying to "fix" my weight since late junior high, but to no avail. Each time my latest strategy failed (whether cutting out dessert or seconds or trying to get more exercise), the high weight for that lapse inched further upward. These numbers were always in the realm of mere overweight, but seemed doomed to end in obesity. When I saw Dad's weight on my scale that day, I started to wonder how near that was.

In the panic that ensued, I bought my first, and last, Christian diet book. Though I never actually finished it, the author introduced a radical notion: God had made my body good. In fact, she said, it could tell me how much energy I needed to consume, maybe even what kind of food. But first, I would have to listen to my body.

The first several weeks of learning to listen were difficult. Before, I had always waited until I felt full to stop eating, but the author said I should stop when satisfied, a point I had never noticed and which always came too soon. Though I had no constraints on what I ate, my body never seemed to need as much as I wanted. Stopping when I was satisfied often echoed the way I felt on Friday nights that year, when I would sit alone in my dorm room, hearing the other students head out for the start of their weekends.

Gradually my newfound restraint began to pay off. After six months, I had lost about 30 pounds solely by listening. And I now felt a new freedom at the buffet line: rather than choosing based on a rule, I could eat whatever I wanted, within the limits of hunger.

Though I had learned an important lesson about how to work my body, that victory proved like every weight skirmish before: it didn't last. Over the next few years, I continued to struggle with food, often eating when I lacked a sense of control or faced negative emotions.

One day I looked at my skinny-clothes stash. Rather than pushing past them with the usual vague hope. I started to ask: Was I really going to wear these someday? What if I never could? Was I going to spend my life forestalling happiness until thinness proved attainable?

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Why a Big Stomach Belongs at Thanksgiving