Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Battle of the Bulge: On Being Fat & Loving Myself Anyway

The first two Hebrew phrases I learned when I first arrived in Israel came from an unexpected diagnosis. The doctor, a kind, fellow American immigrant wrote that I was עודף משקל חמור (severely overweight), and had a הפרעת אכילה (eating disorder). He gently recommended that I start seeing a nutritionist, gave me his best wishes for a smooth acclimation here, and sent me on my way. At 210lbs, it was no secret that I was overweight, but I had no idea what was written on the papers. A friend later translated the papers for me, albeit nervously. I laughed about how ridiculous such a diagnosis was. Every single doctor I had seen since I was five years old told me that I was in the “99th percentile for weight”, yet at the age of 24 I suddenly had an ‘eating disorder’?  It seemed like it was a big jump to make that conclusion after one consultation.

Throughout the years of living here, similar terms often repeated themselves: odef mishkal (overweight), hafra’at achila (eating disorder), hashmanat yeter (obese), mile’ah (full-figured, “zaftig” as my grandmother used to say), and the ever-popular “shmena” (fat) or shmanmonet (fatso, usually associated with little chubby kids).  The latter were words that I knew all too well, but had not heard since elementary school when the mean kids viciously taunted me. But Israelis, God bless them, aren’t exactly known for their diplomatic graces so they say what's on their mind. They talk “dugree” – straight and to the point; they don’t beat around the bush. Depending on the circumstances, talking dugree can either be refreshingly honest or sting like hell. Either way, they’re being honest, even if the reality is painful.  Whether I wanted to admit it or not, I was indeed, shmeina (fat), and everyone knew it.

Clearly, being shmeina is not news to me. I have been wearing plus-size clothing since the 3rd grade and have fluctuated between 205-225lbs between the ages of 11-27. At one point, I reached 270lbs, and that’s when things took a turn for the worse. (I was on the cusp of developing diabetes and my feet began to hurt after standing for more than 15 minutes. I couldn't climb more than two stairs without running out of breath.) But when I was a young teen, I was determined not to let my weight hold me back. One time, in junior high, I even sewed two cheerleading skirts together so I could try out for the squad back. I didn’t get accepted, but I amazed them that I could do all the jumps and splits like those skinny blonde girls!

For most of my life, being overweight has been my familiar space, my reality, my comfort, and my identity. It is also the aspect that I hate most about my life, the part of me that has kept me down, withdrawn, socially isolated at times, still single at 35, and highly insecure about that entire combination. Yet it’s an aspect that I continue to perpetuate and embrace even though I know it keeps me down and hurts me. 

Realization: I’ve been in an abusive relationship with my fat self. 

Throughout the years, I ran around trying to find health practitioners who could help me while I simultaneously made myself broke.  The extra weight brought me to close to a dozen practitioners[i] – a small army of both physical and mental health professionals – in the attempt to help alleviate the maladies caused by unhealthy lifestyle, unhealthy emotional eating, and the result, morbid obesity.  While some of these ailments (such as pain in the knee joints and skin irritations) are physical and can be helped with conventional medication, the emotional and spiritual scars run so much deeper. Berating myself for overeating, for making myself this way, feeling self-pity and insecure, blaming every issue in my life on being fat. Everything would be picture perfect if only I were thin, right?  How could I expect someone else to heal my inner pain? 

Well, now it all comes full circle. Inner pain. Inner discomfort. Sensing that something inside that just doesn’t settle well in me, whether it be anger, depression, boredom, insecurity, sadness, resentment, nervousness, uncertainty or stress.  So I eat. It’s a distraction, a comfort, something to silence what’s really going on. I eat, even if it’s 4am and I can’t sleep so I walk around the house, open and close the fridge because the light hurts my eyes, and then pick up a brownie and eat it because I am bored and tired and stressed. I obviously was not hungry at 4am and if I was, a brownie certainly wasn’t the way to go.

Evidently I learned to deal with my emotions this way since I was a young child; a coping mechanism that has accompanied (plagued?) me for three decades, protecting me from something that I was not ready or able to handle.  Any external help from others who I sought out to remove that protective shield would unravel tightly-wrapped layers, exposing… something. And that something was raw, unchartered territory. Whatever it was, I (subconsciously) wanted it covered up, preferably in fashionable plus-size Lane Bryant packaging.  No wonder why none of the diet plans or groups worked; I have been in a civil war with myself. 

Instead of expressing my anxiety from the vicissitudes of life, I ate them.  And boy oh boy did it taste good for those twenty seconds. But then I hated myself. 

I may have developed a coping mechanism, but I had to figure out how to unlearn those habits.

That dugree eating disorder went on to become a “disease of the mind and body”, as they told us in the rooms of OA and CEA. Overeating and compulsive eating, like alcoholism, is a lifelong disease that will consume you. We were told that “I can’t do it alone”, to take on sponsors, and keep coming back to meetings. So I did, for close to nine years. I was never fully convinced; I knew there was something else going on. 

When that doctor diagnosed me, he ripped off a figurative Band-Aid, sending me on a roller coaster of emotions. I was forced to start dealing with my weight, more than I ever had before. For me, that did not mean learning how to eat in a healthy way; I knew the fundamentals already, but I always sabotaged them. The question was why.

I went on a long journey me to discover and accept myself, respect my strengths, beautiful traits, and areas in which I need guidance.  I came to realize that all of us are products of our upbringing and cultural backgrounds. For those of us who grew up in emotionally unhealthy environments, it takes all the more digging and self-exploration to undo those negative thoughts and feelings. For me, I had to learn the basics of expressing myself in a healthy manner, not in a passive-aggressive or overtly aggressive way (I still have a long way to go). Despite being an adult, I still need to consult with friends and therapists about how to communicate – I never learned how to do so in a healthy manner, so I beat myself up about things, overate, and then beat myself even more. And then I eat.

Emotional eating was my mechanism of choice, and every step I took with that army of professionals brought me one step closer to the battle line, with more ammunition to fight a battle against myself.  For thirty years, I  concentrated on everyone else while I criticized and ignored myself. It's hard to learn how to accept and trust yourself, and how to figure out and express what your REAL needs are, especially when you never had models for that at home. But, contrary to popular belief, that pint of Ben and Jerry’s and fresh baked goods don't help you solve your problems. They tend to make them worse.

I soon came to realize that fighting and changing myself wasn’t the way; I had to listen to myself; tune in to my own intuition and embrace it. I needed to discover the wonders and beauty of the person within, silenced all these years, and accept her; respect her. I was done numbing my emotional pain with food, I needed to be courageous and confront what was really going on inside.

I now know that I am on a lifelong journey, of weight loss and healthy living, but more importantly, of listening to and nourishing myself - body, mind, and soul. 

Sometimes that dugree talk is painful, and other times, it is refreshingly honest. It has been ten years since that wake-up call from the doctor. They journey has not been an easy one, but it has shaped me into who I am. And I can finally say that I am proud of myself, all 250lbs of me.

[i]  Here’s the list of practitioners I consulted with over the past few years: (1) various dieticians; (2) personal fitness coach; (3) acupuncturist; (4) family doctor (G.P.); (5) orthopedist (for lower back and knee pain); (6) gastroenterologist (IBS, indigestion, reflux); (7) dermatologist (eczema); (8) podiatrist (foot pain); (9) psychologist ; (10) psychiatrist; (11) dentist (for cavities, sugar eating away my tooth enamel and other such fun stuff); (12) addiction counselor; (13) OA/CEA meetings and sponsors, (14) and probably a few more that I'm missing right now...  

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Goodbye Threesome

I admit it. For years, I’ve been having an affair.

A passionate love affair with not one, but two Jewish guys.

We typically meet up in a nearby makolet. Sometimes in the frozen section of the neighborhood supermarket, whichever is open later.

Typically, I take them home, but sometimes we do it outdoors in the park. Sometimes it’s with a friend.
We walk in the door and I immediately slip into something more comfortable. 

I take off the top, then I lick. My tongue touches the tip of the spoon until lusciousness fills my mouth. Heaven!

Creamy, marshmallow, Karamel Sutra heaven.

Oh, Ben and Jerry, you are what every woman needs. Those colors, those flavors, those chunks of thick fudge, cookie dough, toffee, brownie goodness!

A pint of heaven
Ben and Jerry, you make my worst day at work manageable. You make my cramps a distant memory, you make every breakup worth the pain. (Ok, not really.)

You cheer me up when I am down, relax me when I am stressed, and offer comfort when Hamas shoots missiles at us. While our boys went to war, I prayed and carried on my love affair with you, Ben and Jerry. Oh how I remember those hot summer days of Operation Protective Edge. The war wouldn’t have been bearable without you by my side!  

But you’re still there: on my side. And on my thighs, tummy, and (now) back rolls. 

And you just won’t get the hell off of me, no matter how hard I try. I wanted to eat Chubby Hubby, not become one! You are the cheapest therapy a woman can buy, but Ben and Jerry, we need to talk.
Oh so that's what I've been doing all this time!

See, Ben and Jerry, you love me too much. We have grown too much together, and we now tip the scales. Quite literally actually. 

The time has come to let you go. I need you both off of my body, even if it means surgically removing you.

So long to you both, my two fine lovers. It’s been a wonderful love affair, but it’s time to love myself now. Go support another woman in need of some luscious cookie-dough-Phish-Food goodness.
I will always have Vermont and the t-shirt to prove it.


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Meeting Shimon Bar Yochai

Whenever a long chag comes up, I try to set out a goal for myself, something theme-related so I feel  a sense of accomplishment at the end of the holiday. Last Sukkot, for example, the theme was writing, and I succeeded in catching up on some much-needed journaling throughout the week. Another time, it was reading, and I set aside 2 books that I wanted to get through.

This Pesach, the theme I chose was nature. I wanted to spend as much time outside as possible and enjoy the fresh air. Considering that much of my time is spent in an office and the cold, wet winter just ended, I was desperate to get outdoors. However, I also wanted a challenge. Something adventurous that I could handle physically. So I asked a close friend if I could join her in a camping trip – a first time adventure for me.

And so over Chol HaMoed, we found ourselves in Meiron, a beautiful village in the mountains of the upper Galilee. Meiron is best known for the kever (tomb) of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi or “Rebbe Shimon” as his followers call him), a tanna or ancient rabbinical sage who is quoted often in the Talmud. Legend has it that he is the author of the Zohar; the father of Kabbalah, if you will. The town itself overlooks the mystical city of Tzefat. And so if Meiron is home to the father of Kabbalah, then Tzfat is Meiron’s daughter city.

Meiron is blessed with exquisite natural beauty: rolling mountains, panoramic views of the snow-capped Hermon, the Kinneret and Tzfat. Just gorgeous. It’s also super weird.

When we got off the bus, we marched up a very steep hill to the campsite. There was a massive traffic jam of cars trying to get to the tomb with incessant honking horns that disturbed the potential serenity of the place. But, our march on foot had us moving a lot faster than the cars so I wasn’t complaining.
As soon as we got to the mountaintop, I took in some deep breaths of that crisp mountain air. I suddenly heard the sound of people screaming at the top of their lungs: “ABBBBBBBAAAAAAAAAAA!” (Father!)

“Holy crap, what the f*%^k is that?,” I so eloquently asked my friend. I thought someone was being beaten up in the forest or something.

My friend responded nonchalantly: "Oh, they’re doing hitbodedut.  You should totally try it, it’s really therapeutic to just let it out… ABBBBAAAA!!" She threw her head back, arching backwards as she yelled out. 

She screamed to daddy in heaven until her breath ran out, and then gracefully spread the tent on the ground as if a foreign spirit had momentarily overtaken her body. None of the people around us seemed to notice. Screaming out Turret's style to Papa in Heaven is normal around these parts. Hmmm.... Jerusalem is starting to look normal.

Now, I fully respect anyone’s desire to pray. I believe that prayer and meditation can be powerful tools for gaining clarity, feeling connected to God, cleansing your soul, and to seriously focus.

But what is up with the Daddy thing? Jewish tradition does indeed refer to God as “Father in Heaven”, but “Abba?” That seems so…infantile…simplistic…CREEPY.

While this screaming on the mountaintop was going on, there was a techno party going on until midnight at the rabbi’s tomb. I mean a van with huge speakers blasting club music like a pahhh-ty. Isn’t this tomb a sacred place for deep connection and meditation? Aren’t there people crying their hearts out asking for fertility and parnassa and forgiveness, and the like? 

What is up with the na-na-nachman techno bass blaring from a van down by the mikve?! The lyrics, I realized, actually included “Abba” over and over again, but it was 11:45pm and they were going strong!  Across from the na-na-nachman techno club was a table selling all sorts of goods like candles with images of Shimon Bar Yochai & the Baba Sali on them. (This essential Judaica can be yours for only 50nis!)

Now, there is a part of me that connects to the concept of hitbodedut  - going out on your own in nature (usually a forest) to meditate and talk one-on-one with God. It’s an opportunity to put our prescribed tefillot away, and talk mano y mano with the One Above about your own personal stuff. To beg for forgiveness, finances, love, whatever it is that’s on your mind and heart.

But where did this screaming “Daddy Help Me” at the top of your lungs business start? And can Freund please help me out here because this manner of addressing God perturbs me greatly.

The crowds of people – those who were stuck in the traffic jam – finally made their way towards the kever.  They purchased their rosaries, magical-charms, holy Tzaddik water inspiring segulot from the segula refreshment stand, and then made their pilgrimage to Rashbi’s tomb to say tehillim and pray for whatever their hearts desired.

As a newly minted camper, I was just happy that Rashbi’s tomb caretakers installed public bathrooms with toilet paper and working sinks.  God knows what that Matza does to His Chosen people’s digestive systems after a few days of Passover.  So this new camper would personally like to thank “Abba” for toilet paper and for guiding the plumber to Rashbi’s tomb.

Despite my sarcasm, I do actually believe that gravesites of tsaddikim are holy and inspiring. They are also fascinating historical landmarks. So I did go into the kever to say some tehillim, paying special attention to the chapter about “raising my eyes to the mountains – where will my help come from?  My helps comes from God, the One Who makes the heaven and the earth…”

And considering the panoramic views of the most beautiful mountain tops that seem to touch the heavens, I felt an extra special push to recognize the holiness of this place, no matter how weird the people are, and to enjoy that fresh crisp air. Luckily at midnight, those hitbodedut pray-ers found their way home and I managed to sleep under the stars. 

Pesach camping adventure: one odd, holy success.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Haveil Havalim Jewish Blog Carnival

Sometimes we bounce off the motivation of others to get our juices flowing. That’s how I work anyway.  So I want thank the members of the Haveil Havalim bloggers community for encouraging me to host this week’s blog carnival. 

Havel Havelim is a long running, weekly international Jewish blog carnival that has been appearing well over a decade. It was begun by Soccer Dad who no longer blogs. He coordinated it for quite a while. Now we use our facebook page  to coordinate and publicize it. 

Next week’s Havel Havelim will be hosted by Yocheved Golani at Please read and be inspired to join us. You can send in your links to Yochved with a one-line description of your post and HH as the “subject.”  Feel free to address the theme of sacrifices as we begin Sefer Vayikra (no name-calling, and NO foul language. Focus on kedusha.) Our weekly deadline is before Shabbat.

I must say that there is a different feeling in Israel over the past couple of weeks. Maybe it’s the upcoming national elections (*gulp*) coming up this Tuesday.  Maybe it’s the post-marathon endorphins I’m vicariously experiencing  through those who actually ran the Jerusalem Marathon. Or it might be the happiness-residue from Purim (that, boys and girls, is what we call a "SUGAR HIGH". Now repeat after me: "SUGAR HIGHHHHH!"), or pre-Pesach anxiety.  I guess it’s all of this goodness together.  Adrenaline in Jerusalem is running high, and y'know what? I LIKE IT. 

And as long as the sun keeps shining and the cold stays on the other side of the Atlantic (so sorry, Boston, really), I’m one happy lady.

So, without further ado, here is the best of Jewish blogging from this week: 

The Sussmans, AKA the family of superheroes, experienced the true joy and  miracles of Purim last week. Check out their awesome costumes and story. 
Jacob Richman features 77 Jewish proverbs and Sayings, conveniently provided vowels, transliteration, English translation and audio. We are a wise people, indeed! 

Batya Medad offers her take the upcoming elections and on Bibi in particular. 
She also shares a bit of Long Island history as she travels the US. (I always wanted to know how LawnGuyIsland (yea that's one word) became so Jewish!) and how she celebrated Purim differently this year.

The Real Jerusalem Streets displays a photo gallery of the Jerusalem Marathon and more.
Yocheved Golani is gonna keep us in stitches (and she'll know how to treat them, too!) with her Pesakh Prep. Tune in to all of Yocheved's looks at how to laugh your way through Pesakh cleaning.)
The parasha offers inspiration for love and marriage for Ben-Tzion.
Aliyah Land displays a selection of her favorite advertisements that use Hebrew word plays and Passover puns to publicize sales and deals.
Please show your love and leave your comments here and at each blog to let us know that you stopped by. Thanks & Shavua Tov!