Posted by Eileen Dutter, R.D.
July 24, 2015
My love affair started at an early age. “Who ate the box of donuts that was in the freezer for breakfast?” That statement, made by my mother years ago, haunts me to this day. I remember I about died when I heard her scream this from the kitchen, and my heart still sinks as I recall what happened. The night before, I had gone into the freezer when no one was looking, quickly took the box of donuts into the bathroom, locked the door and proceeded to eat them all as fast as I could. I remember glancing in the mirror briefly on my way out to quickly remove the telltale powdered sugar still on my face. How could I possibly tell my mother I had eaten them all? I am one of 12 children, and the shame of eating all of them was more than I could handle. What would the rest of my siblings say when they learned of what I had done? I could almost hear them saying things like, “No wonder she is so fat,” and “What is she thinking, eating all of them without sharing?” I then decided to remain quiet and live with my guilt. I was horrified at being discovered and remained very quiet in hopes that it would soon be forgotten. What was I going to do? All I could think of to do was to pray to a God that I hoped could hear me and could intervene on my behalf. “Dear God,” I would say. “Please, please help me. I don’t want to be fat, but I just can’t stop eating.”
Adolescent years were a struggle
During my adolescent years, my parents encouraged me to go to many different weight loss programs, and all I did was eat more and get heavier and heavier. It made me feel that they were so ashamed of me and didn’t want me around. It made me sad to see all of my beautiful sisters become cheerleaders, go out on dates and to school dances, and all I did was stay at home and baby-sit, because no one wanted to be seen with a fat girl. I remember vividly the day my father took a plate of food from me that had my third piece of white buttered bread smothered with gravy on it and said I had had enough. I remember bolting from the dinner table and running to the safety of my room to hide from the world. I remember thinking that God simply was not interested in answering my prayers.
The only positive part of my adolescent years was the fact that given my weight, I spent a lot of time trying to control it through exercise. I enjoyed outdoor activities with my siblings and discovered I was pretty good at a lot of sports. This love of exercise continued in my high school and college years, where I was very active in girls’ athletics and team sports. When the time came to decide what I wanted to do with my life, I decided then I wanted to be a physical activity teacher. However, my school counselor discouraged me from this because the field was saturated at the time, and I was told it would be difficult to find a job once I completed my schooling. The only other love I had had until that point was food, especially donuts. I still prayed and longed for success at controlling my weight and decided I would go to school to be a dietitian. Maybe I could learn how to eat right.
More frustration in college
My first year in college was met with even more frustration. Now that I had decided to become a dietitian and learn how to eat right so I could control my weight, I felt uncomfortable with some of my classmates. They were so thin, and I longed to discover their secret. Unfortunately, now that I was on my own, without the parental control, guilt around my food choices and the horrifying statement I heard about the “freshman 40,” I turned to donuts to comfort the intense feelings of loneliness and fear that plagued me. Mr. D’s Donuts was an establishment just down the road. They sold day-old donuts cheap after 10 at night, and in my opinion, made the best donuts I have ever eaten. I frequently fell victim to the short-term comfort donuts provided. It seemed they were the only answer to the discomfort I felt from the decisions I had made. My love for exercise provided an escape that only minimized the damage the donuts cost me in terms of my health and my weight. I would spend hours at the YMCA attending exercise classes only to head to Mr. D’s Donuts at 10 for my fix. It was a ritual I knew was not in my best interest, but I felt too weak to stop. Needless to say, I was convinced that God must not have heard my prayers.
An answer to prayers?
Once I graduated from college, I saw an ad in the paper for a dietitian position at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, Wis. They were looking for a person to work in Weight Management Services to treat obesity and all risk factors associated with it. I felt a stir in my heart that maybe this was the answer to my prayers. I interviewed with Diane Dressel, a dietitian at the clinic, who actually was responsible for starting the program at the clinic. During our interview, she showed me the calorie system used by this program and proceeded to inform me that my favorite food in the whole wide world was 125 calories per ounce. I was shocked to discover how many calories I could consume in donuts when I felt sad or scared about my life. I knew that there were 3,500 calories in a pound of body fat, but had no idea how much I was eating in donuts until she brought that to my attention. I was somewhat relieved to find out the number of calories I had engaged in exercise over the years and how much weight I did not gain by all the exercise. That seemed little comfort at my present weight. I knew then that what my father said so long ago about “knowledge is power” was a very true statement.
I starting working for Weight Management Services and felt an immediate connection to all of the people I dealt with regarding the struggle they had with their weight. My love affair with donuts continued, and now that I was working in a weight management program, I felt even more anxiety about my own weight. I started to feel so uncomfortable that people were judging the extra pounds I carried, and I thought they viewed me as a hypocrite. Do as I say, not as I do. It made me turn to the comfort I knew I would get in donuts. Although I knew that my favorite donut to eat was 1,100 calories, it made it worse when I would eat them. I had to face the caloric damage that one food choice made for me and how difficult it would be to burn that number of calories off in exercise. It took me over a year and 10 pounds of weight gain with the program before I found success with my own weight. The harsh reality of the damage I did calorically when I would eat donuts only came when I faced the truth about how many calories I was eating of them when I felt sad or scared about things. I was shocked to learn that I could consume anywhere from 3,500 to 4,000 calories of donuts in a very short period of time, and the shame and guilt that followed was difficult to swallow. Fortunately, that experience was the turning point of my success. Then and only then, through my accurate record keeping system could I assess my decisions regarding my own weight. I was then able to see the bigger picture about the role fruits and vegetables, exercise, meal replacements and especially environmental control had in my own food choices and the consequences of those choices that followed.
Success comes one day at a time
I gradually started to lose weight as I looked at my successes, rather than my failures. Don’t get me wrong, I still love donuts. I just hate how they make me feel and the difficulty they create for me when I am trying to weigh a healthier weight. I feel blessed to have worked with this program and all the people that have crossed my path over the years. I am happy to report that through this program and the supportive co-workers I have enjoyed working with over the years, I have lost over 50 pounds and have successfully kept it off for the past 15 years. I feel grateful that God was listening. I know that each and every day I have to pay attention to the choices I make around the foods I eat and the exercise I engage in, but that seems a small price to pay for the benefits I have received feeling so much better about myself. I know I will always love donuts, but I also know I hate how they make me feel and what they do to my weight.
I realize that this love-hate relationship will go on the rest of my life, and exposing myself by telling this story is difficult and a bit frightening. However, if this information can help someone else successfully achieve and maintain a lower body weight to enhance the quality of their life, I am all for it. I feel blessed that through the process of practicing the lifestyle behaviors identified in this program, I have been given the answer to my prayers.
Eileen Dutter is a registered dietitian and health educator in Weight Management Services in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.