I have always, always, always, loved to eat. It just might be what I do best…not even sure if I’m kidding about that! Most of us commemorate special occasions with food – it’s our most humanistic way to celebrate. It is no surprise then that most of my earliest and fondest memories are associated with food. The most vivid were Sunday dinners at my grandmother’s house. The dining room table was covered with bowls of this and plates of that; I remember being particularly drawn to the delicious fried chicken, creamy coleslaw, and her signature banana pudding complete with those delectable vanilla wafers. Most importantly, I remember the love my grandmother consistently cooked into every meal.
Love One Another
Everyone is kneaded out of the same dough just not baked in the same oven.
As a child, I was quite sensitive and shy. I was an okay student grade-wise, but I had trouble verbalizing my thoughts and feelings. Throughout my early school years, my teachers would often tell my parents that I needed to be encouraged to express myself and talk more.
Tall and chubby, I was different than most of the kids in my class. Even though I had childhood friends, I never really felt like I belonged because of my weight problem. And kids can be cruel. An autograph in my fourth grade yearbook says: “To a very fat, fat, fat, bad girl [and] to the second slowest girl in the class.” My teenage years led to feelings of isolation and separateness. I often felt very alone.
Then, my parents divorced. I was now living alone with my father and found myself in charge of grocery shopping and cooking meals. I remember buying lots of macaroni and cheese, French fries, canned soups, and peanut butter – simple, processed foods that were easy to cook. We also ate out a lot at our local diner. The only fresh vegetable I can remember eating on a somewhat-regular basis was the iceberg lettuce we used on our bologna sandwiches.
By the time I reached high school, I was well over 200 pounds. In the 11th grade, I heard from a friend that a local doctor would prescribe medication to help with weight loss and encouraged me to give it a try. I made an appointment and convinced the doctor (and myself) that what I needed was that drug. With my prescription in hand, I drove away to Whitney Houston’s song playing on the radio. Through my tears, I sang along: Oh, I wanna dance with somebody – with somebody who loves me.
The appetite suppressant helped for a time and I was able to lose a small amount of weight, but that did nothing for my insecurities and virtually non-existent self-esteem. Back then, my truest memories are of just wanting to be understood and loved. All of my decisions and actions were made from that place of wanting, that place of deep sadness and fear. I was also incredibly angry about a lot of things, but mostly at myself for not being “better” than I was. I had so much unexpressed anger I can remember closing my eyes at times and envisioning this dark and ugly black mass in the pit of my stomach. As you can imagine, I made lots of mistakes and, in so doing, hurt those who cared about me.
Not knowing how to verbalize my thoughts and feelings, I suppressed them. When I became angry, sad or experienced any sort of emotion that I couldn’t deal with, I comforted myself with food. I’d eat to make myself feel better just as an alcoholic drinks to avoid their pain. What I know now that I didn’t know then is that everyone is dealing with some sort of pain. We all just want to be loved and accepted for who we are. I know what it feels like to be judged by what you look like – to be shamed, laughed at, and devalued. Nevertheless, it’s the experience of those feelings that opened my eyes to our collective prejudices, judgments, and the hurtful exclusion of others. We would do well in giving people the space to be who they are not through judgment and shame, but through compassion and love.
Life is a Gift
There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as though everything is a miracle
Before I realized it, I was about to turn 31 years old and closing in on 400 pounds. I was living my life behind self-imposed prison bars. Things that most people take for granted, I was now unable to do. I couldn’t go to the movies because I couldn’t fit into the seats. At restaurants, I had to sit at a table because the booths were too small. I was afraid to go out and face the embarrassment of my situation, and had pretty much stopped all communication with most of my friends. Page after page of my journals during that time were desperate pleas for help. But no matter what I tried, nothing worked for very long. I felt absolutely powerless.
I was at work the morning the planes hit the towers. It was on every channel for days on end with absolutely no escape. We were all forced to sit with our pain. What I remember most about the days that followed, though, was the unsparing eye contact with others. Wherever I went – the bank, the store, the post office – we acknowledged one another on a much deeper level. The attacks of 9/11 shook us awake and they somehow changed me. I was more determined than ever before to end my struggle. I saw clearly that life was a gift and it made absolutely no sense to continue living the way that I had been. I wanted so badly to be alive and yet I was living as if I were dead. Less than ten months later, I had gastric bypass surgery.
Joy is your birthright but it is not guaranteed
It’s always been in your hands to live the life you want while you’re here.
Statistics at the time showed that 1 in 100 would die on the operating table. As unnerving as that was, I went for it anyway. Post-surgery, the weight dropped off and I lost over 200 pounds. This was no easy process to get through; in fact, it was far, far from it! I had many complications early on, but I got through it and plunged fast-forward into a brand new life.
I became involved with civic clubs, volunteered for boards, made many new friends, and reconnected with some old ones. To this day, being able to see a movie at the theatre brings me great happiness. I was set free and given another chance at life. This time, I was determined to enjoy it.
I soon fell in love and we married in June 2005. To save us from eating out all the time, I taught myself how to cook by watching food programs on television and reading instructional cookbooks. I found that cooking came pretty naturally to me, and I enjoyed doing it. Now, nothing brings me more pleasure than creating healthy and delicious meals to share with family and friends.
As the years passed, the weight started to creep back on, and my husband was experiencing severe bouts of arthritis. We ate organic foods when we could and bought most of our meats from local farms. For the most part, I believed that we ate healthy and couldn’t figure out why both of us were struggling so much. I started to try to educate myself more about nutrition and ran into many opposing viewpoints. All of it had me thoroughly confused, but I knew that I had to do something! Towards the end of 2013, I enrolled myself into a nutritional program taught by The Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN).
The program was an in-depth study of how to eat for your health, and we were exposed to well over 100 dietary theories. I learned new concepts like bio-individuality that taught me why fad diets don’t work – they aren’t based on reality because we all have different needs. IIN taught me what health really was and enabled me to finally heal myself and my husband with the food that we put into our bodies.
I’m now a board-certified Health and Wellness Coach and I’m inspired to share what I’ve learned from my studies and my life-long struggles with food. My pain has become my purpose. Don’t get me wrong –I’m still on my journey! I may not have all of the answers, but I’m willing to share what I do know. If you are struggling with your weight or if you’re confused on how to eat for better health, I know I can help you. Had I been able to work with a health coach and gain this knowledge early on, I truly believe that I would have been able to avoid gastric bypass surgery.
Other truths are now clear to me as well. The standard American diet is making us sick. It’s simply not sustainable over the long term. Just take a look around. We all know many who are in the depths of chronic disease. Diabetes, obesity, cancer, arthritis, asthma, and Alzheimer’s and other dementias are the new normal. Ultimately though, I’ve been on a path of learning how to care for myself, to be okay with who I am, and to accept all of my perfectly imperfect qualities.
If you’ve stuck with me and are still reading, I’m betting this somehow resonates and you’re on a similar journey. Your body is your vessel for living on this earth. It deserves your respect, your honor, and your love. You deserve it. Interestingly, loving and caring for yourself also begins to slowly reverse the idea that your self-worth is based on how others see or respond to you. Having the experience of love with another is a precious and genuine part of being human, but it is learning how to love ourselves that is our sole responsibility. We each need to learn how to dance our own dance and give up on the “someone” or the “something” to fill the holes in ourselves. We are all here for a very short, undetermined amount of time. Speak your truth. Say what you need to say, now. Do what you need to do, now. Only you have the power to claim your joy.
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Tammy Batcha is a life-long resident of the Shenandoah Valley. A long-time commuter, she seeks to reconnect to her community. A board certified, health and wellness coach, she continues to study integrative nutritional theory while guiding others on a path to wellness.