At one point of my life I thought DNA made me fat. I was very young then and it seemed to me my extra pounds were the result of a random inheritance, like green eyes or height. My father was big, both my grandmothers were heavy and one of my uncles could be described as “comfortably cuddly”. Of course that meant my sister, my mother, and my other relations had been gifted with the “skinny” gene, so I figured I had no choice in the matter. Mama got rid of those illusions. Fat happened when more calories went in than energy went out, she said, and pointed out that my svelte little sister was one of those children that never stood still. Once I started eating less and moving more, my days as a fatty would be over.
Well, they weren’t. I started a multitude of diets, upped my exercise and periodically lost hundreds of pounds through the years, all of which returned with interest each time my newest reduction plan stopped. It got so I was miserable while I was losing weight, obsessed by every calorie and scale-revealing ounce and I was even more miserable fat. My eating habits got, if anything, worse, my weight loss efforts landed me in the hospital at least once and my appearance/health eventually turned into a radioactive subject. I knew the extra weight was killing me and I knew what was causing it, but I couldn’t understand why, with all this knowledge, I still engaged in these destructive behaviors.
This was when I found Geneen Roth’s Feeding the Hungry Heart, her groundbreaking book about compulsive overeaters. These folks (and I am one) have unconsciously turned a normal, necessary activity (eating) into a way of avoiding and (ironically) reinforcing negative emotions. It’s a simple, hellish tango of flawed logic. Follow me through the dance steps:
I’m feeling lonely, sad, stressed, or depressed (This is first position)
I don’t like the way I feel. (turn)
I eat until I don’t feel anything but full (lunge)
Now I feel worse with the binge-caused guilt and remorse overlaying the original problem (return to first position)
And the only relief I know is to….(slide/backstep toward)
Begin Eating again
Feeding the Hungry Heart helps the Compulsive Overeater identify the emotional triggers that start a binge cycle and work through the feelings instead of dulling them with calories. It replaces calorie obsession and grazing with Mindful Eating (being aware of all the flavors and textures of a meal instead of grazing) and the negative self-body image most Compulsive Overeaters have with Acceptance of yourself and Life as it is Right Now. Basically, it helps remove the emotional obstacles interfering with the attempts to address a physical problem.
If this sounds too New Age-y for you to relate to, no problem. Not everyone who overeats is a Compulsive Overeater. If you are, reading this book won’t magically solve all your problems. Recovery takes time and a lot of work. But it will let you know you are not alone and that there is a dance you can do besides the binge/guilt tango. And sometimes, knowing there is hope is enough to begin again.
Well, another Belmont race has been run and America’s flirtation with horse-racing has been put away for another year. Sure, there are thousands of people who spend their lives breathing and living for horse racing but lots more limit their equine attention-span to the Kentucky Derby and focus on the Belmont only if the winner stands to win the Triple Crown (rare) or beat Secretariat’s Belmont time (Impossible, as far as I’m concerned). Of course when that rare instance occurs, civilians like myself love to debate who the truly great horses were/are and who would win if we could time-transport them all to a single race. My late mom adored Man O’ War just as fervently as my husband still roots for Secretariat and, thanks to Laura Hillenbrand, Seabiscuit again has an army of followers. People I respect in Europe talk about Frankel. All of these were incredible racers but for horses with a story, I have to give my thanks to Geoff Armstrong and Peter Thompson for introducing me to Phar Lap. He’s the great racing heart of Australia.
Like most heroes, Australia’s “Wonder Horse” had unlikely beginnings. The yearling came from a sire and dam with great blood lines and lousy racing records. He was picked from a catalogue by a struggling trainer for his pedigree instead of his picture. A good thing too because Phar Lap was no beauty. He was huge for a race horse (17 hands), skinny and so long in the back and legs, they said he looked more like a Kangaroo Dog than a horse. The new owner, David Davis, took one look at him and wanted the homely colt sold. Instead, the trainer gave him a name that meant lightning, gelded him and put the young horse into a training regime so rough, sometimes the animal was too tired to stand up afterward. The brutal treatment brought quite a result: Phar Lap finished his first race Dead Last.
But every hero gets a friend and Phar Lap’s was his groom, Tommy Woodcock. Tommy treated the horse with kindness and helped guide the two-year old’s instincts to get to the front of the pack. Phar Lap won his last race as a two year old and then thirteen of his twenty races as a three year old, including all of the major races that year and often two or three races in one week. Phar Lap had falling in love with running and the public had fallen in love with him.
If the public loves a horse that consistently wins, you can bet someone else wants him to lose. Before one major race, someone tried to shoot Phar Lap. They missed and the horse won but racing officials decided Phar Lap needed a handicap. The 110-120 pounds of weight that Phar Lap carried in his second and third years were considered too light and extra weight was added to his racing saddles. He continued to win, though the racing was harder, and the authorities kept increasing the weight. By the time Phar Lap ran his third Melbourne Cup race, he raced with 150 pounds on his back, a good ten percent more than the other runners. The horse couldn’t take that kind of a burden and his owner decided a trip was in order. Phar Lap would run in the North American Agua Caliente, with a reasonable weight. He did and won the great race without trouble.
I wish that was the end of Phar Lap’s story but what comes next is an unsolved mystery. Two weeks after his last victory, while David Davis considered future races and Tommy looked after his friend, Phar Lap suddenly became ill. His death shocked the racing world and theories behind the cause are still debated today. It’s one of the great “who-dun-its” of the racing world, like the kidnapping of the Irish winner Shergar. As for Australia, they never have forgotten the rangy runner who could come from behind and pass the pack on the outside rail. Phar Lap and Tommy Woodcock both became revered members of Australia’s racing history.
Perhaps when we see our next great star or athlete, we’ll remember a bit of Phar Lap’s story and cherish the talent that exists rather than handicap it to compete with the pack. Genius, in whatever form it takes, occurs too rarely for us to limit it with artificial constraints when it does appear.
I was born to be a Sedentarian. I’m not sure that’s a recognized word yet but when I’ve seen it used, it describes (obvious, isn’t it?) someone who prefers walking to running, standing to walking, sitting to standing and lying down to sitting. Someone who loathes the idea of exercise. When you add in an addiction to books, sedentarianism becomes more than a preference, it becomes the path to salvation. Only problem is, it can be detrimental to your health.
Right now, you are looking at my library, complete with desk, PC and reading chair. Comfy as all get out but not a site adapted for getting in shape. So what’s to be done? I have to read and until today, that mean I had to sit still. (Every time I’ve tried to read with the body in motion, I’ve contracted an epic-sized bout of motion-sickness.) I’m under doctor’s orders to lose some weight and I’m trying to comply but exercise isn’t just sweaty and painful, it’s boring, a factor no bouncing paperback or Kindle could overcome.
And there’s the answer, friends and neighbors, I needed book that doesn’t bounce and I got one. Does anyone besides me remember Kindle can run on a computer monitor screen?
I set up an old favorite (in public domain) on the screen Kindle, Sense and Sensibility
On my computer that fills all of a very large screen and I can read it from several feet back, while I march or run in place. When the time comes, I hit the > arrow key and the page flips. I keep on stepping and reading without missing a beat. It’s amazing how much walking you can get done while you are buried in a book.
With this, I may have a shot at gaining some fitness! Has anyone else learned to enjoy their book habit while they exercise? Send in your suggestions, I need all the help I can get!