Psychology of Eating Podcast: Episode #191 – A Woman Discovers the Root Causes of Her Eating Challenges

Melissa’s relationship with her body, her weight, and with food has been off for years. What she desires is just to find a peaceful place with it all. But, there many reasons Melissa struggles with what she does, and it has little to do with food. Follow this session as Melissa really opens up with Marc David, Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, about how her experiences have led her down this path and where she is going from here. Marc and Melissa discover a lot about how her relationship to her mom, to the men in her life, and even her job have played a role in her relationship to her body and to food. Her entire identity has been impacted by these experiences and she is ready to shed some the self-inflicted restraints she has placed because of her weight and who she thinks she is supposed to be for other people.


Below is a transcript of this podcast episode:

Marc: Welcome, everybody. I’m Marc David, founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating and we are in the Psychology of Eating podcast. And I’m with Melissa today. Welcome Ms. Melissa.

Melissa: Thank you, Marc. Happy to be here, thank you.

Marc: I’m happy you’re here. I’m happy we’re here. Let me just take a moment and explain to viewers and listeners who are new to the podcast how this works. So Melissa and I haven’t met yet. And just except for a few minutes ago, we are going to be together for a little less than an hour and see if we can move the dial forward and kind of just help have some opening, some insights, some breakthroughs, whatever’s possible.

And Melissa with that in mind, if you could wave your magic wand and get whatever you wanted from this time together, what would that look like for you?

Melissa: Wow. I guess, a magic wand would be to step into finally and totally a peaceful relationship with my body and food; to stop the expectation of always going to be heavy, always going to be overweight; and to finally lay that down. It has been a lifelong struggle that I’ve dealt with. And of late, the last couple years, I’ve really come to terms with it in a very different way, a mature way, an evolved way, I hope. And that would be my magic wand, is to figure out who I would be without this thing, which is what I ask myself for years.

Marc: So describe it a little bit more for me, just so I know. Is it like I don’t love my body as it is? Is it I just want to lose a certain amount and then I’m going to like it? Like what—give me more specifics.

Melissa: So the thing is, yeah, not liking my body, not approving of my body. So much so like years and years ago as I kid, I decided it was a certain body part that made me unlovable. I had the wrong knees. Girls with knees like mine didn’t get the boyfriend. Like that specific for me. So 40 years of hating on my knees equals arthritis in them now. Thank you very much. And I’m aware of that correlation now.

So, yeah, so dissatisfaction with the body but really the biggest thing is—and I’ve learned some really great terms from you to understand really what it is.

So first of all, it’s self abandonment when things go wrong. That’s my thing, self abandonment when thing go wrong for others or in my close circle; death in the family, divorce, abuse, whatever. I abandon myself because I think I know I have to go feel bad and I’m responsible for feeling all that. And therefore, I have no right, at all, to care about myself anymore while that trauma, tragedy, drama, upheaval, pain is going on for others. And I have done this since I was 11 and that’s when it started.

And then, what I now know is that the self-abandonment quickly turns into total self-rejection. As you said, limit the amount of time that we drop into self-rejection, right? When self-rejection comes once the self-abandonment has been in place long enough like I’m gone because the weight comes on. And then I drop into the weight story. And then now we’re in that cycle again. And I can see that now as what happens for me.

Marc: Do you diet?

Melissa: Yes. I went on a diet at 19 when I left my parent’s house, dropped 56 pounds, when I eat real food, all of that. And then what I really found out worked for me, in a non-diet way, was to just do strict Paleo. I kind of need Paleo. That’s the way my body feels the best. Where I’m not eating sugar, bread, drinking, no yeasted products, whatever. And I did for years and years and years. And I became, believe or not, I was more than 100 pounds lighter than I am today at that time. I was in my 20’s at that time.

And then something tragic happened in ’96. And I didn’t know I was doing it at the time. And there I went and threw the towel in on myself again, even though something was being done hurtful to me. I throw the towel in on me. And I let go of the protocol that had really gotten me right for somebody who struggles and she’s like really young with her weight. And by about a year from, that throwing in the towel again, I gained 40 pounds. And it’s just been this up and down struggle for the last 20 years, as a matter of fact.

Marc: In the struggle, what does this struggle look like for you? Is the struggle sticking to eating a certain way?

Melissa: The struggle is not emotionally overeating. I’ve been an emotional eater. That’s how I coped with all the stuff. We’ve all got stuff, right, the story, the bad stuff. And I learned how to cope by finding love in food because there was no one to love around, right. But it became an attachment versus just a temporary coping mechanism.

And we all eat ice cream when we break up with our boyfriend, not that. I’m talking about real emotional binge eating for years, through high school. And I managed all that to keep everything else under control. I was that opposite person. So a lot of people, when they can’t control anything else, they’ll starve themselves. I was in control of everything in my house really young, so all I could do was eat to comfort myself. So that’s what I did.

And this last thing that where I drop into real self-abandonment was three years ago almost—it’ll be three years in December—where I just knew that the house of cards I had built my story upon couldn’t work anymore. And so it kind of caved in. I had like a nice—the well-deserved breakdown that I needed, which doesn’t mean anything to the outside world. Nobody knew at all what was going on for me.

But it equaled to breakthrough, which was phenomenal for me to finally to get my hand around this thing that I did this pattern and to see it and to understand 100%. And can I just say how to critique your words about the stress response when one eats instead of like, “Oh, my God. I can’t wait to get home and like make my bowl of popcorn and drink my bottle of wine. And how quickly can I get home because it’s all dark, right. And just go dark and go out,” to when I come home it’s like, “That’s the last thing you need to do right now. Go sit down and cry. Go sit down and deal with how lonely this life is that has ended up being true for you at this age,” so massive changes. But the emotional eating, gaining 30 pounds before you kind of even know it.

I said girls like me, women like me, who have struggled with this emotional eating disorder, one of the things is like the expectation of being fat and always worrying about it equals being fat. And so 10 pounds in a weekend when nobody else gained weight like that, that’s the little bit. The bigger things are, “Wow, I just gained 30 pounds and I just woke up and went, ‘oh no, how that happened, right?’” That being in the dark until really something shifts enough to where you pay attention and nothing’s stopping you in the middle.

And this time, it meant 80 pounds that I gained. But I almost—I can’t explain it to you but I like myself more. I’m more comfortable in my own skin. I don’t care about what I used to care about. I don’t want to say I did it experimentally, that’s not true. I gained weight to protect myself. It was a, “I don’t want to bring another bad relationship. I’m going to protect myself.” So I gained some weight almost on purpose. It’s unconscious for me. I didn’t mean to gain this much weight. But I’ve also been objectively, like looking over here at myself and what I’m doing and what happens to me in the stories I start telling, and as they change 10, 20 pounds at a time, my story really starts to change. Until all of a sudden I don’t even know how to be thin Mel anymore. I’m just dropping into that old familiar story and it’s so familiar. So that’s kind of what’s been going on.

Marc: Okay.

Melissa: I hope that wasn’t too verbose, too long.

Marc: No. That was very good. It really gives me some insights into you. Can I ask how old you are?

Melissa: So I’m 51.

Marc: Fifty one. Have you been married before?

Melissa: Interestingly, no. I never got married but the world thought we were married. I was in a very long term relationship for 14 years. I wore a ring. He wore a ring. Houses, dogs, property, all of that. Is 10 years engagement too long? I never wanted to get married. And that was the story I told myself is that people can’t be trusted. People abandon you. People do not stay the same. So I’m never going to need anybody enough to get married, like “You’re not going to have the opportunity to leave me after 25 years of marriage. And all of sudden I don’t know who you are. Yeah, that’s not going to work for me.” And I learned that at age 12. Because it my mother’s—it was ridiculous what went on. And so I had such an aversion to it.

Bless his heart. Here he is trying to marry me. That’s all he wanted. He loved me very, very much. And he was a great guy. But it turned bad. It turned abusive. He drank too much. And then slowly but surely, I think he started to have an issue some mental things and whatever. And I hung in there as long as I could. Again, thinking it’s my responsibility to fix him, which is what I always think to my detriment. And it was a tough one but I finally left him. And that was 15 years ago.

Marc: Have you had a significant relationship since then?

Melissa: Yes. I was delightedly blessed and I’ll say it that way. About a year after I broke up the long term, call it, marriage, I ended up in an eight-year relationship with a great guy who although turned out to not be right for me, long term. It was very soothing, very calming, a balm for the very tortured soul after seven really rough years of pretty abusive situation and all that. So very long term and he broke my heart in half. He did. He is the one that got away from me. He broke my heart in half. And I have literally recently just fully let that go. Because I’ve held on to him as the love of my life, probably, all this time. And he moved back to his home state of Alabama for family reasons; kids, grandkids, his mother was ailing.

So it’s coming up on 10 years that he’s been gone. And really nobody, nothing concrete just this last very stressful thing. But since then, no. Nothing really, you know, long term, concrete, stabilizing, meaning anything you can count on, comforting there. Nothing. So it’s been a tough few years, it has.

Marc: Where are you at with—I’m guessing, you haven’t had kids in this process, is that correct?

Melissa: No, I have not. I have no children. So my dogs are kids to me, right? And I actually couldn’t have kids apparently. I never carried. My ex, I’ll call him that, wanted children. He had three children from his first wife. And so he even got tested and it wasn’t him. So apparently, it’s me. I could never get pregnant. Not even so much as miss a beat in any of that. So it wasn’t in the cards for me, I guess. And it is starting to bother me at this age, of course. You start to go, “Wow, that never happen.”

Marc: How do you deal with that when it comes up? Like where do you go? What do you do?

Melissa: When it starts to bother me that the house is really, really freaking empty? I go to, first of all, understanding that back in the day when it should’ve happened, like having children at late 20s or early 30s when we have these things going on, I wish I would have wanted it at that time. I really didn’t. I feel for these women whose lives are devastated by not being able to have a child and the lengths that they will go through to become pregnant and things like that. I’m just not that girl.

It was part of my, “I don’t want to be responsible for messing somebody up. No, no, no. That’s not going to be me. I’m not going to let you mess me up and I’m not going to mess you up. So we’re all good here.” And so I guess I cocooned myself pretty bad for a long, long time, deeply wounded stuff.

Marc: Question, is your mom still alive?

Melissa: Yes, both my parents are still alive. Yes.

Marc: Are you close with them?

Melissa: Yeah, I am. My relationship with my dad is pretty awesome. That took a lot of work. You would think it’d be the other way around. My dad was the one that left the family when I was young. And my mom, of course, I ended up with mom. My sister left home really young over all of it, like 16 she left home. So me, at 12, I’m stuck with all of it. It’s just me and I handled all of it.

But interestingly, my relationship with my dad has become pretty over-the-top amazing: Open, honest, very candid. I even said something to him on his last visit about the passing comments he used to make about me being the chubby one or my size or something like that.

And I told him he couldn’t do it anymore. I said, “You can’t do that to me anymore.” I said, “I can’t recover from that from you because it hurts too much.” And I said, “You’ve done it unwittingly your whole life to me.” And I had a confrontation with him about it. It took me all day to work up the courage to say it but I did it. And he was mortified. You know what I mean?

He was like, “Oh, my God. I never think about your size. No, no, no.” I said, “But you say stuff. And you’ve always said stuff. You can’t compare me to somebody else because of our size and then not hurt.” And my sister was always the tall willowy one. So it happened all the time. So yeah, so when I say honest open, like that honest.

My relationship with my dad started to heal, interestingly enough, at the loss of his second wife, when she passed to pancreatic cancer in 2001. A lot of stuff evolved in 2001. That’s the year I left the ex. And she died literally a week before that happened. It was very cathartic for me. It was like I stepped into this portal.

And her healing to all of us that happened via her passing was, I guess, supposed to be. But it was devastating to my dad. He and I ended up spending a lot of time together. And it also woke up a hugely spiritual thing in him. And he’s just this totally normal kind of Methodist dude. But the spiritual experiences he had via her passing and her near death experiences and stuff like that, which I’m very interested in the whole other side and the seeking out all this time. So we even talked to that level, believe it or not. My dad is going to be 80.

Marc: Good for you.

Melissa: Mom is still strained. It’s still strained. I’m getting there. But I guess I’ve spent, God bless her, most of my life trying to not be like her. And just do the opposite of what she did, needing somebody so bad that she made—really, I judged her so bad.

At age 12, I was judging this woman so bad. And I realized many, many, many years later that, yeah, I would’ve never done what she did. I just wouldn’t have. But I also never really consider her actual pain that she was in. I just judged her for what she did. I never gave her credit for what she was feeling.

Marc: So do you think about what you want this next chunk of your life to look like, this next 20, 30 years? Do you ever give that like a thought?

Melissa: Yeah. I do. Sure.

Marc: What would you like it to look like?

Melissa: Maybe marriage at last. I’ve softened. I feel like I’ve healed a lot of that stuff. A partner, me being a good partner to somebody else. So marriage would be lovely. But not just for the sake of getting married. It’s partnership. It’s spiritual partnership. I’ve been single this long and I do it really, really well. I own my home. I’ve a couple of businesses. I do it better than most. And I need a lot of space. So it’s not like, “Oh my god. I’m one of those who feel I need somebody around me all the time.”

But marriage, how cool it would be maybe if he had children of his own because I didn’t get to do that. And just to step into my life’s work, which is what I believe this is; the accidental expert after 41 years of managing and battling the biggest, ugliest, bullying eating disorder, which I finally figured out I had.

And by that I don’t mean, clearly, I knew how to weigh issue. That’s not what I mean. Of course, I knew that. But I really didn’t understand that the thing that’s in my head, those voices, that horrible self-talk, was really the disorder. We think anorexia, bulimia, all of that. But for me to actually stand in my kitchen and go, “Dude, you’ve got a freaking eating disorder, man.” That’s what this is. This has lived your life for you. It has been pretty huge.

So honestly, Marc, as embarrassing as it is, sometimes, we need to put it out there because we all want to pretend we’re not that heavy. I mean nobody really wants to believe that. I have started to put it out there, the response to people wanting to hear more about this work down the road as you go into maybe practice later. I feel like maybe that’s my life’s work, just a chance to give back a little bit and to just continue to heal and bring a partnership together, help kids, girls. If I can help anybody not go through what I did, dude, that’s worth it. For real.

Marc: When do you find yourself doing the kinds of eating behaviors that you don’t want to do? You go, “Oh god, here I go.” Maybe, it’s emotional eating, whatever it is. Are there any particular times you noticed, “Here’s me doing this.” Like what sparks it? What stimulates it?

Melissa: Oh, for sure. It’s very identified. I called it Friday night blues. It’s the weekends. Yeah definitely week—like the nights, the evenings, like I’m really kind of good all day long. I don’t have any issues in the morning. I love my mornings. I go to work. I have done some emotional eating at this office but there’s a lot of it. There’s not a lot of time for it, to be honest with you.

So what happens is, I am director of sales at a private member only country club. So it’s a very nice upscale—the beautiful people atmosphere. And it’s the coolest group of people on the planet and I’m proud to represent them. I built a culture of truth, friendliness, and warmth and authenticity.

If you want to be pretentious and a snob, you’re not going to do well where I work, you’re just not, because it’s just not who we are. You got a million dollars. You got a billion dollars. We don’t care. That’s cool. Good for you. We just don’t care here. So I’m very, very grateful to be in that environment. We, like I said, built it on purpose that way. And I’m the gatekeeper. I’m the one that brings in all the new members. I’m director of sales at this club.

So I’m the mayor, right? So your typical Friday night is, “Hey, I’m doing my thing and I’m making everybody happy and I’m selling new members in the club.” People are leaving their home state to move here and I’m convincing them that this is the place to be. So all this goes on and it’s high energy and oh my god. And nobody knows I get in the car and go home to an empty house. They have no idea. “Mel, you better get out of here. You got to party. You got a date,” they think, right, because that’s who I am at the club. And then I get in the car and I know I’m heading home to a pretty empty place. So that would be when I would do that. So that’s exactly when it is.

Marc: Got it. Got it. Got it. Okay. I’m feeling pretty good about this conversation.

Melissa: Okay. Me too.

Marc: And Melissa, I have some thoughts I would love to just start to bounce around with you just to see if they’re helpful.

Melissa: Okay.

Marc: Yeah. And what I’m hearing from you is that you know a lot about your inner world. You’ve discovered a lot. You’ve chosen to understand as best you can what’s going on in there, which is very important to understand what’s going on. Otherwise, we don’t know. So you’ve been applying yourself. You have a lot of good information. You have a lot of good distinctions. You’ve made a lot of good steps. And what I’m hearing from you is there’s a place that you want to get to that’s a leap, that’s kind of a quantum leap. It’s kind of like caterpillar to butterfly sort of thing. It’s that big that kind of if it shifted for you, it would be a huge life accomplishment.

Melissa: Yep. It would.

Marc: It will be a huge life accomplishment if 90% of this was behind you, if you were living a different reality around your body and around food and around how all that is into play. So this is no small conversation. This is not just you know, “Hey, I want to lose 20 or 30 pounds.” That’s not your ultimate goal. I get that you want the body that’s naturally yours just like we ought to want everything that’s naturally who we are. So that’s understandable. But this is not about losing a bunch of pounds for you. A bunch of pounds will be a side effect of you stepping into a different place. And understandably, you don’t know how to get there because if you did, you would do it. So am I right so far? Am I accurate in any way, shape, or form?

Melissa: Yes, you are. I have had some quantum leaps, internally, of feelings. Some very big quantum leaps like are you kidding me kind of stuff. Like you said, you can tell I’ve done a lot of self analysis and gone deep with this stuff for a long time. But I’ve made some quantum shifts. Some weird thing is happening and I’m digging it. But you’re right. And I realized, and this is really critical, that thing that we can want to lose weight all we want. But if we’re hooked on seeing ourselves a certain way and we’re addicted to that story and you haven’t really gotten your head around like you can’t do this anymore. And you have to sit with what is and deal. The weight is just going to keep coming right back. And that’s what was happening for me. So I feel like my body needs to do some catching up with, like weight-wise, where I feel like my head is and that’s causing me some discomfort right now, but…yeah.

Marc: So that’s what I want to address. I want to look at, from my perspective anyway, what I think is going to help move you forward.

Melissa: Okay.

Marc: What I think is going to help move you forward from here. So here’s what I want to say about what I think is going to help move you forward. And I want to find the right words for this. There’s a winning personality that you have that has gotten you where you are. There’s a certain way of being, a certain persona, a certain Melissa. There is like a lot of Melissa’s in there as there should be. There’s Melissa when you’re in a relationship. There’s Melissa the partner. There’s Melissa the boss. There’s Melissa the friend. There’s Melissa the wise woman. And there’s Melissa etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, the daughter. So we got a lot of personalities in there. There’s a personality that you have been living in for all good reason because it’s probably your best and it gets you where you go. Meaning, hey, I’ve got this. I’m smart. I’m accomplished. I might be even smarter than you. And I’ve sit together and I’m going to make stuff happen. And I’m going to do a great job. I’m going to be a good friend. You got a problem, I got answers. You need somebody, here I am. You need to not have my own feelings right now, easy. I’m here for you.

So who could resist that? That’s pretty cool. That’s a pretty cool person. And it garners you a lot. And at the same time, there’s a place where you live there so much and it’s not always where you want to be living. And what knocks you out of that is the eating piece. So when you come home and emotionally eat, that’s your chance to get out of that persona because it takes a lot of energy. It takes a lot of energy for you to be that good, which is fine. I like excellence, nothing wrong with that. But there’s a subtlety, there’s a little subtlety. And you know this. I’m just putting this in my words. There’s this little subtlety where when you say yeah and nobody knows this part of me, that’s correct. Nobody knows it. And the reason why they don’t know it is because you don’t let them know it. And when you don’t let them know it, you’re being the independent woman who doesn’t need anybody because you don’t want to be like your mother.

So that was, at that age, a very wise observation and wise choice because we do the best we can. We look around. We see, okay, what works, what doesn’t? Here’s my mother. Here are my parents. Whoa, don’t act like that because that causes a lot of pain and suffering. So let me look at what the adults do. Do what they do that works and throw out what don’t work. So all your thinking was wise and smart. The challenge is that thinking doesn’t stay current and contemporary into the now and into the present because you don’t live in your mother’s house anymore. You don’t live in your father’s house anymore. So there’s a little part of you that still lives in mama’s house. You’re cool with your dad for the most part.

But a part of you still lives in mama’s house. And when I say still lives in mama’s house, it’s I’m not going to be like her.

Melissa: Right.

Marc: And what that does is it stops just a little bit from the world being able to contribute to you. It makes you almost more important to yourself and not that you’re not the most important person to yourself, but you can’t do this all by yourself.

Melissa: I finally come to see that.

Marc: You can’t do this all by yourself. And it doesn’t mean you’re weak. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong. It just means you’re another one of God’s children. We all need each other. If we didn’t need each other, there would be one person in the world. You and I wouldn’t be in a conversation. But apparently, there are a lot of people because we need each other. And there’s a strength in that and there’s a power in that. And I think what’s happened is that the eating disorder part for you has been the part of you that almost kind of keeps you human. It keeps you very sweet. It keeps you vulnerable. It keeps you real. It keeps you emotional. And it keeps you in touch with that girl inside you that wants love. And this other stuff isn’t always 100% okay. I am not perfect here so like don’t expect so much in me please. That’s a hard persona to maintain all the time. And it’s fine to have that in your hip pocket. I got no issue with it. I just want you to have the other parts of you as important.

So what I’m saying is you living in the persona called, “I am this accomplished woman. I don’t need anybody. I can do this on my own and stay back a little bit.” You just got to make some subtle shifts there. And I think you’re doing it. So I think you’re doing it for sure. But I’m just over here saying, yeah, keep going because it’s less about what you do. Oh, I need to do this to love my body. I need to do this to lose weight. It’s less about what you do at this point. It’s almost more about what you don’t do. And so what I’m saying is to don’t do is about letting go of control a little bit because the eating is out of control. That tells me there’s some part of you that wants to let go of control a little bit. And I don’t mean be this wild person that just eats whatever she wants, not controlling that way. I mean control in your emotional experience and control in, okay, the world hasn’t seen me in a certain way because the world sees me in certain way, as an accomplished person, doesn’t need anybody, doesn’t need help. Then, I’m going to be okay and I’m going to get the right guy. And everything’s going to be cool.

It doesn’t work for you anymore. You can still be a strong lady. You can still be accomplished lady. And you could also be a lady that needs a big hug. A lady that, okay, this is my time now. I just need you. I’m off duty now. I’m not helping anybody now. I’m not being the cheerleader now. Now, it’s my turn. That’s the experience I would love to see you be in because then you could be messy. And then you could have needs. And then you could be uncertain. And then you could be afraid. Because what happens is you get afraid and you don’t have anywhere to go.

Melissa: Absolutely. Yeah. And thank you for that. And you’re right. I mean some of the feelings that I’m allowing myself to deal with are just the simple thing. Like, man, it really would be nice to have a hug right now. It would be really nice to come home to somebody who just lets me kind of fall down. I’m also, sidebar, very lucky to have a select group of friends that I can be myself to. They know the real intimate vulnerable side of me, which very few people get to see as you rightly said. And I said to somebody, I said to one of my oldest girlfriends a couple of months ago as I was really starting to kind of come back in this huge depression and regrowth I went through. And it was if somebody could just let me lay down for 60 days, just let me drop the reins of everything I manage for just a little bit. If I could just—you have no idea what that would mean to me. And that would be allowing somebody to be here to help.

And so I have modulated from—it wouldn’t occur to me to let anybody into, “Geez, wouldn’t that be lovely.” Let myself to feel that because I always get afraid when I feel like I need something and I want something. That scares me to want something because it’s frustrating because I usually didn’t get it. Do you understand?

Marc: Yes. So there’s your edge right there. And you don’t have to— and I know you know this, but just let me say it. And I know you are not doing this. You don’t have to wait for the guy to show up to do that because as you start to grease the wheel now. So you said, “Yeah, I got a select group of girlfriends. I could be the real me.” So I just want to make sure you’re really using that resource. You’re showing up in that way. And you’re even allowing yourself to deepen into the conversation even more like, “Hey, ladies. Here’s my real vulnerable place right now. Here’s me,” just so you could be seen and witnessed and loved in that place now. Yeah, it would be nice to have a man who does that and let’s just start being what we want to be anyway and putting out what we want to put out anyway. Because as you do that, then you’re doing it and you’re living it and you’re being it.

And part of this also, another way to language this is that there’s a lot of people, men and women, who adopt a certain kind of personality. I’m going to call it like the good little fat girl, the good little fat boy. It’s like, okay, I’m fat. That’s not cool. But if I’m really good, you’re going to like me. You’re going to find me so useful and irresistible that you can’t mess with my value because I’m just so good to you. So a lot of people end up compensating for my body by being that good fat person. Which doesn’t make you a good person, it makes you a good fat person. It complexes those together.

Melissa: Right.

Marc: So what I’m saying is, yeah, be good when you want to be good. I get you’re a good person. But you know something? Don’t be good when you don’t want to be good. Because there are some times you don’t want to be good but you don’t even know it. There are some times you’re expending gas out of your tank, most likely, that, I don’t know, that’s exactly where you want to be in that moment. So part of getting out of this persona, I don’t know, it might mean pissing people off. It might mean you are not showing up as perfect. It might mean there’s a little bit of a hole in the armor here or there. Maybe that’s just with your friends, you’re going to have feel that one out. But I want you to start to pull apart who I actually am versus who I think I need to be because I don’t have the right body. You follow me?

Melissa: Oh, absolutely follow you. And a little tiny thing that I did that let me kind of try to be real and honest and open at work—I work there for almost eight years. These people have watched me gain all this weight. They have. I still do my job. I still show up every day. Really hard to not let the weight affect my job because I deal with people all day long. What do people do? They judge, right, Marc? So I’m like thinking to myself, “What do this people think is going on with Melissa?” What the hell are they thinking is wrong with you? Nobody says a damn thing, which is interesting. Isn’t that funny? Nobody says anything. Which is polite in this society to not go, “Dude, you’ve put on some weight,” like nobody’s done that. And hide it. I’m cool. I’m still me. I’m not acting any different. Am I?

But what I just did last month, I just did this. I’ve never done it in the last three years. The club has participated in a biggest loser contest at the club. My GM sponsors it every year. He wants us to be healthy. He wants people to take care of themselves. If you want to go to a gym, go to the damn gym whatever, whenever. And I refused to enter it, not because I didn’t think they knew I was overweight, because it’s too personal for me. I couldn’t open up to the fact that I needed to do this to you. Oh, hell no. that’s not going to happen here. Well, this year, I finally said, “Screw it. I’m doing it. I’m in the biggest loser contest.” And I’m talking to a couple of people about it and we’re talking about have you lost any weight. And I didn’t do it to lose weight at the club. I did it to be open. I did it to be vulnerable. I did it to crack the freaking armor and allow that in. allow people to talk to me about it. Allow myself to talk to others about it. And so that’s going on now. And it’s actually really healthy for me to be doing this. It’s humbling as hell to let that in, to let those people in.

What I really came to terms with this thing I’m about to tell you, it crushed me for a while. So this thing about what you do what you think your fat body is going to allow you to do in this world, right? You morph into being who you think you’re going to be. It affected my absolute college major because I was so heavy in high school already that I didn’t have the boyfriend. I didn’t go to prom. I didn’t have any of those normal experiences at all. But what I could do, damn it. What I could do and the only reason I would go to school, because I got straight A’s otherwise, was music. I have  classically trained—I went to University of Miami School of Music. I’m an opera singer in my other life, just FYI. And I could get away with being an opera singer with this body, see? And it literally affected my entire career choice until my mid 30s when I finally realized I really didn’t want to do this. I did this because my fat body said you have to do this. This the only thing you can do to be acceptable is to sing and be an opera singer. And I was in Europe. I mean I did it. I did that whole thing. And come to find out, you know what, damn it, I wished I’d have gotten maybe my marine biology in University of Miami or gone into psychology, which is really truly my interest. But no, I went to classical music because somebody with a weight problem could certainly hide through that. Do you see what I mean? If I could stand there and sing like that and you’re going to look at me, I know you’re going to look at me but you’re really just hearing me. It’s about my voice. And it affected all of that. I mean, damn.

Marc: That’s huge. That’s absolutely huge. And I’m glad you’ve learned that about yourself, for sure. It feels like you’ve almost forgiven yourself. Almost.

Melissa: Almost.

Marc: Yeah, almost. You’re close. You’re real close. So just so you know, that choice makes perfect sense. And looking from this vantage point, it was probably the best choice you could make because it allowed for your emotional and psychic survival.

Melissa: It did. It got me out too. Classical music got me out.

Marc: It got you out. And for goodness sakes, what an incredible form of mastery to have, which I have no doubt trained you to excel in other areas as well.

Melissa: Yeah. It did. Sure.

Marc: So all I want to say is, it’s worthy of your forgiveness. That choice is more than worthy of your forgiveness. Because of all I mean you could’ve chosen to be like an awful drug addict. You could’ve gone down that route.

Melissa: There’s a lot of that around me. So yeah.

Marc: So that helped you get out. So that served a purpose.

Melissa: It did. And some experiences, they were like mind blowing. It was phenomenal. It really, really was. And I still get to have some pretty cool experiences through it. But what I’ve done, and this is me relaxing and not trying to be—this perfect opera singer park and bark getting all that stuff I have to do. I love country music. That’s usually what’s playing on my radio not opera. And so the performance that I give generally every year over the Holidays, I sing Alison Krauss instead of like Ave Maria. Do you know what I mean? And like me getting to stand there and go this is the other side of me too. This is me getting to relax into this and not worry the way I used to worry as fat Melissa. And It was really a cool healing experience for me to do it, so it’s awesome.

Marc: So in essence, that is perfectly on point with what I’m saying.

I want to see you move on from, which is being a person you think you’re supposed to be: Because I am fat, I should be like this. And what I want to see you do is take all of that off the table, all of it.

Because I look like this means I should diet. That means I should this, that, the other thing. I throw it all out the window, really. And started to see, okay, who am I? Without all that overlay, well, I should do this. I should do that. Who actually am I? That’s the person I’m interested in. That’s the person the world is interested in. That’s the person you’re interested in. So as you start to be that real person, whoever she is more and more, and I know you’re doing that, then you’re setting yourself up for having your real body.

First things first is one other thing I want to make sure I say, we’re not going to have time to dive into this now. But this is a piece of your puzzle for getting where you want to go, okay? And is this, it is I really want to see you push the pedal to the metal more on forgiving your mom and just getting to a place, here’s the goal. The goal is getting to a place where when you look at your mom, you see this person who used to be a little girl and then she was a teenager and then she was in her 20s. And then she had you and just all this like—think how smart you are and how many resources you have and think how little resources she had in her time and her day.

Melissa: Okay.

Marc: So however she messed up, it’s understandable. She was a kid, like me and you, just trying to figure stuff out. The more you can see her as that person, she is still your mother but you no longer live in her house and relating to her adult-adult. In fact, you might even relate to her just a little bit more like you’re the parent because this place is where you’re a little wiser than her. So when you can stop expecting your parent to still be your parent and to be the person that they never were; because there’s a part of us that still wants mommy to be like a better a mommy and daddy to be like a better daddy kind of thing.

Melissa: They’ll just never be. Never. Yeah.

Marc: Right. So, you’re not there yet with your mother. But once you get there—and this is a package deal. I’m just telling you from experience. It’s a mystical, interesting weird package deal that for a woman, when you have made peace with your mother and you could see her as a human being and relate to her as adult-adult or parent-adult, then what happens is you’re free to have a clean relationship with your own body.

You are free. There’s nothing encumbering you and you can love your own body. Because as long as you’re tied to your mother in that way wanting her to be something different, you got to want your body to be something different. That whole thing is a package deal. So we’re trying to pull it apart. And when it pulls apart, it is just like a balloon with air going out. All of sudden, it’s like, okay, it’s gone.

Melissa: Which has started.

Marc: So the way you do that is you keep your eye on it. You intend it. You commit to that. And whenever you start to look at her, you notice your complaint. You notice where you contract. And you remember to have absolute compassion because she’s a person who didn’t get to have the kind of support you can have. She didn’t get to have the kind of independence. She didn’t get to have a lot. She had her own disappointments relative to who she was and where things were at in her day. So she deserves a lot of compassion. Hard because you had to bear the brunt of not all of her great choices and great ways of being but you’re not that kid anymore. You’re an adult now.

So it is all about graduating. It is all about you getting clear. I am not her little girl who lives in her house anymore. I do not need her to be different anymore. I don’t need her approval. I don’t need her discipline. I don’t need any of it. I love you for who you are. That’s the goal we’re shooting for. Because when you’re there, you will be able to go there with your own body. Because psychically, our relationship with our body is tied to our same sex parent, often times.

So I want to see you keep your eye on that and it’s just another way that you’re letting go. Because when you let go of that, you let go of having the world and specific people that need to be a certain way. And when you let go of control, life gets better.

Melissa: Yeah. It does.

Marc: It gets scarier. It gets a different kind of scary because you’re used to having a certain level of control.

Melissa: One thing that I can coin a phrase for you that I have asked over and over to myself once I really became aware of this eating disorder persona thing, the voice, this thing. I would ask myself, “Dear God, who would I be without this thing? Who in the world would I be without this?” And it actually like used to really scare me when I ask that question. It used to scare the fire out of me. It really did. And now, as I’m letting some of that go, I’m more relaxed about asking that question.

Marc: Yeah. Beautiful.

Melissa: And that’s been very impactful for me is being okay with whoever’s in there, once I let this thing go that I’ve held on to, it’s going to be okay. And that’s a tough one for me is to relax into that, to be honest with you, because it’s got through life, right?

Marc: Exactly. And you’re at the age and stage in life where you have enough wisdom to be able to honestly change yourself in this fundamental of a way. Because, really, what we’ve been talking about, as weird as this sounds, is we’ve been talking about, okay, so here’s how you need to change your personality. But oddly enough, yes, it’s changing your personality. It’s changing more the mask. It’s changing the persona. It’s changing what fronts to the world not because you’ve been lying or hiding or cheating or stealing, it’s just that this is how we navigate the world. We have our different personas. And the idea is to have a say in the persona you’re putting out. So when you go to work, you put on your work persona. And you know something? You have to because that’s the job. That’s a role. That’s something specific. When you’re with your friend, you got a friend persona on. Your friend is not your employee. They’re not your mother so you have a certain persona on. So that’s all okay. The challenge is when the persona is automatic and we have no control over it and it’s running us. So this certain persona of high-achieving, nice little girl who has extra weight who’s going to make you like her and make herself indispensable, so you’re going to love her and you’re not going to reject her for a big body. You’re going to love her because she does all kind of cool shit for you. And cool, she doesn’t have any problems. She’s not a high maintenance girl. Wow!

Melissa: Nobody has to solve anything for me, nobody.

Marc: Yeah. How perfect is that? Wow! Okay. So that’s the persona I’m saying is not the true you. It works in certain cases and certain instances. So that’s what you’re slowly letting go of and that takes attention. It takes conscious attention to go, “Oh, here I am portraying that role to the world. Hmm, time out. Make adjustment.” So that’s the meditation I’m asking you to do.

And we’re at that time. So I want to wrap up. And there’s so much more to talk about here. And at the same time, I really, really, really believe that you’re in a great place. You have a lot of good distinctions. And I would just love to see you be a little more gracious with yourself about celebrating where you’re at because there’s a part of you that’s kind of still a little guilty about where you’re at and expecting something different. So there’s the other place is to forgive yourself for the supposed crime of not being where you should be or where you think you should be and starting to get that you are right on time here. You’re right on time. You’re right on time. You’re right on time. You got to let all that other nonsense go. Because, otherwise, you’re going to be beat the heck out of yourself when you don’t deserve it.

Melissa: I’ve actually asked my body to forgive me.

Marc: Yes. Beautiful.

Melissa: All the years of the abuse in the mind and the body. And for being there for me, I’ve asked it to forgive me. And I feel a new partnering with it, which is really awesome, just starting. And it’s been there all along for me. And I just wasn’t stepping into it. So that’s what I’m going to do too. So thank you very much, Marc. Thank you.

Marc: Melissa, great job. You have been so generous and so real. And to me, you have perfectly modeled where you want to go. Where I see you going, it’s like you’re doing it. So congratulations.

Melissa: Thank you, Marc. I appreciate it.

Marc: Okay. And we’ll get a chance to do a follow-up session in a bunch of months. So we’ll get to check in again. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Melissa: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Marc: Yes. And thank you, everybody, for tuning in. Once again, I’m Marc David on behalf of the Psychology of Eating podcast, always more to come, my friends. Take care.

Melissa: Thank you.

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Sarah Wood