The next time Maria spoke to Wendy is when Wendy was feeling at her lowest. Wendy had been trying unsuccessfully to stay on her old diet. It was not working, and she was still gaining weight. At first it had been five pounds and now her weight gain was higher, eleven pounds. She wanted Maria’s counsel again, and Maria thought it was good that she hadn’t pushed Wendy a couple of month’s back.
Wendy folded her legs up under her and she faced Maria. She was worried and made no pretense to hide this. Always one of her strong suits, Wendy let her feelings show, especially to her good friend, her lovely friend Maria. Wendy was wearing a crisp white shirt and cropped khakis, and this framed her perfectly against the wicker furniture.
Wendy started. “I lost a pound or two but then gained it right back again. I went back to weighing myself each day, not more than once a day, thank God, but at least one time a day.” Wendy looked discouraged and she sounded it.
After a time, Maria shifted the conversation away from weight loss and weight gain. When the going gets tough, and the tough can’t get going, it’s better to switch than fight; and that’s just was Maria was doing with her friend. She was switching Wendy out of the dead end she’d gotten herself in—the subject of her weight.
Maria felt guilty that she was keeping this plan from Wendy, so she brought Wendy in on it. “It’s too unproductive sometimes to narrow the field to just weight loss and weight gain. That’s why I’m changing the subject. I’m hoping we can hit upon what’s made for this weight change. So let’s just talk and see what happens.” And that’s what Wendy and Maria did.
Their conversation came around to the kids like it did most times. Wendy was talking full force about her daughter, praising her, saying how proud she was of Jessie. Jessie was going to be a senior in high school, like Maria’s Zoey. Like Zoey, Jessie was a good student. Only Jessie had strayed last year and gotten involved with a group of kids who thought of little else but partying. Jessie was caught up in this social whirl and Wendy and her husband, Chris, had no influence over Jessie’s social life.
Wendy had been worried all year, and she didn’t share this with Maria. Maria noted this. Wendy had been holding back her feelings. That’s not like Wendy. Wendy was worried all right. She was anxious. She was fearful. She wasn’t holding these feelings back. Was she ashamed? And was she holding feelings of being ashamed back, not only from Maria, but from herself as well. If so, this could explain the weight gain. Wear the shame on the outside. Be ashamed for one thing, while you are really ashamed about another.
This was something Maria knew quite well. She faced her own feelings of being ashamed. Through therapy, she learned that she wore her shame on the outside in the form of excess weight. It was a badge of shame, and it crippled Maria for a lot of years. It was only when she discovered her inner shame—and guilt—was she better able to lose weight.
Maria, through good psychological detective work, asked her friend, “Why didn’t you tell me what you were going through?”
“I was too embarrassed. My Jessie was always so good, someone I was proud of. I didn’t want you to think bad things about Jess and not feel proud of her.”
“So is Jessie still part of that crowd,” Maria asked.
“No, she’s not. I don’t know what happened. Chris and I and Jess talked and talked, and it looked like we were all beating our heads against the wall. But then Jessie just stopped hanging out with these kids. She’s back to being the old Jess.”
“Wendy, do you think this is why you gained weight? Did it have to do with Jess and feeling embarrassed or feeling helpless, useless?”
“No,” Wendy said thoughtfully. “I don’t think so.” Actually, I started gaining weight when this ordeal was over. What does that mean?”
Maria didn’t know. She voiced to herself that the weight gain must have something to do with Wendy’s ordeal.
Maria asked Wendy the same question Wendy asked her: “What does it mean that you started gaining weight when Jessie was safe and sound again?” And Maria said it artfully, which when brought back to earth, simply means straightforwardly with no guile. Truthfully. With care, empathy, curiosity. All of this, and more.
Wendy looked her friend in the eye and blurted out, “I could fill myself up again because I felt so depleted.”
Good. This was a big step, Maria thought.
excerpt from a new book in the Symmetry Press series —Weight-Loss Books for Women ~ Using Psychology to Lose Weight ~ to be published later this year