Over the years of being employed at churches, I have had the pleasure to work with some truly amazing people. (Yes, I also have worked with some real pains. That's a different post.) One of the most wonderful people I had the joy to serve with was Vince Manna. He and his wife, Holly, both worked at First Baptist Oviedo with me. Vince was one of the most genuine, passionate, encouraging people you ever would meet. He was in charge of helping new members get acclimated to the church. But over the years it became apparent he also loved mission trips. Eventually, planning mission trips and overseeing the mission efforts of the church became a huge part of his job description. Truly, this was a perfect match. Vince and missions - one of those all-too-rare examples of a man working in the dead center of his skill set and passion.
He loved talking to missionaries from all over the world. And he tried to learn things about different countries and cultures. I saw the excitement on his face when he would be able to share some of these discoveries with others. Vince and I had a great relationship. We had our usual disagreements on minor issues - just like you would with anyone. I considered Vince one of my better friends and a real treasure to the staff. He had a great sense of humor, which I appreciated. And he could dish it out, if necessary. But he never was cruel.
One day, I was walking down the hall and he was popping out of his office. He saw me and lit up. He tossed his hand up in the air to wave, got a big grin on his face, and said loud enough for everyone to hear, "JUMBO!!!" I was kind of taken aback. What did he just say? Did he just call me Jumbo? What kind of jerk is he being? I can't believe that he would just call me "Hey big fat guy!" in front of everyone. "What did you say?" I must have looked a big upset or confused. His demeanor changed and he explained, "That's how they say hello in Swahili. Jambo. Oh no! You thought I said Jumbo, like big." Then he laughed his butt off. And for the next couple years, as is typical for guys, he poked fun at me about that. That's what guys do.
I tell that story to lead into this. When you are offended by the traditional greeting of an entire people group, maybe you need to examine some things. The other day I weighed 352 pounds. It is not that I was shocked by that number. It isn't the worst I've been. It sure isn't the best. I hover around that number. And, truthfully, I may have actually lost a few pounds. I'm not sure. I know, this is where the women start grumbling about guys losing weight so easily. Let me just explain something. If you have 352 marbles, it is easy to lose 5 marbles. They could roll under the couch or fall down the toilet. If you only have 100 or 125 marbles, you are more careful with your marbles. It is more noticeable when you lose 5 marbles. The guy with 352 marbles doesn't notice until he loses 20 or 50 marbles.
Anyway, weight issues have plagued my life. I always say that it easy to see which kid was me in baby pictures - I was drawn with all circles. I have always been round. I was one of the tallest and biggest kids in my class all the way back to Kindergarten. I remember all through elementary pulling at my shirts so they wouldn't be so tight across my belly. My shirts still bear the telltale signs of this behavior - stretched out button holes, pull points on the front. As years have rolled by, I have continued to get larger - it kind of was a foregone conclusion. You just keep buying bigger clothes. I have also developed an unhealthy relationship with food. There is a level of emotional dependence and addiction that had become a part of my life.
This is one of the things that is extremely frustrating to me. Fat people are treated differently. They are seen as lazy and self-destructive. Now it is being painted in the news and in health circles that they are personally responsible for destroying the economy and health insurance industries. When do you see an overweight person portrayed in a positive light? They play the buffoon or the lazy bum in movies and shows. I think that a lot of this is due to public perception that fat people are in this quandary thanks to a lifetime of poor choices. And, it is also believed that they can escape this problem with discipline and just "not eating so much." As any fat person will attest, this is not true.
I spend a lot of time working on issues of addiction. My ministry deals with it on a regular basis. I have read books about addiction - I've even written a Bible study on it that we taught at a conference. My father was an alcoholic - and probably a gambling addict and food addict and nicotine addict. Several in my extended family have battled various addictions. I am currently finishing a wonderful book that deals with men and addiction called Samson and the Pirate Monks by Nate Larkin. One of the thing that jumps out at me when you compare food addiction to any other addiction is that most addictions begin at some point with a choice by the addict to start the process. They go in the door and then get lost in the house. But at the very beginning, they open the door and go in. It may be that they drink that first beer at a party at Brian's house or they take that first hit behind the football stadium or they look at the first porn magazine in their friend's room. But there is an initial decision. AND, the other major difference is that, despite what they believe at that point, they CAN live without the addictive object.
With a food addiction, you can't live without food. You have to eat. And you don't really choose to develop a problem. I don't remember at any point sitting down and wrestling with whether or not to eat a cookie, which set me off on a spiral towards the point where I wake up in the gutter covered with crumbs and empty Hydrox packages. I wasn't any different than any other kid. We all ate cookies. They gave us cookies in school. I remember one event in first grade where all the parents helped make food from other countries - mostly desserts and pastries. We also had a Thanksgiving feast out on the recess field where we had all kinds of goodies. (My mom made a lattice blueberry pie, thereby ruining 90% of all blueberry pies forever for me.) We weren't allowed to have sodas, except for with certain meals or on special occasions. I remember loving New Year's Day because I could have Wink soda and eat in the TV room.
We had a "clean your plate" policy at our house. You were supposed to eat everything on your plate - if you liked it or not. We didn't want to be wasteful with food. I still battle this now, feeling bad tossing part of my kids' food when they get full. We didn't sit there and eat fried foods all the time. My mom rarely fried anything - once in a while we would have fried chicken or french fries. We had a normal roster of dinners. Baked chicken, cubed steak, turkey, hamburgers, pizza, spaghetti, tacos, pork chops, roasts, stews, soups. We never had rich casseroles because my dad hated casseroles. We didn't eat big salads and poached chicken every meal, but I refuse to believe that is what everyone does. I have always been a bit baffled by the whole weight thing to some extent, because for most of my life I have not eaten any worse than anyone else - and I have not eaten more than other people. In fact my friends usually comment how I eat less than a lot of people. My brother was always thin. He would take out an entire bag of Doritos each night. He put bleu cheese dressing on everything. He never gained a pound. I never did those things and gained weight all the time. I don't mainline candy. If I get candy, I usually nurse it along for weeks (unless driving on a long trip).
I am not sure what triggered everything. Was it that we usually had pizza on Friday and hamburgers on Saturday? Fun foods on fun days? I don't know. But I became drawn to those types of food. I love pizza, lasagna, cheeseburgers, mexican food, Italian food. I would eat those all the time if I could. They are "fun food" to me. And I tend to drift towards those foods when I'm down or had a bad day. Eating out only was on a special occasion. So if you eat out every day, every day is a special occasion. Dessert was always fun and made you feel good. I understand a lot of this better now: the release of endorphins from chocolate, neural pathways that are built to release pleasure chemicals, learned association.
There was a stretch of maybe six or seven years where I hung out with a bunch of college students. I was a student myself, and then a young single guy working with college students. I ate like a college student. Lots of cheap, pre-packaged food. Fast food joints all the time. I ate so much pizza it is a miracle that I still like it. And then we discovered buffets. Breakfast buffet at Shoney's. Lunch buffet at Pizza Hut, Cici's, and Vallarto's. Dinner buffet at China Jade. Dangerous places. I gained some weight, but not as much as you think. The last explosion of weight actually happened after I gave up those habits. That's even more baffling - although my life became more sedentary after having kids and when I took a job as a desk jockey.
I can start a diet tomorrow and make it work - for a while. I started Weight Watchers a few years ago. I lost fifty pounds in four months. And then put it back on by the end of the year. A few years later, I decided that I really needed to avoid certain foods instead of "dieting." I lost thirty pounds. And then I put it back on. I lost fifty pounds working at Rhodes Furniture - but gained it back before I quit there. I can diet. But that doesn't do anything. It just shows you how to manage your poor food intake. As I've read the Pirate Monks book, I picked up on some things that have really made this clear. I guess one of the tenets of AA is that "abstinence is not the same thing as sobriety." Forgoing something is a great first step. But the mindset is what needs to change.
I have all the classic symptoms of an addict when it comes to food. I can't imagine my life without the object. I get angry when I think of going without pizza or soda. I have tried to quit so many times. I have hundreds of excuses for why I can't do it. And I'm a loner when it comes to fighting. I don't want help. I don't want praise for doing it right. I don't want "you can do it" messages from friends. Because if they buy their way in with the positive, that gives them the right to criticize when I mess up. I hate it - just get boiling angry - when I'm eating with a friend who knows about my weight battle and he makes a comment about what I ordered. That means that someone else noticed, I guess. (Of course other people notice. I make people in my row in airlines and in arenas cringe when I walk up.) I have learned to cope by poking fun at myself. But it merely hides the fact that I hate myself. I hate how I look. I hate my weakness. I hate my failure. And I hate that I want to go eat pie right now. I'm not happy when my friends lose weight. A part of me want to be, but a bigger part is mad because it shows how I am a failure . . . AGAIN. I have friends who are doing great with their weight struggles. "That's great," I say to their face. Inside I'm like, "Yeah, great. I should send them a fruit basket. Wait, that will help them. I'll get the fruit covered in chocolate. NO. Better yet, a ham basket."
I have tried every motivational tactic that I can imagine. I tell myself that I'll be more attractive if I am not so enormous. My wife will like it better if I am not so fat. Sex would be better. I would be able to play with my kids without needing oxygen. I would be able to live long enough to see them graduate, get married, have kids. My dad died before I got married, had kids, started my ministry. I should know how hard that is. He had diabetes. Heart disease and high blood pressure run through both sides of my family. Being thinner would help me professionally, since people don't respect fat people. I have a hundred, a thousand reasons to lose weight. But for each one, I have irrational and stupid reasons that seem logical at the time that stop me. Most of all, I have fear.
I am afraid that I will fail. I am afraid of giving up certain foods. I am afraid of what would happen if I succeeded. And what if I succeeded and THEN failed again? Fear has derailed me so many times. And it continues to relentlessly attack. I was afraid of writing this. I was afraid of what people would think, of what comments they would leave. I was afraid of their suggestions and encouragements - maybe even more so than their criticisms. I can't keep living like this. And, quite frankly, I won't keep living like this. Eventually, living like this will kill you. For some reason, all of this clicked into place this week. Maybe it was the book. Maybe God, Who mercifully pursues me all the time even when I ignore Him, finally broke through my thick skull and hit the chewy nougat inside.
On Tuesday night, I am going to do something that I cannot believe I am doing. The very thought of it terrifies me to my soul. I am going to go to an Overeaters Anonymous meeting at 7:30pm at a church in town. I have no clue what to expect. I don't know if this is even the best option. I just know I need to try a different tactic. I need to address the reasons why I do what I do instead of just getting frustrated by failing. Why do I fail? What is the root of this destructive behavior? How can I fight that? So I am going to try OA. So pray for me. Remember me on Tuesday. I want to say I'll keep everyone updated. I know my tendency is to keep my latest battle quiet so the failure is also quiet. That's not healthy. To win this, I have to have others around me. Maybe I'll get to the point where Jambo is just a greeting and not a name.