A Journey to Health

HOW SYSTEMS THINKING HELPED ME LOSE OVER 10O POUNDS

I was not a chubby baby, a plump child, or even overweight in high school.  I remember eating an apple and calling it lunch.  I remember thinking I’d never be fat like my mom. I remember that my engagement and wedding rings (1970) were a size 4!

All that quickly changed when I got married.  I loved to cook and my husband and I loved to eat and so we did.  We rented a tiny cottage on an 8 acre lake and my red and white kitchen hosted a sign that said “Bloom Where You Are Planted.”  Apparently I took that sign to heart and boy did I ever “bloom.”    Over the next decade or so I “bloomed” from 118 pounds to well over 200. 

It’s not that I didn’t try to lose - -Lord knows, I did- - -and went to my first Weight Watchers meeting when I was merely 12 pounds overweight.  Although the leaders of the meeting were positive and affirming, the members in attendance scoffed at me and asked why I was there.  I did not return at that time. I tried all the “crazy” diets too.  Bananas and milk, cabbage soup, only protein, only veggies.  You name it, I tried it – at least for a day or two.

So here I was, obese, hiding from people who “knew me when” in the grocery store, and feeling in general dreadful about myself.  It took several years to learn to love myself as God does, in whatever shape I was in.  Learning that, and accepting myself was the first step.

Fast-forward about 20 years.  I’m still obese but living a full, rich life.   Two things happened in the same year that made a huge impact on me.  I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and knew I simply had to make changes in my lifestyle to be healthier.  That same year I took a class at Trinity Seminary called Healthy Congregations which introduced me to the concept of Systems Thinking.

Systems Thinking was not a “natural” for me, but I was fascinated and began to read more books about this way of life.  I took several leadership classes based on the work of the pioneers in this field and attended a retreat led by Pete Steinke.  I was hooked but still struggling to live systems (and to lose weight)

Then, I was invited to be part of a group in our synod who used Systems Thinking to help congregations and congregational leaders have better connections and conduct themselves in healthier ways.   Joining this group, the Congregational Resource Team, was a turning point.  Not only did it help to “think systems” with others on a regular basis, but the more I learned, the more I realized that this was the answer (or at least one answer) as I struggled on my journey to better health.

Doing Family of Origin work helped me see that our family had used food for generations as celebration, consolation, comfort, and reward.  I “saw” that my mom and her mom before her fought obesity for decades.  Both strong women decided in their seventies to lose the weight and both did.  I was determined not to wait quite that long.

My sibling position (oldest) led me to do quite a bit of over-functioning in most aspects of life, but the more I learned, the more I realized that wasn’t always necessary.  Not having to do the most or be the best led to a deeper sense of calm and peace which helped me think more clearly when I made food choices.

Perhaps the most dramatic impact on my eating, though, was when I could practice removing myself mentally and “watching” as I made choices.   Sometimes the reptilian part of my brain was very much in control as I would open the pantry or fridge and eat whatever fell out.  When I could stop and think and breathe and watch I was more and more often able to slow down that snakey brain and make healthier choices.

It has taken seven years to lose the 100+ pounds.  I have gone from a 3x size 22 to size 12 or Medium.  I still have more to go, but am confident I will succeed.

Systems Thinking was certainly not the only step on this journey..  Meditation, working with a spiritual director, reading dozens of books on healthy eating, trying a variety of food options, working with Mayo Clinic coaching,  and using guided imagery were all important factors.  But lowering my anxiety when able (a la systems work) was, I believe, the key factor.

Here’s the best news.  I have finally reached a point where I want to eat healthier food.  I still love ice cream and food will always play an important role in my life but about 80 percent of the time I make healthy choices and when the choices aren’t healthy, I eat far less than I used to.

Clearly thinking my way thin(ner) was not an over-night miracle but in my life, it is the only thing that worked after 40 years of struggle.  For that I can heartily say, “Thanks be to God.”   (and Murray Bowen et al)

 

Pastor Carolyn Wagar Hier

ELCA

May 2016