I'm visiting my family in the Chicago area this week, and I find that I've been horrified by my behavior since I arrived here.
At home, I am the model of discipline—exercising more than an hour a day if I can, eating tons of healthy food and lost of fruits and vegetables, indulging from time to time but not all the time, and most importantly having a fantastic attitude about my body and self-esteem to spare.
But for some reason, as soon as I cross the family threshold, I become a withering mess. I eat everything I can get my hands on, I struggle to fit one hour of exercise into my day, and, most disturbingly, I start to see myself as an overweight, unattractive monster all over again.
Part of the problem is that when most of us visit family, we tend to fall into our old roles, no matter how much we've grown out of them. In my family, I was always the dorky sister, the less athletic and more bookish one, and my sister was the thin, athletic, attractive one. Lots of kids don't look like their siblings, and since my sister and I were both adopted, this is especially the case with us. In practical terms, that means that these roles have long been reinforced by our physical appearance—Katie has always been stick thin and has had straight long blonde hair for years. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I've always been more developed and had a messy mop of dull-colored, uncontrollable curls. I really do like myself the way I am and would not want to look like my sister, but for some reason, when we're in the same house—especially in my parents' house—I forget that and become the awkward, insecure girl I was as an adolescent, the girl who longed to be more thin, more petite, more blonde, more everything that my sister was.
Because of this, I feel as if I am under constant scrutiny and attack when I'm around my family. No matter how healthy I am, no matter how thin or how put together, I still feel as if I'm not good enough in their eyes.
This problem came to a head the other night when the eight of us—my parents, my sister, her husband, their two girls, and my husband and I—were eating dinner together. It had a been a long day, so we decided to splurge and get carryout from Chipotle. We don't have a Chipotle anywhere near where we live in Kentucky, so Dave and I always like to indulge in a big fat Chipotle burrito when we visit places where they do. As I've said before, I think it's important and healthy to indulge from time to time, and Dave and I are normally pretty good about balancing these indulgences with our regular more healthy fare. So we try our best not to feel guilty about it when we give into our cravings for more high-calorie stuff. And if you know anything about Chipotle, you know that one of their burritos packs quite a caloric punch—935 calories for the veggie burrito I like to get.
Normally, I can allow myself that kind of edible luxury without much guilt, but when I sat down at my parents' table with a burrito that has almost half as many calories as most of us eat in a regular day, I felt completely uncomfortable—as if all of my flaws and imperfections were on display for the whole table to see. It didn't matter that everyone else was eating the same thing. I still felt as if I were the only one doing something wrong.
So when my dad, halfway through his own burrito, made the comment that it was "a whale of a meal," I immediately felt like he was talking to me. I glanced in his direction, and when he caught my eyes, he raised his eyebrows at me, as if saying, Are you sure you should be doing this? From my point of view, the message was clear: he didn't think I should be eating so much. Even though I had swam laps for an hour that morning and eaten a salad for lunch, even though both my blood pressure and my cholesterol are well within the healthy range, even though I only ate two-thirds of my burrito before calling it quits, I still felt like he was singling me out.
My sister—who at 5'3" weighs around 120 pounds and is arguably in perfect shape—rarely gets a chance to exercise and scarfed every last morsel of her burrito down without much pause, following that with chips, guacamole, and pudding for dessert, but I was the one who felt like I was standing on a spotlit stage in my bathing suit, gorging on my overstuffed burrito while the whole world watched in horror. Without even realizing it, I had returned to my terribly insecure fifteen-year-old self, and I had no idea how to get the happy and confident 39-year-old me back.
In an attempt to deal with these emotions, I did what most people do: I ate. I ate popcorn and soda (see my last post), I ate lasagna and spaghetti, I ate candy and ice cream. I ate and ate and ate. I knew full well what I was doing. But knowing did nothing to stop me. I was on a mission: I wanted to make my body look as bad as I felt. And if I stayed with my family long enough, I'm sure I would have gotten there.
Thankfully, we don't have to live with our parents after we turn eighteen, and I'll go home tomorrow, hopefully returning to my old self in a matter of hours or, at the latest, by Monday.
Still, I can't help but wonder why it is that I have so much trouble maintaining my sense of self when I visit my family. Yes, I know that we revert to our childhood roles around family, but if I know this, why can't I control it better? Why can't I feel good about myself inside the world of my family?
I end many of my blog posts with answers or conclusions or lessons learned, but today I don't feel like I have any answers to these problems. I feel no better able to deal with the insecurities and emotions that come around when I visit family than I did before I started writing this post. So, I guess, for now, I'll have to simply be content with the fact that I understand what these questions are and how important it is to come up with solutions to this problem. I'll keep thinking about it, and maybe the next time I visit, I'll begin to chip away a little bit more at the destructive fifteen-year-old who apparently still lives inside of me.