Category: Personal Story and Life Lesson
One of the things they tell you about creating transformation in your life is the importance of letting go.
Let go of the ideas that don’t serve you…
Let go of the relationships that don’t serve you…
But you have to do more. You have to let go of the STORIES that don’t serve you. You know those things that you know about yourself to be true? When you say, “I do that, I DON’T do this, and THIS is who I am.” That kind of story. When the stories you tell yourself about WHO you are no longer serve you, it’s time to let go of those as well.
I had this realization, sitting outside of a Starbucks in Phoenix, Arizona while drinking an iced coffee and talking to a friend. “You’ve told me that story like six times already, Sarah.” He said, a little dumbfounded yet sincere.
“I have?” I questioned. And there I was, thinking I’d just revealed some big secret…
He nodded. “Maybe it’s time to tell a new story?”
And so here I am, telling my new story.
Hi, my name is Sarah. Up till recently, I thought Whoppers from Burger King were Magical Healing Unicorns. Now, I know they are just hamburgers.
Get all that?
Here’s what I mean.
When I was a little girl, my grandmother and I would go to Burger King in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. As a family, we didn’t eat fast food, ever. It wasn’t accessible in Manhattan (where I grew up) and it wasn’t part of our life in any way. But every now and then… my grandmother would drive us to the Burger King. She would have a hamburger and a small chocolate shake. I had no idea what I ate.
When I was 24 and moved to Las Vegas, I entered a Food World unlike any other I’d been in before. Outside of New York City, everything was a sea of chain restaurants. The house that I lived in was in a newly developing area of town and there were, basically, no restaurants between the highway and my house.
Except there was a truck stop. With a drive through Burger Kind. And it was open 24 hours a day.
There would be no way for me to quantify how many times went through that drive through. As a 20-something working in PR, my hours were crazy, and I was either working or out late at night.
As a woman, I wasn’t very interested in my own self-care. Fast food and that specific drive through, became a regular for me. I could go any time, day or night; never cooked for myself. I have visceral memories of coming home at 6 in the morning from being at a dance club all night and getting food on the way home. Eating in bed, sleeping for an hour or two, then getting up and doing it all over again. Crumbled brown paper bags were strewn around my apartment.
And here’s the other part – I didn’t just eat a little bit. I ate a lot. And I didn’t “eat it” as much as I consumed it, usually without thinking, sometimes without tasting, and almost always while doing something else. At the risk of writing gratuitously and being cliché, it’s important for me to share with you what I ate. I always had more than one entrée (a Double Whopper with no cheese or lettuce) and something else. I always upgrade the fries or onion rings (because Burger King onion rings are awesome) to the biggest size I could, I would get a large Diet Coke, and some kind of dessert. (They used to make a chocolate pie of some kind – it was gross and good at the same time.)
I looked up the nutritional stats of this just now. I’m not here to food shame myself, but the point is that I didn’t have an awareness or interest in understanding what I was putting into my body. Eating mindlessly was my normal.
Double Whopper, no Cheese no Onion
Original Chicken Sandwich
Large Onion Ring
210 C, 131 F, 79P = 2334 calories
I ate the above regularly, without thinking about the quantity of food I was eating or the ingredients. NOTE: FOOD IS NOT “BAD” OR “GOOD.” IT’S FOOD. YOU POOP IT ALL OUT AND IT DOESNT HAVE MORAL VALUE TO IT. Truly.
But after many years of soul work, I now know that my relationship with food also mirrored my relationship to my own general self-care. So, it makes sense that during this time of my life I also…
- Hid my dirty dishes in the freezer because I didn’t want to do them.
- Had a car that looked like a Twister tore through the inside.
- Made under $30k a year and still, (semi-regularly) bought $500 Manolo Blahnik shoes.
- Had closets and drawers so overflowing with things thrown in there that I was paranoid people would open them and see.
At the time, I didn’t think ANY of this was an issue.
I wasn’t someone that ate in private; I had no problem eating socially. But, in the back of my head was always this nagging idea that I had parts of me I never wanted people to see — so I hid them.
The clothes. The smelly candles. The shoes. The bags. All the things I was mindlessly stuffing into my already full life. I hid them behind doors that I could barely close.
And so my body did what happens to a body when you simply eat too much; I gained a lot of weight. (Just like my bank account reflected what happens when you spend too much… )
Burger King remained my fast food of choice throughout my entire adult life. It’s not that I liked fast food… it was that I liked Burger King. For some reason, that was my balm.
Fast forward to 35. I was living in the Bay area and working in fashion tech. I was the most unhappy I had ever been in my entire life. FYI, the only reason I knew I was unhappy was not that I FELT unhappy, but because I never laughed.
I was aware I was living in distress, but I never allowed myself to FEEL distressed. I did a bunch of things to make sure it stayed that way…
At no other time in my life have I ever abused two coping mechanisms more in my life than during this single year. I shopped every dollar I had, and I ate all the time. And they were irregular and large meals.
I would have stressful, painful days feeling anxious and miserable… and on the way home? Burger King drive-through. There was one right by my house. I had to make a U-Turn to get there but it was worth it.
As soon as the bag was in my hand and it hit the passenger seat, I’d be reaching for fries. I’d eat a full meal while driving before I could pull into the garage, and then I would eat a second one from inside my bedroom or the couch.
I ate while I drove. I ate while the sh*t from the day was seething in my head and I tried to wash it off. I ate fast and manic and wiped my hands on my jeans.
Now, at this point in time if you are reading this and judging me, knock yourself out. But I’d ask you if you have ever used ANYTHING as a coping mechanism when you couldn’t deal? Have you ever had a few drinks after work, and then a few too many? Once? Twice? On a regular basis? Have you ever needed to get high in order to calm down?
Have you ever taken ANY behavior or action at all and done it to any kind of an extreme so that the intention of the behavior was lost and, in its place, you were able to feel distracted relief?
I used food. I also used shopping. Tons of it. Bursting closets full of it. “Get packages a few times a week” full of it. Between the two, food and shopping, sprinkled in with the occasional hookup (cause, you know, sex is great as well) I numbed my way through that entire period of my life.
Shortly after I would find myself, in 2015, at my mom’s hospital bedside in NYC while my dad was also in the hospital in New Jersey. Many of you know that this is where the story of my current wellness journey begins – the realization that I had TWO parents with heart disease and the feeling that I was basically going to die sooner rather than later if I didn’t make changes. And, also, the realization that my body just simply hurt. All the time. And that sucked.
This is the part of the story where I share that having a body that hurt wasn’t enough for me to change my life. What was? Having a LIFE that was hurting… and I was simply unhappy. By April of 2016, I had committed to my health, inside and out. Part of that would mean I would have to work on my relationship to food: how much I ate, what I ate, and, even more specifically, why I ate the way I ate. That was the last time I had Burger King… till today.
I have purposefully avoided Burger King for the last three years. I’ve eaten hamburgers since then, of course, but I never touched a Whopper. A magical Whopper. Sh*t I remember them as being so delicious, and I had made them the Holy Grail of fast food comfort.
I fetishized the Whopper. Literally. I put it on a pedestal and gave the Whopper Magical Healing Powers that I could not muster for myself. Besides the fact that I just loved the way they tasted, I turned the Whopper into a Food Unicorn that I wanted to rub and touch and ride as much as I could because it was yummy and made everything better.
(FYI, if you had told me I was an emotional eater back then, I would have laughed and said you were crazy. Hard to see that forest for the trees…)
For the last few years, whenever I would see a Whopper commercial, or pass a Burger King, or even think of one, I would always talk to myself in a reverent hush, “Oh you can’t do that. One day.”
And so we get back to the start of my story. I was Phoenix with a friend. We were having Starbucks and sitting outside and talking. I was feeling emotional and my pre-period hormones were a mess (I could feel it, and I knew I wasn’t super enjoyable to be around, so bless his heart for being patient with me.)
We were sitting on the patio and somehow the subject turned to darker periods in my life. And that’s when I confessed to him the way I used to eat. I told him about both drive through’s and eating on the way home from work and how much I would eat, and he sat patiently while I offloaded and exhaled as if I’d just let the air out of a very overfilled balloon.
And then he quietly said, “You’ve told me that story like six times, Sarah.”
And that is when it hit me. I had made my story my pain, and my pain my story.
I was living it and telling it again and again and again as if it were (still) my truth. As if my old behavior held the power to shame me. As if it was still in charge of me. As if it still defined me. As if it was me.
I had given the Whopper power over me – just like I had done with other things – and it was time for me to realize that a Whopper was just a hamburger.
In recent years, I have made The Whopper a symbol of times in my life when, in retrospect, I was falling apart at the seams and grasping at the ledge.
I have distanced myself from those behaviors and those periods because I can now see how totally unhealthy and unaligned they were.
I can see how miserable I was.
I can see how I neglected myself.
I can see how much I tried, I really really tried, to be happy but I didn’t know HOW to be happy.
So I went to Burger King. I went because it was time. I went because I was ready for a Whopper to be “just a hamburger” again.
I was ready to realize that eating a Whopper wouldn’t poke the sleeping bears of my old behaviors – I have a choice as to what patterns I want to perpetuate.
By constantly living in fear of Burger King, I subconsciously strangling the possibilities of creating a NEW story by holding on to my old one
So. Same Sarah. New Story. Let’s do this.
I went to the drive-through. I ordered a single Whopper. (No fries, no onion rings, no extra entrée. Just one burger – a single Whopper with no cheese. I even ordered with onion cause, hey, I’m a wild child and this evolution of Sarah likes an onion slice or two!)
When they handed me the bag (a smaller one than I had ever remembered seeing before) through the drive-through window, my heart started to beat a little faster. This is not a joke or a dramatic. It legit started to beat faster…
My fingers intrinsically reached for some fries – and I paused and remembered I didn’t get fries, just a burger.
On the way home I felt a little anxious, so I played some meditation music. (Also, literally, this did happen.) Driving down Las Vegas Boulevard with a Burger King Whopper next to me, playing the Mul Mantra while chanting along.)
When I got home, I unpacked the car. I stopped and took a few minutes to put a bouquet of carnations into a vase on the table. And then I sat, calmly, with the Whopper before me wrapped in paper.
I unwrapped it. I looked at it. And then I ate the shit out of that thing from start to finish.
I loved every damn bite. Even the onion.
When it was done, I looked down at the paper smeared with ketchup as I contemplated how long it would be before I ended up in the bathroom coming into contact with that Whopper again from a different viewpoint. Then I got up, cleaned up the paper, threw it in the trash, and went on my way
I was still Me.
One hamburger did not morph into 2,400 calories of mindless eating. It was just… on hamburger.
And just like that, I have a new story.
A story based on my successes, and not on my struggles.
A story based on who I have become, and not written by how I handled my pain in the past.
Same Sarah. Same Whopper. Different story
A story based on reality (a hamburger is just a hamburger) and one shaped by love; I eat the Whopper because I WANT to eat the Whopper, not because I NEED too.