Opinion

Gwen Rockwood: Pandemic padding forces mom to face hard truths

Something uncomfortable happened after Christmas. It has taken me several weeks to admit it because I already know how it'll make me sound -- shallow, silly, vain.

But I'm going to say it, because experience has taught me that uncomfortable truths get easier once they're shared, especially if the other person understands. So here goes. For the first time, when I looked at snapshots of our Christmas celebration, I couldn't find a single photo of me I liked. Not one. And it wasn't bad hair, no makeup, dim lighting, or an unflattering outfit. I wish I could blame any or all of those things. But that wasn't it.

The pictures just didn't look like me -- at least the me I expected to see. I kept flipping through the photos on my phone thinking, "Is that really me? Is that my face, my body?" And for the first time, I felt totally disconnected with that woman.

I judged myself for feeling bad about it, of course, because I'm great at that. I told myself I shouldn't care about what's on the outside. It shouldn't bother me that the past two years have left behind a certain amount of "pandemic padding" I never thought I'd have -- the fuller face, the thicker waist.

But it does bother me because when I looked at those photos, I wanted to delete every one of them. I wanted to edit myself out of my own family's Christmas. It was the "most wonderful time of the year," and all I wanted was to disappear.

It was a crystallizing moment when all the hints and nudges I'd been avoiding converged into a cringing yet certain conclusion. I know how this happened. And even though I could talk about comfort-eating during the pandemic and the stress of our daughter's epilepsy diagnosis two years ago, I know those factors aren't the true root of it.

The truth is I ate mostly whatever I wanted, didn't exercise with any regularity, and I pretended it wouldn't impact me. I pretended I was somehow immune from simple cause and effect. I decided math wasn't a real thing.

Why? Because it made me feel better in the moment. Also, because I'm stubborn. I was one of those too-skinny kids who didn't gain weight even with terrible eating habits. Then I was a thin young adult who could get away with eating pizza and Cap'n Crunch for dinner. And then I was a middle-aged mother who wanted to believe nothing had changed. (It had. Just ask my metabolism.)

So lately I've been doing the most cliche thing a person can do this time of year. I'm trying to uncover the me that got swallowed up in denial. I signed up for one of those apps that tracks what I eat or drink during the day and teaches the psychology of eating habits. (I'll tell you the name of it in a few months if I find it's working well for me.)

My goals are simple. Prove to myself I can do it. Feel better in my skin. Feel better in my clothes (especially jeans, which spent much of last year trying to strangle me at the waist. Jeans can be so judgmental.)

I also want to stop shrinking away from photos. I want to get out of the shower one day without scurrying past the bathroom mirror with my eyes closed. This is the only body I have, so I don't want to avoid or hate it. It has given me amazing gifts during my life and allows me to move around without pain every day. I know how important that is. But better eating and exercise habits aren't just about my waistline anymore. It's about my brain, bones and mental health, too.

I'm under no delusion that any amount of weight loss will turn back time, erase wrinkles or defy gravity -- because it won't. But I hope it helps me feel more like me again.

Don't worry because I'm not doing anything crazy like completely giving up cheese dip or cheesecake -- or cheese, for that matter. It's just simple food tracking, walking, weight-training, and time in the trenches.

I hope it works. And who knows? Maybe when it's time for Christmas snapshots this year, a stronger, more self-aware, more comfortable me will come into focus.

Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at [email protected]. Her book is available on Amazon.

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