I’m in charge of what I do with my feelings. I can eat them. I can push them down with food. I can eat sorrow, loneliness, anger, frustration, worthlessness, regret, hurt, guilt, disappointments, anxiety, and on and on it goes. I can even choose to eat happiness, comfort, excitement, enthusiasm, and on and on it goes. I can eat my feelings until I bloat myself with heaviness and deplete myself of all strength. I can eat my feelings until I’m weighed down with depression, stuffed with shame, swelled up with destructive self-talk and feeling fat. Then I can hate myself.
Next I will promise, I’ll never do that again! I’m so sorry. Tomorrow, I will pull out that diet plan. I’ll go get the groceries I need to make sure I eat right. The family will have to fend for themselves at meal times. I’m gonna fast a couple days this week too. I’ll pull out that new exercise video. This will be the last time I do this to myself, the last time I go to bed beating myself up over food.
Guess what. It’s tomorrow and I’m doing it again. I’m eating my feelings. I’m in a pattern of what author Michelle May M.D. in her book, “Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat”, calls “The Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle.” It’s a pattern of binge eating and overeating. This is a condition called disordered eating.
I’m in charge of what I do with my feelings. When I choose to eat my feelings, it’s as if the true me is locked away in a prison, walled up into silence and made invisible. Perhaps it’s too scary to feel. When I choose to eat my feelings, I’m not working toward growth and development as a person. I’m stuck. I am not caring for myself by addressing true needs that may surface. I’m also holding myself back from living to my full potential and from helping others. I’m hiding under food.
But what if today, I didn’t eat my feelings? What if I unlocked the prison door, lifted myself out from under all that food, and let my feelings come out. What if I took a serious look at those feelings and separated them out and away from my eating. What if today, I took charge of my feelings and directed them toward a productive outcome. I am in charge of what I eat. I’m eating today only when I am hungry.
Once upon a time:
I planned the meal. A gathering of friends and family to celebrate a Birthday. All his favorite foods made to perfection! I pulled out the china and polished the silver. I served courses and displayed the food with color and beauty. I kept the conversation rolling while I attended to every person’s needs. There was a toast to mothers and sons. We talked about a daughter’s upcoming wedding. The bridesmaid’s dresses are pale coral chiffon. Going back to school was another topic we discussed. A friend was sharing about her newborn grandson. Celebrating life together! That’s the appearance of things.
Since everyone was now gone, I sat down and rewarded myself with a third serving of dessert. I thought about the successes of the evening. The compliments and accolades over my “Rolling out the red carpet!” Some said things like, “You’re the best cook in the world!” “Oh my! That is so delicious!” “You’ve outdone yourself.” Everyone seemed to have a good time. I was secretly savoring my success with a thick slab of chocolate cake. Numbing out a bit with every bite. And I was eating my feelings.
There’s just one problem. I’m embarrassed to tell you. No one knows the truth. I didn’t know it myself, until I stopped eating my feelings. You see, when I made “all of his favorite foods” it wasn’t for the Birthday boy. I made those foods for Joe, because they were Joe’s favorite foods. My oldest son Joe died 10 years ago. So why was I cooking for him? It was a way to feel connected to him. It was a way to bring him into the family gathering. It was a way to share him with friends and to feel part of the group. It was how I could manage the friends whose grown sons are getting married. The memories of kids going back to school. The grandchildren I will never have since Joe is no longer here. My future lost. And all those compliments over the food. Those were the exact things Joe would have said to me!
End of story.
When I stopped the painful, self-debasing, life debilitating cycle of binge eating. I began to care for myself and live with deeper purpose. I realized I was holding myself hostage. I was stopped, dead in my tracks. Stopped from healing, growing, and living life to the fullest. I was hiding away and missing the freedom that comes from loving others without the food cover up. Now, instead of eating my feelings, I take charge of my feelings. I’m eating today only when I am hungry. Do you want to take charge of your feelings and join me? Stay tuned for my next blog posting to find out more.
I had gone to bed thrilled and excited about the plans for the beginnings of FitMamas. Images of birds filled my mind and I was exhilarated with the theme emerging from deep inside my heart. I felt the bird's freedom, strength, vulnerability, and overcoming nature. It connected me to my company vision and my passion soared. The birds were inspiring idea after idea for my logo and branding as I drifted off to sleep.
I awakened the next morning to the bleak, horrific news of another mass shooting. This one in Las Vegas at an outdoor concert where families and friends gathered for an evening of fun and enjoyment. I could hardly breathe. If I laid there silent and still perhaps it would all go away. I began to pray and question God. What’s the use of making plans for the future in this crazy world.
My job on this particular morning was to teach two dance fitness classes in a row. I had to be the “life of the party”, energetic, joyful and fun. How could I do that with the news of this day looming over me and my students?
Then outside my window I heard the answer to my prayers. A bird. The bird was singing. And the thought came to me, “The birds are still singing.”
Birds sing. That’s what they do. And this morning the birds were still singing and resting on tree limbs and dancing and fluttering in bird baths and mud piles and taking flight toward heaven. “A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.” (Joan Walsh Anglund 1967)
This little business that God has given me is a good thing. At my age, it may even be my “swan song.” But no matter. I am determined to give it my best with every note lifted up to Him.
Dear reader. You too are uniquely gifted and positioned to accomplish good. You have a song to sing. Sing your song! And I’ll sing mine. The birds are still singing.
Practical Advice for Fitness Instructors, Personal Trainers and Professional Leaders
How to address the class with difficult news and then “deliver the goods” (notice the word good in “goods”)
Penny’s ACTS model, following a tragic event.
A Acknowledge: Acknowledge the painful event with straightforward honesty. For example, “This morning’s mass shooting came as quite a shock.”
C Compassion: Show sincere compassion by sharing a few words from your heart. For example, “I feel sad and heavy hearted as we begin our class today.”
T Transition: Start to move into your class format with a few short transitional sentences. For example, “I’m thankful we are together this morning. We draw on one another’s strength. We’re gonna do what we do! Let’s dance.”
S Secret Weapon: Your secret weapon is prayer. Be prayerful as you conduct this class. Draw on the love and gentle guidance you will receive from the Lord. That love and gentle guidance will sustain you and pour through you as a gift to your students.
Note: If there is a difficult announcement you need to make that the class has no prior knowledge of (death of a fellow student, resignation of a beloved instructor…). Save that announcement for the end of the class. Complete your class a few minutes early so that you are available to console and care for your students. Apply the same ACTS model in your announcement. The “transition” will be transitioning them out and into their day. Be sure to apply your Secret Weapon for them as they go.
On February 6th, 2009, two police officers and the police chaplain came to my home. "I'm sorry to tell you ma'am... Joe was 19 years old, my oldest, my baby boy. My life will never be the same without him.
Grief will have its way. Afraid to move, I confined myself to bed. It was too painful to face the world. I hid myself away, barely existing. I have three other children and a wonderful husband. Life moves along. But I just couldn't, not really. When Joe left it was as if he took my future with him. And I didn't want to live.
Knowing it was time to get up and out of the bed. I pushed myself forward and started going to Jazzercise. My head was down, shoulders slumped, I was carrying a lot of extra pounds and a mountain load of grief. I could barely do the low impact. Something about that physical release also brought about an emotional release. I would usually cry, wail, and scream out in agony, in the car, all the way home.
Over time, I was gaining strength physically and emotionally. But not without setbacks. One day In the middle of our workout, I started to shake and cry. I actually left the dance floor, slumped down in the little back room and cried uncontrollably. I didn't think I could do it anymore. I wanted to give up. I just wanted to go back to bed, to disappear, to go away.
But God had a plan for me. A plan which would breathe life back into my heart and soul. The time was right and I was ready for the next thing. It started with a prayer of desperation. "Lord give me something to do. Something just for me that will make me want to live again. Please Lord, help me."
That very day, I walked into the center looking down hoping no one would notice my tear stained face and went to my usual spot in the back of class. I was getting physically stronger by now and so I threw myself into the workout. Knowing the moves, I could tune out and not have to think. But my mind was jarred into the moment when I heard, "Penny, you're gonna be my next instructor." I thought she was joking, trying to encourage the old gal in the class. The instructor/center owner would later say she saw something in me she could build on, and that is exactly what she did. She took a little something and step by step she worked tirelessly and faithfully building and she never gave up. She believed that I could do it. Sometimes we need somebody to believe for us, don't we?!
And after months of training, lots of ups and downs, days when I really didn't think I could do it, and moments when fierce determination swept over me and I could do it, the dream of becoming a Dance Fitness Instructor became a reality.
In a few years, I went on to develop and teach my own version of Personal Touch, a Personal Training Format. This inspired me to keep moving forward. I earned my certification as a Personal Trainer through the American Counsel on Exercise. And now I have my own fitness business, FitMamas: Personal Training for the Everyday Woman.
This is my story. It's a story about life. It's about moving forward into the future and taking the love of others and the love of God with you every step of the way. This is a story of hope. Hope in a tomorrow where good waits for us. It's about dancing. You and I dancing together. Each step is a statement. It says, "I'm moving forward in life with purpose, gracefully, powerfully, joyfully and with intensity." We're doing this together. Not perfectly. Because, just like in life, the dance is not without flaws or a misstep here and there. But somehow when we do it together, with love and heart lifted high, the dance is beautiful and we are too.