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On being 83... and 48

Yesterday my dad turned 83 years old.

He has outlived his parents, siblings and many of his friends. He is a man who is still full of enthusiasm, vitality, plans, and dreams. But he's never seen the link between health and food beyond its connection to obesity. And since neither of my parents are big (though both are quite ill in their own way), and because they're older, he doesn't see the point of modifying the way he eats in the hope of achieving greater health. If he's slim, where's the connection? And if he's 83, why bother? This is my dad's thinking.

My mom is 80 years old and has advanced Alzheimer's. She's had type 2 diabetes for many years and this disease has taken down many members of my family including my mom's mom in her fifties. At 35 I was diabetic myself and it's a theme that I'll return to often because being so sick so young based on lifestyle choices was just, frankly, the most ridiculous, fucked-up thing ever. HOW does that happen?! How do we let it?

My parents are from a time when the connection between processed foods and bad health was not as clear as it is today. I'll be 48 on Friday so I did most of my growing up in the 1970s. For breakfast then it wasn't unusual for me to have Cocoa Puffs, Pop Tarts or Count Chocula and to this day I dream of a parallel universe in which I could have a cupboard filled with boxes of cereal that I could consume with no ill effects. Fruit Loops? Reese's Peanut Butter Puffs? I'm so there! Not a Weetabix in sight. Not surprisingly, my whole family developed a brutal sweet tooth and to some degree my brother, sister and I each have a troubled relationship with food.

So at my dad's yesterday, when my mom's caregiver asked me about my trip to Austin for PaleoFX, I found myself inevitably talking to her excitedly about health and in doing so reconnecting - as I do many times a day - with the values that give my life purpose and direction. Principles like deciding what "health" means to me. Or the importance of making the right choices consistently in order to live a life that's not simply long and sustained by drugs but where I will grow old being energetic, strong, and able-bodied. It's possible and it starts now. At 20, 30, 40. 48. Even at 80 and 83. To quote Melissa and Dallas Hartwig, it starts with food.

But as I was talking to this lady I realized that, as much as I can write her a list of what to eat and avoid (and did), ultimately our success boils down to our ability to conquer the massive emotional piece behind eating right and becoming well. If we imagine our body as a car and food as the fuel, then our thoughts, emotions and motivations are the engine. They're really that important!

This week on YouTube, Sean Croxton of Underground Wellness posted an interview with Jason Seib, author of The Paleo Coach, and I noticed that one commenter quipped "I didn't know eating required a coach." Logically, his remark does make sense - really, a coach? But surely anybody with any attachment to food will understand how the list of what to eat and what not to eat is not enough. CLEARLY it's not enough. So the problem really isn't not knowing what to eat. It's that ultimately we want to eat things that are yummy, that make us feel good in our hearts, that may even soothe us, and for the most part many people would sooner take a drug or supplement than eliminate that food. I get it; I have days like that too.

The bottom line is that no matter how passionately we might feel about eating properly and living with purpose, if we have an emotional attachment to food as so many of us do it will be a daily challenge and at times a struggle to make the choices we know are right. The truth is that, despite our best intentions, sometimes it can be really hard.

Let's remember that what we're doing here goes beyond getting our body healthy and attractive, avoiding or reversing disease, or even aging well; these are outcomes. But it is in the process that we must learn to not medicate our painful feelings, insecurities, sadness and fear with foods that hurt us and will shorten or ruin our lives. I love my parents so much but their health and nutrition provide a valuable reminder that I can and must make better choices every day to create the present and future I deserve.

Do you struggle with emotional eating too? How does your family help or hinder you?

xo Danielle

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4 Responses to On being 83... and 48

  1. Oh damn I relate to this SO MUCH. Both of my parents died young, years ago. I'm 43 now and overweight, although almost all my other health markers are fairly good -- not great, but I'm not ill.

    Not yet.

    I know the price of poor eating choices, both (retrospectively) from my parents' stories and my own bouts with veganism, vegetarianism, low-fat diets, over-exercising, etc. Going strict paleo right after my divorce three years ago changed my life, my health, my outlook.

    Then...the comfort eating crept back in. It's about sugar for me: SUGAR. The end. I was in grad school, going broke, feeling lonely, over-stressed, you name it. My soporific of choice is sugar, and I indulged.

    Now I'm trying to cut it out again and FFS it's like fighting a full-blown addition. Every day "clean" is is WIN. I crave the sugary foods at night when I'm most fragile, not because I'm hungry or lazy or stupid but because I'm lonely and afraid and disappointed in myself. Yeah, it's all about the emotions, at that point in time. :(

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    1. Hi KBS! Thanks so much for your comment! I really relate to what you're saying. I'm so sorry about your parents. It's hard - the universe sends us signs but sometimes they're so massively painful that we want to turn for comfort towards the very things that would hurt us. It really is a daily struggle, at least to some degree.

      Not long ago I made a note in my phone for when I want to indulge in something clearly not good for me. Because it's never because I'm hungry or for a lack of better choices. Mostly it's out of fear or insecurity, sadness or anger. Sometimes it's out of a desire to comfort or even punish myself with a food I crave (something chocolatey and sugary - a gooey brownie or creamy dark chocolate ice cream always hit the spot) but always it's because I'm looking for something to come from that food that goes beyond anything it could ever give me. Therefore eating that harmful food doesn't make much sense when I love myself and deserve so much better. I need to heal the part inside me that's hurting. And I can only heal it by listening to it, trying to understand it, then applying love, compassion and understanding to my hurt. Have you read or listened to anything by Karly Randolph Pitman? She's got some powerful stuff to say. Try to find some of her podcast interviews, like Stefani Ruper's (Live. Love. Eat,, episode 10).

      So my note says:

      ---------------------

      STOP! What do I need? What am I really feeling?

      Comfort
      Reassurance
      Hope
      Self-love

      It's OK, you can get through this. This feeling is understandable but if you pacify it with food you're not healing anything, only covering your pain. You're going to be OK because you're strong, worthy, special, and loved. Great things are ahead of you and all around you.

      ---------------------

      I can't claim it always works. I'd have to WANT to stop myself and read that. But this week I made up my mind to stop using the havoc in my personal life to take myself for granted and essentially mistreat myself. So I think my advice to you (as if you need any!) is to try to be your own best friend. Try to make choices guided by self-love. So not what you SHOULD do because of whatever, but frankly because it's what you DESERVE! There are so many things we cannot control but holy crap, let's try to take care of ourselves because we deserve it! If we love and believe in ourselves, we will get through anything and thrive.

      You got this! Good luck that you don't need! :-)

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  2. I found your blog through a friend. 48, Type II diabetic, obese. Sad. 83 year old father (mother died extremely impaired at 76 after suffering the ill effects of Type II for 30 years and her father died in his early 50's - non diagnosed but one can guess . . .) who's a Diet Coke and sandwich eater! Healthy for all intents and purposes and as you mention, doesn't see the connection. Your blog and you are inspirational to me. I'll continue to follow. Thanks! Eileen in Atlanta

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    1. Thank you! I feel SO STRONGLY that life is a gift and to make choices that hurt us is CRAZY!! If we're taking a bunch of pills (like my dad) shouldn't we see what we might be doing wrong or could do differently? It's so frustrating. All we can do is see these people as a reminder to ourselves and hope that our own example, while making our lives better, touches other people too. I really do think that when we search for meaning in life and what we can do to make the world better, it's often as simple as being the best "us" we can be. Thanks Eileen, good luck!

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Hi! I'm Danielle

I'm Danielle Bartholomew and this is my blog!

Join me on this adventure as I muse about life, love, food, training, and travel, and question notions about age, gender, strength, and more. Welcome!

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