Like most Americans, there is no "easy answer" for why I am overweight and in debt. But here's what I think I know:
I'm a very impulsive person. I'm also a very industrious person, and I try, most of the time, to be a generous person. As such, I learned that I found great pleasure early on in buying something for myself or, even better, for someone else, RIGHT NOW. I loved that credit cards made it possible to do everything I wanted to right away, no delay of gratification necessary! I also found that I felt better somehow, more powerful, more real, more alive, and, perhaps, more valuable, when I bought something. Looking back, I think the early years were their own form of self discovery. I remember buying a lot of different things, studying how they worked together in my room or in my wardrobe; it was kind of like exploring who I thought I'd become. It never occurred to me that I was already in possession of everything I needed to be the person I wanted to be.
I also found tremendous pleasure in buying things for people. I loved watching their faces light up, and somehow it made me feel more secure in the relationship. I realize now, of course, that this was unnecessary and a complete fallacy. After all, a number of those friendships later fell apart, and the ones that didn't weren't there because they were looking for presents--at least not the tangible kind.
As for my weight, that's a different story. I was never a pixie, never one of those girls who could wear the trendy clothes and make them look good. I was always, always sturdy, big boned, and for many years, a poodle head (I have the permed-hair pics to prove it). I have very early memories of comparing myself to others, wishing I looked more like some of my friends, wishing my legs didn't jiggle. I still remember, to this day, boys in middle school calling me "Twinkie." Some of that had to do with a certain outfit I wore (hey, it was one of the few trendy items I had), but I was also pale and puffy, and often made the connection (rational or not) that Twinkies make people fat, hence the name.
I never, ever liked physical activity, and I never found myself exceling at anything physical. My accomplishments were largely linguistic and artistic, a fact that continues today. So, I never believed that I had any real capability to be truly physically skilled or fit. There were, as I recall, only two girls in our class who could hang on for minutes on end, their arms shaking, for the chin up/pull up test on physical fitness testing. I was never that girl. And I never did well on the testing. I did play volleyball and basketball, I was a cheerleader for four years (including middle school), but I resisted the physical fitness training. Somehow, my readiness to invest in hard work did not translate to physical fitness in athletics.
Ultimately, both issues, in my mind, point to the fact that I wasn't ready, I didn't understand the impact or value these things would have on my life over time, and I didn't truly believe I was capable of those achievements.
So, what changed? Well, I'm 36. I'm a wife, a mother, and a professional. It is a source of serious shame to me that I'm more than halfway through my 30's, and I still haven't grasped any sort of control over my own antagonists. (Wait--I can earn a Masters Degree but I have no control around cheesecakes? What the heck?!) I am very aware that everything we do is a choice (thank you, William Glasser), but forcing yourself to make the right choice every time is damned hard.
Shame alone is never a motivator, though, and I'm now motivated primarily by my children, as well as my own need to prove to myself that I am in control of my own life. As for the children, I'm particularly aware of how my choices now impact my children. There's nothing wrong with the word "no", and I believe it's healthy for children to learn it. But I don't like that, because of our debt, I have no choices about money. And I don't like that our children are a bit overweight largely because they are following my example. I keep wondering what's going to happen if I let this continue, and I'm terrified to think of what I've led my children to, a future that is less than bright.
When two of our children were diagnosed with autism (another reason my husband and I often felt we should spend money because we "deserve it"), it changed everything. We're blessed that our marriage is happy and in tact, and that we've had the resources needed to support the children as their diagnoses require. But lacking financial freedom means that we're completely unprepared for their futures beyond school, and worse yet, if we're not in shape, will we be alive to see their futures and be there to continue to support them as long as they need us (and we're here)?
In short, continuing to make the wrong choices means that we choose to sentence our children to a lifetime of no choices and, perhaps, a lot less time having us around. How is that remotely acceptable?
It isn't. It just isn't.
So. Here I am...the starting point. And it only gets better from here--it has to, for everyone.