I hung my head over the garbage can situated below my desk, then threw up whatever was stuck in my pouch. Inside my body, I wore a lap band. It was like a belt placed directly on the top part of my stomach. Every couple of months since undergoing surgery, I visited my doctor who injected saline into a port near my belly button to tighten the device’s grip. The opening for food to pass from the cinched portion into the bottom portion of my stomach was very small—sometimes, too small.
During pre-op appointments, the doctor and health educator told me I would be able to eat most things but I’d need to chew everything really well. However, I wouldn’t be hungry, they said. The solution sounded so simple.
Instead, I had mornings when a latte was too thick. On days when I couldn’t eat, I panicked. While worrying about how I would fuel my day, I scanned more than a hundred new emails looking for the next urgent situation demanding my attention. On January 1, 2008 as the economy was tanking, I had become president of a promotions agency, one of the operating companies in North America’s largest sales and marketing conglomerate.
For most of my life, my body served as battleground between two opposing forces. One side was insatiable and always wanted food. “More! Now!” was its battle cry. The other side believed it could conquer my impulses. I gained weight. I lost it. Then, I gained again. Whether I was eating a mound of nachos or following a difficult plan to consume under six hundred calories and exercise two hours a day, the obsession provided escape from fear, anxiety, or loneliness. When I broke off a romantic relationship in June 2007, I spent summer evenings spooning self-pity in the form of cool, sweet ice cream into my mouth until intoxicated with sugar and fat.
“My sister just got a lap band,” my boss told me one day in September while we ate lunch in Newport Beach. Pretty, petite, and blonde, she fit the image of Orange County success. Her calculated moves and toughness were often obscured by her smiling exterior. “It’s so easy,” she said with a lilt in her voice as she discussed surgery to limit intake. “My sister just eats little bits of food now. You should look into it.”
My boss crunched into her salad of lettuce, grilled chicken, and hot sauce while I shoved a forkful of Cobb salad made with blue cheese, bacon, and creamy dressing into my mouth. I was mortified. I knew my boss spoke with intention. Each time we met to discuss my upcoming job transition, I was bigger than the last time she had seen me. Though I had a long list of accomplishments in my career, I was motivated from a place of low self-esteem. I believed that if I worked harder, put in more hours, and hit revenue goals, then, I might be worthy of appreciation. I couldn’t let my body ruin my career. Two months later, the doctor banded me.
In October of 2008 I woke up coughing blood into a hotel room sink while on a business trip. Complications from surgery. My surgeon loosened the device so I could swallow large antibiotic pills. I settled back into a pattern of losing and gaining for almost nine years. I hoped to eventually claim victory by achieving some preconceived idea of a perfect body. Instead, I was demoralized. Even after altering my stomach, I had failed.
Then, last year, on July 24, 2017, I ended the war. I surrendered to the fact that my instincts—whether eating too much or too little—were wrong. I sought help through a recovery program. I don’t know how to summarize all the changes in my behavior and thinking that have taken place in order to practice food sobriety but it boils down to this—I don’t fight my body anymore. Instead, every morning when I wake, I make a conscious decision to give peace a chance.
Sheree Winslow received the name Many Trails Many Roads Woman from the medicine man of her Northern Cheyenne tribe. She’s moved more times than she cares to admit and wandered through forty-nine states and many countries. A native of Montana, she now resides in Southern California where she is finishing a memoir about her struggle with food addiction. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and has written for Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies, the Orange County Register, and Savvy Auntie, among others.
Sheree invites you to donate to Working Wardrobes, an organization which helps men and women overcoming challenges – alcohol and substance abuse, domestic violence, incarceration, homelessness, catastrophic illness, and traumatic financial loss— with professional wardrobing, employment, career, financial education and life skills, training, and image workshops. Visit workingwardrobes.org