Dear Emuna,

I've recently had my third child and while I feel very blessed to have three beautiful healthy children and a wonderful husband who loves and supports me, I often feel very despondent about the weight that I've gained – especially during my last two pregnancies. My husband often tells me that he loves me and doesn't care about the weight (which most of the time I find hard to believe) – he just wants me to be confident and happy, but how can I when we live in a society that celebrates being thin?

It's not only about chasing a goal of being thin – I have more energy when I'm slimmer, my clothes fit better and in general I feel more confident. The problem is the harder I try the more elusive losing weight seems. The lack of sleep, the hecticness of raising three children with no outside help and the uncertainty of the times we are living in eventually leads me to throw in the towel and eat that chocolate I've so desperately avoided for those few weeks (or hours).Your advice would be greatly appreciated! Thanks.

Overweight

Dear Overweight,

I don’t really like calling you that; what I would prefer to call you is normal! You raise concerns that every single woman I know (except for the very few who are blessed with a quick metabolism!) faces. At this point, it’s even difficult to tease out what comes from society and what comes from within, what is about vanity and societal pressure and what is about health and energy. But, in some way, it doesn’t matter because we all experience the pressure to be thin – or at least, thinner than we are – wherever we are!

Understanding the complicated motivations that lead us to eat what isn’t healthy is the topic of many books. We are just going to skim the surface here. But, for you, let’s begin with counting your blessings. Even though you say “while I feel blessed”, the way you say it – as almost an aside – suggests that your dominant feeling is one of dissatisfaction – or even, as you suggest, despondence.

This calls for a shift in focus. The blessings in your life and the gifts you have so far outweigh the presenting issue. You have three beautiful healthy children. There are many couples that would sacrifice almost anything (and frequently do) for that gift.

You have a wonderful husband, a husband who loves and supports you. That’s three gifts – make sure you count each one separately.

When he tells you he doesn’t care about the weight, I think you should believe him. In my experience, when men say that, they mean it. He loves you – with all your “perfect imperfections” as the song says. And no doubt you feel the same towards him. That he doesn’t care and that he is able to verbalize that are two more gifts to add to your growing list. It’s not fair to him to say you don’t believe him; give him a little more credit. He’s not as superficial as you are judging him to be.

While I certainly sympathize with the pressures to be thin – and definitely have my own struggles – I find your inability to imagine feeling confident and happy in a society that celebrates being thin troubling. Is your sense of self so dependent on your weight? If your letter reflects your true feelings, then I highly recommend a therapist who specializes in eating disorders or an OA-type program to help you understand your relationship with food and your weight so that you can find your way to a healthier perspective.

Whether it leads to weight loss or not, exercise clears the mind, it eliminates stress and it makes you feel better.

If it doesn’t and is only reflecting some momentary discouragement, then I have two practical tools. I understand all the areas of stress and the desire for comfort (i.e. chocolate!) at the end of the day – but I have some recommendations to help steer you in another direction, one physical and one spiritual.

On the physical side, I suggest exercise. Whether it leads to weight loss or not, it clears the mind, it eliminates stress and it makes you feel better. And it can go a long way towards solving your emotional issues. Even without access to gyms (depending on the Covid situation where you live), there are walks, runs, biking, indoor exercise equipment to be purchased; there are options. And believe me, it’s worth it. I totally credit exercise with being the physical tool that has saved my sanity during this crazy time.

The other thing that has kept me (relatively) buoyant is learning and teaching. This is both an immersion in Torah and a giving to others. Any way that you can accomplish both of those – learning and giving – will lift your confidence and sense of well-being.

I know you’re exhausted. I know you’re stressed. I know you’re overwhelmed. I know that the last thing you want to do is add exercise and learning and some acts of kindness outside of what you’re already doing for your family to the list. Maybe you can only do two out of three. But I promise you that rather than depleting you, it will energize you and give you confidence and optimism.

Ask your lovely supportive husband to help you achieve your goals; it sounds like he will gladly assist you. But first and foremost, before adding any of these other goals to your life, step back, sit down and slowly count your blessings.