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August 13, 2022

The one that we want

9:06 am - Posted by Gregg

I was working to meet a writing deadline when my phone started blowing up with news alerts on the afternoon of Monday, August 8th. While I have learned to temper my reaction when looking at what are usually politics-related headlines, I verbally exclaimed, “No!” when I read that singer, actor, and philanthropist Olivia Newton-John had passed away.

It was about this moment that I began receiving what ended up being dozens of texts and emails from friends checking on me—all of whom were aware of the special place in my heart Ms. Newton-John occupied. While I was never close with her, I did have the good fortune of meeting her on multiple occasions and one time even got to buy her a drink at an Australia celebration event. Yet I know being a self-professed superfan is a moniker I share with millions.

When people think of timeless films from the last century, they don’t immediately mention Grease as one of them. And yet it’s a movie that so many of us have in common—a collective cinematic experience that has now spanned decades and touched countless lives (many of whom, like me, wished life was more like a musical). While the soundtrack and irresistible charm of the film speak for themselves, Ms. Newton-John’s portrayal of an outsider who’s finding her way through the halls of Rydell High was something many of us could relate to. At some point, we all were or are trying to find our way in life. And if we could put a fun transformation and a catchy song on the face of that angst, why not?

For me, Ms. Newton-John represented more than an icon that lay the audio-meets-visual foreground for artists like Madonna and even Beyoncé. As an extremely overweight, closeted child growing up on military bases overseas, her image and music proved to be somewhat of a touchstone—something to look to that I could both idolize and aspire to. Oh, how I longed to fit in. And Ms. Newton-John’s lust for life (and even actual lust in her hit song and video Physical) proved to be inspirational to me.

More than that, I was also a child of extreme parental abuse from both my mother and father. I look back on that time in my life and wonder how my sister and I survived those years of acute neglect and horrific mistreatment. Somehow, our nearly worn-out videocassette copies of Grease and Xanadu proved to be respites during many storms.

There were countless times my sister and I weren’t sure how we were going to process or even survive the parent-induced torture we were experiencing. But we would often find some calm by immersing ourselves in the neon-infused fortress of Xanadu. During that movie’s running time, we were safe. We were at peace. We were free to be children.

I wonder if these memories are why I was hit so hard by Ms. Newton-John’s passing. Or perhaps it was because she was a well-known philanthropist who was singing about environmental causes as far back as the 1980s, a tireless advocate for animals, and during her 30-year bout with cancer, became a beacon of light for others dealing with the disease (including my own mother-in-law, who passed as a result of her own cancer journey several years ago).

I admit I initially questioned my being in a state of mourning this past week. After all, despite a lifetime of fandom and having curated many playlists that Ms. Newton-John’s music is still a part of, I wasn’t close with her. My thoughts turn to her husband and daughter, both of whom I’ve also met and been able to spend time with. While I can’t imagine the level of grief they’re feeling, I suppose it’s fair to partake in their emotions in a reverent way. After all, they were generous enough to share their wife and mother with the rest of us—even during her final months.

As I mourned, I made it my mission to find something positive to take from it all. Seeing actor Jane Seymour talk about her friendship with Ms. Newton-John on the Today show helped with that. Ms. Seymour spoke of Ms. Newton-John’s capacity to step outside herself, never complain, and always inquire about others—no matter what she happened to be going through. So even after she’s left this world, there’s great inspiration waiting to be found in the celebrity who, in many ways, helped me survive my youth. A clear reason why, along with everyone else’s reasons for being hopelessly devoted to her, Ms. Newton-John, although gone, will never be forgotten.

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2:44 pm - Posted by Gregg

Does eating a healthier food choice like green beans to excess still equate to overeating? Short answer? Yes. And trust me—as someone who once weighed over 450 pounds (and who took off over 250 pounds of excess weight and has kept it off for almost two decades), I should know.

This might seem like a question that didn’t need to be asked in the first place. But I recently saw a segment on a national morning show, during which they spoke to a celebrity who had just “joined” a national weight loss company. No need to mention any names. But said celebrity (AKA endorser) was going on and on about how edamame was a “free food” on the program and thus she could eat as much edamame as she wanted while still on the diet.

In my opinion, this is a potentially harmful theory when it comes to making healthier eating and lifestyle choices—and one of the reasons that so-called “diets” sometimes do not serve us as well as some of these for-profit weight loss companies would lead us to believe they do.

I know what it’s like to binge eat. I used to do it because I was depressed. I used to do it because I was happy. I used to do it simply because I liked a certain food and hadn’t yet comprehended the concept that I could have the food in a healthy portion and then have it again sometime in the future. This was mainly because I’d been taught the “on/off” diet mentality from a very early age. Favorite foods became forbidden fruit (so to speak) and I would eat them in huge amounts, thinking I would/could never have them again when on a healthier eating program.

After years of starting and then cheating on diets, I eventually realized that the issue of my constantly gaining more and more weight had nothing to do with my stomach (a place so many focus on when fighting the battle of the bulge) but, instead, had everything to do with my head (meaning my thinking). After coming to this conclusion, I set out to learn about why I was using food as an emotional crutch. At the same time, I was becoming aware that whenever I started a diet, I would focus on what I was giving up, instead of focusing on what I was gaining (no pun intended).

But even after successfully taking off the excess weight (without giving up certain food groups, without fad dieting, without pills and without surgery), I realized I was still bingeing at times. Sure, I was eating steamed green beans to excess rather than cartons (yes, plural) of ice cream. But I was still binge eating to the point of discomfort.

I soon realized that although the foods had changed, the behavior had not. There is a healthy portion of green beans to eat just as there is a healthy portion of ice cream to eat. And exceeding these portions only works to reinforce old habits that don’t necessarily serve us.

Eating to excess, no matter what the food choices, is still eating to excess. We’re left feeling uncomfortable, bloated and perhaps even feeling some shame about actions.

I have not kept the 250 pounds of excess weight off by eating unconsciously. I think about what I’m eating daily. I still use measuring cups and measuring spoons. Why? Because feeling good is worth any “hassle” that meal prep (and proper portion control) requires. Does this mean I never overeat? Of course, not. I’m human. I still enjoy dining out and will sometimes clear my plate in a restaurant (although sometimes I choose not to).

No matter if it’s food prepared at a restaurant or in a private kitchen, there is no such thing as a “free food.” Overeating is overeating. And binge behavior is still binge behavior. And these are actions that anyone wanting to lose excess weight and/or make healthier eating choices might want to examine. (And for the record, edamame can often be salty, which brings up an entirely different reason as to why it—or anything else—is not a “free food.”)

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