June 3, 2013 at 4:54 PM ET
Dorothy Breininger helps you come to terms with getting your body and your life back in shape by losing weight and decluttering yourhome in "Stuff Your Face or Face Your Stuff." Here's an excerpt.
Stuffing It: A Recipe for Disaster
It was during my third season filming Hoarders®. I was asked to fly to a bustling Midwestern town to work with a woman who hoards toys (for kids who’ve long grown up), clothes (that no longer fit), and more than a dozen goats, several dogs, a bunch of chickens and roosters, a few cats, and a couple of birds. The woman, Maybelline, lives on a lovely manicured street and owns a large parcel of land, which, because of an old zoning law, allows for farm animals. Nearby suburban neighbors don’t approve of Maybelline’s hoard and don’t like the look of her property. They complain of a dilapidated home with holes, overgrown brush, mishmash fencing, and farm animals roaming. Neighbors grumble at being interrupted by roosters announcing the day before the manufactured alarm clocks do. The neighbors roll their eyes when they have to swerve their cars around another loud and boisterous breakaway goat, and they resent the hoard of unstartable cars, immoveable boats, campers with broken windows, and wheel-less motorcycles that cover the front and back yards. Maybelline loves her goats even though they have chewed through the exterior siding and insulation of the house, through the interior walls, and into her back bedroom.
When I arrived on location with the show’s therapist, Dr. Zasio, I met Maybelline and three of her goats in that bedroom; as I approached her, I gave Maybelline my usual hug and I could sense her warmth and willingness. I was reminded of the days when my dad, the town banker, was a guardian for some folks in my hometown of Richland Center, Wisconsin. He would take me with him on Saturday mornings and I had the chance to meet many of his clients—some of whom exhibited hoarding behavior. Holding my hand, my dad taught me as a seven-year-old to be very polite, keep any hurtful remarks to myself, and be interested in what they were saying. Today, every time I visit a client with hoarding problems, I feel my dad is with me. I asked Maybelline about her hoarding, focusing on some important questions: Are you a perfectionist? Does the “stuff” remind you of happier times? Have you experienced anxiety or depression in your lifetime?
This time, although I was talking with Maybelline, I began having an internal dialogue with my 200-pound self: “Dorothy, are you a perfectionist?” “Heck, yeah! I was a gymnast for years, striving for a perfect 10—no mistakes!” “Dorothy, is there any anxiety or depression you don’t want to talk about?” “I don’t want to admit it, but yes. My sister was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and I need to help her with her mortgage. My mentally challenged cousin has just come to live with us; I’ve moved in with my mom, sister, and cousin to help with the bills and the caregiving. I am working around the clock. I am depressed and anxious, and I am eating nonstop to cope.”
While my exterior self remained kind, loving, and professional, for the first time in my life, I was experiencing a shift in my own authentic, true self. As I was asking questions of Maybelline, I found myself answering them right along with her. In the midst of my internal verbal volley, I heard Maybelline again, talking about her need to cope—how she hoarded things because it brought her comfort. Was I hearing her story about hoarding or my story about overeating? As she explained that the toys and the clothes reminded her of happier times, I floated back to my own thoughts: Yes, I’m attached to ice cream because it reminds me of my father. When he was alive we would go for ice cream in the evenings, and it was such a happy time for me. My cousin and I used to buy penny candy and play for hours at a time. I yearned for those carefree days.
Stop! I don’t believe this! I thought. I excused myself from Maybelline’s presence and ran out in tears to the television production tent out front. I rarely cry on the set, but during my conversation with Maybelline, I realized that I was a hoarder, too. While I wasn’t hoarding things, I was hoarding food—sugar, flour, and excess quantities of junk food on my body! In that moment, I saw that I was no different from Maybelline. She was buying, collecting, and hoarding stuff to fill a void, lessen anxiety, and reconnect with happier times in life—and so was I. I had developed this habit over the years to soothe myself, and it was identical to the behavior of my hoarding clients.
Maybelline and I sat down and designed new goals and dreams for her. She agreed to fix her camper and replace hoarding with traveling and adventure. We mended the goat-chewed holes in her house, and we substituted trash, soiled clothes, and old food and electronics lying about the house with artwork depicting mountains and eagles. We brought in soft blankets and rugs in outdoorsy colors and placed pine-scented candles throughout her home, reinforcing her dream of camping in the remote forests of North America. We also encouraged Maybelline to apologize to her neighbors, show them how we were dismantling the auto-parts division in her front yard, and let them know she intended to build proper fencing for the animals.
As I found with Maybelline and my own transformation, letting go of our “stuff” is often an emotional task as well as a physical one. But we can get there if we face it head-on.
Just as I excavate people from their homes and help them learn new habits, you can excavate the clutter around you and within you and learn new, healthier habits, too. But first you need to understand that some of your issues about food may be more about emotional cravings than physical ones.
StuffYour Face or Face Your Stuff: The Organized Approach to Lose Weight by Decluttering Your Life By DorothyBreininger © 2013 Dorothy Breininger. All rights reserved. Published by HealthCommunications, Inc.