It was the summer of 88 and I, along with another 50 recruits, was heading for Canadian Forces Base Chilliwack in beautiful British Columbia. Although some of my peers were visibly stressed at the thought of exchanging their comfy civilian lives for eight weeks of boot camp, I was too oblivious to be part of that bunch.
The first morning, the admin routine began shortly after breakfast. Off we went, in platoons, from Section to Section to receive our supplies and fill out forms. At the Medical Inspection Room (MIR), I had to confirm my height and weight – 164 cm (5’4”) and 48 kg (105 lbs) – and have my vaccination booklet stamped.
If you’ve read Thanks Mom for the Best Gift a Daughter Could Ask For, then you know I was a light weight not because of a favourable genetic makeup or intense exercise routine but, rather, because of the good eating habits I inherited from my mother and stuck to…most of the time.
Well, that would soon change.
Boot Camp Binge
You see, during boot camp, we had tasty cafeteria style meals prepared by the military cooks in the Mess Hall, three times a day. Many things, like sleep, leisure time, and hair length, were limited or controlled during Basic Training but food was not on that list.
So, for the better part of those eight weeks, I conveniently forgot everything I knew about nutrition – a tad more shameful due to the fact I was studying Dietetics at McGill… – and ate and ate some more. It was just not quantity either; I poured chocolate milk onto my breakfast cereal, stuffed down two desserts after lunch AND dinner, and binged on chips in the evening while polishing my new drill boots and studied Military Law.
Long story short, I gained just under 8 kg in 8 weeks!
Food For Fears
How did that happen?
Back then, I thought the herd effect was the reason I had strayed from my healthy habits. Being in the company of dozens of blooming boys and girls, most of them falling for the Black Forest chocolate cake, definitely made reaching for the fruit salad a true test of will. Today, I clearly recognize I had used food to appease stress.
Firstly, I was in an unfamiliar and wholly uncomfortable environment and, secondly, I was afraid of not making the cut. Every week, I saw a handful of sullen-faced recruits boarding a bus en route to the airport. They had been released from training. I could not be on the next bus. My student debt had piled too high and post-graduation employment opportunities looked less than stimulating. Surviving boot camp meant my studies would be sponsored and that a guaranteed job awaited right after graduation with the added bonus of the, much publicized, “no life like it.”
Indeed, the stakes had been high and, consequently, my cortisol level too. Biologically, I was totally justified in responding to the chemistry signals my body was sending out. Only thing was, calming my hypothalamus by overeating and eating junk did nothing to address the underlying issue: my financial insecurity.
Feeling Fab, Not Flab!
By graduation day, the stress had completely evaporated and when I returned home, I crashed and snoozed for 16 consecutive hours. I had forgotten how delicious it was to sleep for more than four hours straight. My cortisol production eventually scaled back to its natural circadian rhythmic level and, without giving an ounce of attention to my extra weight, I resumed my good eating habits and simple student lifestyle. By Christmas, there was no trace of the boot camp sugar load on my body.
Fast forward 27 years and here I am, again, in an unfamiliar environment. The context is totally different though. I am thrilled to be in Abu Dhabi with my sweetie and am deeply grateful I can continue to work with clients from Canada and the US as well as on exciting projects. Most days, I feel calm, curious, or enthusiastic. Other days, I’m totally ecstatic! I obviously still have fears – which cause stress – but the urge to snack them away has not overtaken me. Why would I? Most of these fears are illusive threats anyway!
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when, last week, I stepped onto the bathroom scale and realized that the couple of pre-menopausal kilos I had given up on had melted away in my first month here without any conscious intention whatsoever. Honestly.
Talk about an interesting hypothesis to test: “Feeling good favours effortless weight release.”
I’m on it!