Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Still Waters, Turbulent Sea Floor

Sometimes I think I don't talk enough about my struggles and give the false impression that every day is smooth sailing and that all problems are being neatly vanquished at a pace. The truth is that things are getting easier for me, and I'm definitely getting my issues dealt with steadily and effectively, but there are still battles that I fight and I don't talk about them either to my husband or on this blog because they seem of less consequence by comparison to my earlier difficulties. When you've started out feeling like you're fighting through thick mud and moved to progressively thinner mud that gets easier to move through, having to wade through what feels like deep water doesn't seem like it is worthy of discussion. That being said, it still takes a toll.

One case in point is that I still struggle with the need for oral gratification. Even though my ability to withstand hunger and to resist eating has firmed up greatly, the need to have something in my mouth which tastes good lingers. There are days when I will chew an entire pack of sugar-free gum, one piece after another, replacing each as the flavor is chewed out, to satisfy this need. Since the gum is made with artificial sweeteners, I sometimes suffer gastrointestinal distress from these bouts. Though this does not happen everyday, it still happens two or three times a week.

This need for oral gratification is something I'm eventually going to have to work on eliminating, and chewing gum or sometimes sucking on sugar-free hard candies are interim measures. I can't fight every battle at once, and right now the focus is on not putting food into my stomach when I'm not hungry. First, I deal with the hunger and calories. Later, when these aspects are so firmly in hand that I no longer have to expend significant mental energy on them, I'll start dealing with the oral gratification issue, particularly since all of those sugar-free pieces of gum and candy are not good for me.

The other thing that I don't talk about is that occasionally I still have the sense that the changes in my life are sweeping me along too quickly. I feel like a piece of flotsam carried forward in the ocean toward a destination I'm uncertain of. This sense that the changes are moving too quickly sometimes overwhelms me and I feel very unsettled and afraid. It isn't as much about the bodily changes as the behavioral and mental ones.

Among those changes are the fact that people are being a little nicer to me and smiling more often which catches me off-guard. I walk around with my hackles up ready to deal with abuse that occurs with less frequency (but still occurs). A lot of people who have lost weight attribute the behavioral changes of others around them to their own attitude and confidence changes, but trust me when I say that I have not changed one iota in my approach to people. My posture is just as defensive and guarded as ever, but people simply treat me better because I'm less fat.

I also often feel as if there is a person who I was and a person who I am becoming who is similar to the woman who lost weight in college. I have a sense that I should be that woman again, but I can't be her because she was lonelier, less wise, more driven, and unaware of herself on many levels, yet she successfully lost weight and looked like what I'll look like in another year or so. I feel like I'm adrift grappling for an identity between the 380 lb. me of a year ago and the about 180 lb. me of about 26 years ago. Ironically, that is rather literal as well as figurative since I now weight 255 lbs. and am rather between those high and low weights.

I talk a lot about how I am trying to build my identity, but it is not a simple thing. I define myself creatively and by my relationships with others, but those things are heavily influenced by circumstances that will change in a few years when I will leave my current circumstances and will be in an entirely new situation. Building an identity on a foundation which will be radically altered in less than two years isn't a good idea, so I'm not only left struggling to build my understanding of who I am, but building it in a manner which will stand after a dramatic change in life circumstances. I cannot look to my current environment or lifestyle to in any way, shape or form define me. This greatly narrows my options in some ways.

Often I feel like success causes me to present a false front. I've got my eating under good control. I'm getting fitter. My infirmities are disappearing. I'm losing weight, but under all of that superficial success is a lot of psychological difficulty and turbulence. I have to tell my husband on occasion that, despite the fact that all seems to be going well and getting better, some part of me is struggling and suffering, and I think it's easy for people who see me from the outside to think it's all coming together. Deep inside, sometimes I feel like it's all coming apart.

It's a constant battle to stop that unraveling from undoing all that I have accomplished, and it requires vigilance, psychological hyper awareness, and most of all, energy and support. I've found that, as I lose weight, I have to keep asking my husband (who is my only support) to remember that I'm still damaged. I'm still not functioning well, and I'm still fighting tough battles even if they can't be witnessed by my actions or weight. I think that many people who lose weight regain or stop losing because of this sort of difficulty. Support starts to fall away before one is strong enough to deal with issues alone.

It probably is all the harder because it's hard to keep asking people around you for extra support when everything they see makes it seem that you are ready for less, and they may indeed be tired of propping you up emotionally. However, I think it's imperative to ask for what you need, and not be afraid to be as dependent on the support of others as you need to be no matter what your external appearance seems to tell you or anyone else about your success.


Sarah said...

Thank you for posting this right now.

phelpsvj said...

those last 2 paragraphs really hit me and all the emotional struggles i've been trying to deal with right now.

thank you for the insight.

Sarah@LowStressWeightLoss said...

Very interesting post - I didn't know our weight loss paths were so similar.

I too had a big oral gratification thing that I satisfied exactly like you - sugarfree gum & sugarfree hard candies for year (well, i also ate sunflower seeds, a vice I don't think you share). Just to let you know - I did stop. I now just deal with hunger. One pack of gum lasts me like 2 months or even more. I havent bought those candies in years.

The other thing you wrote that really struck a nerve is how in prior weight loss attempts you were successful via a certain approach but now that doesnt work. That's exactly my story - I've lost weight many times being extremely focused on my weight & making it a top priority in my life, but today my life is not set up that way (luckily) which is why I'm on this path searching for "low stress" weight loss.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I thought I had this thing in the bag. Sort of. Losing weight is kind of unpredictable. I did great until I got down to about 250LBS. Then, as I've mentioned (again and again!), my weight loss stalled. I tried 1400 calories for a few weeks (my doc advised not to go lower) but weight still didn't budge. :::SIGH:::

Now I'm eating 1200 calories a day, and I must admit I have been tempted to buy some SF gum! I don't know if I'm losing anything on 1,200 because I'm choosing not to weigh for a few weeks.

My husband was badly injured in a car collision a week ago and we haven't been able to hug each other. I did not realize how dependent I am on his hugs until I became deprived of them. He will recover in time, but this is a very stressful period for both of us. I find myself being his main emotional supporter now, as well as his cook and nurse, and I'm glad to be in better physical shape than I was a year ago. There is so much more to do now in terms of house chores and yard work.

Sorry for the ramble! I guess the main idea I got from your post is that sometimes the psychological aspects of dieting catch one by surprise. Life is very challenging. Right now it is a struggle.

Thanks for another great post! I sure enjoy your blog.


screaming fatgirl said...

Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting. It really means a lot to me to hear from others both in terms of sharing their experiences and knowing my writing matters.

Sarah: You're welcome. :-)

phelpsvj: Sometimes I think we have an image of people who are in control of their weight and that image includes this very "together" person, so we imagine that's what we will be. I actually didn't think of that image until I realized that I was still in a certain sort of pain, which had nothing to do with how much food I was eating.

Sarah: I'm not terribly concerned about the oral gratification issue. It comes and goes based on emotional or physiological issues. I think that I will be able to manage it when I'm in a place to do so. I actually have avoided it from time to time, but these past few days have been more wearing than usual and I don't fight it when that happens. My priority is the hunger issues, and so far it's been working pretty well using various conditioning techniques. Some days are definitely harder than others though.

Rebecca: I'm so sorry about your husband's accident! That must be incredibly traumatic for both of you. Many people in your current situation would just give up (and I certainly wouldn't blame them). Not only are you physically stronger now, but clearly mentally so as well since you are carrying on despite this very hard time. Take care and I hope your husband recovers soon and well.

RedPanda said...

Another insightful post! I can really relate to feeling as though you look fine on the surface, but that everything is coming apart on the inside.

After I lost weight - after being overweight or obese all my life - I found it extremely difficult to come to terms with the "new me". The fact that people I had known for years didn't recognise me didn't help. Twice, when I had to meet my husband somewhere, even he didn't recognise me!

I was also shocked and saddened by how much better I was treated by others. I never ascribed that to my new-found confidence, but rather, to other people's prejudice.

I firmly believe that these feelings of disconnection are one of the major reasons why dieters often regain weight. You're supposed to feel elated that you've lost weight, but instead you just feel confused and bewildered.

Karen said...

I thought this was an excellent post as well. Thank you for sharing.