Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I no longer scream (for ice cream)

One of my friends on FaceBook wrote a status update today which essentially said, 'ice cream fixes everything'. Most people probably smiled at that and recognized the power of a small pleasure to lift ones spirit after a bad day. I felt a little melancholy.

Though I have largely conditioned myself not to turn to food for comfort, I still remember how comforting it can be and sometimes grow somewhat nostalgic for the days when food worked its miracles on my emotional state. There were days when I'd be so depressed and dispirited and my husband would go out and buy me a pint of ice cream and I'd eat the whole thing and feel better. It wasn't simply the taste and the fatty goodness of it all, it was also the indulgence. It was doing something that was all about giving me exactly what I wanted when I "needed" it. It was a pleasure that was intensely personal, deeply gratifying, and cost very little in my estimation at the time. After all, I was already fat, so what was getting a little fatter in the service of medicating my mood?

I imagine that this feeling contributes in large part to the relapses that people who quit smoking, drinking or doing drugs have. They may work long and hard to get over their addictions and stay free of their vices for years only to suddenly get hooked again. People wonder why this happens and shake their heads thinking that it's puzzling how someone can "choose" to return to behavior which was so destructive after experiencing what they imagine to be years free of their addictions.

I think I can empathize with those who invite the monkey back onto their backs. Just because the grip food has on me has been weakened such that I can break free almost all of the time doesn't mean I don't remember how pleasing it was at times to be safely in its grasp. I don't long for food, but I do desire what it once gave me.

I realize that this was all an illusion as the food, just like drugs, didn't solve anything. I also knew then and know now that eating to medicate my pain was physically destructive. The thing that wasn't an illusion was that food improved my emotional state. A lot of people lie to themselves in the service of sticking to their food plans or diets and say, "food was the cause of my problem, not the solution." These are the same people who think being thin will transform their lives. Many of my problems were caused by food, but just as many were simply the sort of difficulties every single person in a developed nation deals with all of the time. I had more or different problems related to weight, but there was plenty of pain in my life even without incorporating the weight-related suffering.

I'm not going to go back to medicating my emotional difficulties with food, but I'm also not going to pretend that it didn't work a sort of "magic" on me that nothing else will ever accomplish. The only thing that even comes close to having the same mental transformative properties as food is my husband, and try as he might, he cannot and should not be a palliative for my emotional suffering. He does his best, but he can't be there every moment, nor do I expect him to. I have to just learn to live with the pain and depression when it washes over me. I have to grit my teeth and bear it, because I'm guessing that's what most people who aren't medicating themselves with food, drink, drugs or sex are doing.

Eating well and in moderation makes my body feel better, but it doesn't do anything for my emotional turmoil. Exercising improves my stamina and strength and it even helps me relieve stress and anxiety at times, but it doesn't do what food used to do when it comes to lifting me from depression or allowing me to get away from myself mentally when I'm in distress. There was an almost sublime pleasure in immersing myself in food when I was in pain, and I will likely never forget that. I don't think I should, nor do I think I should try to convince myself that it wasn't a good feeling. It was.

No amount of prattling about 'nothing tasting as good as thin feels' is going to convince me otherwise. Trust me when I say that, for me, nothing tasted as good as food when I was depressed. I miss what food used to do for me, but not enough to overlook what it did to my body. I may want to feel what I used to feel when a pint of ice cream made me happy, but not enough to go back.


NewMe said...

I have never used food as medication. I like the taste of food and have therefore eaten more than my body needed, but medication no.

However, like all people, I know what it means to suffer psychologically. Right now, I'm going through a subtle yet major shift in my life and I know that I have to *add* positive things and activities to get me through this transition.

I am realizing that personally, I need to add to my life, not take things away, if I am to come out better on the other side. Fortunately, food is relatively speaking, only a minor element in the equation.

As always, I admire your analytical sense and truthfulness towards yourself.

Fat Grump said...

"I have to grit my teeth and bear it, because I'm guessing that's what most people who aren't medicating themselves with food, drink, drugs or sex are doing."

Re. the depressed moods. That's interesting. However, we can live without alcohol, tobacco, drugs and sex, but not without food...so I think the 'addiction' we have, the mood-soother, isn't as easy to shrug off. There is always going to be the temptation to over-eat, have large portions or to choose foods which aren't particularly good for us. WE don't get a high from food..but we do feel soothed, and food is all around us, easily obtainable and offered to us in all sorts of situations. The same can't be said for the other 'substances'.

I suspect all people endeavouring to lose weight have to develop a mental toughness, a steely resolve, every single day and in every single eating situation to ensure they turn their backs on their addictive 'substance' or at least limit the amount of it they have. I am hoping that my thinking about food, and my feelings towards foods will change - forever - if I habitually eat sensibly and well.

The gritting of teeth that you mentioned...I think that relies on having a will of iron, and I am not sure I possess that, alas. All I can say is, I am learning not to beat myself up if and when I allow myself to 'indulge' in my favourite substances.

I really, really hope making sensible food choices and feeling satisfied within my calorie allowance will become second nature to me. I'll endeavour to change my relationship with food - but will it be for always? I want to say it will be, but I can't guarantee it, given the availability of our drug of choice. Can any of us?

Rachel said...

Incredibly thoughtful and thought-provoking at the same time.

RedPanda said...

I have to grit my teeth and bear it, because I'm guessing that's what most people who aren't medicating themselves with food, drink, drugs or sex are doing.

Yep, that about sums it up.

Exercise, particularly yoga, works to relieve stress for me. Bitching and sulking are good too.

screaming fatgirl said...

First of all, thanks to everyone for taking the time to comment! I really appreciate it!

NewMe: I agree completely about adding things to your life - I think that is part of the key to not only getting your eating in order, but also to finding real happiness. I've ready that creative endeavors and goals play a key role in happiness. It's not even reaching your goals, but working toward them. To that end, I have my other (non-weight) blogs, but I also need to add in more things. As I grow physically stronger, I'm hoping to be capable of doing some things I hadn't been able to do before (like hiking in modest mountains).

One of the things I'm hyper-aware of right now is that when I go home from the country I'm living in, there will be a lot of how I define myself that is lost, so I need to have something else to go with. I have to feel I'm integrated with some sort of image other than being fat and living here as a foreigner - something which has come to strongly define me since I've been in this place for a very, very long time.

Grump: What you say about not being able to avoid food has always been a crucial part of my thinking when I tried to lose weight in the past. I often felt that if I could give up food forever, it'd be easier than if I had to keep eating. That being said, alcoholics don't drink alcohol, but they do drink other things. I have found that selectively giving up things helps a lot. In many people's cases, they give up sweets, carbs, or salted snacks. In my case, I gave up large portions forever. It's a fine distinction, I know, but it's the way I've looked at it.

I hope to give you some confidence in yourself by saying that I do not have a will of iron at all. I built my "will" one inch at a time using delayed gratification techniques. Willpower really is just delaying gratification and you can teach yourself it, but it takes time, patience, and work. The fiddly nature of dealing with food in the way it requires makes it very irritating. The temptation to say, "I can't be bothered with this", is very, very high.

I should also say that I *did* get a high from food. Honestly, when I was miserable and tucked into a carton of ice cream, I got a huge rush. I'm only guessing that this had something to do with psychological conditioning causing my brain to release endorphins when given such things and a sugar rush, but it was definitely a palpable high. I've read that other people have had this as well. It's often how I can tell the difference between serious addiction and mere struggle for self-control. Those with serious addiction had a sort of transformative experience due to indulgence.

And it will become second nature eventually. It has come close to that for me. Though I can't know how much to eat and will always have to monitor calories, I no longer feel starved or that I'm fighting my impulses so hard.

screaming fatgirl said...

Rachel: Thank you so much for your kind comment. :-)

RedPanda: I think part of the problem for me is that I can deal with stress more effectively now, but depression (which is often unpredictable and likely biochemical) is not really laid to rest by anything. Sometimes, I have a lingering sadness in which clouds cover my perspective and there is frequently nothing that relieves this. It defies everything but time.

I tried yoga before, incidentally. In fact, I have a couple of DVDs around including a beginner one, but my body isn't strong or flexible enough to do anything (at least not yet). It frustrated me greatly that I couldn't even do the most basic things because I was too fat or fragile. Maybe some day!

Thank you for you comment!

Florida Food Snob said...

Each of your post makes me wonder how you became so AWARE! It is so promising to hear someone be able to identify with their selves so well.

screaming fatgirl said...

Florida Food Snob: Hi, and thank you for commenting!

My brain won't shut up, and that's a part of this awareness. Frankly, and I say this with no pride or grandiose notions of who I am or what I am capable of, I believe I was born with a gift in regards to insight. The way that some people have artistic or musical talent, I have psychological insight. I have had it for a very long time, and I don't think I earned it but rather was born with that capacity and my life experience has helped it develop. It is a gift, but it's also a curse. Sometimes I'd rather just be oblivious.

The other parts are from studying psychology, and having a relationship with my husband which encourages both of us to understand ourselves better through our association with one another.

A huge part of that aspect is related to how he and I got together (a long story that I can't tell yet, but will get to at some time) and our relative isolation from other concerns while living in a foreign country. In many ways, being cut off from family and friends has left us living in a fishbowl and what sustains us is each other. I'll actually be sorry to lose this part of living abroad.

Anonymous said...

Every single one of your posts is such a breath of energizing, sane air in this fatosphere. Thank you so much for the effort and time you take to put your clear and lucid words out there. You truly get it and you turn 'it' into words which resonate with me each and every time I read you.

screaming fatgirl said...

Thank you so much, emmabovary. What a wonderful thing to say to someone. It meant a lot to me.

NewMe said...

I know this might not be possible where you live, but if you can, try and find a "yoga therapist". They actually have an international association (http://iayt.org/).

As someone who has physical limitations, I have found working with a yoga therapist to be absolutely incredible.

Karen said...

I want to chime in and compliment you on your writing. Reading about your journey has been a great inspiration to me. PS. I've never taken a psychology course, but maybe I should! Thanks for blogging!

screaming fatgirl said...

Thank you, Karen. I really, really appreciate your taking the time to read and to say such a lovely and kind thing.