Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Other Goal

In previous posts, I have mentioned that I worked in a mental health facility in the distant past. In my experience, there were two types of people. There were those who knew they were ill and those that were told they were ill, but refused to accept it. The former tended to be the most highly dysfunctional people who couldn't support themselves because their illnesses were so incapacitating. They lived by virtue of the mental health support systems and whatever public welfare systems they qualified for.

The group of people who lived in denial of their illnesses tended to be people who were capable of functioning to various extents in the real world. They could hold jobs, at least for a certain period of time, but their illnesses affected quality of life for themselves and those around them. The difference between the first group and the second group wasn't that one tried harder than the other, but rather that their respective demons were more or less tenacious and their disorders more of less socially palatable. People with personality disorders may be unpleasant to work with, but they didn't hear voices or see things.

The fact of the matter was that both of these groups of people were ill and needed help, but one group felt that the status of being "mentally ill" was an unfair imposition, not a true state of their being. They could only conceptualize mental illness in broad and crude strokes, and they decided they didn't fit between those lines. That didn't make them any less ill, but it did make them far more unwilling to cooperate with treatment or to face up to the existence of their problems.

I declared at the end of January that one of my goals would be to stay out of the weight loss world except for the occasional encounter through relatively casual perusing. Except for two intentional visits to blogs of people I have a strong personal interest in for various reasons and therefore wanted to "touch base with", I have followed up on that goal. It was surprisingly easy both to drift away from the weight loss world for extended periods of times by simply filling in the internet reading "gap" with new material. It was equally easy to step in for a moment and to head back out again.

The main "problem" I have had with following up on people who I care about and want to see how they're doing is that it's easy to find yourself wanting to touch the trunk of the tree but to then find yourself shimmying up and climbing along the various branches. That is, when I visit these folks blogs, I tend to find myself following links and blog rolls to other areas. This isn't really a serious problem because I am not really deeply engaged in the weight loss world again. I open the door and even walk inside and look around then stroll back out again. Mind you, I don't think it's a "bad" world, but I do think that it is often a "sick" one, and just a few minutes spent there remind me of why I got away from it (and need to largely remain away from it).

There are two groups of people in the weight loss world and they parallel the groups of mentally ill people that I discussed at the beginning of this post. One group knows they have a problem psychologically with their relationship with food. They "know" this mainly because of physically undeniable repercussions. They can't lose weight or keep it off. They can't stop eating certain foods, at least not in a controlled fashion. Their bodies are such that they cannot function or have lifestyle or social impediments because of them. They will accept treatment of whatever kind they must in order to deal with their problem, but in many cases nothing seems to help. They are like the seriously ill people I mentioned earlier, not because they have a serious mental problem, but rather because they have fully accepted the fact that they do indeed have a serious issue that limits their happiness and quality of life.

The second group is comprised of people who have lost weight and deny that they have any problems with their relationship with food. They are largely functional and externally do not manifest symptoms of their issues. On the surface, all seems quite normal. Under the surface though, they have a plethora of issues that remain unresolved. They ruminate about food, experience anxiety entering situations in which they are either exposed to highly caloric foods or foods whose calorie counts are not known, and generally approach food as something to be wary of. Their relationship with food is far from casual or normal. While they have a grip on food when it comes to quantity, they don't when it comes to emotions. It's still controlling their minds, it's just not affecting their bodies, and that makes them think they are "well".

Touching base on occasion with these blogs has been beneficial to me because it reminds me (yet again) of how important it is to get out of the weight loss world when the time is right in order to tread a continued path to psychological wellness and a normal relationship with food and ones body. Even perusing them for a short time makes me profoundly uncomfortable because it brings me back to who I was in the maddening early stages when I was plagued by thoughts of food all of the time. It makes me appreciate all the more that I've managed to move beyond that place. Frankly, I don't know how people who have lost weight and continue in that mental state can deal with that sort of thinking. I've said before that I'd rather remain as fat as I was than to live forever in that mental torment, and I still mean that. Fortunately, that's not the choice I have to make.

I follow a blog written by a young woman who has battled and recovered from anorexia. I didn't follow her blog because of this, but rather because she writes most of the time about other topics. She only writes occasionally about her former disordered eating issues. The fascinating thing about reading what she says and her concerns about falling back into her lifestyle is that her feelings, thoughts, and opinions about her relationship with food in so many ways parallel exactly the types of things being written by weight loss bloggers. I've seen with crystal clarity how those who eat too much are on the same coin as those who eat too little. This young woman shows how important it is to move away from all the thinking and communities which talk about that thinking and to get on with forming a normal relationship with food and life. She reinforces my sense that the weight loss world is a sick one that you need to get out of when you're ready to take the next step. She did it, and you can see how she has benefitted and understand the caution she exercises in not going back to those mental places that got her into her disordered state.

Because of my progress psychologically lately, I've been thinking that something that was heretofore unthinkable for me may yet be possible. With continued "normalization" of my relationship with food and sound eating habits, I'm beginning to believe that there may come a time when I won't even have to count calories. Some day, I might be able to eat casually, like people who haven't had a lifelong eating disorder that caused them to weigh over 300 lbs. for most of their adult life.

While I still think my body's ability to know when I really need food is "broken" and that I may eat too much or too little if I don't track calories, my psychological exercises as of late have increased my sensitivity to actual hunger in such a manner that I may be headed to a point in which my body is slowly being tuned to better understand actual physiological hunger and satiety. Rather than having to artificially control how often and how much I eat via calorie counting, I think I may yet be able to repair the biological damage from years of overeating and reset my leptin responses and signals between my stomach and my brain.

This will be no easy feat, and it's something that I will have to enter into with care and purpose when the time comes. However, the way I feel at present, I do believe it is at least a possibility that I may one day be able to trust myself entirely with food and form a completely normal relationship (i.e., eat all foods in the quantities which maintain health without emotional entanglements beyond those associated with sensory pleasure) with it, and I know very well that I couldn't be entertaining this as even a remote possibility if I had continued on the way I see so many successful weight loss bloggers going with their still psychologically unhealthy relationships with food.