Thursday, June 30, 2011

Nine Months

No, I'm not pregnant. Nine months is the time between now and when I make my big move. That's the move which kicked off my change in myself and my body. When I started this, I had a goal at the end and that was to weigh 150 lbs. by early spring of 2012. Right now, my best guess is that I weigh 182 lbs., more or less. The interesting thing is that I haven't thought about the deadline or "how much longer" I have to reach my goal for quite some time.

As my husband and I were talking this morning about the looming change, and all of the logistical issues related to getting from where we are to where we'll go, I suddenly realized that my thinking had completely shifted from where it was in June 2009 to where it is today. At that point in time, my fear was that I would still weigh nearly 400 lbs., or, at best, still weigh around 300 and that my weight would impede my ability to get on a plane and sit in one seat and to get a new job when we get to where we are going. Though I'm still fat, I no longer fear my weight being a significant issue by the time we leave. What is more, I have very little concern about regaining in the future.

I considered "the math" today and I would have to lose an average of 3.5 lbs. a month from now until then to get to my goal number. The thing is, the math is irrelevant because bodies don't work that way. What is more, I'm not going to do anything differently in order to get my chin up to an arbitrary bar (150 lbs.). I'm not going to boost my exercise, reduce calories, or fret over what types of food I'm eating. I'm going to stay the course, and that course includes eating nearly 2000 calories or sometimes more on occasion (generally, once a week now). If I don't reach 150 by the time I go, it's okay. I'll get there at some point thereafter, at least if that is where my weight is meant to land on a healthy and varied diet with small treat consumption.

Though I'm still pretty fat, and I still believe it may affect my employability in some case, I'm not prepared to go off the deep end to reach a number on the scale. I'm very happy now with how I live each day food-wise (and in other ways as well). I feel good about the nutritional balance, the flavor, the smell, and texture of my entire diet (and I use "diet" correctly here to mean "the food I eat", not "dieting" as in restricting my food intake). I can not only live this way forever, but I can be pretty damn happy with it. I don't feel deprived. I don't long for things I can't have. I don't want to stuff myself stupid, at least not most of the time. And, make no mistake, wanting to stuff yourself stupid on occasion is part of human nature. It doesn't matter what your weight is, you'll want to do it from time to time. It's nothing to be upset about or hate yourself for.

Food police might wag a finger a me for "wasting" calories on a cookie, a square of chocolate, or half a piece of cake, but they can plant their lips squarely on my posterior and give me a big wet one. And fat advocates who predict my early demise because of weight loss or say I have a 95% change of regaining, there is space on my ample posterior for you to lay one down as well. There's something between the life bullying food nazis and fat advocating zealots talk about, and that's where I currently live. It's moderation and balance. I like to call it "normal". That's the place at which food stops being a source of pain and stress in your life.

The other "place" where I currently live is a mental one. That is one in which the context of weight and food in my life is becoming increasingly less neurotic. The fact that my deadline is the length of a baby's gestation away and my primary, secondary, and tertiary thoughts are not about whether or not I'm going to make my "goal" is a pretty good indicator of that. And I'm really happy about it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hops, Skips and Jumps

Anyone who has read even a smattering of posts on this blog knows that I don't weigh myself often, and, indeed, did not weigh myself at all for a very long time after changing my life and myself. These days, I weigh myself once a month because progress has become impossible to measure from visual or environmental indications alone. This is part of what happens as your weight goes lower and I knew that even back when I first started.

I usually weigh myself at the beginning or end of the month, give or take a few days. I always ask myself before I step on the scale if whatever number comes up, be it a little higher or a little lower, is going to frustrate or upset me. If the answer is "yes", then I don't weigh myself. The answer these days is always "no", it will not bother me.

I don't blog often about the numbers, because they are secondary to the changes themselves. If you are newish to this blog, then you may not know that I make behavioral and psychological changes my goals, not numbers or dress sizes. The numbers only ensure that my psychology and behavior are where they need to be for continued progress. They tell me if I'm going far enough, or too far too fast. They don't tell me what to think, feel, or do, however.

Last time I weighed myself, my weight had taken a pretty big drop down to 186 lbs. The time I weighed myself after that, it had "gone back up" to 191 lbs. The truth is, and I'm writing about this because I want to stress this point strongly to anyone who is struggling with weight issues, I didn't lose as much as I appeared to the first time nor did I gain any the second time. The numbers are affected by a lot of things - whether or not I have defecated or urinated recently, whether or not I have eaten and what I have eaten, the time of day, the time of month, the amount of water I have drunk, the temperature of the room and how much exercise I've been getting in. The sensitivity of the scale may also factor into it.

When I went "up" after a month, I wasn't distressed because I knew the numbers weren't a reflection of a setback or lack of progress. One of the useful things about making behavior and psychology the goal is that the outcome is a natural consequence, not the end-all and be-all. I know what I do and I know what will happen if I keep doing it. And I weighed myself today because I had noticed a physical change which looked like I'd experienced a change in size. My weight was 182 lbs. Of course, this number is also not accurate, and I may see some other fluctuation next month, but that's okay. It's worth noting that I am now just a few pounds short of having lost 200 lbs. Also, at 174 lbs., I will magically go from "obese" to "overweight". I'm not sure if my body can tell the difference between now and 8 lbs. less from now, but I'm sure a doctor will think it's a big deal.

My current body, in a big shirt, but pants that actually fit. You can see how most of my weight is down on the bottom. Those lumps in the middle aren't love handles. It's the shirt bagging out. I actually have a much smaller waist than can be seen here.

Sometimes I look at my body and just ache to get to the end of this, not because I'm itching to stuff myself with food again. I know that I'm only two or three glasses of milk away from the calorie level at which I might be eating for the rest of my life. I'm anxious simply to be seen as "normal" and to not have any concerns that I'm being judged by my weight. And I still am judged by my body size. What is more, I'm anxious to go to a doctor and have him listen to my symptoms rather than dismiss everything based only on body size. The latter is something which I will face soon as I'm going to have a full check-up in September.

This will be for the first time in many, many years that I will do such a thing. I put it off because I didn't want to face the prejudice, but now, I'm old enough to face the fear and judgement in the interest of knowing where I stand physically. Frankly, I'm not especially worried about the outcome. My guess is that my numbers will look pretty good because my lifestyle habits are pretty good with regular (non-strenuous) exercise and very balanced nutrition. That isn't to say I still don't eat a cookie or a bit of chocolate everyday, but just that I don't think a bite of such things here and there sink the health ship.

Part of me is almost keen to get tested to see if a bunch of machines will tell me I'm as okay as I think I should be. Perhaps I'm fooling myself though. Perhaps all of this weight loss hasn't done anything for me and good eating and regular exercise aren't what they're cracked up to be. It wouldn't be the first time in my life that I did everything "right" and ended up somehow being "wrong" at the end, but I can hope.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Summertime Judgement

I don't know what I weigh at the moment because the number means very little to me. My appearance also means little to me, except to the extent that it draws unwanted attention. For awhile, I was "passing" in public as I walked around at 186 pounds. In clothing, the fact that most of my excess weight is hanging below my waist was camouflaged, especially when wearing a coat or sweater.

Summer has brought shorter pants out of the closet and had me walking around in public with my much fatter lower body drawing attention. The looks that I was spared throughout winter are back with a vengeance. People look down with gaping mouths at my super chubby calves, follow them up to my hips, thighs and stomach and finally make their way up to my face and look into my eyes with a look which I'm all too familiar with. It's the look that says I'm less than human because of my fatness. My body, which is now more fully exposed, has dictated my low value.

During the winter, people looked at my face first, not my legs. My face and upper body are pretty much "normal", and I was judged by my hair, eyes, shoulders, and chest. These met with either disinterest, or approval. As long as I hid my fatness with clothes, I could pass for human. Now that the heat has revealed it, I'm back down in the puddle with other lesser creatures.

This experience is an unnecessary reminder of how differently people are treated based on body image. I say that it wasn't necessary because it's not like the decades of being gawked at, made fun of, and openly scorned has faded from memory after a brief winter exposure to being treated roughly as "normal". It's just a more profound experience for me to be flip-flopped from one side ("normal") to the other (fat enough to be gawked at) without actually changing my body size appreciably. It also pretty clearly demonstrates how superficial such judgement is, despite the fact that most people say they are concerned with weight and health. I am at the same health level whether I'm wearing long pants and a coat or wearing shorts and a T-shirt.

It was a relief, for awhile, to be free of such openly rude and pejorative behavior. It didn't make me feel like I'd joined a new tribe though. Many people who lose weight revel in their status as "normal" and this is part of what fuels their diet and weight loss zealotry, but I've never felt that way. Part of the reason is that I'm still fat (and probably always will be - it's just a question of how fat), but a bigger part is that the tattoo of fat prejudice left on me goes down to the bone.

I won't forget how I'm regarded based merely on how the lumps and bumps of my body are visible or how large they are. I won't forget how arbitrary and mind-numbingly ignorant such behavior is. I certainly can't forget that I'm the same person now that I was before and that the approval I receive for my appearance (or the lack of censure) is actually an insult. I also won't forget how fleeting and unreliable such approval is, as I've experienced just how ethereal it is in a span of months.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Random Sadness and the Pain Seesaw

When I started changing myself to lose weight, my initial problem was crippling back pain. Aside from a very painful blip earlier this year, my circumstances in that regard have greatly improved, though they are not 100% better. Surely, weight factored into the stress on my congenital spine condition and caused more pain, but losing weight hasn't made it go away. All it has done is reduce the stress and bring on better fitness and muscle strength from walking everyday.

Since late last year, I've developed an issue with my right knee which has been incredibly painful at night. My guess is that lying on my side places stress on damaged joints or resting causes inflammation of what is becoming an increasingly arthritic knee. The "cure" for this is to build up support muscles, but this is not so simple. The exercises which may help my knee are exactly the sort I was doing before my back problems temporarily surfaced.

I'm on a seesaw. If I attend to my knee, my back responds with pain. If I respond to my back, my knee becomes excruciating at night. Sometimes the pain is so intense that any mere movement while I'm asleep is agony and I wake from pain early in the morning and can't go back to sleep. The able-bodied don't know or care that some people have to live with this sort of difficulty. They just want to blame us for our weight problems.

For now, I have little recourse but to ease back into exercises for my knee at a glacial pace and hope things slowly improve without the seesaw tipping in the other direction and sending me back to my bed in terrible back pain. It's like walking a tightrope. If I step just a little too far in one direction, or move a little too fast, I will fall. This used to frustrate me back before I controlled food as a primary approach to weight loss. Now, it's merely about pain rather than weight, and, of course, that's of great consequence. I might lose weight faster if I exercised more, but I'm not convinced that the pace would be appreciably better.

Beyond the issues with pain I'm dealing with, I've had some experiences as of late with random and intense sadness. I'm not sure if these are biochemical in nature, or if they are the emotional equivalent of stopping to catch my breath after a psychological marathon. I have a strong sense that it is the latter given the frequency and duration and the circumstances.

These moments of intense and profound sadness, during which I feel so devastated that I put my head down and weep, only occur when I'm alone. They also tend to come about after I have performed a task which is atypical. The most recent one came after I cleared out a bookshelf in preparation for leaving where I'm currently living (which will happen early next spring).

Clearing this shelf was something which gave me great pleasure and even tossing out two giant bags of trash made me feel like I was making some good progress toward the inevitable paring of possession for our move. On a conscious level, all of this purging was joyful and filled me with a sense of accomplishment. As the job moved within an inch of completion, and I was sitting down and listening to some rock music, I suddenly had an uncontrollable urge to cry and was filled with fear.

It's my feeling that this is all tied up with what I have been saying about security, poverty, and fear of change. Growing up poor meant the things I had filled my life with some sort of value. Indeed, my mother was a shopaholic and a low-level hoarder who refused to throw items which had no utility and were in poor condition away. She role-modeled acquisition as a path to happiness (though it didn't make her happy) and as a way to give one the illusion of a rich life.

While I never embraced her view, I did collect things several times during my life and divesting myself of them was always difficult, even when those things no longer brought me joy. I think that, in those cases, it was because my identity was so weak that I connected it to those things rather than to the one that was forced upon me (disgusting fat girl). I wasn't the bad, ugly person people said I was, I was (fan of rock group/user of certain computer system/wife of my husband). The bottom line was that I wasn't any good, but I could attach myself to good things and elevate myself in the process. I'm not talking about the sort of raising of oneself which confers superiority, but simply bringing myself up closer to the level of other human beings. After all, I knew I was sub-human. People let me know that every day, but maybe they'd let me into the club as some sort of red-headed stepchild if I was connected strongly enough to something better than me.

I realize that leaving the place I'm in is going to bring about another extreme identity change as it has forced the status of an outsider upon me. I'm intellectually prepared for this, but emotionally, perhaps far less so. Divesting myself of useless possessions in preparation for departure is tied up in this loss, but also in change and the resulting loss of security. That loss is wider than a loss of money, though that is part of it. It is also the loss of health insurance (not that I ever go to doctors since they loath me and have nothing of value to tell me), loss of operating in a routine which I feel some mastery of, and loss of relationships that I've established. It is, in many ways, a forfeiture of power as well as identity and security.

I think these moments of profound sadness are coming on after I dive in with both feet and push toward a change I fear because of all of the losses. The inertia of the dive carries me through and success is invigorating, but all of the effort that it took to get there, and where I end up after taking the plunge relative to where I started fills me with unconscious anguish which bursts out in an explosion of tears.

There's not much I can do about this besides be aware of my feelings and work with them. These are the sorts of things that food smothered away and extreme fatness redirected. I could be sad because I was loathsome and there was nothing I could do about it. Now, I have to find out why I'm really said, as opposed to hanging it on my body issues.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Building on a swamp

"When I first came here, this was all swamp. Everyone said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built in all the same, just to show them. It sank into the swamp. So I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So I built a third. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp. But the fourth one stayed up. And that's what you're going to get, Lad, the strongest castle in all of England." - Monty Python and the Holy Grail

I no longer read blogs written by gun-ho people (especially women) who are all about measurements. That is, if a blog is about how many minutes one has exercised, how many calories one has eaten, how many liters of water have been consumed, and how much fiber, protein, etc. one has ingested, I don't read it. These blogs are about mechanistic processes that people record because they feel the act of recording them makes them accountable. They flog themselves for "bad days" and applaud themselves for "good days".

In no way am I suggesting that this sort of monitoring of ones behavior is a negative thing, at least not up to a point. I believe that for people who want to make changes in their lives, this mechanistic monitoring is the beginning. You have to start somewhere and it is immensely helpful to begin with what can be easily understood, observed and monitored. From here though, it's important to keep going. I'm not talking about the "keep going" which is about continuously fixating on food and exercise, but about finding a way not to fixate but to still live within certain boundaries. I'm talking about understanding yourself as the next step.

I realize that some people rebel at the very notion of "boundaries" when it comes to food and exercise. They feel this way because there seem to be two extremes for many people: rigid and "in control" and free and "flexible". I believe that a truly self-actualized person lives within boundaries, but those boundaries are the type that promote growth rather than inhibit. Living constantly without structure, and yes, limits, is little more than chaos. It is not unbounded growth that one receives from infinite flexibility, but chaotic movement in unintended and unwanted directions.

True growth can be achieved only by knowing where you want to go and finding out how to go there. That direction is entirely up to the individual and may or may not include various choices of discipline, but some type of boundary will be a necessity unless you simply want to be propelled forward without regard for where you will end up. This is not rigidity or destruction. It is intentional and deliberate growth. This is the middle ground between excessive focus on mechanistic processes and straight-jacketing your life according to socially sanctioned and sometimes arbitrary rules and being propelled by a lack of boundaries into a place you may not flourish in as a person.

Of course, it's not so simple a situation as all of that. Our genetics, life experiences, and particular psychology create the ground on which we can build ourselves. We can't simply decide to make choices and follow through on them because we need to know what lies beneath. Even the best choice can result in negative consequences if there's an emotional sinkhole beneath it that swallows up our best intentions. This is something that my evolving circumstances have lead me to understand.

If you built you house on unstable ground, and it fell down, the next logical step would be to repair the ground itself rather than to build another house on the same spot. People would think you were foolish to build again without handling the structural defects that caused you to lose the fruits of your efforts, yet that is what many people with food relationship problems are doing. They believe that if they keep patching up the building, it'll stop falling down, and refuse to accept that there is any underlying issue that should be addressed.

In this metaphor, the "ground" is the psychological issues that we built our relationship with food upon. The structure is our lifestyle habits. Many people build their "house" again and again on the same swampy ground and find that it falls in (they regain the weight). They refuse to believe that the ground itself has anything to do with the problem. It's about the architecture (their failure to stick to "the plan") or the materials (the food they eat). If they just built it properly, it'd stop falling down. And, you know what, they just might be right. You can eventually build on bad ground and it won't fall down, but it's that much harder and the likelihood of repeated failure is far, far greater.

Right now, what I've come to realize is that I've fixed some of the ground, but the weaknesses have transferred to another area. This is why I lashed out at someone else rather than behaved self-destructively toward myself. It's as if that swampy area over there which was causing the part of my "house" that was creating havoc with my relationship with food oozed over to another area for awhile. It's still there though, and could migrate back over to the food issue if I don't drain the area entirely. The problem is that I'm not sure how to do it, but I do know there's a structural defect (a psychological issue) that still needs some work.

I've been pondering this situation and I know that the roots of the problem go back to my upbringing and the highly insecure and unstable life that I had. The times at which I most need to act out in some particular manner are when I feel that I am vulnerable and need protection. This is because I grew up with a mother who lashed out at me for reasons unrelated to my behavior and who constantly fought with my father. Their arguments, which often resulted in divorce threats on my mother's part, made me feel as if there was no stable existence for me. There was no one I could trust because the adults in my life behaved like children and had no control over themselves. How could they possibly protect me, particularly when they often were part of the group of people that hurt me?

Beyond this, there was the often talked about poverty and the fact that we were on the brink of losing everything. This ongoing stress caused me to seek becoming "big" and perhaps more powerful, or maybe even it fed the illusion that I could have plenty in the face of having nothing at all. It was a reassurance that I had something, a lot of something (anything) and no one could take it away once I had safely put it into my body. The satisfaction of gorging myself may have been beyond comfort.

Finally, since I have been tormented and tortured my entire life for my appearance, I have always felt like someone who walks out the door and has been beaten with sticks by anyone and everyone. I lived the life of the dog people kicked when they had a bad day or a bout of low self-esteem. I was constantly judged and absolutely powerless. Food didn't give me power, but eating whatever I wanted in whatever quantity I wanted proved to me that there was something that I could do as I wanted. The consequences were beside the point. This was something that was mine and no one could stop me.

Though it may have appeared to be an act of defiance of the wishes of society, I think it was more about living some aspect of life exactly as I wanted without regard for the feelings or wishes of others. Since the feelings of others were constantly being foisted upon me, this may have lent me a sense of personal power. You may have the power to hurt me, but I have the power to give myself what I want in this one area. After all, I had no power in any other area.

So, as I start to dig deeper into my issues, I think that the core is rooted in a lack of security, and a sense of deprivation and entitlement. I couldn't have so many things throughout most of my life and no one protected or looked after me, so I acted upon those feelings by eating. The eating served a multitude of purposes, far beyond comfort (though it was potent and effective for that). And, no, this wasn't a rational line of reasoning, but then how much human behavior is truly rational? If I am sick and my mother hugs me, does it make the sickness go away? If I am scared in the dark and I turn on the light, does it really change any threat? We accept some irrational behavior as part of our nature, but we deny it when we want to judge others for their particular line of irrational thinking.

A lot of people may think, quite rightfully, that the security I seek does not exist (in addition to it being unattainable through food). They'd be right. However, we've all heard stories of people who survived the depression and became hyper-frugal and saved every plastic tub their margarine came in and wouldn't toss anything useful away. We've heard of soldiers who starved and later always kept bags of sugar, flour, and cans of food stashed away. Doing the things they do doesn't remove the real possibility of a return to bad times, but such actions provide the illusion of security. I think we all need to have at least a bit of that illusion in order to not feel especially neurotic all of the time. I grew up without so much as an illusion of safety and emotional protection, and I think that's a piece of how my particular swamp was created.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Mental "injury", not illness (perhaps)

During a recent e-mail exchange with a kind and thoughtful fellow blogger, I reconsidered how I speak of myself and my issues as "mental illness" and applied some deeper considerations to the limitations of that term. Personally, I do not see any stigma attached to the idea of being "mentally ill" because I think that people who do not possess some degree of mental illness are exceptionally rare.

There are many people who are functional, yet have emotional or personality issues. Those issues do not impede their ability to do what most people do, but tend to erode quality of life to varying extents. Because they do not realize that it is possible to enjoy a higher quality of life through therapy, they simply assume they are indelibly who they are and that we all have issues and they will live with theirs. This is something I have never subscribed to. I think that our issues are there to be overcome and that quality of life is to be improved through self-awareness, exploration, and movement toward a more self-actualized self.

It is this drive which compels me to write here, but also which may have lead me to talk about feeling I am "mentally ill". Talking about it exaggerates the sense of it. In person, people would find that I am anything but the picture of what I appear to be here. I'm articulate, outgoing, and very together. I'm also extremely frank and candid about who I am, where I came from, and where I'm going. I'm not embarrassed by my depression or despair because I know nearly everyone experiences it, much as they may try and cram it into the back of their mental closet and pretend it doesn't exist and present a veneer of "normality" to the world. They can do that, but I think that only deepens the pain, so mine is at hand and dealt with.

During my brief e-mail exchange with this lovely person, I realized that there needs to be different terminology for emotional and psychological problems in order to make people more open to improving their quality of life via therapeutic processes. Mental illnesses carries a sense of something intractable and highly aberrant. I think this is why so many women with a relationship with food that makes them miserable resist the idea that they have a psychological problem, not merely a matter of biology or trite issues such as "willpower".

"Mental illness" seems like something which is generally "forever" and must be managed with medication, like Type 1 diabetes. However, I don't believe that I am mentally ill in that way. I feel that I am "mentally injured". That is, at some point in the past, I was damaged a great deal and the broken bones of that psychological damage were never properly set. They healed improperly and I developed an eating disorder that took me up to the brink of 400 lbs. Over the last two years, I've re-broken those mental bones and am trying to get them to set properly now.

This is the source of my suffering as I find out how to find the right way to heal those injuries. I can no longer numb or comfort myself with food so I have to figure out where to cope with my pain. Half of this equation is somehow coming to terms with the pain itself and the causes. I have to try to dispel it as much as possible so that less coping is required. The other half is working out an effective means of coping that is not destructive to my health and well-being.

I'm not sure what "treatment" will lead me to heal and I'm not sure that anyone can know what would work for me since every individual must find a manner which uniquely suits his or her pain and injuries. The easy part is knowing what doesn't work. I know that substance abuse, whether it is food, alcohol or drugs, is the "easy" solution which must be avoided at all cost. I also know that the common answers are to replace those destructive coping strategies with societally sanctioned ones like exercising, social activities, etc. I also know that those are just band-aids that are slapped over the issues. At best, they are distractions.

The real answers do not lie in taking a particular action but in figuring out how to cope on the deepest levels. Just as I re-conditioned myself with food, I also need to find a way to condition my emotional and psychological responses. I need to dig very deep to the moments injury was inflicted and analyze the paths that were taken that lead to overeating. Those roads now lead to dead ends that lead to despair, but I can start building onto them so that they end in a better place.

The main problem right now is that this is a new phase in this process and I haven't started looking yet nor do I know which direction to turn in. My guess is this will start with issues in my childhood and lead to turning points. It will be painful, but I'm sure that it can be very productive and the potential for healing those mental injuries is quite great.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Food, the addiction

I read a study today which supported something I have contended for quite some time, but is often doubted by many. The study compared responses in the brain to food to responses to addictive substances. It was a small study of only 48 women, and not constructed with impeccable validity, but the brain scans suggested that the brains of those who are addicted to drugs and those potentially addicted to food are having the same sorts of responses.

This isn't an "a-ha" moment for me in which I am asserting triumphantly that I was "right" because one little study lends credence to the notion that people actually can be addicted to food. Frankly, brain scans are of little interest to me in "proving" what I believe. I have always seen addiction as a psychological issue. The fact that physiological analysis can be done to back that up is gravy. It's behavior that matters, and behavior that must be changed if people want to change their lives in the directions they'd prefer to go.

I knew I was addicted to food. I say "was" but recent events make me wonder if I still am and always will be. As my last several posts indicate, I've been in a state of enormous difficulty in my life as of late. It's the result of ongoing issues which, as of about 3 days ago, are starting to be resolved. It's important to note that, for the last 5 months as things have gotten worse emotionally, I have been hungrier than ever. This could be mere coincidence, but as of the breaking point after which things started to clear up and solutions looked like they may be at hand, that constant hunger has vanished.

I've written before that we are programmed to eat when stressed, but I'd gotten past the point where normal everyday stress drove me to eat. It was only the oppressive and psychologically damaging weight of long-term emotional difficulty that set off that hunger. Even in the face of it, I wasn't overeating, but I was having to battle wanting to eat all of the time regardless of my sense of actual physical satiety (that is, there was food in my stomach and sugar in my blood stream). I was starting to feel as if I'd jumped back to the point where I'd have to spend all day thinking about food and trying not to overeat, but now I realize that was not what it was.

The bottom line was that, while I consciously do not have a food addiction and do not think about having a pint of ice cream to comfort me, unconsciously and/or biochemically, I still have the same stress responses that compel me to eat when I am under prolonged difficulty and intense stress. I didn't act on the impulses to my detriment, but it was adding another layer of emotional wear and tear to my life as I struggled with a plethora of other problems.

This reminded me all too clearly that much of my weight loss to date has occurred under relatively ideal circumstances. Those who are in far less positive circumstances than me are going to struggle more as they respond both biologically and psychologically to overwhelming urges to eat when stressed. While I didn't need this reminder to empathize with others who are trying to lose weight, I was given it nonetheless. 

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Breakthrough, but not a good one

As my last several posts have made it clear, I've been having a very hard time of it psychologically as of late. Losing weight solved some problems, and it created new ones. It reminds me very strongly of something I once read about "even thin people have problems". I'm not thin, but I'm also no longer abusing food for emotional purposes.

Several days ago, I had a snapping point from all of the tension and problems I've been dealing with. In the past, that snapping point brought on an incident where I had a disconnect and mindlessly ate. That was a "cry for help" in which I turned to what I always turned to, self-destructive over-eating. This most recent point had me do something different because food no longer does it for me.

The "something different" was that I lashed out at someone else and did something quite inappropriate. Instead of turning my destruction inward, I turned it outward. I realize in retrospect that both the eating and the lashing out were attempts at self-protection and control. Eating protected me by adding padding to my body and provided a false sense of control because I decided I was choosing to overeat to give me pleasure and comfort. Lashing out at someone else did not comfort me, but what I did (and no, there will be no details) made me feel that I could put up a wall that needed to be in place to reduce the hurt I was feeling. I did what I did fully believing that it was an act of emotional protection and that if I didn't protect myself from this pain, no one else would. It was irrational, but I didn't see it that way at the time.

It was a bad thing to do, and caused no amount of upheaval in my life. The next day, I deeply and sincerely apologized for what I did and explained the circumstances that brought about my actions. My apology took full responsibility and revealed private information about myself and my weight loss which made me deeply vulnerable to this person. I also offered a hand in mending the damage I'd done. The apology was coldly rejected and the hand slapped away. That was fair enough, but I was surprised since I made it clear that this was a mental health issue and the person involved had mental health assistance training. I didn't deserve better, but I had hoped for a little more empathy and compassion from someone who was in a business which requires such things when dealing with people with psychological issues. However, this person was fully entitled to withhold forgiveness and to choose not to exercise understanding or empathy.

What I realize now in retrospect is that I've made a breakthrough in how I handle my stress and pain, but that it isn't necessarily a good one. Instead of hurting myself, I hurt someone else. Note that this isn't something which happens often, and occurred in the depths of deep, deep psychological pain and turmoil. Since not several days ago, I was wishing I'd just die in my sleep to escape my pain, that shouldn't be too surprising.

I've learned a lot from this and feel now that I "shattered" in a way and figured out something of value from how the pieces fell. I need to not allow the situation to get so bad that something like this can happen if it can possibly be prevented (which may not be possible, but it's important to try), but also I need to be careful about acting impulsively when in deep distress. That being said, I'm not sure that it's 100% within my control at such times, but I need to be more aware of the potential for this to happen. The truth is that it is the first time that this has happened since I was a child. I didn't expect it of myself so it was harder to stop. If you can't see the train coming, you don't know it's going to hit something until after the collision has occurred.

What I know now is that, for the first time in a long time, my anger and loathing isn't entirely directed at myself in times of pain. The reactions I had (eating) were grown from the sense of worthlessness that was bred into me since starting to gain weight in childhood. The first response to pain was to hurt myself, because I was not worth preserving. Now, I realize that I don't hate myself enough to hurt me first, foremost, and unconsciously, but have to be very careful to not lash out and hurt someone else. In the fallout of all of this, I told my husband, "this is not me," and I know that I was pushed to this place and acted in opposition to who I am as a result of all I have lost along with weight. I have never been the type of person to hurt others, and in fact have always put others interests before my own to the point of greatly harming myself.

All of this reasoning and explaining in no way makes what I did "okay", but understanding the dynamic is the only way I can grow from it and diminish the likelihood of doing something like this again. It's a new piece of the puzzle, and one that I acquired at the expense of more than one person.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


I envy cutters. Yes, you read that right. I envy people who harm and mutilate themselves to deal with their pain. Unlike people who eat to bury their pain, cutters are regarded with sympathy. People want to help them and realize that the scars of their destructive behavior are a manifestation of illness. Fat people receive no such sympathy for bearing the scars of their suffering, and the bigger the "scar" (the heavier the person), the less sympathy they receive.

Lately, the quality of my life has been spiraling downward. This is related to what I wrote about in my previous posts, but also an overall tendency for me to work harder at being more productive, more psychologically whole, and to be physically stronger. At this point in time, the way I've taken myself apart to stop my reliance on food to deal with my pain is something I'm not sure I'll survive intact, one way or another.

I'm that much weaker for having made this effort, but not in any of the ways which people would recognize as being "weaknesses". On the contrary, I'm sure people would see everything I've done as nothing but success - losing lots of weight, looking "better", being healthier, and assuming a more productive role in the world. Superficially, I'm looking to be a screaming success. Inside, I'm falling apart.

One thing I know in a visceral fashion but knew superficially before is that the palliative effects of overeating for someone psychologically inclined to use such coping mechanisms are profound. When that is taken away, the forces that drive one to it do not vanish. The pain that motivated the seeking of food for comfort or numbing remains. Without the food, there is nothing but profound pain with no relief. Sometimes the pain is so great that I wish I would simply fall asleep and not wake up the next day. I don't want to die and I wouldn't end my own life, but I wish to stop hurting without relief.

People who fail at their "diets" have something I no longer  have. They have the capacity to return to food for comfort because they haven't conditioned the effectiveness of doing so out of them. All I have is rawness and suffering. It makes me wish there was something else to turn to, and that returns me full circle to cutters. I in no way want to elevate what they do, but I can see the appeal of seeking relief in a way that doesn't find you being labeled and judged. It's a sad fact of the world that hurting yourself in one way is ridiculed and seen as character weakness and a lack of self-control and hurting yourself in another is a cry for help. I keep crying, but find no help.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Donut Experiment

This didn't actually start out as an experiment, but it's one of those things which came about naturally and has now become a source of experimentation for me. Awhile back, my husband picked up a big box of small donuts. Each one is about 150-170 calories, but I wasn't particularly interested in them and there were more than he could eat in a short time so we froze about 12 of them. They've been sitting in the freezer for over a month now.

Three days ago, I decided that I wanted a donut for breakfast. As I've mentioned before, on occasion, I allow a sugary treat for breakfast. More often than not, said treats are bigger than these and weigh in around 200-280 calories. Since I usually eat a muffin or baked oatmeal bar that is low-fat, sugar-free, whole grain, and made with applesauce and fruit, my "regular" breakfast is around 150-180 calories, eating a donut usually means eating more calories than usual for breakfast. However, the small size of these puts the caloric value of these particular donuts squarely on the same calorie footing as my healthier alternative.

After eating my muffin with coffee made with milk, I've eaten about 200-250 calories for breakfast (depending on the type of muffin or baked oatmeal bar and if I use margarine with it or not). Usually, about 2-2.5 hours after I eat, I get hungry again and have a piece of fruit. I don't see a problem with this. I don't eat much for breakfast so I can hardly expect it to last long before I might want to eat again. I have a banana or orange usually, and then wait for lunch .

I paired the small donut with the same coffee preparation I always have for a similar calorie total, and I waited to get hungry in a couple of hours. Since the donut is sugary and fried, I expected a crash and a blood sugar spike and more intense hunger two hours after eating. Here's the thing, I was much less hungry than usual. In fact, I have had this same breakfast for the last 3 days with the same result. The donuts do not leave me hungrier. They leave me fuller.

I'm not fooling myself in any way that the donut is "better" for me at all. It absolutely is emptier calories and the homemade stuff has more fiber, protein, minerals, and vitamins. In terms of pure nutrition, I'm better off with the homemade things even when all calories are equal. However, this has confirmed something I've experienced for quite awhile, and that is that fruit and any food which contains substantial amounts of fruit makes me hungrier and the inclusion of a higher amount of fat keeps me sated. This appears to be the trend regardless of the protein content that is included with the meal.

The lesson I take away from this is not that I should eat a small donut every morning to keep full and lose weight. I love fruit, and I love whole grain baked goods as well. Frankly, though I enjoy the occasional donut, I wouldn't want to have one every morning as it gets boring, even when there are different varieties on hand.

What I have had reinforced by this is that there are no rules for eating that apply to everyone equally. I've read loads about blood sugar and nutrition and they all talk about how refined flour and sugar will have you gnawing your arm off in hunger after consuming them and that protein is the hunger-fighting warrior. Clearly, it's not working that way for me, particularly at present.

It's not as if I didn't already know that we're all unique in these aspects, but the donut experiment just brought home how vastly different a particular individual's biochemistry can be from that of another. You have to write you own book, because no one else's will apply to you.