Friday, December 23, 2011

The Importance of Eating

I have spent the last 4 days in the hospital having half of my thyroid cut out because of a benign tumor. During that time, I knew certain things to be true about getting out of there as soon as possible. I also had experiences with food which were quite different than those in my daily life and that caused me to reflect on the mental progress that I have made.

Part of having surgery is that you can't eat for at least 12 hours before you have it. Because I've learned to be hungry and not panic (something which people who are compulsive eaters and obsessively think about food often do), this was uncomfortable, but not something I built up a great deal of tension about. In the end, I didn't eat for more than 36 hours and when I could eat, I was on a liquid diet for a further 24 hours. By the end of this period of time, I was pretty ravenous physically, but it was okay emotionally. 

I contrast this with how I dealt with feeling hungry in 2009 when I first started to change my relationship with food. At that point in time, I could hardly bear hunger for an hour, let alone more than a day. This was as much a physical situation as a psychological one. When your body's rhythms are accustomed to regular and copious feeding, you have "fat hunger" and breaking that takes time. In fact, it took me over a year to lose most of it, and two years for it to vanish entirely. There was also emotional panic about not having food plans in place and obsessing about food when I felt the least bit hungry. Hunger was something I had nearly zero tolerance for. Now, I can manage it, though not in a disordered "I'm going to starve myself" way. It's merely a "I can wait until I a reasonable time to eat". Do I enjoy being hungry? Not at all. But it no longer drives me crazy because of mental and physical conditioning to learn to deal with food and hunger in a normalized fashion. It's okay to be hungry for awhile. It's okay to eat. 

The thing I knew while I was in the hospital was that it was important to eat in order to be released in a timely fashion. I had no control over the content of what I ate, though it honestly was quite nutritious and well-balanced (this was not an American hospital as I live in an Asian country). The main difference between what I ate in the hospital and what I eat at home was that it was a lot more calories than I tend to consume, but I ate it all up anyway for two reasons. First of all, eating at a caloric deficit slows healing. Though I'm still working on losing weight and try to generally eat between 1500-1800 calories per day, I did not consider weight loss when eating at the hospital nor did I feel bad or guilty about it. I know they were feeding me in a way that promoted health, and even if it was more than I needed, I knew it was good for me. 

For many women who are trying to lose weight, they go around the bend mentally when they are not in control of their food and wouldn't knowingly eat more calories than they do according to their "food plans". I once read a comment out there in the ether by a woman who was so happy to fast before surgery because she was getting such a huge deficit, but became angry when she learned that they were using her I.V. drip to put calories back into her before the procedure. Her desire to eat less was so obsessive that she became upset at a procedure meant to stabilize her metabolically before an invasive medical experience. This betrays an extremely distorted view of food, calories, and biology which elevates deprivation and dismisses the value of calories to the daily operation of a healthy human body. Yes, calories were put into me as well. I know this because the I.V. bags had calorie values written on them and I saw them change bag after bag. However, it didn't trouble me.

I didn't even count the calories I ate, though I could have guessed pretty accurately if I had wanted to. Sometimes it is important to be careful about what you eat, but sometimes it really is not a primary concern. Healing was my concern. Well, that and convincing the hospital that I was able to swallow without difficulty and had a good appetite. The former wasn't 100% the truth, but the latter was absolutely true. I ate what I was given with interest and gusto. I deserved it, needed it, and enjoyed it.

One of the things which I realized a long time ago was that I wouldn't be able to have a normal relationship with food if I viewed it as the enemy or separated it into "good" and "bad". I ate white bread with jam. I drank full fat milk. I ate gelatin made with sugar and custard made with sugar. I ate white rice. It was good and good for me. I needed those extra calories, and not because I'd been fasting and on a liquid diet. There was no thought that it was "okay" to eat more because I'd been deprived for two days. My thinking was only that I needed to be fed fully to heal better. In fact, my subsequent plan for the coming week as I continue to heal is to eat more than usual. This isn't "to hell with my weight loss, I'm going to binge". This is, I need to eat more calories (near what is a maintenance level) to get well faster. 

Though it isn't all about food, food is an important part of healing. The other part of it is modest exercise. I know from experience that walking daily has kept me from catching a cold for nearly three years. It's all about having a strong body, and you need food and exercise for that. 

The idea of strength and the relationship food has on that has been on my mind as of late because of a death in the family recently. My mother-in-law died last month, and the beginning of the end was when she stopped eating. A friend of mine remarked independently when discussing her mother's death that, when people stop eating, they are pretty much finished. Eating is about life. Not eating means death. That's not a recipe for gorging or overeating, but simply embracing the fact that food is important for life and it's important to have a positive relationship with it. Part of that is not eating poorly or eating so much that your body is compromised (with mobility or health concerns), but part of it is also not vilifying eating or seeing it as something to be tortured emotionally about. 


Norma said...

Hope you're feeling well and recovery is quick! Just discovered you through Escape from Obesity, which I've just officially quit reading. She deleted your comment, and mine (which echoed your concerns about medifast's motives and products)...guess if you don't drink the kool-aid and recite the rhetoric, your opinions are not welcome! Looking forward to checking out your posts & progress.

screaming fatgirl said...

Thank you, Norma, for your kind words.

I didn't know she deleted my comment because I don't tend to check back on such things, but I can't say I'm surprised. Unfortunately, it does make her appear to be a shill for Medifast and undermines the credibility of anything she says. I had hoped that I went out of my way not to attack the company (because, honestly, they are just doing what companies do) and certainly did not attack her, but I think she doesn't want to jeopardize the supply line of free diet food and counseling. I can understand that. That's a reflection of desperation to get her weight under control, but it also means that her despair takes away from the value of what she says to readers.

I think a lot of people who are in a fragile emotional condition can't bear dissent. I get that. I've been there. I'm still there sometimes as well. It's all a process, but I don't think I'll be checking back on her site anymore either since clearly it's becoming a thinly-veiled promotional venue for Medifast.

Norma said...

I'm kind of thinking that her MF contact monitors her blog now and maybe asked her to delete any comments that express concern or negative opinions about their plan/products. She has a sizeable audience of Average Janes who represent potential clients for MF if they see her having rapid results (again) and I'm sure they don't want anyone presenting differing experiences and opinions. I genuinely wish her success but I know she's not going to find it long-term riding that merry-go-round.

screaming fatgirl said...

I absolutely agree with you on all counts. I was discussing this with my husband this morning because I have frustration with the way in which "successful" weight loss bloggers encourage distorted relationships with food (not just Lyn, not by a long shot) which may encourage others to adopt similar distortions and exacerbate their problems.

I think that a merry-go-round is a good metaphor for what happens when people rely solely on mechanistic processes (certain diets, plans, etc.) to lose weight without a psychological component to address underlying issues. My feeling is that there needs to be a concert in play for each individual and each composition that is played is different. The instruments for a success resolution must include three factors - biology, psychology, and mechanistic practices that are changed. Quite often, diets, plans, etc. are the sole focus with people thinking they can bully themselves or be bullied through them while gritting their teeth and ignoring other aspects. More enlightened people bring their personal biology into the mix (low carb, high protein, etc.) and have a level of sophistication to their mechanistic practices. What most people deny completely is the need for psychological help. Lyn desperately needs it, but up until Medifast stepped in with free counseling to salvage one o their stars as she was sliding backwards into "failure", she insisted she could "do it on her own." So many women insist they have no psychological issues, but most of them are wrong.

Even those who have successfully lost and maintained their losses continue to be kept aloft with obsession and self-definition which is almost entirely related to their body image and food intake. They succeed by keeping their entire focus in one place. This is not psychological wellness. Not regaining doesn't mean you never had a problem mentally. It only means that you developed a means of cobbling together a lifestyle which allows you to keep your problems yet remain superficially functional. To me, these women are expending 10x the energy to keep their bodies in a certain state than would be required had they received therapy. That's their choice, but, again, they encourage dysfunction and obsession rather than healing.

I've been pondering this a lot as of late because I'm going to change careers next year and I had wanted to help people with food and body issues. However, I remain quite discouraged that there will be a place for the kind of thinking I have on this issue in the face of a culture which denies any sort of need for a psychological component, and I refuse to be a party to encouraging any sort of distorted thinking by focusing on obsession or mechanistic processes above all else. This has sent me into quite the reflective state.

Thank you so much for your comments. I really appreciate it.

Jackie said...

Dear SFG,

I hope you are doing well as you continue to recover from your surgery.

I also wanted to let you know how much I have appreciated your blog; this is some of the most insightful and even-tempered writing I have ever read on the subject. Your archives have been a *fantastic* resource. Thank you!

It has helped me so much as I psychologically prepare for upcoming changes in my life. Food is interdependent with so many things that it really takes a holistic approach. Thanks again :-)

Kindest regards--

screaming fatgirl said...

Thank you for taking the time to say that, Jackie. It really means a lot to me, especially because sometimes I think my voice has no value.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to track my thinking as my body changed as well as well as to remember how I got to where I was now. I wanted a mental roadmap back should I ever return to where I once was. These days, I don't know that it's a place I could be in again because I've changed so much emotionally, but "never say never."

I'm really glad that it can serve as a bit of a guide for others as well. It's a very gratifying thought.

My best wishes to you.


Jan said...

Have just caught up on your posts. Once again I am left with so much to ponder. I hope that your recovery is swift and that joy and light fills your days.

screaming fatgirl said...

Thank you, Jan! And I wish you the same!

Take care and happy new year!