Thursday, October 4, 2012

Backward Slide

Before I get far, I have to make it clear that when I talk about sliding backward, I'm not talking about what most women who are talking about weight are discussing. This is not about regaining weight. It is about mental changes relating to food and the place it holds in my life. That being said, I do believe that those mental changes are where the potential for weight regain reside, so it's important to nip them in the bud now and deal with them.

Since returning to the U.S., my life has been immensely stressful. I cannot begin to make anyone understand the effects of the reverse culture shock that I'm experiencing because one would actually have to have been in this situation. The best way I can say it is that I feel like everything around me is wrong and these differences are a consistent source of stress. I feel tense every time I go shopping for food. Walking along the street and having someone pass by me gives me a tiny amount of anxiety. Getting into the car makes me tense up.

There is no cognitive processing underlying these responses. I am not afraid of anything nor do I have a concern for doing the wrong thing, looking foolish, or appearing out of place. I simply feel like the world is askew relative to how I expect it to be. This is a neurological response issue, not a choice on my part. It's one that I cannot over-write by force of will and has to do with brain chemistry patterns and systems that are laid down by association with situations and people of a particular type. Time and experience are the only things which will make it better as new experiences and patterns are allowed to emerge. I understand the underlying neurological and chemical issues, but I will not trouble my readers by going into jargon-filled explanations.* Suffice it to say, this is not something that can simply be gotten over.

The everyday actions of others that they blithely carry out in the normal course of their days are an effort and stressful to me. The range of "easy" choices for me in a given day are tiny now. The range of "not easy" and "difficult" is huge. I'm exhausted everyday, even when I appear superficially to just be doing a normal amount of activity. Every night, I'm incredibly tired, even when all I've done is the type of thing I did before in the country I previously lived in.

There are, of course, other issues. I don't have a job. I'm not yet living in my own place (that will come very soon though). My husband and I continue to deal with bumps along the road in our relationship as the result of the changes in our lives (as should be expected). I'm not sure where my life is going, but I do know that I'm unhappy where I am. Sometimes, it is manageable as it is today and sometimes I just want to leave and go back to where I was.

Hating it so badly that I am driven to tears is something that I can't say is uncommon. However, I have to accept, at least rationally, that this will change. I have had experience before with this sense of suffering. When I first started college, I hated it so badly that I'd come home everyday and cry. I desperately wanted to quit and abandon the whole idea. Since I'd borrowed a lot of money to go, I didn't feel free to simply walk away. By the end of the first year, it was okay. By the end of the second, I loved it. I hang on to that experience as an indication that things will get better, even if I hate it now.

Yesterday, I had what can best be described as a meltdown. This has happened several times since coming here, but it was the first time that I sat there, alone and crying, thinking that, "if I just ate, this wouldn't be like this." I knew that, if I started to stuff myself again, I'd be both comforted and uncomfortable enough to ignore my feelings, and fall into a pattern that would distance me from the suffering I've been enduring. I could do the equivalent of getting drunk or high to put myself out of my misery rather than sit there just stuck in the pain of the moment (or the hour or two, as was the case).

I didn't do that, of course, but there have been other mental backslides as well as some behavioral ones. One is that I've been finding myself devoting about 400 calories a day to incidental snacks like cookies, pretzels, chips, etc. I'm not overeating, but I am eating smaller amounts of healthy food and then eating these other things. This is not a good pattern. What is more, it is starting to feel more compulsive than mindful. I decided that this has to stop. Sure, I can have my treats, but not like this. Eating 200 calories of "dessert" after both lunch and dinner as well as another 200-400 calories at tea time is not necessary to satisfy my sweet tooth. That is an immense daily calorie dedication to gratifying my desires as opposed to eating nutritious food. I need to get back to smaller, more mindful, and discrete habits.

Finally, there is a return of my treating my body as a garbage can. One of the things that I forced myself to stop doing was eat things which didn't taste good because they were there and I didn't want to waste the money. Since I'm not working and my husband and I are drawing on savings, I have increasingly started to eat things which are old, poorly made, and not especially tasty (but at least nutritious) because I feel they should not be wasted. This is not the end of the world, of course, but it is the start of placing the small value of food above myself. I need to stop doing this as well.

I'm hoping that recognition of these issues at this early point will help nip them in the bud. I'm sure that this is happening because I'm deeply unhappy where I am and with what my life is like at present. However, I knew that things were not going to be easy when we moved and I know that I have to be able to hold my food habits together at the worst of times as well as the best. If I don't have the mental tools to manage it now, then I need to do some more exploration of what is going on in my head and find some other coping methods.

It's not enough to be doing well only when life is good. I have to maintain the same relationship with food regardless of my current circumstances. I believe I can do that, but only if I actively attend to my feelings, experiences, and needs. That's what I'm going to do. The first step is right here and that's awareness.

*If anyone wants the deeper explanation, e-mail me and I'll tell you about it or send reference links.


karen said...

Thank you for sharing this. Years ago, I moved from the Midwest to the South and experienced a serious depression. While the cultures are not as different as what you have experienced, believe me, it's a large change. Certainly during this time, I used food for comfort. I'm glad you are aware the potential effect of your move and making sure you stay healthy.

screaming fatgirl said...

My undoing after I first successfully lost weight was a move from the Northeast to the West Coast (where I am again). I can absolutely understand what you are saying as the "culture shock" is just as hard regionally as it is internationally. There are huge differences in various parts of the U.S. What is more, the loss of support systems, familiar surroundings, and close relationships is the same even if the move is as little as a day's drive. It's a potent source of stress, and I know that what you suffered from was very similar to what I experienced both when I first moved across country and when I moved abroad (and back again).

Thanks for your comment

LHA said...

Your post came at a time when I am struggling through a very painful emotional time also. It involves problems, issues and changes that are different from yours but the result feels similar. Bravo to you for recognizing the signals that your relationship with food is not quite as it should be and start to work on that. In my experience that is enormously difficult, if not impossible. Your blog is inspiring and I wish you the best of luck moving forward through the difficult situation in which you find yourself.

Human In Progress said...

The honesty and clarity expressed in this post is admirable. Thank you for sharing this part of your life with us.

Human In Progress said...

Honest and clear--two of the reasons I keep coming back to your writing. Thanks.

Sarah Quina said...

You continue to amaze me. There is no substitute for time...

hopefulandfree said...

I hope your struggles and/or "slide" are easing up for you. The neurological jolts are real. Sometimes brutal. I wish you peace and wellness. And continuing courage.

Jackie said...


Thinking of you and hope you are hanging in there. I appreciate your writing so much and often return to the archives for re-reading and understanding more.


Anonymous said...

I have missed your writing which always illuminates and touchs me. Hope everything is okay.

Anonymous said...

I miss reading your insightful, well-thought out posts. Hope everything is okay. I'm thinking of you.


Anonymous said...

Hi, I was just thinking of you. I hope you are doing better.