Weighty Matters

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The Mind Game

on February 12, 2012

I touched on “head hunger” yesterday and want to explore the mental and emotional aspects of my life and how they affect my efforts to improve physical health.   I’m very clear that weight loss surgery is only a tool to use in the overall campaign to lose weight and be more fit.  Granted, it’s a great tool.  In addition to physically restricting the amount of food I can eat at any given time, the section of my stomach that was removed included the area that secretes ghrelin, aka the hunger hormone.  I honestly have not felt much physical hunger in the last two and a half weeks.  Granted, in the beginning, the small remaining stomach pouch was swollen so I always felt full, but even since that reduced, I don’t physically feel hungry.  Mentally, I crave food, specifically anything with more substance than milk.

The post-op protocol spells out a slow transition from clear liquids to solid food.  My doctor’s protocol has me spending more time in each transition phase than other plans and I’m doing my best not to whine or quibble.  I was on clear liquids for the first 10 days post-op and then moved up to “full” liquids.  The difference meant mixing protein powder in milk instead of water, strained creamed soups instead of only clear broths, and the ability to eat sugar free pudding and plain greek yogurt.   Doesn’t that list of menu items make your taste buds want to boogie?  I’m to follow this protocol until I see the doctor again on the 24th. At that point I’ll graduate to pureed foods, then to soft foods and then, finally to solids.

People wonder how I can stand the extended liquid diet.  I just keep telling myself that I can do anything for a finite period of time.  God knows I stuck to some extreme diets in the past.  Mentally, I can be extremely tough and disciplined.

I can also go mentally out of control.  The root of my super obesity is in overeating.  For many years I did not realize that compulsive overeating and binge eating are actual disorders and not merely the behavior of a lifelong weak fatty with no will power.   Food has been my drug of choice, my coping mechanism, my way to stuff down feelings, stresses and pain so that they wouldn’t overwhelm me.   Food has also been the stick I’ve used to beat up on myself.  Coming to understand all this about food saved my sanity and may very well have saved my life.

It wasn’t until I was 34 that I actually learned these truths about myself and my relationship with food, even though I’d been overweight to some degree or another since childhood.  I honestly don’t remember a time when I was an appropriate weight.  That’s a topic for another blog.  For all of my life I was convinced that if I could just find the willpower to stick to a diet, I would succeed.  When I didn’t, I chalked it up to me failing again which further contributed to lousy self-esteem.

At 33, I hit rock bottom physically, emotionally, and professionally.   I had recently come out of a horrible work situation but was now in another one loaded with stress. My self-confidence was at an all-time low and I could barely breathe in the day from the tension and my weight.  I was binging like a mad woman.  If I’d been a coke or heroin addict, I’d have died from the overdose.  We can, however, ingest incredible amounts of food in stomachs stretched by gorging.  A possible binge could easily include an entire medium to large pizza, washed down by a two liter bottle of regular soda with a pint of ice cream or entire cake for dessert.  In the middle of the night, I’d wake up from a restless sleep and only half-consciously stumble to the kitchen and eat something.  Often I didn’t remember these food forays until I saw the open wrappers or dirty spoons.

I’d realized that I needed help from a therapist and had begun to see one a few months prior to the melt down.   Thank God for that because I don’t know what I would have done or where I would have turned for help on that fateful day.   I woke up one morning so completely wigged out that I was convinced if I left my apartment something horrible would happen.  I can still remember sitting, shaking, in a chair and picking up the phone to call my therapist.  I left a message begging her to squeeze me in.  She called me back within minutes and assured me that I’d be okay on the drive to her office.  We did a double session and, before it was over, she told me she wanted me to go to an Overeaters Anonymous meeting that night.  She shared her own story and told me she believed that the program would help me get better.

She was right.  I continued to go to program for many years.  I won’t say that I was always perfect in my abstinence from overeating, but mentally I grew to understand the nature of my relationship with food and how I used it for other than nutrition.  I also learned to stop beating myself up and to let go of shame.  Gradually, I reclaimed a healthier personality with restored self-confidence, serenity and genuine happiness.

This lasted almost 20 years but more recently I began to see myself backsliding.  Although I’d never lost all the weight I needed to, I’d kept my obesity at a manageable level.  I know that sounds like a contradiction in terms, but I found ways to make it work.  Age stepped in and eroded my abilities.  The weight I could manage in my 30s became more destructive in my 50s.  It increased the stress and pain in my joints which reduced my mobility.  With reduction in physical capability came the gradual eroding of my serenity and confidence and an increase in my mental pain.  I mentioned before that my range of activities began to narrow and this began to affect me emotionally.

Wow, I’ve traveled quite a way down memory lane with this post, more than originally intended, but now I realize that it’s important to remember the past so I can use it for the future.  You see, lately I’ve had some fear returned.  Several paragraphs ago, I said that the weight loss surgery and my incredibly small stomach pouch (about the size of a small banana) is simply a tool.  Granted, I won’t be able to shove an entire slice of pizza down at one time, let alone a whole pie.  However, if I fall back on food as a coping mechanism, eventually I will stretch the sleeve, stop losing weight, and regain the pounds.  It’s happened to others.

So I’m working on the mind game.  I wish there were OA meetings where I live so I could return to the rooms, but there aren’t.  I need to devise a different way to work a program.  The truth is that I know overeating is an insidious disease.  It does not solve problems, ease stress, comfort pain or do anything positive for me.

The good news is that I’m in a happy place.  I have a wonderful life in a beautiful place.  I have a phenomenal job where I am surrounded by people who are a loving, supportive family in addition to being co-workers.  I also have complete confidence in my abilities and know that I rock my job.  It’s the best of all worlds.  I do not need to medicate with food.  There are other, healthier ways to handle stress or drama when it blows in like a storm on a sunny day.

I need to be vigilant about the mind game of the eating disorder.  It is every bit as important for me to monitor as it is for me to concentrate on the grams of protein and carbs I ingest or the necessary fluids that I drink.   The hammer, saw and drill can’t build anything on their own without the skill and effort of the carpenter.   The sleeve alone can’t save my life.  Only I can — and that’s the most important goal.

****************

Trying not to weigh myself every day, but it’s hard to resist the scale.  Stepped on the scale this morning and I’m down 36 pounds!

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