Weighty Matters

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Why as the Booby Prize

on June 14, 2012

First off, some self-congratulation.  I’ve made all of my exercise commitments for the week so far!  I exercised in the pool on three evenings, moving non-stop for 40 minutes each time.  I made it to Tai Chi class last night.  What’s more, I really enjoyed all of the activity.  On Saturday we have a three hour long Tai Chi intensive which, call me crazy, I’m really looking forward to.

I didn’t write a fresh post yesterday because I’ve really been musing over my Openness post and all of the comments.  There was much to think about and the process caused some other things to drop into place and, wouldn’t you know it, triggered more questions for me to ponder.

Mostly I’ve been thinking about the Why of it all.  This is not a new exercise.  For decades I’ve wondered about the roots of my compulsive overeating and food addiction.  Going far, far back to my childhood, why did I start to use food for some other purpose than just nourishment?  Why did I first decide that food could do something more than fuel my body?  Why did overeating become necessary in my psyche?

Damned if I know.  I still can’t figure it out.  Sometimes it’s possible to point to some sort of trauma as a trigger for diseased thinking and behavior.  Physical, emotional, mental, sexual abuse.  A sudden tragedy.  Parental abandonement.  The list is long, but none of them apply to my childhood.

Through therapy and much self-study, I know I used food to cope with certain circumstances in my teens and beyond, but those things weren’t the triggers either. For example, my mother’s alcoholism didn’t evolve until I was a teenager. My overeating started when I was much younger.  Food as a coping mechanism was already in place when I needed it for new things I experienced.

I wonder if my earliest chubbiness was really just the normal stage that many, many kids go through, but instead of resolving it and growing out of the “baby fat”, the diseased food behavior developed later than I always thought.

I think it’s a safe bet that addictions run in families even if the substance changes.  My mom was a social drinker even when I was a kid, but it did not disintegrate into a problem until sometime in my teens.  Her father died a few months before I was born, but in every picture I’ve seen, he was morbidly obese.  Possibly he also suffered an overeating disorder.  Possibly the seeds were planted from birth for me to develop some sort of addiction but the conditions that proved perfect for the seeds to germinate and flourish didn’t come together until later.

Again, damned if I know.  Honestly, I do not believe I’m ever going to reach a point where I can sift the information and memories until I’m left with that one shining nugget that I can point to and declare, “That’s why.”

Which brings me to the most valuable realization.  It doesn’t matter.  The why is no longer important.  Knowing why I developed an eating disorder won’t help me fix the problem.   Maybe, and the jury’s out on this, it might provide some sort of consolation, but it won’t change what I need to do on a daily basis to continue to heal.  I don’t need to find someone or something to blame.  Honestly, laying blame anywhere — whether on myself or on somebody else — is counterproductive.

It’s all very simple when I get down to the heart of the matter.  A) I have an eating disorder — the disease of compulsive overeating.  B) I am constantly faced with choices of whether to eat according to my healthy plan or to veer off and eat compulsively.  C) No matter what happened in the past, if indeed anything did, or what I experience today or tomorrow, the choice to remain in recovery is up to me.  Nobody and no thing can make me overeat unless I consent and choose to do so.

I used to think that unraveling the knotty questions and getting down to the why would empower me.  Now I know that I empower myself every day, every meal, every time I choose not to inappropriately eat.

That realization is the prize worth keeping.

One response to “Why as the Booby Prize

  1. Mary says:

    The more I research obesity, the more I become convinced there is a strong genetic and hormonal factor. The BBC does interesting programs on the problem. One such talked about the hunger hormones in some overweight people versus normal weight people. In normal weight people the hormone would peak just before eating then drop off dramatically after eating. In contrast, for obese people the hunger hormone was much more likely to stay at an elevated level even after eating. In effect a constant feeling of hunger for those people. I think I may have mentioned before the study of preschoolers in which some stopped eating when full and others continued eating as long as food was present. It appears some people are programmed to eat more. They genuinely feel more hunger. So whatever psychological and environmental factors that may also be involved, there is a real physical (genetic? hormonal?) factor to obesity.

    The scariest part of all is why do so many people regain weight? It can’t all be willpower because well over 90% of people do regain. Studies suggest it is the hormonal signals the body starts sending out once we lose a significant amount of weight. In a New York Times article this stood out for me: “a surprising conclusion: fat people who lost large amounts of weight might look like someone who was never fat, but they were very different. In fact, by every metabolic measurement, they seemed like people who were starving.” The body fights to put the fat back on to the extent of creating a “semi-starvation neurosis,” making the participants dream of food and fantasize about breaking their diet. How many times have you read a posting of someone trying to lose or maintain weight whose eating has suddenly gone out of control? I see people beating themselves up about it regularly, thinking they lack willpower when in fact they are responding to hormonal signals from their body. Which brings me to the idea of habits and strategies–what plan can one develop to combat these feelings when they strike, because eventually they will. I think realizing how very normal those feelings are helps. It’s not some character failing, it’s a biological process.

    There are people who keep large amounts of weight off long term (see The National Weight Control Registry). Mostly they have adopted new habits and developed strategies to fight weight regain: tracking food, regular exercise, etc. As you said, you empower yourself. Keep fighting the good fight. I believe you can do it.


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