Weighty Matters

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Emotional Reactions

I think I’ve always been an emotionally-driven eater.  When I’d get upset, hurt, sad, I’d turn to food in an attempt to console myself.  Angry? I’d eat to suppress the “negative” emotion.

Emotionally, my early reactions were fostered by two different parents.  My Dad very openly expressed anger or upset – often loudly.  Mom did not express her anger or upset very well at all.  When I got angry, I often supressed it, sometimes to the point where it would bottle up, build and build and then explode.  I’m all in favor of appropriate expression of emotion – but a big time explosion never felt appropriate to me and really ripped me apart inside.  Then I’d eat over that too.

As an adult, I find that sometimes I still have a world of trouble with expressing anger in a more correct and effective way.  If I’m really pissed off, my tendency is more to turn it inward and have it leak out in tears.  I hate that.  It feels like I’m selling myself and my entire gender out by reinforcing the stereotype that women cry.

Remember the Tom Hanks character line in A League of Her Own?  There’s no crying in baseball!  Well, while crying is okay when sad or upset, it really isn’t okay with me when I’m angry about something.

Friday was a not-great day for me emotionally.  I have some challenges and issues professionally-related.  I believe that I have a right to be angry about some of the things that are going on.  Unfortunately, instead of being able to say something like, “I don’t think this is a fair course of action and I’m really angry about the way that this is being handled”, I started to talk and felt my throat start to close up.  Then the tears started to well up.  That reaction just got me upset with myself and made me react with even more emotion.

Big sigh.  It feels like a fail.

I really need to work on this.  At least I didn’t come home and eat over the situation and my less than ideal reaction and handling of it.

The situation is not yet resolved so more discussions are going to take place.  My strategy is to prepare and rehearse the potential conversations.  Then I can also focus on my breathing and staying calmer and less emotional.  I can make my valid points without going off the rails.  Like so many things, this too is a learning process with, hopefully, positive progress.

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Not Eating Over Emotions

Pyxi, one of my precious dogs, is sick.  We battled a nasty bladder infection for several weeks that involved e-coli and required strong antibiotics.  In the course of the infection and the treatment, her kidneys suffered damage.  I noticed her not eating as much – maybe half her daily amount, if that – and she was losing weight.  She had less energy and enthusiasm about taking walks.  Although she’d always take a treat and was excited to see me and cuddle, overall I knew that she was off.  When we went for the followup appointment to verify that the infection was gone, the vet ordered a full blood panel, did another thorough physical exam, rechecked the digital x-rays, etc.  The blood test showed elevated numbers in key things that indicated the kidney damage.  Her kidneys were functioning at about 60%.  The vet prescribed a low protein diet which we followed scrupulously.  She responded by eating more and showing a definite preference for cooked brown rice, pasta, and cooked chicken breast.

I was positive she was getting better so when we checked her weight and blood levels again and found out that her numbers were worse, it really hit me hard.  Overall she continued to eat better and seemed more bright-eyed and energetic, but those damned blood numbers.   The vet put her on a capsule to bind ammonia which reduces the work the kidneys have to do.  I’m monitoring her to see if she gets more lethargic or starts to get sick to her stomach more often or, in general, shows signs of her conditioning rapidly worsening.

I am a wreck.  There is a whole smorgasbord of emotions going on inside me right now. I’m scared, sad, upset, stressed, worried.   Her kidneys might not regain full function, but if that’s the case there are things we can do to sustain her and allow her to continue with a good quality of life.  The most terrifying scenario is if her health continues to worsen.  The mere thought of her declining into full renal failure is more than I can stand to think about right now.

It is difficult for me to focus, but I have to in order to function, so I’m doing it.  When my mind wanders, the emotions well up again and I cry.   I don’t like crying.  I particularly don’t want to do it at home in front of Pyxi.  Our dogs are so keyed into us.  If she senses my upset, she’ll get upset.  She needs my positive energy.

So here comes the dilemma for someone who has an eating disorder for whom emotional eating has always been a coping mechanism.  Not a particularly effective coping mechanism, but it was the one that I had at my disposal.  Stuffing down the emotions with food seemed to enable me to deal.  (Even though that’s not really dealing, I know.)

How do I not eat over my emotions?  It is imperative that I not seek refuge in food and use bingeing of calories or carbs to take the edge off of my upset.

Here’s what I’ve done so far today.  I talked about the situation in my regular acupuncture appointment so that the practitioner could help with my stress channels.  I’m being very careful to continue to write down my food plan and commit to my abstinence from compulsive eating.  If it isn’t on the plan, it doesn’t go into my mouth.  Stress can create stomach acid and for me and many other bariatric patients, stomach acid can sometimes feel like hunger.  For me, keeping hydrated helps.  Maybe flushing water through my stomach not only creates a feeling of fullness but dilutes the ability of stomach acid to form.  I don’t know, but it works, so I’m sticking to it.

Mentally and emotionally, I’m doing my best to rehearse a positive attitude and outlook.  I’m embracing hope that she will improve in the next two weeks or, if not improve, at least hold steady.  She’s a spirited little girl and together with her vet we will fight to help her get well.

Me eating over the emotions is not going to help the situation.  It will only make me feel worse.  The temporary distraction or mock-relief I get from eating crap or eating too much is not a positive action.

Taking good care of myself in this crisis ultimately helps me take better care of Pyxi.


Fear Is Not Good Motivation

I’ve come to understand that I cannot scare myself into losing weight or sticking to a food plan.  Being afraid of failing, of getting sick, of gaining back all of my weight, of losing the joyful life I have, heck, of dying, does not serve as great motivation.

I wish it did. If fear alone could keep me on track, I’d never veer.  Not even a millimeter off track would I step.  Unfortunately, my eating disorder doesn’t differentiate between a fear that could motivate me to stay in recovery and any other emotion-based fear.  For an emotional eater, any fear can be a trigger.

When I was a kid, occasionally out of their concern for me, my parents would try to impress on me the risk of being overweight and the potential dangerous health concerns that I faced if I didn’t diet and lose weight.  I know they hoped that being afraid of developing juvenile diabetes would get me to stop overeating, but those talks only made me want to eat more.

Right now, I’m experiencing a lot of fear and, for once, I’m trying to be rational, calm and objective about it so that I don’t overeat.  Instead, I try to spin my emotions into a more positive mindset.  It doesn’t do me any good to castigate myself and say things like, “If you mess up your food plan, you’ll gain back all of your weight; be fat and miserable.  You’ll put yourself right back on a fast track to early death or disability.”  That approach multiplies the fear and creates a mess of other negative emotions.

So, I’m really trying to focus on how I approach everything and look for the positives.  For example,when I think about preparing meals or if I’m faced with the choice whether to dive into some poor choices, it’s much healthier for me to think and say things like, “Follow your food plan and you’ll not only enjoy a delicious dinner, but you’ll be happy knowing you stuck with your program.  You’ll not only feel healthier, but you’ll be healthier.”

That’s a very simple example, but I think you get the gist.  The more I reinforce positive choices, the better.

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Compulsion Grip

I wish I could come here today and say that I’ve missed blogging for a few days because I’ve been super busy, but that would be a lie. I’ve been avoiding blogging for several reasons, none of which are good. I’m weary in my spirit, in turmoil with my emotions, and locked in the grip of compulsive eating. Unfortunately, when I eat compulsively, I don’t choose celery or lettuce. Instead, I’ve been diving into chocolate, but if chocolate isn’t available, I find other stuff to eat. And eat. And eat some more of. Although the compulsion occurs with small servings, it’s all relative and even small bites can add up to damage when they occur over time.

A couple of days before I left for my recent trip, I went through a bad, emotional time, centered around one of my community involvements. My service with this particular organization had been weighing heavily on me for sometime. I increasingly felt more stress and anxiety and I’d lost my passion and energy for it. No fault of the organization. It’s great and fills an important need. This was all on me. However, I firmly believe that when this happens, it’s time to step away not only for my own good but, ultimately, for that of the organization. Things kind of came to a head the night before my trip and I woke up knowing that I needed to make the break, so I did. While surprised, most of my colleagues wrote understanding, supportive emails. Unfortunately, one friend was/is very upset and angry with me. She expressed hurt over my lack of trust that I didn’t come to her first and discuss it with her. Emotions ran high with both of us and, in short, it got very messy. Unfortunately, I believe our friendship is a casualty in my decision to do something that was meant to be a health choice for me.

That’s the background. I’m working my way through the emotions, but here’s the thing about a compulsive eating disease. Once I engage in the behavior and fall into relapse, it’s really difficult to put on the brakes. I’ve talked about that before and don’t want to engage in whining, but it’s my statement of fact today. I imagine it’s not all that different than an alcoholic who falls off of the wagon. Once in the grip of compulsion, the compulsion rules.

Even if mentally I tell myself to not start or, if started, to stop . . . even if I have the best intention, when my disease takes hold, the physical act of eating overrides everything else. I have to say that it really, truly sucks.

So right now, in addition to feeling all of the residual emotional upset from the situation I was in, I have piled on the dismay, disgust, depression and dis-ease of being in the compulsion. Oh, and there’s also the physical discomfort of eating undesirable food in less-than-healthy amounts. One small chocolate as a treat isn’t bad. Eating a series of them, even stretched out over hours, results in queasiness.

I would like nothing more than to curl up in my bed, under the covers, and cry for an hour or two.

Instead, I’m here in front of the computer screen, sharing my status regardless of how pitiful it makes me appear. I’m fighting the “stinking thinking” that tells me I’ve blown it. I’ve blown everything. I’m never going to be able to stop eating and will gain all of my weight back, cripple myself and die early.

Yes, my “stinking thinking” can be incredibly dramatic. So, I blog and remind myself that relapse does not have to be forever. I’ve gone through some messed-up days, veered far from my appropriate food plan, and not attended to my regular exercise routine, BUT and, yes, that deserves to be a big BUT, a few messed-up days do not mean my entire effort is blown. I am not doomed.

I may not be able to change how my friend feels about my choices. I can, however, break out of the grip of compulsion and stop the relapse behavior. I can build acceptance and find serenity. I can treat myself with compassion, practice good self-care, undo whatever weight gain damage I’ve done, and move on.

I just caught myself thinking, “Oh Jesus, Mary. You’re writing about this again?? These people don’t want to read about this same problem, same old struggle another time.” Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. The point is that this is my journey and the blog is a tool to help me along the way. The eating disorder, the damned compulsive disease, is always part of me. There are always going to be times when I struggle to stay on track, and there will be times when I fall off. Not blogging about it, not forcing myself to confront and think about my issues and actions, doesn’t help. In fact, not blogging helps me creep into the denial stage. It does me no good to ignore what I’m doing. In fact, ignoring is the worst thing that I can do.

So I’m not. I’m not going to cower under the covers and cry either.

Onward and upward.


My WTF Week

By the time last Thursday rolled around, I had officially proclaimed that I was having a WTF (What the _ _ _ _) week. Random, strange, unexpected or otherwise stressful situations and people kept happening. By the time that I got home every night, I was wiped out. Hence the four days between blog posts.

Before I go further, I would like to ask for some positive energy, good thoughts and prayers for one of my aunts. She’s in the hospital in critical condition. She went in with an infection that started in her skin and went septic. This led to renal failure. She’ll be 88 in October. This is a bad situation. We hope that her kidneys will regain their function as the infection is cleared up. Thank you in advance for your good vibes.

So with all of the stress stuff going on, I’m thinking a lot about how I’ve used food and overeating to cope for all of my life. More to the point, I’m really working on not using it in these ways any more. It’s become a different kind of WTF week, as in “Why the Food”? I’m still building on the realizations and acceptance and all of the other emotional work I’ve been doing recently. In thinking about all this, I’ve tried to check in with myself and ask, “What does food and overeating do for me? Why do I keep going back to these coping mechanisms? What’s the positive payoff?” The overriding question in all of this then becomes, “Why do I think I can’t give it up?”

Actually, I know that I can stop doing it, but sometimes it just feels like I can’t, or it scares me to think of letting go of my security blanket. I don’t know what I think will happen to me if I do. I’m not sure what the source of my fear really is.

Then sometimes I think that asking all of the why, why, why doesn’t really get me far. What matters most is that I stop doing it. Understanding might just be the bonus — or maybe the booby prize.

So, instead I’m trying to reframe the discussion and tell myself new truths, as in, “You know, you really don’t need the food to cope. The food isn’t going to help you cope. In fact, it’s a detriment.” I am also reminding myself that I am stronger and more balanced and that I have different, healthier methods. I can take a walk. Dance around the room. Cuddle the dogs. Go for a bike ride. I can do almost anything other than overeat or eat inappropriately that will help me in ways that food and overeating never did.

These are things that I need to reinforce within myself. The whole mindset is a valuable tool to carry around with me the next time I need help coping.


Emotional Eating

I’ve been up and down emotionally the last few days. I had the inefficient worrying to manage, then the up of the better-than-expected day with some hurdles successfully hurdled. Yesterday, I not so jokingly said to a friend that my ass hurt. When she asked why I replied that it was because several people were being pains in it. Basically I experience a series of aggravating situations. Unfortunately, rather than tap my car door and leave them behind before Tai Chi class, I brought them with which made me less even-keeled and more stressed about dealing with some challenges and changes.

It isn’t like me to not be able to roll with stuff, but I couldn’t last night. This is alien behavior. I’ve always had the rep of a champion coper, able to deal with tough stuff, get it done, etc. It isn’t like I fell apart, but I was not in a good, even-keeled mood at all.

I really have to wonder how much of this is because I don’t eat over the emotions. I’m not stuffing them down and smothering them with massive quantities of food. I’m not emotionally eating in the manner or extent that I used to. It will probably serve me well to remember that handling the feelings without food, when that was my go-to coping mechanism for most of my life, is one more thing that will take time to be familiar. It requires new strategies and coping mechanisms. I can go it. I just need time and practice.


Validation & Encouragement

I’ve talked about the whole calorie reduction suggestion not only here but also to good friends. To a person, everyone has agreed with me that cutting my calorie intake by 25%, which would put me in the 600 to 750 calorie range a day, isn’t a good move. That’s putting it mildly. Some of the reactions were quite a bit stronger.

I know in my gut that I’m right to reject the suggestion and, at the same time, want to share that having that instinct validated by you and my friends really helped my emotional state. As upset as I was, these could have been really bad food and eating days. Instead, talking it out, getting positive feedback, validation and encouragement, helped me balance myself.

I’ve been pretty even keeled, eating balanced, planned meals. Exercise-wise, I got in my full exertion and effort both yesterday and today. All in all, I feel really good.

I’m going to take how I feel today and build on it tomorrow, then the day after and the day after. When one has such tremendous, long term, deep issues with food and eating, enjoying days when these things aren’t issues are moments to mark, to treasure, to use as stepping stones for further progress.

One foot in front of the other. One day at a time.


Filters and Lenses

Something happened at work today that put me in a slight conflict with someone whom I greatly admire and care about. I can’t go into tremendous detail, but when it happened, it triggered my usual reaction when he and I disagree. I feel like, at times, he doesn’t trust me to do my job. At least that’s what his behavior conveys to me.

That said, a very wise woman with whom I also work, who knows about this issue with me, pointed out that when he and I are in conflict, that feeling naturally comes up for me, because I view his behavior through that particular lens. If the same situation developed with someone else, even if it was also a conflict, I would experience a different reaction and feeling because I’d look at it through a different lens.

I got that. I really did. I’m just trying to process it a little more because, even knowing that my viewing lens and filters, might skew my perception of the situation in that moment, it doesn’t make the feelings any less real or upsetting.

Everything resolved, but I feel like tonight I truly need to embrace the lesson and work on this. See, even if in the past he acted like he didn’t trust me to do my job, and that was hurtful, it doesn’t mean that he’s bringing that into every disagreement. I did it with my filters and lens and created the extra turmoil that I’m sitting with tonight. If I do this with him, then there are probably others with whom I have different triggers. I don’t think this is a big, mysterious thing, or that I’m terminally unique. It might even be natural that we bring the old stuff with us into the new. That said, natural doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy behavior. Call me confuddled and confoozled while I try to lay off the dry roasted peanuts.

After work, I drove home and took the dogs out for a walk. I followed the walk up with a 30 minutes bike ride before dinner. The activity cleaned out some of the brain junk. After the meal, I settled in on the recliner. Cuddling the dogs provided much needed soothing, but I also realized that my emotions are bubbling right at the surface. Hence the struggle with the peanuts. I also got downright weepy over Valerie Harper’s bravura attitude on Dancing With the Stars. Seriously. If I cry over someone dancing, it’s a sure sign that I feel sort of rocky.

I’m going to do the best thing for myself and go to bed early. I’m not going to straighten out my old behavior patterns in one night, but at least I can more clearly see the problem. It’s a start.


Finally Friday

For an allegedly shorter work week, it felt like Friday would never arrive. Lots of challenges, stress on projects, additional commitments after work and general emotional upheaval. All of these things were made more difficult by a constant desire to eat over them. To be honest, I won some of those food fights and lost others. However, I must have compensated enough for the occasional foray into chocolate by keeping my actual meals light and healthy. I obviously didn’t do as badly as my diseased brain tried to make me think I did because I lost a little weight nearly every day and ended up with a good number at week’s end.

I also did my best to hold onto the idea that exercise is a great anti-depressant. It’s not that I was depressed, I was more emotionally exhausted but both conditions need a boost so exercise really helped. I got in two Zumba classes, did my Tai Chi, got the dogs and myself out for good walks and looked for other ways to incorporate movement into my days.

Here’s a really strong reminder. No matter what life, work and other commitments demand from us, we absolutely have to stay true to the things we need. Before I went out for a day on the water Monday, I made sure to go to Zumba class in the morning, which I normally can’t do because of work. I had to go to a meeting after work on Tuesday, but expressed the need to finish up so that I could get to Zumba by 6 p.m. Wednesday, there was a fundraising committee meeting scheduled. I gave it a good 45 minutes and then excused myself so that I could rush home, feed and let out the dogs, change and get to Tai Chi class.

Did all of this extra rushing around add to my stress? I’m sure it did to some extent, but the negative was adequately countered by the positive of the exercise. Even earlier this evening, when it would have been incredibly easy to sprawl in my recliner like a stranded starfish, I took Nat and Pyxi out for a walk. I have a responsibility to their health and well-being too. I neglected their exercise for too long when I was my fattest. So these days, even when I’m tired and ready to neglect myself, their need helps to motivate me to get moving.

I didn’t blog for a couple of days because after work, commitments, walks and everything else, I was often so tired at night, that I couldn’t string my thoughts together. I tried to treat myself well and go to bed early. I’m sure it was helpful for me to be in bed before 10 p.m. Yes, that’s early for me.

Unfortunately, the plan didn’t achieve what I needed. Apparently, me going to bed early threw off Nat and Pyxi’s schedule. (They sleep in my bedroom on their beds or the floor.) Either that or the neighborhood doesn’t settle completely down by that hour either. Whatever the case, the first night after I’d slept solidly for about 90 minutes, something disturbed Nat, which he signaled by letting out a mournful howl. I then had to let them both out into the backyard so they could investigate. Once awake, I started to think about some of the stressful situations I was sorting through and that kept me up for a couple of hours. Grrr.

I’ve never been a parent, but I’ve heard friends say that they can be fast sleep and the slightest sound from their children will wake them up. I feel that way sometimes with my dogs. Last night I again went to sleep before 10. At 12:05, Pyxi uttered the smallest whimper by my bedside. Up I rose to let them out. This time I was able to fall right back to sleep but three hours later, Nat cried. Yes, I could have let him cry but that wasn’t going to get me back snoozing any sooner so we repeated the process. I swear the two of them tag-teamed me and decided it was Pyxi’s turn again at 5. I don’t care that I kept falling back to sleep, these many interruptions do not make for a restful, restorative night.

I hereby declare that tonight will be different. For one thing, I’ll go to bed at my more accustomed time of 11:00 p.m. That will help me achieve 7 1/2 hours. It also sets the pups back on the right schedule. At least that’s the plan.

Tomorrow we have a Tai Chi open house and then lunch with friends. I have no other definite plans or responsibilities for the rest of Saturday. There are always things that I need to do around the house, but I’m not on a deadline so there’s no pressure. Sunday, I’m going to swim with dolphins at work as an uplifting treat to myself. After that, it all depends on the weather. I might go out on the boat, or I might just relax somewhere with a good book and take it easy. It’s been a rough week. The weekend needs to be my way to smooth myself out mentally and emotionally.


Emotional Eating

I’m having an emotional day. Nothing specifically happened to cause it, but I’m a little moody and reacting less reasonably to somewhat minor things. Most people would shrug it off and go on. It’s a little more challenging for those who are emotional eaters.

Does that sound as much like whining as I think it does? I typed it, re-read it and all I hear in my head is “Wah wah wah, nanny nanny boo hoo.” Okay, that might just be more evidence of me being moody and out of sorts. Anyway, the thing is that when I’m emotionally off-kilter, I instinctively want to eat. It has nothing to do with physical hunger. Instead, I’m trying to feed another need. It’s like I know that I’m being irrational so I want to squelch it and the reflex behavior for me when I need to squelch is to smother the feelings with food.

I have peanuts in the house and I was just going back to the cabinet for another snack-sized serving when I realized that the action doesn’t really stop the feelings. Instead, it merely gives me something else to do in that moment. I engage in another activity rather than interact with my own emotions. That could sound a little twisted, but what resembles pretzel logic to some makes perfect sense on some level to me.

What really makes perfect sense is substituting some other behavior than eating. By the way, it doesn’t matter if I only took a snack-sized portion. It’s the behavior, the action of choosing to eat compulsively, that causes the problems. There are at least a dozen other things I could do at any given time rather than reach for food. Here’s a preliminary list of alternative behaviors the next time I’m tempted to compulsively eat over my emotions:

Pet a dog (I have two. One is always within reach.)
Do a Tai Chi move, or series of moves, or entire set depending on the strength of the compulsion at the time
Do a few squats, leg lifts, triceps dip or bicep curls
Sing out loud to whatever song is on the radio
Play air drums or air guitar to whatever song is on the radio (Mary trivia: I once broke a finger playing air guitar.)
Walk outside onto the porch and look at the stars (Night time.)
Walk outside and look at the water, count how many different birds I see (Day time.)
Drink a glass of water
Write haiku
Phone a friend
File something (My nails, something from the mountains of unfiled papers in my office, anything!)
Pamper myself in some way – apply cuticle oil, rub scented lotion into my hands
Take a hot bath with a good book

Looking back on the last hour or so, I’m sorry I didn’t think of this list sooner. On the other hand, at least I’ve made it up now so I can call on it if I get another urge between now and bedtime. In fact, after I hit Publish, I’m going to do some Tai Chi and then take a bath. That will put an end to any more emotional eating tonight!