Tag Archives: Weight Loss

At the Core

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I said I was going to work on unpacking some of my core beliefs about weight and body image, and I’ve been doing this. I have not been enjoying the process.

“Core beliefs” is a term I picked up from cognitive-behavioral therapy. It refers to deep, underlying convictions that we’ve picked up from somewhere. Usually we don’t realize the extent of the role they play in our lives and thoughts.

So, enough intellectualizing on my part. What do I believe about my weight and its meaning, and can I look at it honestly and see how messed up some of it is?

Core belief #1: I am not really “me” unless I am below a certain weight. 

This is one of the deepest, and I know I am not alone in it. Many who are overweight see their bodies and selves as a work in progress, aided by a culture that encourages us to see our lives as something that will be completed by a better body–or a house, or a job, or a partner, or any other kind of “carrot.”

The weight at which I am “myself” has become more reasonable than it used to be. It’s thirty or forty pounds less than where I am, as opposed to eighty. The problem is that the line exists at all; that a high weight has consequences not only for my health but my very sense of self.

Core belief #2: There is no point in exercising, or doing other things that are good for my body, unless I am currently losing weight or maintaining a very low weight.

This inner tape has done me an incredible amount of damage. It’s often caused me to miss out on not only the health benefits of exercise, but the elevation of mood and self-esteem moving my body brings. If I have a period of healthful eating and some exercise, breaking the streak of the first behavior requires me to give up the second one as well. Never mind that moving my body would help my mood and make me able to return to better eating sooner–nope, it’s all or nothing.

Core belief #3: Being fat and/or eating more than a certain amount is not spiritual. My spiritual self is thin, abstinent, and free from all compulsions. Contact with the Divine as I know it is something I have to earn by not eating.

This belief started to form in my twenties, when I was first exploring my spirituality in the context of a recovery program for compulsive eating. If I was eating in a way that wasn’t on my (very restrictive at the time) plan, I was resisting God’s will. Being on the diet equalled being surrendered to my God’s will. When suffering a relapse into my self-destructive bingeing, and wanting to pray for help, I felt that I had no right to pray until I cleaned up my act. It was a vicious circle.

This belief gets reinforced today by some aspects of my bipolar disorder. Starting a diet tends to make me hypomanic, and hypomania can bring heightened mystical feelings as well as heightened creativity. Similarly, overeating or eating too many starches and sweets has a sedating and depressing effect, making me feel less in touch with the mystical aspects of myself.

Core belief #4: I cease to be a sexual or romantic being when my weight exceeds a certain amount.

It’s natural for me to wrestle with my sexuality as I age; most of us do in this culture. Even when I was younger, though, this pattern was there. I was always thinner in my fantasies: good sex was only for people with good bodies. Times spent in the lower parts of my weight range were the times I took sexual and romantic risks. Somewhere, within a relative narrow weight range, I change from a sensual and sexually awakened woman to one who sees herself as sexually invisible and dormant. I don’t ask for sex, physical intimacy or romantic attention.

Core belief #5: Someday I will conquer my eating disorder for good and never again suffer a relapse. I will achieve “normality” in this realm and maintain it for the rest of my life. This, more than anything else, will mark me as a success in life. 

I don’t need to go into how unrealistic this is. It’s as ridiculous as the idea that I’ll make myself not be an addict any more. I’ve got this issue, and I’m going to have it for the rest of this lifetime even if my health improves. I have to ask myself how much of my life I want to devote to this one area of struggle.

I’m sure there are more of these core beliefs, as well as the many surface thoughts that come up when I deal with doctors and other people. I have no intention of giving up on my health–but what would happen if I stopped defining myself by my weight?

Why I Cannot See You Again

I miss you too, whoever you are. Maybe you’re an old classmate that I haven’t seen in years, or maybe it’s only been a month since we took a walk together. But you see, it is not possible for me to see you again. More precisely, it is not possible to let you see me. It is not possible for me to let you see me because of my weight.

Never mind that, if you’ve known me for a while, you have seen me at this weight before. You’ve probably seen me at higher weights–but you may have recently seen me at lower weights too, and that’s what I can’t stand.

Ever since I was 13 years old, I have been defined by my weight. Much of this definition happens in my own mind, although it is helped by some aspects of our culture. Going to college, working at jobs, having a child–all of it was secondary. The mark of my success or failure as a human being was a number on the scale.

The weight gain of the past year, capped off by yet another weight gain in the last couple of months, has me convinced that if I see you, what I will see is a look of horror and disgust on your face as you compare me to the last version of me that you saw.

Every desperate attempt at dieting during the past year has been “rewarded” with a weight gain rather than a weight loss. On the advice of my new psychiatrist, I am switching to a very basic mindful eating plan designed to prevent the extremely destructive binge eating episodes. This means that I have no idea what will happen to my weight–and therefore, I have no idea when I will be able to see you again.

Intellectually, I know that if you consider me a friend of yours, weight fluctuations are nothing new to you. In your mind, it’s probably a part of how you view me. You have seen me everywhere on the spectrum of weight, and you have seen me be inconsistent in how I deal with food. To you, it is probably just a personal characteristic of mine. And, if we’ve been friends for a while, this characteristic of mine is not a dealbreaker for you. You have your reasons for valuing me, and those reasons don’t have to do with me winning some kind of permanent victory against my eating disorder. I know this, intellectually.

Nevertheless, some sort of line has been crossed in the last couple of months. I just cannot see you again until I have somehow met the requirements. It doesn’t matter how many poems I’ve written recently. It doesn’t matter what else I might have done that is interesting. It doesn’t matter that you might enjoy having me listen to you about your life, or that we could laugh and play together.

Now, you know me well enough not to believe 100% of what you just read. You know that I don’t always let that voice win, and that I am capable of facing it down to make contact with another person. I will keep trying, because you matter to me.

When All Else Fails…

Tell the truth. It’s something I tell myself about the things I write. Can’t be clever, or cute, or topical today? Then just be authentic. Tell the truth about something, and let it be enough. I’ve been surprised, sometimes, by what eloquence emerges or where it takes me.

Truth: I’m sick. Sicker than I’ve been in a long time. Dangerously depressed, physically ill in ways that are making it much worse, and apparently bent on my own destruction. The slow slide of the past year is accelerating, and I’m afraid I won’t be able to stop it. I fled a recovery convention early two weeks ago, unable to tolerate the crowds and unable to shed my shame long enough to celebrate still being clean.

Truth: I stopped taking my meds for nearly two weeks and now have to titrate the dose up again.

Today I had another medical appointment. I got some more of my blood work back, and confirmed that the thyroid issues are getting worse and not better. My blood sugars are acting up, thanks to the weight gain

(insert every gut-clenching description of shame and frustration I’ve ever written here)

and I need to monitor them and take a little medicine for them again. As for the hormones, apparently my bipolar meds are interfering with the treatment.

I am at last being referred to an endocrinologist, but it will most likely be a slow process. I am being advised that the best, most disciplined eating plan I can carry out should not be expected to do more than (hopefully) keep me from gaining any more.

My meds are covered for another six weeks or so…time is running out to find a psychiatrist who takes my insurance and is willing to accept a new patient.

Meanwhile, life is happening to my loved ones and they need me. They need me to love them, and help them, and be capable of thinking.

Truth: I would rather die than fail them. The trouble with this sentiment is that dying would be failing them.

Truth: The early posts on this site annoy me now, because they were written by a woman making strides forward in her recovery. As I fear sliding back in time, I become the audience she is trying to reach. I resent her for having hope I don’t, even as I wonder how I can become more like her. I wouldn’t give up what I have learned, but I don’t want to believe I will never feel so much grace again.

I am ill enough not to be able to come up with the longer pieces I enjoy posting on this site; attempts tend to peter out after a couple of hundred words. I am giving myself permission to post shorter things until I improve.

So, goodbye for now. Only for now. I have not given up.

Shame Status Report

Shame is trying to kill me.

It has help, from my addiction and my bipolar disorder…but shame is leading the vanguard right now, shrieking battle cries.

Depending on which study you read, up to 98% of people who lose a really large amount of weight gain it back…and these are time-limited studies, in which keeping most the weight off for a mere year or two years counted as success.

I finished my big weight loss in August of 2013. A recent weight gain has brought me to the point of having gained back more than half of what I lost…and I’m feeling crushed with shame. For a year, I’ve been fighting to reverse the gains of the year before. Driven by shame, I wanted it gone now, yesterday, no matter what I had to do. My body disagreed with my plans. My psyche fell deeper and deeper into the hideous rituals of compulsive binge eating.

What I’ve experienced is not a surprise. All along, I knew it was likely. Even as I was losing the weight, I knew the odds were terrible. I was always open about the fact that the medical diet I went on had an incredibly high risk of regain, and I was doing it only because my strange autoimmune condition required swift action. And it has been a success, in that sense. The problem hasn’t returned.

I never claimed to know what I was doing; quite the contrary. And I never, never implied that someone else should do what I did.

So why do I feel so ashamed?

Now, after finding a bit of sanity and staying the same for two months on a food plan that should have resulted in a modest loss, I’m reeling from this recent gain. Ten pounds, from falling to discouragement for only two weeks.

On the bright side, I know now that there is something weird going on with my body. I spent the last couple of weeks being pretty scared because, when I saw my doctor for advice about why my food plan wasn’t working, he examined me and found that my thyroid is swollen. I’m less scared now, because the ultrasound I was sent for showed no masses or nodules in it. I’m being put on an additional thyroid supplement and extra iodine.

So it should be all good…the gain is regrettable, but I have a plan. Well, it’s not all good. I’m frightened about what the new meds will do to me, I’m constantly hungry and I’m even more aware of how crazy I’ve become with food in the last year.

But the shame is the worst–I want to hide, disappear, live in a stasis pod until some of this weight comes off. I can’t write. I’m isolating even more than usual. I’m withdrawn from all physical affection, convinced I don’t deserve a loving or sexual touch for at least 30 pounds.

I blame myself for all of it, no matter the meds changes last year that catalyzed some or the current (possibly long-standing) thyroid issue. Even though the gain would have been less without these things, I’m still a compulsive eater who has been struggling and I can’t forgive myself for that. I can’t forgive myself, or let go of the grief when I think of the lighter, healthier body I had a couple of years ago and how it’s gone and I might never have it again. Any ache or pain I get feels like an accusation, trial and sentence.

My insanity trying to get me to use food to punish myself more. Only two days into this new treatment, it tells me that there’s no point in sticking to my moderate plan, that I’m doomed, that I don’t deserve to care for myself. Depression pipes up from the peanut gallery and tells me none of this matters anyway.

The ongoing and dangerous trend of giving myself little or no credit for staying off drugs continues.

I have no quirky metaphors at my command in this piece. This is a status report and an exercise in honesty. As always, know that it isn’t the whole picture of who or what I am. There are other stories I could be writing today, if I didn’t need to get this off my chest. I could spin a metaphor about a silly game I’ve been playing lately. I could tell you an old story about a bowl of grated apples that nearly inspired an orgy. I could tell you about my most recent victory and the beauty that was my reward…yes, I will tell about all of these things in time. Until then, let this remind any like me that they are not alone.

Goldilocks

I have come to the conclusion that Goldilocks is not an addict.

It’s not a difficult conclusion, really. It’s not that she is without issues, most notably a lack of personal boundaries or respect for those of others. But her behavior is clearly abnormal when observed from an addict’s perspective.

Come on–she samples two bowls of porridge and and finds the third one to be “just right.” She eats it. Satisfied, she goes and finds a nice place to take a nap.

What’s wrong with her? Why isn’t she rummaging through the bears’ kitchen, trying to find more of that perfect stuff? Or trying to mix the hot and cold porridge to capture that “just right” again? Or just gulping down the hot and cold porridge, because it’s better than nothing? How is it possible that she is moving on?

As I write this, I’m several weeks into a food plan I’ve been resisting with the mental equivalent of kicking and screaming for many months. You see, in the past year I’ve alternated my very low-calorie weight loss plan with episodes of uncontrolled binge eating…and, after a lot of suffering, I weigh almost exactly what I weighed last January.

I have longed for sanity…but I wanted it on my terms. I wanted to take off some of the weight I had gained in the previous year, and then eat sanely. In early December, I admitted it wasn’t working. No matter what I want, I have to hear what my body is saying to me: I demand to be accepted and dealt with exactly as I am, and every time you starve me I will torture you with cravings until they bring on a balancing binge.

So I gave in. I wrote down a plan every day, involving specific amounts of healthful food. Real food, not weight loss shakes and artificially sweetened protein bars. I ate what I wrote down, no more and definitely no less.

In a week, I was virtually free of cravings. I felt stronger, calmer, my body ached less, and I seldom thought about food in between my planned meals. I had found the circle of grace…and it has lasted for nearly a month now. My body and mind have continued to send me messages amounting to “About time, dumbass!”

Great news, right? There’s just one problem–I am nothing like Goldilocks. The concept of moderation, of just right, of enough…my addict brain squirms in discomfort.

No quick gratification from fast weight loss? No resolutions to starve virtuously after the latest episode of overeating? No “tomorrow will be different?”

Weird.

I’m not new to this idea. I’ve written often about how foreign consistency feels to any addict, let alone one with bipolar disorder thrown into the mix. Acting too normal for too long; struggling to keep my self-care away from any concept of virtue or vice…yeah, that’s my strong suit.

Embracing, again, the severity of my eating disorder and my need for structure and surrender without discounting or sabotaging my other recovery…yeah, I’m great at balancing acts. My brain doesn’t ever whisper that food would be less of an issue if I took painkillers again, or that I wouldn’t be hungry at night if I took sleeping pills.

Accepting that this process will never end, and loving myself anyway? Sure, I don’t have any critical voices shouting that I should have done this years ago and stuck with it.

Being willing to write honestly about this aspect of me, no matter how much I am sick of dealing with it and no matter how much I fear being boring or repetitive? Sure, I don’t have any egotistical qualities urging me to make my struggles look cool or edgy.

Who am I kidding? There’s no way I can do this alone.
Oh, wait, I remember now…I’m not alone.

The Apple That Time Forgot

Bad things happen when I try to be too good for too long.

It’s a theme I’ve written about before…Bounty Hunter and The Perils of Good Health are a couple of examples. But today, I’m thinking about a certain time and a certain scene that captures the feeling for me.

When I was twenty-two, I got engaged to a graduate student in mathematics. He came from a wonderful European family, was wholesome and innocent in his demeanor, and was quite gorgeous as well. I was his first serious girlfriend.

When we got engaged, I had recently finished college. More relevantly, I had recently begun my first attempt at applying the principles of recovery to my eating disorder. I was aglow with a fire of self-improvement, and I’d lost about 50 pounds, bringing me from my (formerly) highest weight down to a pretty healthy 160. Throughout our engagement, I felt that this version of me was the one he had asked to marry him.

The months went by, as he did his work and I attempted to find some of my own (I had been accepted to a graduate program, but it would not start for a while.) It seemed the course of my life was laid out–continue my education, get married, move to Europe or wherever he got a job in due time and use my skills to get a job nearby until it was time to start having children. Be a good wife, a good daughter-in-law and a good mother; be the woman who was good enough to be chosen by this admirable man.

On many days, we would eat lunch together in the campus cafeteria. From the limited choices I would assemble pretty much the same plate every time: 4 ounces of chicken breast, half a cup of brown rice, some green beans and an apple. Nothing wrong with that meal, but it got monotonous.

For some reason, the apple always took me the longest to finish. I’d cut it into quarters, and there would be two or three left when all of the other food was gone and we needed to get going soon. Getting all of it down, day after day, became a real chore. We jokingly called it the “Apple That Time Forgot.”

I remember those lunches so well, in the way a few selected memories stand out as a full visual. The sunlight slanting through the high windows, the scattered groups of students talking, and me a part of the young couple near the window. In those meals, I was playing the role of what I appeared to be; every bite of those nutritious meals felt like a promise I was making to my fiancé.

I was promising never to get fat again, and I was promising everything that went along with that in my eyes. Promising not to be lazy, or ill-mannered, or behave in any way that would embarrass him in front of his family. Promising to be good and never make him regret asking me to marry him.

There was just one tiny, itsy-bitsy problem with those lunches, that relationship and that plan.

When we were not in each other’s presence, I wandered the streets of that college town and I ate. God, how I ate. Novels in hand, I would go from one fast food place to another so as not to spend hours in one spot and draw attention with the amount of food I was ordering. I’d go home with a stomachache and spend the rest of the day in a fog of self-loathing. Periodically, I would try to stop. Reeling from withdrawal and hunger, I’d drag myself to a recovery meeting and cry, only to be out there again in a day or two.

I am a compulsive eater; I’ve known myself as one since long before I practiced any other kind of addiction. So my behavior was not that surprising, but there was something different about it during that year. It wasn’t just me using something because it’s what we addicts do–it was me having a secret life that screamed, over and over, that what I was trying to be wasn’t me.

How loud did it have to scream? Well, in the ten months until the engagement’s end, I gained ninety pounds.

Yes, bad things happen when I try to be too good for too long.

The Library

Another day, another existential episode in the library.

I’m so lucky to be able to go to the library several times a week! I know many people with traditional jobs would love to have this opportunity. Now that my daughter is taking a couple of classes, I have a two-hour window of time perfect for some quiet writing or reading–and on Wednesday through Friday, my local library is open. The other two days I haunt a coffee shop.

But the library is challenging. It’s a microcosm of my life. It distills one of my common issues into concrete objects: choices.

Here are thousands of books on hundreds of subjects, most of which I know little about. Here, in the poetry section alone, are hundreds of unread poets, waiting to speak to me and reminding me how little I have heard.

How do I pick one? And how do I sit down and pay attention to it, and forget all of the others calling me? How do I silence my skittering mind; how do I zoom in and get the shot in a reasonable frame?

This gets intensified when I’m not eating. For a couple of weeks now (thankfully) I’ve been on my strictest regimen, necessary to begin repairing the recent damage. Lack of food triggers both hypomania and general sensitivity for me–whether you call it psychic sense or something else, I just relate to the aether differently. My dreams are more vivid and crowded, and in a silent environment like the library my mind ranges into more distant and strange places.

There’s a reason mystics fast.
There’s a reason (in addition to the basic fact of being an addict) that I use excess food to ground me; to keep me from feeling like a balloon whose string has been released.

I’m trying to sit with this feeling, as well as name it by writing about it. I’m reminding myself that I’m not alone; that so many before me have felt these frightening things. They must have, to write and think the things they did.

Training and practice of mindfulness techniques can be helpful, and it’s something I am interested in pursuing when time and strength permit. I already use some basic ones, such as “narrating” every detail of a mundane task I’m performing or taking time to note textures and sounds around me.

But the ability to focus on a task without forcing myself is rare for me. And I think I know one reason for it: being completely present in an activity requires giving myself permission NOT to be doing all of the other possible ones. It requires quelling the anxiety associated with all of them.

I even notice it when we’re doing the homeschooling: if I get us doing history, we’re not doing math, etc. It’s crazy! How exactly would I combine the four subjects into one lesson? And if I did manage it, I’d probably feel guilty that we aren’t doing her physical therapy.

All of this is relevant both to recovery and to living with mental illness, because grounding ourselves is so important. Boredom, or simply unstructured time, is one of our deadliest enemies. There’s a reason some people do really well in treatment or hospital and then flounder and sink on the outside–we don’t handle choices well. We drift, we can’t focus, and we become frightened. We don’t know how to be content and present with whatever we are doing.

In a program of one kind or another, we know what to do because someone is telling us. Get up. Be in this room at this time. Draw this. Write about this. Do this chore. Even if we resent it, even if we complain, part of us is eating it up.

Veterans sometimes have similar issues; they struggle with self-regulation after years of living with an imposed structure. Anyone at all can struggle with this while unemployed–and those with mental health issues, who can’t hold a traditional job but need the structure one might provide, have a hard time of it.

The two most common outcomes of this kind of disorientation are acting out and paralysis. For me, the paralysis can be the result of desperately trying to keep from acting out–I remain pinned in one spot, doing something mindless to distract myself, to keep from doing something worse. All of the positive or useful things, whose possibility has created such anxiety, are temporarily smothered under the distress of feeling paralyzed. If I act out instead, of course, the possibilities are smothered beneath remorse and the need to repair damage.

Small victories, like writing here and now, are something I need to savor. I could have dived into a book I’ve read many times, or played games on my phone while surrounded by this atmosphere of thought and learning. But I chose to be with this feeling instead. That will probably change as the day continues, but it’s worth something.