I know I haven’t posted here awhile. It’s mostly because I’ve been dealing with some health issues that have gotten me really depressed, but ended up being an awesome catalyst for getting healthier.
Around April 1st I started feeling chest pain, which I knew wasn’t my heart because it only happened when I started eating–and also because I had a full cardio workup about two years ago which ended up with a recommendation to calm down and start taking yoga. Which I think is doctor-speak for “You’re super-stressed out and you’ve got to learn to cope.” Of course, I never followed the doctor’s advice, keeping up with my insane-too-much-on-my-plate life (and not taking yoga). And so, when I started feeling this chest pain I started worrying that my self-neglect was finally starting to do some real damage if not to my heart than to my stomach. So, I got myself to a gastroenterologist.
An endoscopy two weeks later showed me that I have esophagitis–fortunately no signs of cancer–but a severely inflamed esophagus from the acid leaking out of my stomach up my entire esophagus, all the way to my throat. The acid’s getting out because I have a slight hiatal hernia. So the doctor’s orders were: no chocolate; no alcohol; limited caffeine; no carbonated beverages; no fried, fatty, spicy, or acidic foods; and no eating three hours before bedtime. He also said that I might need surgery to fix the hiatal hernia, but he believes that if I lose even just 5-10 pounds the hernia will pop back into place and I can avoid surgery. In essence, I can solve this problem if I stop indulging my inner-five-year old who seems to feel like it’s okay to eat every sweet and fatty thing that it can find, and lose some weight.
On top of that, while anesthetized for the endoscopy I evidently had some trouble breathing, which, along with my snoring at night indicates that I’m developing sleep apnea. This wasn’t an issue 20 pounds ago. Which is yet another indication that I need to lose weight.
I spent a good 24 hours wailing about being fat, feeling sorry for myself and weeping in bathrooms. Then I got a call from my super-friend M., who caught me at the beginning of my 48 hour I-hate-myself-funk, and told me that even though she’d been training for a kicking triathalon, she’d put on some weight and would love to get it off for good. But then she asked me the best question of all time: “What do you WANT to do?” Not “What are you going to do?” Not “Hey, this is what I’m going to do, do you want to come along?” or “Well, what are you doing about it?” She asked me what I wanted to do. My immediate answer, “Join Weight Watchers.”
Here is my reasoning: I have been working with a phenomenal fitness trainer since November. I have learned a TON of things about clean eating, fitness, and general overall health–most of which correspond to exactly what my gastroenterologist told me about what I should avoid. But there are two things I cannot seem to master without significant oversight: portion control, and what Weight Watchers calls “Hedonic eating.” There are many people in the health community who have ALWAYS practiced portion control and who I truly believe have never had to struggle with hedonic eating. These are people who believe that food is fuel, and that is it. They do not seem to share the mindset that food is one of the only sources of pleasure in the life of overweight people. It is as good as a hug, a kiss, a prayer. It is love, comfort, solace, kindness, fun, reward, joy. We eat (or drink) when we’re happy to celebrate, when we’re sad to make ourselves feel better, when we’re stressed to make things a little more bearable, when we’re angry to calm ourselves down, or just because dammit it tastes good and we want more. It doesn’t matter if we’re hungry or full. It doesn’t matter what our mood is. Food is ALWAYS the answer. There doesn’t even need to be a question.
Now, clean eating, in which one avoids all processed foods and tries to eat only things that are found in nature is a great way to combat weight gain, but doesn’t allow for how difficult it is for an hedonic eater to eliminate sugary, processed foods. Because, seriously, hello? Who reaches for a carrot for comfort?
Now, clean eating is incorporated into Weight Watchers under the term “power foods.” Power foods are foods that are packed full of protein or good fat and a healthy about of carbohydrate and fiber, so they satisfy you and keep you fuller, longer. They’re also things that are “worth” the calories and fat that you get out of them. So a power food is a banana, which has the same calories as a 100 calorie bag of cheese nips. But it’s a better choice for its fiber content. Clean eating would absolutely tell you that a banana is superior to cheese nips, because a banana is a fruit and cheese nips are processed crap. So they’re together there.
But Weight Watchers is totally on to the fat person’s tendency to hedonic eating. The folks who run the program are intimately aware of the attitude of, “Even when I’m not even remotely hungry I eat because it tastes good and I want it and it’s yummy and I’m bored or sad or happy or angry and I AM GOING TO EAT THE WHOLE BOX.” In essence, Weight Watchers is tackling the overeater’s Id, the inner child who for some reason the superego has allowed to run wild.
I realized this the Friday after my endoscopy when I went for a mall walk with my friend D., who is also thinking a lot about getting healthier. She is seeing a nutritionist who has told her that “the closer the food is to the farm, the better it is for her,” and to drink 1/2 of her body weight in ounces of water a day. So I’ve been trying that, too. But we also had this awesome conversation about hedonic eating. She likened it to the child in the mall who throws themselves down on the floor and screams if they don’t get the cookie they want. “Would a good parent give them that cookie?” she asked.
“Of course not! They’d say, ‘No cookie for you now, and no cookie for you for the rest of the day, either.'”
“Right,” she said. “So why do you let yourself have the cookie?”
I have been a truly horrid parent to my inner child. I have been indulging that little bitch like crazy for the past 10 years. I have given in to every impulse, every desire, every want, all with the idea of “I deserve it.” When Boo was first born it was, “I kept the child alive for a day! I deserve some cake!” Then, “I have kept the child alive for a week! I deserve some cookies!” Then, “I have gotten through this day of no sleep. I deserve some ice cream!” Then, “I have nursed her through this illnes! I deserve some McDonald’s!” Then, “I have gotten her dressed, out of the house, to a music class, and back home in time for nap. I deserve this ice cream!” Oh, and when little Critter came along, it got worse. “It became, “I did not slap Boo for pinching Critter! Cake time!” or “Oh for the love of all that is Holy, I am so bored looking at these children and making sure they don’t in some way hurt themselves or each other, I am going to eat this whole box of goldfish.” I don’t even LIKE goldfish!!! But there I was, shoving them into my mouth like they were the last food on earth. When I moved from eating as reward to eating out of boredom, that’s when the problems really started. And where did they end me up? On the floor of my guest bathroom, weeping after my endoscopy, and wailing, “Food is the only thing in my life that makes me happy!”
Which is a total lie. I mean, really. I have a husband whose very presence in my life brings me unbelievable joy. I have two children that have changed the way my world spins on its axis–I never knew even dealing with a tantrum could bring me such happiness. I have friends who are the stars in my life–they bring me brightness and light and even new patterns of thinking. How could I reduce my joy to food? And during that walk with D. I realized that when I said that I was throwing a temper tantrum. Like a five-year-old who was told she could no longer have that cookie any time she darn well pleased, I was throwing a full-fledged hissy fit, saying the stupidest things and lashing out at the people I love because I was being told, ‘no.’ And here I thought I was a good parent when in truth, I’m a big spoiled baby.
And that, as I would tell my children, is totally unacceptable.
It’s still not easy. My inner Id has taken a lot of control away from me. It’s really tough to break the patterns of thinking. But having the restrictions, because of my health, has really helped. Having the support of my friends who have joined Weight Watchers for me has helped. Having a family who wants me to stop snoring so they can sleep while we’re away on vacation–and who also just love me and want me to feel better–has helped. I’ve already taken off about seven pounds, which is bringing me very close to what the doctor wanted me to do. I already feel infinitely better. My husband says I snore less, I choke less, I sound better. But I know deep in my heart that I need to keep disciplining that inner child of mine, because I still need to lose a bit more. But baby steps. Seven pounds is good. Seven pounds is GREAT. And I’m proud of me for finally starting to get my inner spoiled toddler under control.