Monday, January 10, 2011

Pride and a Re-realization

Last Thursday, I went to the doctor for my annual check-up. In amongst all the other "stuff" weight. My weight is not an issue for my GP. She knows how hard I work at staying active and moving forward in life despite my physical limitations. However, for me, weight is still an issue.

I consider this blog to be a call to arms for mindfulness and self-respect. Two years ago, I started the blog as my own weight-loss initiative, but over time, I've realized that weight loss should not be my primary goal. Perhaps, it should not be a goal at all. My goal is make peace with food. Not to stop eating, or watch every mouthful going in or ban the bad foods and eat clean 100% of the time. I just want peace.

And yet...I would be lying to say that my weight (cue the opening music to the Twilight Zone) is no longer an issue for me.

So I got on the scale at the doctor's office (because the number goes in my file, just standard procedure) and the result was pretty darn good. I'm going to talk in percentages rather than pounds, because I'm a very, very small person. I probably weight 8-10% less than my highest weight and I have managed to maintain this loss for coming up on two years. In the best of all possible worlds, I would love to see a further loss of 15%...or would I?

(Pause for effect.)

The weight-o-sphere bloggers I admire most have all realized the importance of the mental game when it comes to one's weight although I don't think that everything revolves around the "why" of eating. I recently wrote a post about Dr. Sharma's "revolutionary" statement that when it comes to weight loss or gain, we are not created equal. There are plenty of physiological reasons for one's weight profile and they are totally beyond our control, however I still believe there is some "wiggle space" to talk about the mental game.

I am not a binger. I generally don't eat to soothe myself or to stuff down feelings. I actually think that lots of different foods taste great and by golly, I enjoy eating them. I do have to exercise a degree of mindfulness and sometimes tell myself that I've had enough and that if I really want more, it will be there for me in 15 minutes, or an hour, or even tomorrow. I think I'm generally on the long, slow and difficult road to eating the right amount for me without feeling constantly afraid of "bad" foods or food in general.

But yesterday, after getting off the scale at the doctor's office, something I've realized in the past hit me again like a ton of bricks: I harbour a real fear of losing weight and this fear is rooted in actual past experience.

The first time I lost a significant amount of weight, I was a teenager. The method I used was totally ridiculous and definitely could have led me down the path to anorexia. Once a week, I just didn't eat anything all day. I would drink coffee and tea and some fruit juice (at the time, I didn't think of drinking water and fortunately, I've never been hooked on pop), but that was it. The rest of the week, I'd be pretty careful about what I ate. I can't remember how long this went on, but I can tell you that as soon as I stopped the madness, the weight came back.

I yo-yo'ed for many years, trying various fad diets and of course failing miserably. Then one day, I realized I had been losing weight effortlessly. In fact, I could eat anything I wanted and still the weight kept dropping. I had become hyperthyroid. Medication put me into remission and the weight came back.

I went on my last fad diet a few years after my bout with hyperthyroidism, lost weight again, and gained it back as soon as I stopped following the stupid diet.

In 2003, I had surgery that failed, leaving me extremely handicapped. I got depressed, couldn't eat (even when the hunger pangs were at their worst) and lost weight. I had a second surgery, worked hard at recovery, got there and gained the weight back.

Fourteen years after my first bout with hyperthyroidism, the condition came back and I started losing weight again. Since I was familiar with the symptoms, I was back at the doctor's quite quickly, went on medication and yup, you guessed it, the weight came back.

Then, two years ago, I was introduced for the first time to intuitive eating, which I now prefer to call "mindful" eating. It has not been the miracle that I had hoped for. However, it's the best that I've found for myself and I continue to follow a mindful eating path, to the best of my abilities.

Now that I've taken you on this long ramble, let's go back to the scale at the doctor's office.

I was truly pleased with the number on the scale, as "high" as some might think it was because I realized that had it been any lower, my first thought would have been: "something's wrong...I must be it my thyroid...or something worse?" And I would have immediately tried to find some sort of proof to put a negative spin on things.

It's important to have this kind of realization, hard as it is. The fact is, for the past 18 years or so, for the most part, any weight loss I have experienced (aside from stupid crash dieting) has been due to illness. Why would I welcome something that has so often been the sign of something much worse?

I'm not a "don't worry, be happy" kind of person. Life can be very tough, no matter what your attitude. So I think that my best course of action is to be kind to my fear. To accept it. To recognize its validity and the fact that it is a part of me. And comfort this fear, like I would one of my children. Turning it away, screaming at it, would do no good. Giving it a warm, safe place inside me might in fact having a calming effect.


  1. Great post - I know a "large" part of my recent weight gain came after my recurrence scare/more surgery in '04...
    After all, what do most people envision when you think of a cancer patient? An emaciated, balding, weak & helpless wreck of a person...
    So I know this barrel-shaped abdomen of mine is my own not-so-little fortress to crouch within.

  2. This truly was a very good post. I have hypothyroidism and have been successful with medication. However, I am deeply concerned about how my body will react when I end up going through menopause. I have no kids and my dr. says it will probably come earlier than expected (I'm 40 now). My sister in law has no children either and is 43. She's added 35 pounds to her frame and it's in large part due to entering menopause.
    Our bodies just don't always want to work with us, do they? I think you have the right idea to embrace the fear. By doing that, you keep it close and can keep track of it. Maybe that's my answer, too.

  3. Reaching peace with food was why I stopped my weight loss blogging. It really is the ultimate goal because the rest can follow once you've mastered the psychology. I think that it's truly critical to "keep your eye off the prize" and focus on the process that will get you there. Too many people look at the scale as the end-all and be-all. The scale is offering the trophy, but it's the "training" that gets you that trophy that really matters, not the trophy itself.

    I think that modifying your relationship with food is not a rapid process and part of watching the number on the scale is that people want rapid results, but those results are generally not sustainable or can't be maintained without consistent psychological or physical misery. You know from my blog that I saw peace with food and a healed relationship with it as "the end" rather than reaching a goal weight. One inevitably will yield the other, but people rarely focus on this aspect. It's hard work, and it is work that you have to keep on top of.

    Last night, around 5:00 am, I experienced something I rarely have experienced in my life and that is being awakened by hunger (at the end of a 1600 calorie day full of very healthy eating, hardly a "low-calorie" day, though clearly one designed to continue my weight loss). As I lay t here in bed trying to go back to sleep, I fought a battle with my urges. I could get up and eat something and probably fall asleep faster, or use this as an opportunity to keep the mental muscles I've built to endure hunger when it's not a good time to sate it intact. I fought the urge, and went back to sleep. The thing is that when I woke up a couple of hours later (because my knees were aching), I wasn't hungry anymore. It was a phase that passed, and thankfully, one that hasn't happened to me more than once or twice a year.

    So, even when you make peace with food and can eat appropriate portions of all foods, it doesn't mean the battle is over. It just means you fight it less often and perhaps with more success. Sometimes the body pushes back a bit, and you have to hold the line, but, as you say, do so gently. Don't yell at yourself or punish your body or whatever abusive crap a lot of dieters do. Accept it and use that to build your psychological toolkit to achieve what you want, but allow yourself the time to build a really sound foundation.

  4. Thanks for the great comments to all three of you!