Sunday, September 27, 2009

Emotion and Food

I have had a really dysfunctional relationship with food for a long time. I don't want to go into the issues I had when I was a kid with food, but the main point was that I derived power from food. When I ate extra food, I felt "I am in control" and "I deserve this". I really wish now that I had been able to derive this power from somewhere else, or from a strong self esteem. I suffered with really really bad issues with self esteem when I was as young as 4-6 years old (they were not weight related). In fact, I remember this one time at church when the pastor was talking about someone who he thought dealt with feelings of very strong feelings of self-loathing and so on and I knew for a fact he was talking about me. I refused to acknowledge this in public though. I have always been too stubborn and proud for that. In times of privacy, though, I would just eat and I didn't have to think too much about it. I just knew that eating made me feel better. Some of the stuff was delicious (e.g., homemade baked goods) and some really was just to eat (e.g., eating cans of spaghetti sauce). Eating helped me to feel good in the moment.

Earlier in my adulthood I made one major attempt at losing weight. I was pretty successful and lost 60 lbs. I did it the healthy way, eating foods that were good for me in moderation. I thought I had successfully redefined my relationship with food. Then my grandma -- who I called Mema -- began to die.

Mercifully, the end came pretty quickly. I spent about 1.5 weeks with my mom and her in the inpatient hospice. I really remember this one day when I just snapped. I went to the gas station near the hospital and bought a bag of Ruffles, a tub of french onion dip, and a 2L of Diet Coke. I ate the whole thing all by myself in one sitting. It did help to numb the pain a bit. Then I went to Walmart and got a huge bag of Hershey's hugs and ate the whole thing. This type of total death spiral continued the entire time I was at the hospice. It was awful (mostly watching Mema slip further, but the food part was awful too). By the end of our time at hospice, I was worried that my pants would not zip. Mercifully they did, but barely.

Mema died at the end of January and I never did lose the weight I gained in hospice back. In the following year, I finished my PhD, flew all over the place trying to land a job, stopped exercising, and gained back most of the weight. I then moved to Arkansas, felt lonely, eventually sunk into a really deep depression, and then finally gained back all of the weight I had lost and then an extra 10 lbs. Great.

When I lost weight the first time, I did all the right things -- I had eaten healthily, not gone on a grapefruit diet or some other unsustainable crash diet. I got rid of all my fat clothes; Dr. Phil said this would make it tough to gain the weight back (no -- it was easy, but was expensive to re-buy clothes). It just made me feel like a total loser to realize that food still controlled me, and that I was not in control of the food like I thought.

I wonder what is to prevent this all from happening again? I really do feel better when I am living a healthy lifestyle. I feel like my body is a tool that is working on my behalf rather than something holding me back from really living. I feel strong and alive and like I can do whatever I want -- hike, swim, run, and just drink in life. Why would I want to trade this freedom for Hershey's hugs or chips and dip?

I don't know. But I didn't want to last time either, and I did. Does anyone have any insights here? I really am feeling down today, and binged just like old times. I will dust myself off tonight in time for spin class at 6:30 AM tomorrow, but figuring this issue out is something that will be critical to my long-term success. This is a nut I need to crack -- and soon. I really hate it when I feel like a loser.

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