Hello, old friend. It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog entry. Like my diary, I write this blog on an as-needed basis, and I haven’t felt I’ve needed to health blog.
Until a few weeks ago.
I have been in complete denial about putting on a significant amount of weight in a very short time. I’ve been tremendously happy lately, celebrating a number of exciting career achievements and new family members and engagements of dear friends. In other words, I’ve been eating a lot of celebratory food. I’ve been tremendously sad and angry lately, recovering from minor whiplash after being rear-ended, and growing increasingly frustrated at my financial instability and distance from career goals. In other words, I’ve been eating a lot of comfort food. Have you ever had the experience feeling as though your emotions (both positive and negative) are the ones in control of your eating, rather than your self? The worst part is, I was utterly unwilling to admit that this was happening to me.
And I invested in the lies I was telling myself about my binge eating/drinking. I did a bunch of online shopping, 3 or 4 sizes up, and told myself that it was nothing at all; everyone changes sizes from time to time. I would look in the mirror and think “I just ate too much last night and I’m bloated” or I would tell myself that seeing myself 12 pounds heavier than just a few months earlier was not hurting me. I invested a lot in myths I needed to create in order to not break down about my body.
But the myths weren’t holding up. The tell-tale signs were there. My expensive workout gear, that I refuse to replace at this point, fit snugger. Exercising felt substantially harder. Worse, my blood pressure is higher than it’s ever been before- perhaps because of stress, but I also know it’s because I’m not taking care of myself and my health.
And here’s the hard part: it feels impossible to acknowledge that I’ve steadily put on almost 30 pounds since I started grad school, while still being kind to myself. The number of the scale tells me that I weigh as much as my boyfriend did when we first met (a hard pill to swallow in a society that suggests that women must weigh significantly less than men, regardless of body composition). I’m struggling to offer myself kind words when I hate that I’ve put on so much weight. I don’t know how people who have yo-yo’ed in their weight manage the barrage of emotions associated with gaining and losing weight. I can hardly manage this first instance.
The self-compassion exercise I’m most working to engage in is imagining what I would tell a cherished loved one coming to me and explaining to me their weight issues (Neff, self-compassion.org). What would I tell them? How would I say it? I imagine I would softly say that I can imagine how hard it is to feel like something is so out of your control, and that I would do whatever I could to help them feel strong again. I imagine that I would remind him or her about my love for them, and that I will walk beside them in their journey to be healthy again, if they would let me.
In my moments of deep-seated self-criticism I hear myself using harsh, patronizing words and an aggressive tone. I say words that touch upon maladaptive core beliefs, that assign self-blame and that suggest that I am weak and incapable. Where is that soft, loving, compassionate voice? I miss her.
So let me tell you about my tipping point. I weighed myself and, at 160 pounds, decided that I needed better manage my habits. I made an appointment with an incredible dietician. She never once asked me about my weight; she only asked if my clothes fit tighter than usual. She is having me keep a food diary, with my symptoms of digestion, mood, etc. listed on the other side of the page. She also suggested that I didn’t necessarily need to eat less, but to shift my eating to earlier in the day, to avoid going into “food debt” which can cause binges in the evening.
I’m just getting started on making changes. My goal is to feel healthier and more in control. In just two weeks, and without major dietary changes by any stretch (I’ve only cut out beer, which destroys my stomach), I feel so much less bloated. I feel much more in control of what food and drinks I consume, and even simply writing my food down has made me so much more mindful of my consumption. I want to make it clear that it is not my main goal to lose weight, but it would be a happy accident if I lost a few pounds! It’s going to be a long effort, but I want to work towards better managing the relationship between my eating and my emotions.