How balanced should you be?

by Christine on June 14th, 2011

filed under Christine's Life Updates

So here’s what I’m thinking this morning, and maybe it’s my overly-obsessive, calorie-counting mind that is over-thinking things a little bit.

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t eat crap food or overindulge. I understand that optimal, healthy food choices and reasonable portion sizes are the ideal thing to strive for. But let’s face it, even the strongest-willed person can cave every now and then; 100% saintly eating just isn’t reasonable.

Well, on Sunday night we had friends come over to the house. I am always really excited to have guests because it means I can cook foods that I normally don’t (because hubby doesn’t eat it). I made bratwurst (what a treat!), hamburgers, fresh salad, homemade salad dressing, and pasta salad. Our friends brought over chocolate cake and rice krispy treats.   I had 1 bratwurst–no bun of course–and some fresh salad.  Until evening. Then I dove into that chocolate cake, pretty much head-first, like a baby attacking his first birthday cake. It’s weird because I normally don’t even like chocolate cake. But it was there, and I was PMSing, and I did some damage.

Let me tell you, it didn’t feel good. I felt sick to my stomach from the sugar. The taste wasn’t even all that great. And afterwards I started playing head games with myself:

How do I fix this mishap?

There’s three ways to go about this. First, there’s the balanced reaction. In order to balance a huge caloric mishap, shouldn’t you need to go to extreme measures in cutting your calories the next day or two in order to make up for the indulgence?  I mean, really restrict your calories until you’ve reset yourself to “ground zero?”  If your cake indulgence was, say 1400 calories, then cut 467 calories out of your diet for the next three days.  For me, since my Calorie Setpoint is somewhere around 800 calories, that would leave me 333 calories per day, for three days, to consume. That’s way extreme. But it IS balanced.

The next reaction is similar to the first: Burn those extra calories at the gym. In the end, the goal is the same as the first reaction: you’re balancing your calories. Except with this method you’re choosing to burn it with exercise instead of through food and diet.  If I exert myself with high-intensity interval training (read about that here), I can burn 700 calories per gym outing for two days to burn those extra cake-calories off.

But then there’s the third reaction: just go back to your normal eating. Eat nice balanced meals, at your Optimal Calorie Threshold, and basically just pretend that the OOPS never happened.

Which method do you take to counter-act your Oops? What is the correct answer?

I can tell you that, as an Eating Disordered person, I gravitate to the first method. I know I can control my food intake, and I can starve for as long as I need to in order to reset my calorie bank to equilibrium (read that story here).  It is drastic, and on the positive side it can balance you out in a day or two. On the other hand, this method theoretically screws up your metabolism.

I then gravitate to the second option.  Exercise. Punnish yourself. Beat yourself up. Sweat until you hurt and want to scream and teach yourself that having a weak will and eating that cake just isn’t worth the pain and suffering at the gym.  Yeah, it’s sadistic but haven’t we all done this, many times, in the past?  The benefit is that exercise is great for you, it boosts your metabolism. The downfall is that it can take longer to reset your calorie bank to zero (especially if you’re only burning 200-300 calories at a single gym outing) and you can really beat yourself up mentally with this method. At least, I know I can. I’m actually more likely to indulge in that cake when I’m done with the gym because, after 2 hours of telling myself how weak-willed, stupid, ugly, fat, and horrible I am, I need to console my bleeding heart with more chocolate cake.  It’s a viscious cycle, at least for me.

But then there’s the last method: Move forwards as normal and pretend the slip-up never happened. The benefit is that your mental health doesn’t take a beating, there’s no need for punishment.  The downside is that it may take a very long time for those chocolate cake calories to be reset, and you may not have the chance to learn from past mistakes.

All my life, I’ve been a drastic-action-taker. I have starved and exercised myself into exhaustion after dumb eating choices, and it just made me fatter and fatter and fatter.  One of the things that changed with the lap band surgery is that I stopped punnishing myself for indulging every now and then and I took the last method: I just move forwards, doing whatever I was doing normally, and pretended that the mishaps never happened.

And I lost weight.

It’s still hard for me, this big mental change of pace. After eating that cake on Sunday, I still wanted to starve myself silly the next day. Instead, I am carefully choosing a normal, healthy choice of meals in order to move forwards. Yesterday, in my “punishment day” I ate a perfectly normal amount of calories for me, and chose healthy options all day. Today will be the same.  But I’m on watch for myself, to make sure I don’t start slipping into extreme reactions.

My brain doesn’t believe that this will work, but the last 2 years (losing 100+ pounds, reaching my goal weight) tells me that it will. Hmmm.

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I still have a lot to learn

by Christine on November 6th, 2010

filed under Christine's Life Updates, Eating Disorders

Yesterday was a mental reminder that I still have a lot to learn, that even though I’m only 2 pounds from my goal weight, that my struggle with food will be with me for the rest of my life.

The interview went really well yesterday. I answered all their questions thoroughly and succinctly. I smiled a lot, tried to show that I’m upbeat and friendly. I asked them questions about themselves and about the company. I liked their answers, and I’m far more excited about the possibility of this job than I was before. I will be very surprised if they don’t call me in for a 2nd round of interviews.

After the interview, I decided I wanted to treat myself to a martini for a job well done. I went to a nearby restaurant and had one–only one!–martini and read a chapter in my book. It felt great to sit there and let the post-interview stress work itself out of my bones.

Then I got in my car and started to drive home. Friday at 4 p.m. means a lot of traffic on the highway, stop-and-go traffic, etc. I could have taken back roads to get home, but I wasn’t in a hurry and said, “sure, I can kill time in the car.”  I had soft music on. The martini had me loosened up. I allowed myself to tap into all these emotions related to work just a little bit. For instance:

  • I’m scared to hell that I’ll hate any job that I’ll get.
  • I’m afraid to admit that I don’t want to work a “real job” anymore. I enjoy being home. I enjoy writing on my own time.
  • I’m afraid to have that conversation with my husband because he has already told me that he wants me to start working ASAP, regardless of whether I “like the job” or not.
  • I even contemplated the idea of getting pregnant even though I find the idea of having a child personally loathesome. Just so I can stay home. Which might be the dumbest way of trying to not-work on the planet.
  • I’m scared of money issues and paying our bills.
  • I’m worried that my husband will quickly begin to feel used and overworked. And I’m afraid that and resent me for putting him in that position.
  • I’m worried that he’s disappointed in me. He’s already confessed that he thinks I’m pretty much unemployable and that I’m a “chronic non-worker,” and that opinion hurt(s) my feelings very badly.
  • I feel totally broken, that I’m not good enough. And I don’t know how to fix myself.

In other words…a lot of very deep emotions kind of hit me all at once. I started crying just a little in my car. Then I drove to a little corner market (called “Stewarts” around here) and walked in. I bought a gallon of skim milk for home and a huge package of mini-cookies. Pumpkin flavored, with heavy cream cheese frosting. I took them back to my car and litterally started shoving them in my mouth. I even gagged once. Just shoving them in my mouth. Eating. Eating more. Crying a little.

Then I drove home. I think it was the sugar rush, I’m not entirely sure. But something kind of hit me funny, and I passed out in the living room. It was like a blackout. I woke up four hours later feeling mostly okay. Not so anxious, emotions carefully carpartmentalized, perhaps a little queasy in the stomach.  I made a small bowl of tomato soup, and that killed the rest of my sugar cravings.

I’ve kind of been tired and out of it all day today.

Yesterday I was reminded that I have a lot of work to do, and a long way to go to battle my disordered eating. It’s not just binge eating, either, and I know it. I probably relate the most to binge eating, like I did yesterday. But as you can see from this post that I also have the ability to completely stop eating for very long periods of time.  It all comes down to the same thing: a poor ability to deal with carefully carpartmentalized emotions plus a loose grip on the healthy coping mechanisms that I’ve learn to put in place (“safe” foods I let myself have, healthy behaviors like letting out emotions at the gym, going for a hike, getting out of the house in any way, etc).  Oy. I have a lot left to muddle through.

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Medicating tragedy with food

by Christine on September 13th, 2010

filed under Christine's Life Updates, Eating Disorders

Last night I slept poorly. I had a nightmare that played out in slow-motion. As many times as I woke up, tried to clear my head, and drift back asleep, the nightmare would pick up right where it left off. The worst part is that the nightmare was a replay of real-life past events.  There were real people, real sounds, real smells, real textures. I woke up for the 10th and last time in a pool of sweat, clutching my sheets tightly and breathing quickly in the beginning stages of real panic.

I jumped out of bed, eager to leave that nightmare behind as quickly as I could. Bad news confronted me nearly immediately – something I don’t want to get into at the moment.  I retreated; I stepped into the shower, sat down on the floor, and cried as I let the water pour over me.

Afterwards I found yet another dead chipmunk in the house; another one of my cat’s kills. A ridiculous parking ticket was glaring at me from the kitchen counter. Then traffic was backed up on the highway, making me late to work.

It’s not even 9:30 a.m. and already it’s a bad day.

I’m having a terrible time shaking the bad memories away, getting the nightmare to go back into its safe compartment of my brain.

My instinct in instances like this have always been to reach for food. I went to the grocery store this weekend, so my cupboards are well-stocked. As I sat on the couch staring at Good Morning America, I kept a running inventory of the food that I could scarf down before leaving for work: canned soup, vegetables, crackers and cheese, peanut butter, omlettes, a bag of candy corn, cereal, rice pudding, etc.

“No,” I said. “That’s not the answer.

Maybe I was thinking about food as a way to distract me from the too-vivid nightmare I just had.

On the way to work I went into the corner store and saw all the Twinkies and ho-hos and Little Debbie’s staring at me. But I said no.  I passed  a Dunkin Donuts, and I felt the urge to go there pulling me like a magnet. But I said no. I passed a McDonalds; I don’t even like their breakfast food, but I was dying to go through the drive-through. No.  I passed three more independent coffee shops. I tried rationalizing a purchase: “A small coffee with cream and sugar would only be about 200 calories. You can afford that,” told myself. No. “A donut is only 150 calories, you can afford that!”  No.

Instead I clutched a pre-packed baggie of green grapes to me like a little girl with her teddy bear.

When I logged into the computer at work, I read Patrick’s blog. He asked, “So, I guess that means we ought to avoid disappointment, right? No, hardly. We need disappointment to become better. Today’s failure is the foundation for tomorrow’s success. Disappointment ought to be given due focus, learned from, and then focus returned to the dream.”

Well, I guess my nightmare didn’t exactly involve a disappointment so much as an all-out terror, and one that I was completely helpless to avoid.  I was a child when it happened, a child! However, despite the nuance in syntax, I think the point remains the same. Not just disappointments, but even real-life tragedies can mold us into better people. Tragedies and horrifying experiences can allow us to be empathetic, sympathetic, and caring people. Plus, when “survival mode” kicks in, it demonstrates just how strong we are as individuals.

Yesterday I came across the blog of a woman named Audrey from Barking Mad, who, coincidentally, lives only a few minutes from me. In a profile in a Woman’s Day magazine article, she writes:

I was sitting against the plush black leather of the limousine as it carried me away from the grave of my 2-year-old son, Joshua, who had been killed days earlier after being struck by a pickup truck. Yet all I could think about was food. With bitter tears running down my cheeks, I closed my eyes and pictured the platters of roast beef, creamy mashed potatoes and assorted pastries that my friends had lovingly set out at the wake. I imagined piling my plate with as much food as possible and swallowing all of it, pushing the pain down as far as it would go. The more I thought about food, the less I thought about seeing those precious brown eyes of Joshua’s closed forever.

Some people cope with the loss of a child by turning to alcohol or drugs. My drug of choice was food. When Joshua died, I was 40 or 50 pounds overweight. In the 20 years since, I have “comforted” myself to nearly 400 pounds.

Read the whole article here.

Like me, Audrey isn’t just dealing with a disappointment; what she is dealing with is a profound tragedy. Like me, Audrey self-medicated those emotions with food; perhaps it takes a lot of fuel to push those memories and thoughts into its appropriate compartments in the brain, I don’t know.  Perhaps food is a distraction; perhaps its medication; perhaps it’s just the need for sensation after the numbness that comes after a profound hurt.

Everyone deals with a tragedy, at some point, in their life, whether it’s the loss of a parent, a child, a pet, or some other trauma. Tragedy is one of those things that is quintessentially human; everyone will experience it at some point. I suppose it’s a matter of how you channel that experience that defines you. Will you allow the tragedy to hold you back? Keep you from your goals? Will you allow it to desensitize you, make you immune to other peoples’ hurt and suffering? Will the wounds of your tragedy make you so sensitive to the suffering of others that you never allow your own wounds to heal because you are constantly adopting the pain from others?

In Patricks’s blog, he referred his reader’s to a post by another blogger named Jody. She writes:

Is living in the past destroying the present and the future? Can we take power from within to overcome this? What are the lessons learned?

I wish I knew the answers to this. This morning, with the raw hurt of my nightmare too recently behind me, I’m not sure that I DO have the power to overcome the memories. I’m not sure what I’ve learned from this in the years since it’s happened; considering my recent obesity, I’m not sure that I’ve learned any really valuable lessons or used the experience to make me a stronger, better person.

I can say that I HOPE someday these memories will:

1.       Make me stronger physically and emotionally

2.       Make me empathetic to others

3.       Give me the fortitude and resolve to make myself a better person

4.       Help me to overcome my disordered eating patterns, rather than serve as an enabler for disordered eating

My question today is this: How do you transform a disappointment or tragedy into something positive? I don’t think wishing and hoping for it to be true is enough…so how does one achieve this?

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Eating in Secret and Hiding Food

by Christine on June 30th, 2010

filed under Christine's Life Updates, Eating Disorders, Gastric Banding Surgery

Eating in SecretDo you have any “secret” food that is hidden in your house that only you know about?

Do you “hide” food away?

Do you eat in secret?  At night when everyone is asleep? Do you sneak into the kitchen when your kids go outside to play?

Do you feel guilty when you eat certain things, making you want to eat them secretly?

Chocolate candy bars.

I have a stack of them. Mr. Goodbar, that’s my downfall.  My husband doesn’t eat them. The candy bars have nuts in them, which he doesn’t eat.  These candy bars are all mine. I don’t have to compete with a tribe of faster grabbers to snag one for myself. They are mine, all mine!

I have the candy bars on the kitchen counter (I don’t have to fear hubby eating them) but I cover them up with a towel or notepad of paper, etc.

I cover them because I want them to be secret.

I generally only eat the candy bars when I sneak into the kitchen for a water refill when Hubby is safely in the living room. Or, I might eat one if Hubby goes downstairs to play computer games. The eating feels “secret,” which is really silly because I know Hubby wouldn’t care less if I ate them or not.  Usually, I only have a bite or two at a time. I don’t gobble the whole thing down at once.

Eating the candy bar isn’t that big of a deal, really. I don’t want to put anything off-limits to me. I’m not on a “diet,” after all, but just trying to make healthier choices and eat in moderation. Cutting candy bars off entirely would send me into major binge-mode.  That being said, I’ve given this candy bar some kind of power over myself by hiding it, making it “secret.”

HMMMMMM.

Is this disordered eating?
Is this unhealthy?
What would a more positive change to this behavior involve?

That’s the only food I can think of that I hide like that, but in a similar-yet-unrelated tpic…I also hide my laxatives.  There’s a little bit of backstory that I suppose needs to go here. In one of my eighty-thousand-million attempts to lose weight, in a land far-far away, I somehow got it into my head that if food leaves my body quickly, then surely some of those calories would not get absorbed. I was never able to purge (and yes, I tried) but I found some kind of mental relief by taking laxatives.  Big binge? No problem…it’s nothing that four or five extra-strength ex-laxes couldn’t eliminate in a few hours. Owch.

I discovered later that there’s a growing movement to include laxative abuse into the DSM-IV definition of bulimia. In my case, I think that the definition would fit. I think I had bulimic tendencies, even though I didn’tvomit my food. Disordered eating, indeed.

There’s a few things ironic in here. Firstly, it’s ironic that I was even approved for gastric banding surgery. My psychiatric evaluation prior to surgery was a big joke — he never even asked me questions about any history of disordered eating.  Even if he had, I probably would have lied. The second bit of irony: I vomit all the time now, thanks to the gastric band. But oh, there’s a big, huge difference between my vomiting and laxative abuse.  I puke because the food is stuck in the gastric band and I need to get it out. When the food is stuck, I can’t breathe. My eyes water. My heart rate elevates. My saliva starts spilling out of my mouth because there’s no place downwards for it to go.  I do not — I repeat, I do NOT — vomit on purpose because I want to eliminate food that I eat.  It’s the intent that’s quite different between these vomiting versus laxative abuse scenarios.

Since my surgery, my laxative abuse has almost entirely gone away.  I don’t get frantic over the food that I eat because with the gastric band, I just can’t “binge” the way I used to.  I’m not frantic, so I don’t feel any need to “purge” the food I eat.  Even if I have that secret Mr. Goodbar on the counter, I really don’t get worked up about it.  That being said, since my surgery I’ve had problems pooping regularly. This week I realized I went five days without pooping. Clearly, in such instances, a little help is needed. I put Benefiber in every I drink, but it doesn’t help. I’ve gotten “cleanser” lemonade things that haven’t helped.  Grapes, prunes, sundried tomatoes, apples…I’ve tried them all.  Sometimes…a little extra action is necessary. Again, there’s a big different in intent her: pooping because you need to versus pooping to relieve your head after a binge.

There’s a cabinet where we keep all our medications, and the laxatives should go there. But they aren’t there. They are hidden, even now. I know Hubby wouldn’t care about it. I know Hubby wouldn’t use them. But I hide them anyway. Why? Why do I do this? When I take a laxative, it’s always, always in secret. And then I feel guilty for doing so.

Hmmm.

I’m not sure how to resolve either of these issues — the hidden candy bar, or the laxatives. What would be healthier ways of dealing with both of these issues?

Many thanks to Prior Fatgirl (link to blog) for making me think about this today….

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Binge Eating Disorder

by Christine on April 27th, 2010

filed under Eating Disorders, Gastric Banding Surgery, General Information

I didn’t realize it when I was growing up, but I had binge-eating disorder.  For the most part, I ate fairly healthfully and fairly normal portion sizes.  Then, suddenly, I would feel compelled to devour an enormously large portion of food. I think I realized that I ate more than a normal person the first time I devoured a large pizza…then scrounged the kitchen for something else to eat.  Clearly I wasn’t hungry at this point – in fact, it would be safe to say that I was quite full, but I kept eating nonetheless.

As time went on, I would binge eat more and more often.  It was usually an emotionally-charged situation that propelled me to dive into food for solace. However, the binge-eating became a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts: I became more aware of my overeating, and I was ashamed of it. As my feelings of shame (and anger and depression) of my actions took over, I would binge eat to try to numb those feelings.  And so the cycle would perpetuate.

The further into the cycle I got, the more depressed about it I became. And the fatter I got. In three years I went from about 150 pounds to about 210 pounds.  I hated food and wanted nothing to do with it, but I couldn’t seem to pull myself from the binges that took over my life.

From there, I started to develop all kinds of disordered eating patterns. I tried every diet in the book to try to stop the weight gain, but nothing helped. Starving myself didn’t help. (At one point I went three months without eating, for a total weight loss of about four pounds. That weight came right back on when I began eating again, of course.)  I tried to learn to puke up my binges, but I was never successful at purging, so I resorted to laxative abuse instead. As you can guess, that method didn’t help me lose weight either.

I was pretty much a poster child for binge-eating disorder.

Binge-eating disorder is actually the most common of all eating disorders, according to the Mayo Clinic. The disorder affects 3.5% of females and 2% of males in the United States.  The exact causes of binge eating is unknown, but sources say that the causes can be biological (you’re pre-disposed to the disorder), psychological (e.g., low self-worth), or environmental (social pressure to be thin).

Most resources claim that sufferers of binge-eating should avoid dieting because it can make binge eating worse.  Cutting calories and not eating enough can cause a binge-eater to spiral out of control.  Also, binge-eaters may find it more difficult than an average person to follow diet regimens, such as Weight Watchers, because of this trigger.

So what can you do if you’re suffering from binge-eating disorder?  Most sources would claim to seek psychiatric help to try to face the issues causing you to binge. However, this can be difficult; the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSMIV) does not currently recognize binge-eating disorder as a formal eating disorder; therefore many insurance programs may not pay for psychiatric treatment for this.

Anti-depressants have been known to help those suffering.  Anti-depressant medication certainly helped me begin to overcome the disordered eating patterns at time.  Appetite suppressants may also help curb the desire to eat. Appetite suppressants need to be prescribed by your doctor and include Meridia and Adipex. I took Adipex for a while and found it to be helpful at first, but eventually the effects of the pill became less significant. Topamax has also been shown to help curb the desire to binge-eat. (Topamax is actually seizure drug).

I personally would argue that gastric banding surgery would greatly help binge-eaters. The band has been a highly effective way of limiting the amount of food I can consume.  On the rare occasion that I slip into binge-eating patterns, the band has completely prevented me from overeating.  Of course, the band doesn’t do anything to deal with the emotional and psychological issues underlying the condition, but the band certainly helps to control the quantity of food.

My friend, Katie, has also been trying to grapple with her binge-eating disorder. She has found that keeping track of a meal diary each day has been beneficial in tracking eating patterns and trying to identify what emotions trigger a binge episode.  Her meal diary looks like this:

Meal Diary

Breakfast
Hunger Level (0-5)
Emotions
Food Eaten
Fullness Level (0-5)

Lunch
Hunger Level (0-5)
Emotions
Food Eaten
Fullness Level (0-5)

Dinner
Hunger Level (0-5)
Emotions
Food Eaten
Fullness Level (0-5)

Snack 1
Hunger Level (0-5)
Emotions
Food Eaten
Fullness Level (0-5)

Snack 2
Hunger Level (0-5)
Emotions
Food Eaten
Fullness Level (0-5)

Also, it may help to join an online forum to talk to others that have dealt with this same issue in their life. Sharing strategies for overcoming binges is a great way to learn new coping mechanisms and forge relationships with people going through the same issues as you.
Resources:

Mayo Clinic

Help Guide

Something Fishy

CNN Report on Treatment Program

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