Thursday, January 15, 2009

Big Fat Pain

I've often wondered if fat people have more pain than other people. I mean, there's the theory that obesity is a result of using food as comfort, and while I tend to think that's true for many people, I also realize that EVERYONE has pain. Everyone has unpleasantries in their lives. Traumas, stresses, bad days. It happens to us all. But we're not all fat.

There's the alcoholic who drinks to numb the pain. The drug addict who escapes from reality by getting high. How people cope with distress can take so many forms: cutting themselves, gambling, being promiscuous. Even so-called Internet addiction is just another escape. Is binge eating any different? Is eating a bag of chips to calm yourself or forget about your personal anguish any worse, or better, of a coping mechanism?

There are definitely people who cope in a healthy manner, but I've not been one of them. It really began when I went though my divorce from my first husband. The sense of loss of family, the fear of being alone, the isolation and the sudden thrust into poverty were all very painful events. How did I cope? I ate. I found comfort in donuts from the Food Bank. When I picked up that donut, for five minutes, I wasn't sad. When that sugar was melting in my mouth, I wasn't in poverty or lonely or hurting; I was happy, I was enjoying, it was heavenly. For five minutes there was relief. But when the donut was gone, reality seeped back into my consciousness and I was hurting again. If there was another donut in the box, you can guess what happened next.

You can't eat ten donuts in a sitting and not get fat. Not on a regular basis, anyway. You can't keep cramming pizza into your mouth until your stomach is so full that you're numb and not get fat. You have to find better ways to cope with your pain.

Three of my children have chronic health issues. Each diagnosis was so painful for me that the only thing that made the pain stop for a little bit was food. Ten minutes with a bag of Cheetos was better (in my head) than ten minutes with that pain. So I just kept eating.

I've written before about why I am fat. It's complicated. It's not about laziness, and it's not about not understanding nutrition. It's about my coping mechanisms, my sense of entitlement ("I had a bad day, I deserve a piece of cheesecake"), my desire for that comforting sensation of fullness in my stomach when the rest of me is feeling oh-so-empty. It's about fears and wants and needs. And losing weight is about coping better, making healthier choices, and finding comfort in ways that do not include binge eating, drinking, or using drugs.

I'm starting to find comfort in the sheer fact that I am treating myself better and that I am (usually) in control of what I am eating. There's joy in exercise (some days) and in writing about my successes. There's happiness in friendships, in blue skies and in my child's smile. Not just in a donut.

You can lose weight. You can get a grip. It's not impossible. Even if you've tried so many times that you've nearly lost hope, try again. I can tell you this: I'm in a lot less emotional pain now than I was when I was modbidly obese, because being that large hurts emotionally. It also hurts physically. That cookie that you think is going to relieve your pain for 5 minutes is actually going to cause you a lot more agony. Put it down.

The next time you are upset, just sit with the feeling. It's okay to be sad; it's okay to cry. It's okay to get angry. And if we don't stuff those feelings down with food, we are taking the first step to becomeing healthy, both physically and emotionally.

Let the healing begin.

24 comments:

Stephanie said...

Wow, your post struck a chord with me. I was sexually abused as a kid, and started gaining weight when I was still a kid. I never dealt with it, just ate and ate and ate because it being hurt by someone who I should have been able to trust completely was so painful. And the longer I didn't deal with it, the more I hurt, and the more I hurt, the more I ate. When I finally started talking about it, and dealing with it, and just letting myself feel that pain was when I started seeing losses on the scale. It's definitely a battle to not seek comfort in food, or try to make hurt stop with food, but most of the time I win. :) Great post.

Rachel said...

What a wonderful post - wisdom for people struggling with all sorts of difficulties. Thank you.

MzB said...

You've really come a long way! Keep it up!

Stages of Change said...

AAAAAAAAAAAMMMMMMMMEEEEEEENNNNNN. Great post.

new*me said...

Your strength inspires others Lyn. We are blessed to have you in our blogger-life ;) It is so much easier to mask the pain with drugs of choice, but in the end it is loving ourself the right way that will cure the pain.

Sarah said...

You can lose weight. You can get a grip. It's not impossible. Even if you've tried so many times that you've nearly lost hope, try again. I can tell you this: I'm in a lot less emotional pain now than I was when I was modbidly obese, because being that large hurts emotionally. It also hurts physically. That cookie that you think is going to relieve your pain for 5 minutes is actually going to cause you a lot more agony. Put it down.

Well said. This post was timely for me today--thanks!

Sharon said...

You hit the nail on the head.

Heather said...

that is really an interesting question. as a psychologist it obviously intersts me to look at correlations and you have to wonder. I do know that overweight people probably deal with things much as alcoholics or other addicts do and some people can just deal really well without the help of other things. wish I was one of them!

Alexia@theonelastthing.com said...

I hear ya. I've been working on better ways to deal with those emotions and it's hard, but doable. I've been working with getting my kids to talk about what they feel and what they need, too.

justjuliebean said...

Hey, I just posted about this same thing a few days ago. Mostly I talked about learning to sit with my feelings, and just feel bad, as opposed to doing everything and anything to stop the pain. It was hard work, and I'm still doing it. Just tonight I had to ambush my comfort eating ideas.

Laurens_Closet said...

Thanks for the post, Lyn. It's hard to reach down inside & find that REAL reason we're eating. What's driving it? I think you're getting to the core of why you do it. And finding that answer will help you find your solution.

You're amazing!

Amy
www.rebuildingamy.blogspot.com

moonduster said...

Very well said. I always admire the honesty in your posts.

MargieAnne said...

Thank-you so much for writing it like it is.

Thank-you too for leaving a note on my Blog last month.

I have been doing a lot of eating and thinking ..... It works .... I gained many pounds ..... I got so frustrated I finally decided to do something. I'm back.

You'd be so pretty if... said...

You hit the nail on the head. My emotional eating started when I got divorced from my ex-husband too. I just realized that last year. I never knew what triggered it, but I figured it out. All those nights alone, needing someone and not having anyone. Food was my friend and it started this horrid addiction. Thanks for the encouraging words!

Lady Downsize! said...

I can agree on the supression of emotions, especially the tears that should have been shed eons ago. They are the things that come to the surface during sad movies, sad news, sad stories from friends; the things that make you say, "Why am I so upset over this? Its not that bad! Being super, super morbidly obese, I don't believe its my size that emotionally hurts, but how much I've allowed 'life' to get to me. Or more, how much I ignore the aspects of life that need to be faced. Hiding from the things I need to face, let in, let out or just acknowledge is where my pain comes from. The weight is a side affect of that. That's my thought anyway.

wakati said...

Lyn, this is so true, but it feels very uncomfortable to feel feelings. When I did WW before, I substituted work for food. It's tough to face feelings and not turn to something else instead. Some people turn to work, to sex, drugs, food, friends, God, but in the end we need to be with it. Sometimes it feels like you won't survive it, but you will.

Keep on keeping on. Life is really the journey. Weight loss is the catalyst.

Neelith said...

My overeating started around 7 or 8 years of age after I was sexually abuse by my babysitter. I ate and ate and ate to try to forget about the pain. You hit the nail on the head. Great Post!

Karen said...

Personally, I don't think everyone's compulsive eating problem stems from the same source. Some people definitely do eat to numb their emotional pain or as a way to escape a troubled reality, but not everyone. I'm still trying to figure out how my eating disorder came about, because I was always fat, since childhood, and I had a happy childhood with very little stress and drama. So while I might be totally suppressing bad feelings, I really think my eating disorder was caused by something different...

Part of me thinks that I'd been badly fed and over fed since I was a baby.. both of my parents are overweight and eat poorly, and I think that a steady diet of that since I was very little ruined my metabolism at a young age and made me a food addict.

I definitely felt bad after binging like a beast and I felt bad that I was so overweight, but I don't think I binged BECAUSE I felt bad.

In 2004, I began my weight loss journey, losing 80lbs and keeping that weight off for 5 years now (wow - to think... 5 years!), and really, while I had to change *A LOT* I am still essentially the same person I was before lost the weight. The only thing that really changed was my approach to food and a new understanding of what normal/healthy eating should look like. That, and I developed a true love of exercise. But, I didn't have any emotional breakthroughs that I'm aware of that caused me to get a handle on my food problem. So, I think my problem was always more chemical/physiological than emotional.

I do think this was a great post, though, because *SO* many people with food problems do eat emotionally and coming to terms with those emotions and learning to deal to negativity in better ways is a valuable lesson for sure.

Dawnn said...

I’m sitting here in tears; I have let food try to comfort me when life gets in the way. This post is the inspiration I needed. Thank You

Honi said...

Amen to that~~

Lynn Haraldson-Bering said...

Wow, Lyn. Great post. Seriously. Great. Post.

Amy said...

Another great post Lyn. It's really this emotional/mental side of losing the weight that is so hard.

I just wrote a post about how I was feeling more positive even though I wasn't losing, because I had made exercise a part of my nearly daily life. Today, I nearly threw in the towel and ate junk. Felt like a total fraud to see my post. But I recognized it for what it was- a passing mental thing and am moving on.

Some of you might think I'm totally nuts, but the mental/emotional side of losing weight is similar to what I felt in childbirth. Not the pain part, but the mental fight of "yes, it hurts but I will not tense up, I will relax and go limp." Made my second birth an awesome experience. But fighting the emotions when I'm having a bad day and want some kind of food is similar. Recognizing the feelings without getting bogged down in them or stuffing my face is some kinda hard!

My internal dialog this morning was along the lines of, "you are strong, you have an injury and you're still working out hard. You are not weak, you don't want to quit and eat chips in sorrow, cause then you've really messed up."

When I shared with my hubby that I had a moment when I was either going to eat something bad/binge or scream at my kids a while back, he said, "so you can control what comes out of your mouth, but not what goes in it? That's not always a bad thing." Then he paraphrased Matthew 15:11: Man is not defiled by what goes in the mouth but by what comes out of the mouth. I'm not sure you can apply that scripture in this fashion, but it made me think that some folks handle overwhelming emotions with food. Some handle it by taking it out on others. Just saying that everybody has coping mechanisms that don't really work long term and its a struggle for a lot of folks. I certainly can't yell at my kids as a coping mechanism either, so I've got to find a better way that is not bad for me or others.

Geesh, I've written a book and could still write more so I better stop now.

antgirl said...

Great post and great insight. Just found you. Looking forward to reading more. :)

Catherine said...

I too think you have nailed it -- our eating issues are related to fear of pain, and when we learn that just sitting with the pain is not so bad (and sometimes helps it pass) then we are on the way to recovery. Also, I can really relate to the cheap/free junk food and poverty cycle. Poverty really seems to trigger that scarcity mindset that seems to go along with emotional eating.