Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Where I Feel It

When I was a little kid, my Mom used to give me food to make me happy. I don't really remember it much, but I know it happened. Like the time I'd knocked my teeth out falling on a curb, and she gave me ice cream, Popsicles and cotton candy to help me feel better. My Dad did it, too, actually, but used it as more of a special treat or reward. After I'd play my violin in a concert, he would take me out for ice cream sundaes, and if I behaved, sometimes he would bring me home a candy bar. It wasn't every day, and I do the same things with my kids sometimes... celebrate with food, get a treat if you're good. Even the pediatrician gives out lollipops after you get a shot, and all the kids playing soccer get a cupcake or a cookie or something like that after their games. It's a tradition, I guess. And maybe not a bad one in context.

But I remember the first time I actually reached for food FOR MYSELF with the conscious awareness that I was not hungry, and was using it for something else. It was when I was about 14 years old and I had the beginnings of a stomach ulcer (although I didn't know that at the time). My stomach hurt a LOT. I always had sharp pain and burning in my gut, and I found that the only thing that helped it was eating. I remember eating applesauce nearly nonstop all day long to try and stop the pain. I'd eat a few bites, and feel better. Then 15 minutes later it would hurt again, so I'd eat more. I alternated bites of applesauce with swigs of milk, and when it still hurt at the end of the day, I started drinking Mylanta straight from the bottle. Eventually, my mother took me to the doctor, who told me I was developing an ulcer. I remember asking him, "what should I do? I eat applesauce all day long to make it feel better but it isn't working" and he looked at me like I was NUTS, and told me not to eat when I'm not hungry. He told me the applesauce was making it worse! And even at that young age, before I had a weight problem, I knew it was not "normal" to eat when I was not hungry and not even enjoying the food. But I didn't know how else to fix my pain.

When I am physically hungry, I feel it in my head. It is the weirdest thing. I might get a stomach grumble, but generally, my true hunger comes out as a headache and lightheadedness. Maybe that's because I wait too long to eat because I don't get a really strong hunger signal from my stomach.

When I am emotionally hungry, I feel it in my stomach. I get a knot in my stomach and feel like someone is squeezing me or putting a noose around my midsection. I get this sense of anxiety coming from my gut, and my stomach seems to be calling out, "fill me! fill me!" The sensation doesn't stop until I put a significant amount of food into my stomach. I wonder if it isn't really my *stomach* that is giving me those feelings, but perhaps my soul. Hunger of the soul is the hardest kind to fill.

With this kind of confusion about what hunger is and where it's coming from, it's easy to see how one could get into the habit of eating to subdue sensations that are perceived as "hunger," but that are, in fact, something else. It's important to stop and take note *before* you eat, of why you are eating. And ask yourself, "is it really food I need? Is eating this food going to make things better? Or worse?"

I used to wish I was anorexic or bulimic, before I understood how truly painful and disabling those conditions can be to those suffering from them. I used to *try* to be anorexic by following the models I saw in the media: skip meals, drink water, eat plain lettuce and a yogurt and nothing else. But I'd start feeling so desperately dizzy and sick that my body *forced* me to eat. And when I "tried" to be bulimic, my body rejected that as well; I couldn't make myself throw up no matter what "trick" I tried from bulimic advisers. I'd stand there over the toilet sticking things down my throat and gagging for 20 minutes with no results, and then sit down and cry because I had eaten so much and I didn't want to get fat.

I got fat, and I got educated so that I no longer *wanted* to have an eating disorder... but I ended up with one anyway. I binged. And I didn't know that was in the same category as anorexia and bulimia... that it is disruptive and can be disabling and cause your body much distress and emotional pain.

Now I'm working it out. I understand that a binge is a hurtful thing, and that if I want a long and happy life I just can't continue that behavior. I still get those feelings in the pit of my stomach that shout, "feed me!" But I am learning to feed myself with self love and self care instead of hurting myself with food.

When I feel that sensation in my gut, there is something else that can make it go away. Taking a walk works; about 15 minutes into a brisk walk I start to feel better. Being loved helps too... if I can get comfort from a person, I feel better and don't feel the need to turn to food. It's all part of the healing process, and I am so thankful to be on this journey. I'm learning so much about myself and how to care for ME. Finally, I'm believing I deserve to be loved and cared for. And that's a really good feeling.


Graze With Me said...

I love your posts, they are so beautiful and eloquently written.

I agree wholeheartedly, there is something to be said for using food as a reward system but there needs to be a stopping point.

Hunger to me doesn't only reflect the body's need for fuel but also our inner desires for something more, something good.

Keep up the great posts!

45 and Aspiring said...

Hunger of the soul is the hardest kind to fill.

You said it, sister.

Anonymous said...

"When I am physically hungry, I feel it in my head. It is the weirdest thing. I might get a stomach grumble, but generally, my true hunger comes out as a headache and lightheadedness. Maybe that's because I wait too long to eat because I don't get a really strong hunger signal from my stomach."

As a fellow sugar addict, I can tell you that this is actually a symptom of wildly swinging blood sugar--it's the low side, hypoglycemia, which comes after overindulgence in simple carbs. If/when you are able to get back to a no-sugar way of eating, with plenty of protein and good fats and low-glycemic carbs, you will find that you very, very rarely have the lightheaded kind of hunger again. In fact, you will start to feel true empty-belly hunger BEFORE feeling the symptoms of low blood sugar. It's quite a revelation!


Tamzin said...

Thanks Lynn, I too cried in the bathroom trying to throw up and never being able to get my body to do it. Great post!

Leisia said...

Wow, you are a very talented writer. Not everyone can express themselves like you did in this post. Great writing!!! I could feel it as I was reading the words.

I am so glad you are recognizing these feelings and turning them around in a healthy way. I am on the very same journey of healing.

Sugar Bush Primitives said...

Learning to love ourselves is one of life's great challenges. I am so glad you are getting there!


Karyn said...

Oh yes, you DESERVE to be loved and cared for. If fact, dear friend, you ARE loved and cared for - at all times.

I am glad you are beginning to get to the place where you can love yourself - this is a huge step!

Mike579 said...

Figuring this stuff out is a big deal. Keep fighting. Treat yourself as you would treat your children.

Jesse said...

This is so interesting, you're the opposite of how I feel my hungers. It's in my stomach when I'm physically hungry, and in my head when I'm emotionally hungry.

My friend had terrible stomach pains when she was an adolescent, from gall stones that took her doctors about five years to diagnose (ow ow ow), and she developed panic attacks stemming from the stomach pains associated with it. To this day (after losing 50+ lbs with WW and cutting out various things she just can't digest anymore, like all dairy, fats...wouldn't it be nice to have that built-in restriction?) she has to work really hard to distinguish hunger pains from the onset of a panic attack, which sounds similar to the process you describe, that tightening band of panic around your stomach. I find it so fascinating how the mind and the stomach can knit themselves together like that.

Anonymous said...

I also tried to become bulimic but couldn't get myself to throw up no matter what I did. I remember the hatred I felt for myself. Not only was I a failure at being thin, I was a failure at being bulimic. I felt I couldn't do anything right.

Now I'm 44 years old and learning to fill my soul with things other then food. Its hard to do but I'm making progress.

I've been off my diet/health plan for a week or two now. Its scary not counting calories or weighing food. I was sure I would gain weight but instead I'm losing weight.

Thanks for this post.

jae said...

My mom used to feed me and my brother food to comfort us and to distract us when she and my dad would fight. Now that she's living with me and my family I notice that she is always feeding my son. Constantly. I now understand that that's my familys way of showing love and comfort. Instead of hugs and kind words we serve food. Someones needs to break this cycle before my son becomes obese and wonders why he has issues with food. ~j

Mama Bear June said...

You do such a great job of verbalizing the journey you are on. So glad you are working things out and making healthy choices.
Path to Health

Helen said...

Lyn, Lyn!!!
I have a suggestion that sounds really weird...except that it WORKS. Please try it, even as you are reading it. it works on pressure points and meridians I believe.

When you get that crazy, knotted up craving feeling, think really hard about it, really concentrate on it. Rate it on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being kind of pathetic and 10 being desperate.
1.take 2 fingers and tap under the collar bone. If you use the right hand just cross the body and tap the left side. tap 10 times
2.tap under your eye 10 times.
3.tap under the collar bone again 10 times
4.place your other hand in front of your chest and tap it 10 times between the ring and little finger.
Really think about the food you are craving.
5.keep tapping..there are also spots just above the eyebrow, one on the inside and one of the outside of the eye socket.
6.close your eyes and open them
7. keep your head still, keep tapping and look down to the left and down to the right.
8.keep tapping and rotate your eyes 360 clockwise then 360 anticlockwise
Keep thinking about your craving.

9. hum the first lines of happy birthday out loud
10.count out loud from 1 to 5
11. sing happy birthday again ( just the first line)

Now...check your craving. You might need to do this a couple of times, but I swear that you can get them to a manageable level after a couple of goes.

I love your blog, and I wish you the very best

Heather said...

that is definitely a wonderful feeling to have and Im glad you have reached that after all you have been through. Ive been through a diet war myself for many many years and can agree that its great to get to a point where you feel you deserve to be happy and healthy and actually let yourself believe you are worth it.

Lisa said...

I can REALATE to this post! I am in a stuggle against a binge eating disorder and trying to lose 130 lbs. Can I add your site to mine? Here is my site...