Monday, July 13, 2009

Self-Medication

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a friend. She is naturally thin... quite slim, in fact, despite having given birth to three children and being about my age. We were talking about the stresses in our lives (there are rather unique challenges that we share, both having children ranging from preschoolers to kids in their late teens), how we are tired and feeling a bit overwhelmed lately. As we were walking to our cars, I said, "I think I need an iced mocha." She responded, "Oh, I feel that way too. But I hate to self medicate."

Interesting.

I have to wonder if it all boils down to simple self-medication. When I feel sad, or stressed, or anxious, I want to *do* something about it. And that *something* is generally to eat. Eat something that makes me feel better. Like a pill for a headache, a donut soothes my nerves, calms me down, helps me take the focus off my problems for just a little while. Like an aspirin for an ache. Like a drink after a hard day's work. Like a line of cocaine to a stressed college student.

It's all self medicating. Does everyone do it, in some form? Take care of your own pains and worries with *something*? I guess some people deal with their problems head-on, or use things like exercise or relaxation to cope. It's those unhealthy coping mechanisms... drugs, alcohol, smoking, binge eating... that are a detriment And it's the people who self-medicate to excess with food who become obese, or bulimic.

It seems unfair to me sometimes, how other people can have their problems like gambling or sleeping around or drinking to excess, and they still look pretty normal to your everyday stranger. Sure, their behaviors may lead to unpleasant consequences... bankruptcy, STDs, problems on the job... but no one walking past them on the street would know they even have a problem. No one nods hello to the clean cut man in a business suit at the bus stop and thinks, "wow, I bet he is an alcoholic." But they walk past me, and my out of control behavior is plastered all over my body. My fat rolls are like a billboard to the world: "Look at me, I can't even control what I put in my mouth." I realize that there are obese people who have some kind of health condition or whatever, and don't binge. But I also know that people look at the obese and judge. They see my weight and wonder what the heck I ate to get this big. And I hate that any stranger on the street can look at me and assume... correctly, in my case... that I ate a whole lot of junk. That my eating is out of control. That I have issues. I hate that.

But my thin friend, she recognized in herself a tendency to self medicate on occasion with food or drink. She made a decision to be aware of it and curtail it. She uses her faith, her friends, her activity to deal with stress instead. I wonder if most thin people do that. I really don't know.

It took me a long time to realize that I was eating to numb my emotional distress. But now that I am self-aware, I can make better decisions on how I deal with it.

Baby Robins, 7/12, 10 days old:

32 comments:

Feed Me I'm Cranky said...

Those are some beautiful reflections. You're right -- self-medication doesn't have to be a bad thing. As your friend "medicates" with high doses of faith and love. We all need outlets of some sort and learning that we shouldn't deal with stress by eating is a key lesson, esp. since "dealing" with food tends to just lead to more problems that then lead to more "dealing" via food. A vicious cycle, eh?
I have also always resented that being overweight is such a public struggle! But ya know, I figure that it's the things about us that we can't see that are most important any way. No matter how one looks on the outside, we can't tell on passing glance how compassionate or talented he/she is and those are the things that matter anyway.
Have a great day!

seattlerunnergirl said...

It's *so* true that the way we (and by "we," I mean compulsive overeaters) eat is a method of self-medication. We use food to try and feel better, if only momentarily. And the truth is, it really only feels good for the moment we're consuming the food, wrapped up in its taste and texture and smell. Or maybe for a few moments after, as the glorious sugar high hits our bloodstream.

But then there's always the crash, both physically and emotionally. The blood sugar lows accompanied by the self-berating thoughts; "Why did I eat that? I'm such a pig and a slob. I have no self control." And so it goes.

I've just started the Beck Diet Solution and one thing I really like about it is that it makes you work to change you thinking. I haven't even started the workbook/exercises yet, but I tried putting some of her suggestions in action yesterday. "I really want that ice cream; it looks so good. I can have it, too - no one but me controls what I eat. Maybe I'll have one serving; I can fit that in to my calories for the day." But later, "I really want more ice cream. And a couple of the muffins I made. After all, they're healthy - they won't matter." The Beck Diet Solution aims to teach us to respond by saying, "Yes, it will matter - I've already eaten a treat for today, and if I choose not to eat more today, I can stay within my target calorie range. I'll feel so good about saying no to myself since that will bring me one step closer to my goal of living healthy and losing weight. Plus, I can have a serving tomorrow if I still want it."

Anyhow, I know I'm a long way from this working ALL the time, but it was cool to see that having read the book planted a seed in my mind.

It sounds like your friend planted a seed in your mind. I am excited to watch you nourish it and benefit from it!

Becky said...

personal opinion...especially after having skinny and fat sisters - who all eat the same. actually, the skinny ones eat more for the most part. i think there are just as many emotional skinny eaters as there are fat eaters. i know i have skewed perspective - but, it seems after years of friends, family, dorms, locker rooms - i see a bunch of women who don't treat their bodies right or with a proper amount of self-respect. skinny or fat, you eat bad for so long and for the wrong reasons...it'll catch up to you. so, don't beat yourself up about it. you're just as likely to have a bunch of skinny friends with the same compulsions as yourself and just as many who are as focused and aware as your friend.

ps: sorry for chirping in like this - without introductions. nice to meet you.

Jack Sh*t, Gettin' Fit said...

I know that in my case, it was an addiction and a form of self-medicating. Why else would you continue doing something that gave you such brief pleasure, such almost instantaneous bad feelings and such dire consequences?

Self-awareness is a big part of putting an end to it, Lyn.

Michelle said...

I've never really thought of my habits in this way.."self-medication". Sure, I understand emotional eating, but I've never connected the dots to self-medicating. Think you for the thought provoking post.

Michelle

Hanlie said...

This is something I often wonder about... What is it about our modern lives that require us to soothe and medicate ourselves to the extent that we do, be it with food, alcohol, sex, shopping or whatever? I will continue to ponder this, because I think the answer to that question might just be the final piece of the puzzle.

Great post!

Rachel said...

I definitely think a tendency to self-medicate is my problem - even when I don't, I have to fight the urge to eat in order to calm down. I wonder if naturally thin people don't have those urges or if they have just learned different ways to fight them. Hmmmm...something to think about :)

Melanie said...

Addiction is addiction in whatever form you choose as your drug of choice. We all know that our drug is bad for us, but that "high", no matter how short-lived, is worth it every single time until we learn what void we're trying to fill with it.
It does suck that our addiction is very evident on our bodies for all to see & judge. But quite honestly, I don't think anyone judges me as harshly as I judge myself. I look in the mirror & hate things I see on the outside, but I also have to face that person I am on the inside. Why have I allowed myself to be weak, lazy, or complacent all these years plus a multitude of other negative thoughts.
Strangers don't get to see who we are on the inside. I think sometimes that's a good thing. My fiance's addiction is alcohol. He's struggled his entire adult life trying to do the right things and stay away from alcohol. I am able to see him objectively & love many qualities that are wonderful about him; however, he only sees the bad parts of himself and focuses on those. Like ourselves with our addictions, he hasn't always been successful. We got fatter while his addiction has lead him to prison. Thank GOD our addictions aren't against the law or make us do things that are.
He has told me that when he walks down the street, he feels like he has "Felon" tattooed across his forehead. To look at him, you'd NEVER suspect he has been to prison. But He knows and has a hard time dealing with his own feelings of shame & guilt.
I see such parallels between my addiction & his. Yes people can assume my addiction, but not his. But it doesn't change the conversations we have with ourselves when we look in the mirror.
For me, I know I have to get strong in my head to get strong in my body.

ctina said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sue said...

Very interesting post.

I know for me to REALLY make a difference in my weight I had to change my entire mindset. I did used to eat when I was upset and when I hated myself.

With that said the words "self medicate"can be overused. Anyway I love the blog and I will be back. Your last photo in June is fabulous by the way.

South Beach Steve said...

This is a very interesting way of looking at it. I haven't thought of it like this before, but indeed, many times our eating issues are self-medication. Thanks for sharing.

Carol said...

If you hate it, then change it. Accept no other option other than being what you need to be in order to be happy with yourself.

Vickie said...

looks like you are going to have an empty nest any day now

do you think that she was talking about herself - or do you think she was trying to make a gentle point to you? I have no opinion either way - just wondered.

Scale Junkie said...

I've felt for a long time now that my binge eating was self medicating, stuffing down my feelings and drowning them in food. That full feeling became my escape, my security blanket. When my stomach feels empty and things aren't going along nicely, I reach for some medication. Some foods give me a high while other foods comfort me and calm me down. Food has been my drug of choice but I'm learning to stop listening when it calls.

rachel421 said...

im compulsive by nature. parking places, clothing, work habits, eating habits. one thing ive tried to do is let my compulsivity work for me instead of against me. and yes i do have to watch for extremes even in healthy habits. fasting has been great tool for me, but i dont want to become Ghandi, or go on a food strike, i just want to control my insulin long enough each day so that my body can access its fat stores for its daily energy needs. thought provoking post.

cmoursler said...

YES...YES,YES,YES,YES. That is it. So now you know that you medicate with food. My hubby medicated with drink for years, then video games...now??? I am hoping to switch from food to exercise.
keep up the great work.
Chris

Lyn said...

Vickie~

Oh she was definitely talking about herself, not me. She is one of the least judgemental people I have ever met... very humble as well... and I cannot imagine her offering it as any kind of point to me. But I sure did learn something from her choice!

Winivere said...

Having children doesn't make you fat. Ex-husbands do. I was always a size three before & after I had my children but I was never naturally thin. I worked at it a lot. I was more active then. I have gained weight because my body has suffered so many injuries that I am not able to be as active as I was before. The key is not diet. The key is to remain active. If you are active, you can pretty much eat whatever you want, within reason.

TNelson said...

Thanks for this post. It meant so much to me tonight - this very second that I read it...I'm saving it to read again in the morning.

NewVision said...

You have hit the nail right on the head.....I've been dealing with this for a few weeks now. Thank you I will try to be more aware. :)

screwdestiny said...

Very insightful post.

Being a thin person, I can say I very rarely medicate with food. I don't really deprive myself of anything, but whenever I'm feeling crappy I certainly don't reach for the Ben & Jerry's. I usually exercise or listen to music or read or something to get my mind off it. But eating when I wasn't hungry in the first place would just help me continue to feel crappy, so yeah...

Lyn said...

Winivere~

I've heard people say they lose all the weight with diet and no exercise. I hear others say they lose it with just exercise and eating what they want. Most people, I think, need both. But everyone's different. For me, there is no way I could exercise enough to burn off the calories I would eat without restriction. Not with my current physical limitations.

screwdestiny~

thank you so much for sharing that! It's helpful for me to hear your views on this.

Coley said...

I totally self-medicate. Have done so, and been aware of it, for years now. Blegh!
The birdies have changed so much!

Allegra Posts for Rose said...

I'm so glad I found you site!

I'm in a lot of pain over my weight, but want to start doing something about it.

Lisa said...

Yes! Jsut like most things, food can and is a comfort/self medication thing. I should know. I use it... :)

Meg said...

What a great post! I too am guilty of "self medication" on many levels. Caffeine, food, and at one point cigarettes. I do believe that everyone "self medicates" to some degree, it's just a choice of how healthy your medication is!

boudica said...

Sometimes I wonder if it is ALL self medication! We, as humans, seem to be all about trying to feel good. Food, drink, drugs, gambling, pets, babies, cleaning....seems most us are trying not to overdo something. To stay out of trouble yet still have our little distraction from life. Maybe that is why we seek God? Thanks for the thought provoking post, Lyn.

ryry the adventurous said...

Self medication is a human reflex. We all do it, for sure. I totally medicate with food. I gained 10lbs in a month due to stress feeding. Not even eating huge amounts of things, just constantly munching on foods throughout the day (and not healthy ones). I love this piece on self reflection you wrote. Good stuff as always. :)

Amy said...

Very insightful. It has made me think and I like that.^_^ It is also comforting to know that others deal with the same issues. I am definitely guilty of self medicating with food. I also liked your response with regards to just exercise vs just eating less etc. I need both to be sure, though I think exercise is THE key factor for me. Exercise always makes me feel way better than not eating. Or eating less I should say. Though I do beleive that calorie/portion size control is key as well. I have to measure my food or else I just get myself into trouble.
Anyway, thanks so much for writing this and putting into words so eloquently what so many of us are obviously feeling.

Tammy said...

Girlfriend...you are looking at the Queen of addiction and self-medication. We eventually have to have that day of reckoning that Jack Sh*t was talking about the other day and say "NO MORE". Sean made an excellent point on his blog the other day too, "...we know too much to turn back now..".

"...when we know better, we do better" - Maya Angelou

Tammy :)
http://foodaddict-fromfattofab.blogspot.com/

FormerFatChick said...

I think your friend did you a huge favor by helping you to see that you CAN make a different choice.

Actions follow thoughts and if your thoughts are healthy then your actions will be too!

Best of luck!

www.FormerFatChick.com

Nancy said...

Self medicating is my middle name!
Thanks for your blog....you inspire me....big time!