Today we’re going to chat about the internal struggles emotional eaters can face if they decide to use bariatric surgery as a tool, so grab a cup o’ whatever and nestle down. This is a long one…because I want to talk about our emotional struggles as a whole, first.
Emotional eaters are a weird animal. We don’t eat because we’re hungry. We eat because we’re bored. Happy. Sad. Mad. Anxious. Sometimes we don’t even need a reason. The simple act of putting food in our mouths and chewing is somehow a soothing balm to whatever woes we’re facing in the big bad world.
What makes things more difficult is that it’s not usually crystal clear what’s bothering us in the first place. If you have a bad day, you most likely end up angry at a person or situation and it’s clear to you what happened. A manager at work is such an asshole. Tiffany the Executive Assistant forgot to give your boss a message and now you look like a jerk. The bitch in front of you at the grocery store argued with the cashier forever over a 10 cent coupon. Whatever it was, regular people vent about it and then they feel better. I don’t think that’s usually the case for people who deal with emotional eating…or any addiction, for that matter. I don’t think it’s that clear. At least, it wasn’t for me.
Most of the time there was no one pissing me off. There was usually nothing fresh and new that was bothering me. For me, the specter that my dance teacher created in my head was enough. I walked the earth knowing that I was an ugly, fat, unacceptable excuse for a human being who didn’t deserve love. It was always in the back of my head. Talking to me. Reminding me. Showing me.
You didn’t get that promotion at work because you’re ugly. You don’t get asked out for dates because you’re fat. You have too much hair on your forearms…you look like a monkey. Who could love you? You can’t wear dresses; your legs look like tree trunks. You should feel embarrassed. Stay home in your sweatpants and eat a pizza. No one loves you. No one will ever love you. Get some ice cream, too. That always makes you feel better. Maybe grab some chips for tomorrow because the game is on and the only person who wants to watch it with you is your Mom. How pitiful is that? When’s the last time you even tried to work out? You’re ridiculous. And weak. And stupid. Better grab a candy bar.
I can’t speak for every overweight person on the planet, I can only speak for me…and I can honestly tell you that there is a mindless eating machine at the heart of my subconscious. She is my food demon…and she is a hateful bitch. She has never cared how bad I felt when I went up a size in clothes. In the past, the guilt I’ve felt over the number on the scale has only served to fuel her fire. She wants to eat. She is never full. She is never satisfied. And she is always louder than any other voice in my head that tells me to suck it up…go for a walk…eat a carrot. She is insatiable.
So how do we stop this destructive, self-absorbed bitch? I’ll tell you what’s working for me in a minute. Hear me out first.
If you’ve read my blog for a while you know that I’m a huge believer that each of us has to do what’s right for us. We’re not all the same, so applying cookie cutter solutions to our issues with our food demons is not going to be helpful. If that shit worked, there wouldn’t be fad diets…because the first one would have cured us all, right? There is no Brown Rice Diet or North Beach Diet or Dog Fart Diet that’s going to solve our problems…because what really solves our problems is sitting down and spending the time to figure out what works for us as individuals. And it’s all different. Because what made me a Hot Mess Princess is not what made you a…whatever you are. Amazing Ninja Woman? Incredible Kickass Chick? Fabulous Dude? Superman? (because some things don’t change).
So how do you handle this food demon that has somehow attached itself to your life and won’t let go? That depends on who you are. Not on who I am. Not on which Kardashian lost 5 pounds on the amazing placenta diet. Not on Dr. Oz. It depends on you.
How do you learn best? By doing? By seeing? By reading? Do you do better with a regimented routine or do you need the freedom to go with the flow? If you need freedom, how much freedom can you give yourself without exercising the freedom to eat a whole box of Little Debbies during Dancing With the Stars? Are you trying to force yourself to follow a plan that doesn’t work for you? Because if you’re fighting it, doesn’t that mean you’re not ready for it? Doesn’t that mean it’s not working in some way? As sucky as it sounds, you have to pick each one of these things up and examine it. Hold it up close. Look it over. Notice things about it. Figure it out. In the end, if you decide it works for you…keep it. If it doesn’t work, is it worth forcing yourself to do it? For me, the answer is no.
I spent 20 years of my life being obese – and before that, I spent too much time believing I was ugly, fat and disgusting. Because someone else told me so when nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve spent my life trying to figure out how to stop the self-loathing, totally jacked up behavior that I used to comfort myself from an emotional terrorist. In the process, I found enough of myself to grab hold of…but I went from 125 pounds to 383 pounds before I completely sobered up.
So last November, when everyone else was planning their Thanksgiving dinners, I had gastric sleeve surgery. Almost 11 months later, I’ve lost 106 pounds and have dropped 5 sizes in clothes. But you know what? I didn’t have brain surgery.
Sleeve surgery allowed me to grab the food demon by the throat, throw her black-hearted ass in a crate, and nail the fucker shut – but she’s still around. I have more than 20 years worth of bad habits under my belt. Having 85% of my stomach removed didn’t change that. Never being hungry doesn’t change that. If I wasn’t mentally and emotionally ready for this surgery, it wouldn’t stop the demon bitch from hell.
Here’s what I’ve learned…
Making sure I had a positive behavior ready to replace my eating with was fucking brilliant. She might be locked up in a box, but every once in a while I can still hear her screaming. Sleeve surgery has afforded me the luxury of never feeling hungry, so I no longer feel a physical, urgent need to eat. I have regularly scheduled, small meals and I stick to that schedule religiously because I find comfort in the routine. That works for me. So when the food demon starts screaming from inside her crate, I calmly tell her to shut the hell up…and I go to my needlework and start stitching. Needlework makes me focus on something else. I have to count. I have to concentrate. And my hands are busy. If I’m at work when it happens, I get up from my desk and go walk around the floor. I stretch my legs…and as soon as I’m up and walking, I feel grateful that I’m no longer walking around in pain. I’m instantly reminded that I’m far from the 383 pound walking corpse I was last year. I am an awesome, kick ass ninja butterfly who gets stronger every damn day.
In contrast, i know people who’ve had bariatric surgery and weren’t ready. They had no plan for shit like this. They didn’t think it through. For them, surgery was the solution…not a tool. After surgery they couldn’t overeat anymore, so that destructive behavior manifested itself in new ways. Some turned into total sluts. I’m not trying to be funny here. They made scary decisions that they never would have made before. Some became angry and bitter. They couldn’t eat anymore so they got pissed at the world instead of dealing with their shit. One developed a serious spending issue.
All of them have gained most, if not all, of their weight back. I didn’t want to go down that road…so I made a plan.
There’s a difference between real hunger and a gurgling tummy. If you don’t eat for 8 hours or so does your tummy gurgle? Probably. Do you also feel empty? That’s important. That hollow feeling in your stomach is probably hunger. What happens if you eat spicy food? What if your tummy is just gassy? It gurgles, right? That’s not hunger. I knew the difference between the two before I had surgery and I didn’t realize how important it was until I was home from the hospital and my tummy was gurgling like I swallowed a box of fireworks. But I didn’t feel hungry. Weak at first, sure. I’d had major surgery. But as I slowly adjusted my diet back to real food over the weeks following my surgery, my tummy would gurgle with each new stage…and I didn’t freak out about it because I knew the difference between hunger and a gurgly tummy.
Change is challenging and fun. At first, it wasn’t so fun. It was just work. So much work. Life after sleeve surgery was just me fielding one curve ball after another. It felt like it took forever for me to feel comfortable in my own skin. I had to learn how to eat all over again. I was learning to live all over again. Once I’d lost my 46th pound, I started to get excited. (I’d gained and lost the same 45 pounds repeatedly…so I felt like the first 45 pounds was a do-over.) The excitement was a welcome distraction – because right around the third month I hit the “OMG I’m so tired of thinking about eating” wall. It happens. I was used to thinking about eating bad foods. I’d plan my day around that shit. After surgery I was still thinking about food, but it was “Okay, how much protein have I had so far? Do I have room for more yet? Have I had enough water? What do I need to eat today in order to hit my protein goal?” That is some boring shit for a girl who used to think Twizzlers was a food group. There’s no magic formula for how to beat that if it happens. I muscled through it. I didn’t want to be the girl who failed at weight loss even after surgery. I still don’t want to be that girl. But now I realize that I won’t be…because I’ve changed.
When I look back at who I was a year ago, I look forward to the changes I can only imagine are coming. After all, I’m only half way to my goal. When I think about it that way, the road ahead opens wide up and I’m excited about the possibilities that wait for me.
Yes, there are struggles. Yes, there are hurdles. But it’s all an adventure…because I finally embraced change.
If you have questions, please ask. I try to be an open book about my experience because I know what it feels like to be lost in a fog and not knowing where to turn or who to talk to. While I can’t say what will work for you, I can tell you what’s worked for me…and that might just help you find another piece of your puzzle. Until then, just remember that it’s okay if your tiara’s crooked. Perfection is for pussies.