Around six and a half years ago, I said goodbye to sugar, white flour, potatoes, pasta, rice another other starchy, sugary foods. Over the next four years I also said goodbye to 187 pounds.
When I started menopause just under two years ago, first 4 and then 7 of those pounds kept trying to come back. I'd starve them off, and a day or two later they'd return. I experimented with a thousand things -- more exercise, different exercise, strict calorie counting, portion control, attitude adjustment... no matter what I tried, the result was the same: I'd gained 7 pounds that I could lose, but not keep off -- even if I didn't alter a single thing I was eating or doing. The minute I lost them, they'd bounce back on.
I spoke to a number of other women who'd lost large amounts of weight, and several of them said the same thing had happened to them in early menopause. "Just focus on not gaining weight during the first couple of years," their advice ran. "You should be able to start losing again after that."
I personally know women who lost weight during menopause, so I'm sure this isn't universally true, but it was for me. So I sighed and decided to give it a try. I gained and lost those 7 pounds so many times they must have been metabolic boomerangs.
Then my mother became ill, and I descended into hell. It began last June and hasn't really ended yet, although she's been gone now for 9 days. And while I held steady through the first hellish months of her illness, the relentless stress, the constant sleep deprivation, the agony of grief and loss and fear, of hypervigilance and kneejerk protectiveness, of the unending need to be her advocate in the totally dysfunctional medical system as well as to manage all her finances, were all just too much for me. I started eating to control my stress.
At first I just overate, or ate erractically, or ate carelessly. But eventually I ate some childhood comfort food -- pizza from the place my parents used to take us when we were kids. Note to my readers: If you don't eat grains for several years, and then you eat some? You're not going to feel very well.
Now, when I first cut out starchy and sugary foods, I realized that I didn't really have a problem with emotional eating. I had a problem with my blood sugar, and once that stabilized because I wasn't jacking it up and crashing it down with high carb foods all day long, that problem was gone. And so, amazingly, was a lifelong problem with over-eating. I just didn't care anymore. I mean, I got stressed out all the time, but it never seemed that food would be a solution for that. I figured it would just stress me out more, what with the remorse and feeling of failure I'd undoubtedly experience.
Dr. Atkins, whose eating plan I follow, wrote in his first book that the Atkins plan doesn't help with emotional eating problems. I would talk to other people who didn't have that reaction; they still had problems with emotional eating, no matter how carefully they controlled their carb intake. I knew what they were experiencing was very difficult, and I was just grateful that wasn't what was going on for me.
Until now. Because I am using food now to manage my suffering. And it's working. It worked in the hospital, because it modulated the stress and made me able to function in a situation that was really beyond my ability to cope with. And it's continued to work as painful realities and obligations keep slapping me in the face with every breath I've taken since she died.
That's the seduction, really, of food as drug. Unlike alcohol, it allows you to function. And while some drugs, like cocaine, also (temporarily) improve your ability to function, it's perfectly legal and socially acceptable to eat a cookie in a hospital cafeteria. You can even operate heavy machinery, and no one's ever been pulled over by the cops for driving while under the influence of cake.
Other than that very upset stomach after the pizza incident, I didn't actually feel the avalanche of remorse and self-loathing that I expected. If it was there at all, it got lost in the baseline agony. But now I'm trying to emerge from the vortex of caregiving and tentatively try to remember who I am when I'm not protecting my mother. And so now I'm feeling it, slow and creeping and debilitating. Remorse, regret, self-loathing -- demons I thought I'd laid to rest years ago.
I know I need to sleep. I need a massage. I suspect I need to cry for a few thousand hours, and grieve, and let myself recover from the trauma of the last few months, which is separate from my sorrow at losing my mother, with whom I was incredibly close.
But I also need to find my way out of the food mess I'm in.
I've tried to remember how I did it the last time. The week before I began, I ate a few favorite foods for the last time, gave away all my starchy and sugary non-perishables, and stocked up on healthy foods. I wrote down everything I ate. I joined some online support groups. But I don't remember how I felt, or my state of mind. It's a blank.
In a perfect world, I'd have some great plan or idea to share here, but I don't. Maybe I'll just stick with the sleeping and the crying for one more day.