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body image, diets, weight loss

Thoughts on winning my own personal hunger games

Last week I had what can only be described as the cold virus from hell. Headache, fever, body aches, and congestion so bad that my eyes were leaking. I also lost 6 lbs. Now you might think that all of those are pretty typical symptoms for a Hades bred adenovirus; however, I have never, ever lost weight while sick until now.

Not when I had mono in my last year of medical school. I remember crawling to my kitchen to get peanut butter cups. Not my finest hour by any stretch, but hey, I was hungry and nothing heals quite like that happy accident of peanut butter mixed with chocolate.

Not when my kids were born extremely prematurely and one passed away while the other two spent months in the neonatal intensive care unit. Other mothers seemed to waste away. I had an unsuccessful stint with Weight Watchers.

Not when I had H1N1 influenza (before the vaccine was available). Again, there might have been crawling to the kitchen (the ex-husband not believing that marital duties extended to bringing food to an ill spouse in the next room).

Basically, my internal dialogue has always gone something like this…

Experience sadness, brain interprets hunger!

Experience illness, brain interprets hunger!

Experience happiness, brain interprets hunger!

It’s best explained as a bizarre mono language where there is only one word to describe the full complement of the human experience. And that word is hunger.

So you get the point. The sensation of having an appetite has not been a reliable barometer (hence, the 50 lbs weight gain), although I suppose I was hungry for something and my brain conveniently slotted in food. Probably easier than dealing with the emotions.

But I spent 2011 getting myself in shape physically and mentally. I lost 50 lbs and to say I redefined my relationship with food would be an understatement. However, I still clung to journaling. A key weight loss tool, especially for me, since I couldn’t tell when I was hungry. For the past 14 months I have eaten the number of calories my journal says that I can and assumed that meant satiety.

But when I was sick this go-round I didn’t have the energy to journal, so I had no other choice than to follow my body’s lead. Yes, I was slightly freaked out at the prospect. When I weighed myself the day I got back to work, I was stunned to see that I’d lost 6 lbs. Not a healthy weight loss, and I’m slowly figuring out how to get a couple of pounds back on in a controlled way, but an appropriate weight loss given I was sick and had no appetite.

Since last week I’ve paid a lot of attention to my appetite and I realize I no longer have mixed up signals. For example, I was feeling really blue the other night and did not interpret that as the need to eat the 2 lb bag of chocolate chips in the cupboard.

The odds of weight maintenance are not in anyone’s favor, so I won’t give up journaling. Evidence-based medicine says I shouldn’t. However, becoming acquainted with my appetite makes me feel as if I’ve doubled my firepower and if I told you I was ecstatic, well, I’d be under selling it.

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Discussion

7 thoughts on “Thoughts on winning my own personal hunger games

  1. Congrats on the 50 lb loss; that’s obviously a huge number. I myself lost nearly 80 pounds back in 1999, and I’ve maintained it since then (well, within, say, 15 pounds), and I can personally attest to how good it feels. And I *know* you must have been feeling triumphant when you put on that green dress you tweeted today. For what it’s worth, it looked great on you. ;-)

    The hardest part for me, too, was decoupling my emotions from my eating. I mean, i still allow myself to indulge in a really small amount of comfort food from time to time when feeling low, but I can have a really rotten day now and yet not have the overwhelming urge to empty out the nearest fast food outlet, my default response back in the 90s (and the 80s before that).

    Again, congratulations!

    Posted by Jim Pettit | April 1, 2012, 5:59 pm
  2. Love your honesty and introspection. Also love that you have the gonads to speak your mind on political issues. Keep on, warrior!

    Posted by C. Mcnally | April 1, 2012, 6:18 pm
  3. Great post. I am too someone who tends to go for food even when sick. It’s like being ill was an excuse for me to eat whatever I wanted. No more though!

    Posted by The Weight Run Down | April 1, 2012, 7:40 pm
  4. I love this. I recently noticed my relationship with food, too. After even just a few short months (okay, more like 5 now), I have come to a point in my life where I DON’T eat my feelings. It took a long time to get there, too.

    Now, TOM still tries to convince me I need ALL THE CHOCOLATE, but that doesn’t mean I do it. It’s easier to shut it up the more I change my relationship with food and exercise. :3

    Posted by Missy Q. | April 2, 2012, 12:13 am
  5. Helllo Dr.,

    New follower….

    I’m prolly a couple decades your senior and though I recognize I often eat my emotions/anxiety too. I’ve, to date, not been able to make the constructive changes to my intake/exercise to drop the excess weight.

    I’ve got a new incentive though…..my physician recently placed me on a medication to control my “prehypertension”.

    The first maintenance med in my life!

    BTW I do appreciate your post last week re cancer v constitution. I advocate for a universal healthcare system here in America and forwarded your post to lots of folks with an one query. How can we continue to tolerate such human pain and suffering?

    Please keep up the observations so that Americans can cut through the misinformation that is foisted upon us by defenders of the dysfunctional non-system we struggle under.

    Posted by Kurt | April 2, 2012, 6:13 am
  6. Love the title and congrats on making progress in your relationship with food! I had a bug in late February/early March that had me feeling constantly nauseous and in the bathroom a lot for roughly a week. Amazing how that really turns one off of food. I ended up eating very mostly fruits and veggies in small amounts throughout the day as any type of animal product (meat, fish, cheese, etc.) made me feel even more nauseous. Ditto for any kind of alcohol. (And it wasn’t a gallbladder thing, either, thank goodness.) This new “diet” helped me reset some bad habits I’d been falling into (fatty foods — even quality, homemade ones — and alcohol every night of the week is not so good for you…who’ve had guessed?), recalibrated my palate, and helped me drop a few pounds. I’m keeping the weight off and losing a bit more by eating smaller portion sizes and sticking mostly fruit instead of baked goods for dessert. The smaller portion sizes are also due to the fact that I had braces put on my teeth right after I recovered from that bug. I eat much more slowly now due to the braces, so even if I take a larger size portion I end up reaching my satiation point before I’ve finished. Amazing what a few small changes can do, isn’t it? Now if I can just get myself into the gym more than once or twice a week I’ll see some huge changes.

    Posted by Linda | April 3, 2012, 10:42 am
  7. Dr. Gunter,

    I’ve been following your abortion blogs for some months now; it’s amazingly helpful to see the actually trained medical perspective in a horribly emotional fight. You are WONDERFUL there, and I have appreciated each post! I felt compelled to actually comment for the first time because this hit where I live. I suffer (accurate term!) from atypical depression/possibly undiagnosed bipolar II. I comfort eat like it’s my JOB. I love that you took the time to discuss, and i thank you for that. I am currently in my very first depressive episode where I’ve actually lost my appetite (yay??? not.) and it really does highlight the unhealthy relationship I have with food! I’ve done well on an anti depressant for the last 2 years (that has finally stopped working), been eating healthy, and journalling calories, and have been able to lose 60lbs…of which I’ve gained 15 back during the breakthrough symptoms. I’m rambling, sorry! and i just wanted to say thank you for what you do, and for having the courage to approach every aspect of your life so unflinchingly. :-) you made me smile.
    kris

    Posted by kris | April 6, 2012, 8:17 am

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