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.