Losing Sixty-Five Pounds Gradually

You can find information on Candlemas at https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/01/21/candlemas/ and Valentine’s Day at https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2016/02/10/valentines-day/

I wrote this back in 2007. That’s ten years and a lot of healing ago.

A couple of months ago, my doctor told me that my blood sugars were inching up and recommended I eat lower on the glycemic index. This means eating foods that release their nutrients slowly, rather than flooding the body and causing a quick rise in blood sugar.

Choosing appropriate foods is not rocket science. Lots of fresh veggies and fruit, beans, meat, and fish. Cook only with olive oil. Reduced fat dairy products and mayonnaise. Avoid white rice and flour – brown rice and whole wheat flour is fine. Avoid fried foods and stuff made by huge conglomerates that care about their profits but not their customers’ health.

Intellectually, it’s real easy and I know exactly what to do. On an emotional level, though, it’s a different story. I just don’t understand eating. I don’t get that what I do this minute will have consequences in an hour or a day or a week. Perhaps that’s because my sense of time is so distorted that things don’t seem connected. If I plant a package of morning glory seeds, it doesn’t feel like I will have twenty magnificent morning glory seedlings in a few weeks. It feels like I’ve just wasted $2.19 by burying those little brown thingies.

My favorite comfort foods are all bad for me. Pasta, white bread with butter, donuts, potato chips, Coke. My little parts want all of those at the same meal, and lots of them.

If I get anxious, I tend to eat quickly, thoughtlessly, and therefore over-eat. If I get really upset, I just stop eating entirely. It isn’t a decision: I have no appetite and just can’t wrap my mind around the idea of putting stuff in my mouth and swallowing it. I get all freaked out by the idea that I am hollow inside. Weird, eh?

I know that many people without abuse histories have some of these same attitudes. I also know that many, many abuse survivors have far more severe eating problems than I do, often to the point of being life-threatening. But these things still bug me on a daily basis. My attitudes, beliefs and behaviors around food all feel choppy and fragmented, rather than integrated into a smoothly working process.

I’m also reminded on a daily (minutely?) basis of another result of my abuse, a life-long depression. Back in the days of tricyclics I put on eighty pounds that I have not yet been able to take off. I try to think of my extra weight as a battle scar and to remind myself I won the battle against suicide, for I am still here. Maybe I can win the battle with food, too. Of course I would rather not have battle scars – I would happily settle for a nice medal that I could wear on special occasions.

I’m proud of myself, though, because I don’t throw up my hands and say, “It’s useless. I’ll never change.” I keep on trying, meal after meal, supermarket run after supermarket run. I’m not a fanatic about eating healthily, for life without chocolate is not a happy thought, but I keep moving in that direction. It is paying off, too, because my blood sugars are normal now. I’m happy, for I sure wouldn’t deal well with diabetes.

It may be this way with most parts of healing. You just have to put one foot in front of the other, baby step by baby step. You don’t have to understand completely, you don’t have to completely believe in what you are doing. You just have to decide it’s worth a try and then keep plugging away at it. It’s not dramatic – but it’s doable.

So what was the process like? If I remember right, I didn’t lose very much the first few years. I know for sure I didn’t make a lot of big changes all at once. I just sort of chipped away at it.

The first thing I tackled was potato chips. I told myself I would eat fewer, not that I would never have another potato chip in my life. The less I ate, the less I craved them. Today I have them once or twice a year at somebody else’s house. They are just as delicious as ever, but the next day I have forgotten all about them.

The next project, sugar, was much more ambitious. It’s one thing to eat fewer potato chips but more crispy, salty, yummy tortilla chips. It’s another thing all together to eat less ice cream, fewer donuts, fewer M&M’s, and even, believe it or not, less tomato ketchup. I had to start reading labels seriously, for who knew high fructose corn syrup was added to so many products?

I just found out that loving sugar is not my fault, it is because of some bugs in my digestive system that live on sugar and ask for it. The more I eat, the more they reproduce, and so there are lots more of the little buggers telling my brain to eat sugar. When there are very few of them, their pleas are much fainter and therefore easier to ignore. How smart of my unconscious to decide to work on all products containing sugar, not just one or two!

For several months I would stop concentrating on eating less of things and just add healthy stuff to my meals. After a while I developed a taste for spinach and broccoli. Now I have a salad every single night. My physical therapist says, “Do less of what feels bad and more of what feels good.” I don’t think of pasta and sourdough bread as feeling bad, but I get the idea.

Another thing has helped a great deal. I had my knee replaced and, with less pain, I can move more easily. Comfort foods aren’t as enticing. I started going to the gym and now, after a few years, I really enjoy it. Exercise apparently doesn’t make you lose weight by itself, but it makes you healthier and helps keep the weight off. And since muscle weighs more than fat, I can stay at the same weight but be thinner.

It also makes me more conscious of my body. I am beginning to see how moving one muscle affects another one and this makes me feel less fragmented physically. Somehow, I have gained some idea of how eating works. I now understand that there are, indeed, causes and effects. If I consistently pig out, I will gain weight. If I eat healthy most of the time and only pig out occasionally, I will be fine. What is really neat is that getting in touch with the way eating affects my body has taken no conscious effort. It just happened.

I love looking back and seeing where those baby steps have taken me!

Healthy Eating for an RA Survivor (HA!)

Healthy eating for anybody in America these days is not easy. Tons of cheap junk food. Sodas and juices laced with high fructose corn syrup. Cheeseburgers with lots of fat. And fruits and vegetables? They are available only in supermarkets and ethnic markets, not in every corner store and gas station. And they are expensive!!!! Especially organic produce.

Plus which, Americans have been trained to think of donuts, candy, potato chips as treats. Who thinks of a banana as a reward for a job well done? Or a grapefruit? Not too many people, I bet.  In the first days of television, an ad showed Chiquita Banana dancing and singing about developing flavor by never putting bananas in the refrigerator. You’d never see that in prime time today.

So our whole culture encourages eating poorly, simply because it makes big money for the big corporations. Junk food is easy to package, easy to ship, and doesn’t rot like fresh veggies.

It’s hard for the average American but it’s thousands of time harder for survivors of ritual abuse. We have been starved, deprived of water, and made to eat and drink things that never were intended to be put in a human mouth, both in rituals and as punishment. And sometimes, rarely, we have been rewarded with edible food, usually junk food.

I remember being unable to eat tomatoes as a child. I finally figured out why: they are red. Their color triggered the feelings I had about blood. There are a huge number of potential triggers that make it very difficult for survivors to eat a whole range of things. Triggers are different for everybody, but I bet everybody responds to at least some food triggers.

And to make it more complicated, alters respond differently. One alter will try really hard to avoid a certain food, while another alter wants to gorge on it. Imagine the internal battle!

Avoiding lots of triggers can lead to anorexia. There’s another more general cause of anorexia; the absurd amount of attention put on being model-thin in our society. When Chiquita was happily dancing, models were of normal weight — now they look like stick figures. At the same time, the percentage of overweight and obese adults and children is increasing. The gap between actuality and so-called ideal is increasing every year.

Then there is the issue of control. Our perpetrators made all the decisions for us and then taught us that whatever happened was our fault. No matter what we did, no matter how hard we tried, we could never get it right. We had zero control as kids, although we didn’t necessarily know it.

Fighting our perpetrators with food can go either way, anorexia or over-eating. One thing we can control as adults is our eating. We can refuse food — “You can’t make me eat.” Or we can gain tremendous amounts of weight in an attempt to become unattractive to our perpetrators and thus gain some control over their behavior. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Many people, not only survivors, use food as a source of comfort. Sugar and carbohydrates work because they increase the feel-good chemicals in our brains, just like hard drugs. Comfort eating often is accompanied with purging so that the spike of pleasure is offset by getting rid of the food before it can be digested. Many people who are of average weight have this double problem.

So that is what we are up against.

What can we do?

1. Recognize that we have a problem.
2. Recognize, deep down, that it isn’t our fault. It’s a legacy of ritual abuse and having been abused was NOT our fault in any way.
3. Make a commitment to working on handling the problem. Not solving it, especially overnight, but handling it differently.
4. Learn the basics of nutrition.
5. Start slowly. Seriously, slow is better, much better than fast.

Here is what I did. I didn’t give up all comfort foods at once. I didn’t give up any of them! I experiment with eating less of them, eating them less often, or even eating them at a different time of day. I played around and saw what happened when I did something different. I didn’t journal, but by keeping an eating journal you can find out what different parts of you think about this strange new way of being in control.

Along with working with the foods that were bad for me, I experimented with foods that were good for me. I simply added them to my meals. First once a week, then a couple of times a week, then I switched to another healthy food to see if I liked it or not. I was not making a life-time commitment, I was just seeing what happened when I tried different things.

Over time, I saw big positive changes. It was very gratifying and remains so today.

If you have a 12-Step background, Overeaters Anonymous can be very helpful.  It’s for people with all kinds of eating disorders, not just over-eating. You will get lots of support, and companionship, to boot. It also helps with self-acceptance, as nobody is going to consider you a freak.

Some people are comfortable with commercial weight loss programs. They provide a structure if you are having trouble doing it yourself. I personally don’t want to give over that much control, but I have seen people have great success with them.

You might want to try each of these approaches and see what feels most useful and comfortable. Remember — you are in control now, and there is nothing wrong with changing your mind!

I thought of including some recipes in this article, but decided the comments section would be a better home for them. Share your favorite new dishes and give some tips on making this process a little easier!