A couple of years ago, for the first time in my entire life, I lost a bunch of weight pretty much by accident. I was plagued by a sick stomach, and generally felt queasy for much of the day. This was paired with some odd, dull pains in my upper stomach, bloating, and the strangest, most disturbing mushy grinding noises from my lower abdomen. (These were actually quite amusing – often, I could generate additional noises with a well-placed poke or a brief massage. I’d record the sounds and send them via text to my kids to gross them out. You see what you resort to for entertainment when you stop springing for cable TV?)
This came a couple years after my marriage. While the now-hubby and I were dating, I had admittedly packed on a few pounds, thanks to dates of late-night nachos and Molten Chocolate Cakes. I had managed to squeeze into a size 9 wedding dress, but I was about 25 pounds heavier than I wanted to be at the time. So the weight loss was welcome. I lost those 25 pounds, and then ten more. At this point, I was loving the weight loss, but figured I best check in with the doc. You know, just to make sure I wasn’t dying of anything.
Over the next several months, I was screened for pretty much anything that can cause weight loss. Ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer, colon cancer. Celiac disease. Ulcers. Parasites. Cat scratch disease. Lyme disease. Pregnancy. (Three times.) The results were inconclusive: I wasn’t dying of anything, but something was effed up in my immune panel. My doctor threw up her hands and said “try not eating wheat, see if it helps.”
During all these tests, I managed to drop a few more pounds. I was loving wearing a size 0, loving when I’d walk into a store and everything was too big, but I was not loving feeling exhausted and ill all the time.
As I was going through this, I did learn that some foods managed to make me feel worse – particularly, foods with white flour and processed sugar. In other words – FOODS THAT MAKE LIFE WORTH LIVING. Twinkies. Nutty Bars. Fresh Italian bread. Those Zingers with the coconut on them. Cake. Cookies. Donuts. CAKE.
So I quit eating those foods, and eventually gave up on wheat all together. And occasionally, when there was an office birthday party or Donut Friday, people would ask why I wasn’t having any. (Because, if you haven’t noticed, people are freakishly interested in what you are or aren’t eating. I mean, I could light my desk on fire and sacrifice the company’s 2012 tax records while performing an ancient rain dance, wearing only a garbage bag and Crocs, and folks would barely blink. But skip a slice of cake at a company function and suddenly you are the most interesting person on the planet and EVERYONE wants to know what the heck is up.)
So I’d tell them: “Oh…I can’t eat baked goods. They make me kind of sick to my stomach.”
Invariably, the response was (I bet you know it, kids, so sing along!) “Wow, I WISH I had that problem! Then maybe I wouldn’t eat so much!”
Well. About that.
No. No, you don’t wish you had this. You really do not. And here is why.
Because when eating a food makes you ill – guess what? IT TASTES JUST AS DELICIOUS AS ALWAYS. But after you eat a couple of donuts, or a plate of pasta, about an hour later, it haunts you. Not just in the usual way – you feel not only fat, gross, and like a complete failure because you YET AGAIN totally blew your diet…as a bonus, you ALSO feel bloated, lethargic, queasy, and drained. You feel like you’re trying to digest a lump of wet concrete. (Don’t try this at home, kids. Suffice it to say it doesn’t feel great.) So, now you have a double whammy – you can beat yourself up both mentally AND physically with just a single slice of cake! Two for the price of one!!
So, in this process of trying to figure out what makes me ill, after a few years of dealing with this, I’ve come to another surprising conclusion.
Sugar messes with my head.
I’ve finally figured out why I’m such a mess on Sunday nights – because on the weekends, I let my eating “relax” a bit, and indulge – sometimes it’s ice cream, sometimes it’s a gluten-free cookie. (Which generally is not the tastiest of treats, but if you MUST have a cookie, and you don’t want to bite into a flavorless mass of disappointment, try these. Actually, on second thought, don’t. Don’t even click the link, because you won’t be able to eat fewer than four at a time. Don’t ask me how I know this. Moo.)
And by Sunday night, I’m a mess. Psychologically, I’ve completely fallen apart. I hate myself, I’m a fat slob, I need to lose ten – no, fifteen – pounds, I’m NEVER EATING AGAIN but OH LOOK SUGAR I MUST HAVE MORE SUGAR CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM CANDY BARRRRRRRRR
<ERROR: Circular Reference in Prior Logic>
It’s a vicious cycle. Once I eat a sugary treat, my body releases the food demons. I’m like a sucrose vampire. I. MUST. FEED. I. MUST. HAVE. SUGAR. (I’m visualizing a tray of sugar cookies with terrified faces cowering in fear as I lurk in the shadows waiting to churn them into crumbs.) It’s an animalistic drive; one I can only sometimes, and only barely, control.
Not only does eating sugar make me crave more sugar, but it also seems to anger those defeating voices in my head. The voices that tell me I’m fat, and that until I lose some weight, absolutely nothing else matters. My husband won’t find me attractive. I’ll fail at my job. I’m a horrible mother to my kids. And I’m fat. Huge, wobbly, saggy, weak, worthless, disgusting, nothing.
It’s as if sugar makes the weeds grow. They pop up and choke out all the peace and harmony I’ve tried so hard to establish and root. They wilt the buds of hope I was so delicately trying to get to bloom.
I’ve actually tested this theory. I’ve gone for a week or two without any sugary treats, and the stability of my mood is remarkable. Sure, there are ups and downs, but I can speak logically to myself and back away from the ledge.
Then, once I’ve indulged…well, the baboon is out of the cage. AND HE AIN’T HAPPY BRO. I hate myself, and won’t be worth the air I breathe until I get my weight down to 110…105…99. But I’ll never, ever GET there because I simply cannot stop eating ice cream and kettle corn, along with any random foodstuffs that happen to be innocently lying in their paths.
It takes a few days before I can keep my head above the waves of self-loathing long enough to really be able to see the shore I so desperately want to swim to. It takes water and clean eating and exercise and rest. And time.
Last night, I tested myself again. This week’s leap into the abyss featured a DQ Blizzard. A stupid Blizzard? Really? Not even something GOOD like Ben and Jerry’s or Culver’s, but a lame-o crappy Blizzard?
I’m weak. Or so the Blizzard is telling me.
I’m working so hard right now to keep the riptide from ripping off my life vest. I ate fruit and an egg today, and chili and a baked potato for dinner. No candy, no ice cream, even though the mean, hateful voices in my head are telling me I’d be a size 00 if I had any willpower at all while simultaneously screaming at me to GET A $&%(@$! FROSTY ALREADY.
Why do I keep doing this to myself?!
Because, dammit…sugar tastes good. The bitter aftertaste doesn’t kick in right away.
It’s still delicious.
I wish I could bottle up this feeling and sprinkle it all over all the peanut butter cups and ice cream pints on the planet. I wish it turned them all a sickly, neon green and make them impossible to swallow.
Until then…it’s like a bad hangover. I know, at least intellectually, that my body WILL figure this out in a couple of days, and I just have to nurture myself with good food and rest while my body works the poison out of my system.
It takes time to heal. Things will look better tomorrow…at least somewhat.
Hang on, Kate. Hang on.