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I'm Baaaaaaaack!

Monday, July 29, 2019

I can't believe it's been 8 friggin' years since my last blog post! Holy cow, where has the time gone! Well, I'm back with a vengeance, ready to reconnect with my fellow SparkPeeps and bring you along on my weight loss journey.

It's been 8 years since my last blog, so here are the bullet points to bring you up to speed: I finished grad school. Have held 4 jobs. Got engaged. Bought a house. Adopted more fur babies. And lost and re-gained a combined total of 1,000,000 pounds.

Just kidding...but it has been a lot of ups and downs as far as my weight goes. At my best, I weighed 150 pounds. After years of yo-yo dieting, last month I reached my highest weight ever -- 297 pounds. Yikes!!! What happened?!

My hundreds of weight loss battles over the years were all valiantly fought, but ultimately doomed to fail because I had yet to identify and address the root cause of my weight problems. And what is the root cause? Well, it's taken me over 20 years to finally realize this, but... I am a food addict. I am a food addict with unmanaged, chronic mental illness.

Addiction doesn't come out of nowhere - biology, genetics, personal history, and a myriad of other factors can contribute to addiction. While much is unknown and misunderstood about addiction, one thing is clear: having an addiction does NOT mean that you are morally weak or just lacking willpower. Addiction is a complex disease that causes real changes in the brain that make it next to impossible to stop or control the addictive behavior, even when it is causing severe psychological and physical harm.

I developed the habit of emotional eating and bingeing when I was very little. It started out innocently enough - I binged on sugar because it felt good. It gave me a high, and I enjoyed the thrill of sneaking food and not getting caught. Over time, it became a way to cope with more serious stressors in my life. This habit caused me to gain a lot of weight, which only made me feel worse. In turn, I ate to feel better. The self-destructive cycle of addiction had begun.

As my weight and compulsive eating spiraled more and more out of control, I began experiencing major depression and anxiety. By this time, I was in 7th grade. And kids were mean (and are still mean) to anyone who looks different, so I was bullied and socially rejected a lot for being overweight. This severely impacted my self-esteem, and I became increasingly anxious and depressed. The ADHD also made it challenging to control my impulses to eat. By the end of high school, I weighed 200 pounds.

After my first year of college, I moved home for the summer and made a resolution to lose the weight. I began feverishly dieting and exercising. That summer was the first time I successfully lost weight. I was eating 1200 calories and exercising for 1-2 hours daily. The weight just melted off. By the end of summer, I had lost 50 pounds.

When I returned to school, friends noticed my dramatic weight loss and complimented my new appearance. It was shocking to see how differently people treated me when I was thinner. Boys paid attention to me for the first time, and people seemed more friendly towards me in general. I should have been elated, but I was miserable. To me, this validated my fears that being overweight made me ugly and unlovable, and the only way to be loved and accepted was to be thin.

For the remainder of college, I kept my weight down by being active. I commuted by bike every day and spent my free time doing lots of outdoor activities. I took a part-time job at an outdoor recreation company where I often had the opportunity to go on rafting, hiking, backpacking, kayaking, skiing, and rock-climbing trips. It was easily the best job I ever had, and the happiest time of my life. I was still overweight and unhappy with my body, but I had discovered a passion for the outdoors and had made lots of new friends. As a whitewater rafting guide, I felt strong and powerful for the first time in my life.

But college wouldn’t last forever. After graduating, I began working in the mental health field. My job was to work with the homeless, severely mentally ill to find them housing, food, employment, and other critical services. The job was physically demanding and emotionally draining. It involved doing frequent crisis intervention and working in very difficult environments.

One day, I injured my back while helping a client move furniture. Weeks of limited mobility turned into months, and then years. I spent a fortune on chiropractic, physical therapy, personal training, and other medical treatments, but nothing helped. I could no longer do the kinds of activities I once enjoyed without re-injuring myself. The combination of job stress and chronic back pain took its toll, leading me down a dangerous path to depression and, at my lowest, even suicidal thoughts.

Over time, while furthering my education and then starting a new job, my weight crept back up. By the fall of 2013, I was up to 230 pounds. I was disgusted with myself, but ready to make some changes. I joined an intensive medical weight management program offered through my HMO. The program was expensive and very challenging but produced results. In 5 months, I had lost 50 pounds and felt great for the first time in years.

But my ongoing battle with chronic back pain and job stress triggered more periods of weight gain. I continued to struggle with emotional eating. I tried countless times to lose weight, but even when I was successful, I would eventually fall off the wagon and regain the weight. Over the years, I tried every diet strategy imaginable—from point systems, pre-made meals, detoxes, shakes, and supplements to pills—but nothing seemed to stick. I sought help from doctors, nutritionists, wellness coaches, personal trainers, therapists, and Overeaters Anonymous. I created a home gym and participated in countless fitness classes. I started a walking group at work, and one time, I even organized a weight loss challenge, but my colleagues lost motivation and dropped out of the competition within a few days.

I poured over blogs, books, and articles on various health topics, and weight loss success stories and inspirational quotes (including on SparkPeople). To improve my motivation, I created vision boards, hung motivational signs up around my house, created reward systems, and even completed several online weight loss contests. Despite these and other efforts, I still struggled with my weight. I was so well-versed in the mechanics of weight loss, yet I still hadn’t cracked the code for how to overcome my weight problems once and for all. I was anxious and depressed, slowly eating my way to death. I felt hopeless and weak, and wondered if I was destined to be fat forever.

For years, I had resisted taking medication for my depression, telling myself I was strong enough to deal with it on my own. But finally, tired of crying all the time and struggling to go to work, I asked my doctor about my options for mental health treatment. After running a series of tests and meeting with a psychiatrist, I started taking an antidepressant and meeting regularly with a therapist. Although the medication improved my mood and outlook a little bit, it wasn’t a magic solution. The medication causes terrible side effects and hasn't taken away the cravings for unhealthy food. Until very recently, I was depressed to the point where I just felt emotionally numb and empty, and considered taking my own life.

A month ago, I reached my heaviest weight of 297 pounds. My depression, anxiety, and compulsive eating had never been worse. And physically, I had never felt worse. Chronic back pain, migraines, plantar fasciitis, and fibromyalgia, as well as the side effects from my medications, had make it impossible to function normally. Every day is a battle to just get out of bed and do normal people things.

So now that you're all caught up, you may be wondering... what now? Well, let me tell you: after hitting my rock bottom, I realized that I have nowhere to go but up. I've decided to fight for my life and throw any and all resources I can at the problem.

I decided to take a leave of absence from work to focus on improving my physical and emotional health. I am using this time to slow down and reflect on my life, goals and dreams, and begin my road to recovery. I know that I need to change my lifestyle and my relationship with food. I have made it my goal to address the root causes of my weight issues by focusing on improving my overall health and wellness, and not just losing weight. By writing this blog, I'm taking the first step to start opening up and talking about my mental health issues for the first time. This isn't easy for me to do, given the social stigma and ignorance around mental illness. But my experience on this website has shown me that I can trust my SparkPeeps to be kind and understanding.

I'm continuing to work with a psychiatrist to find medications that work better for me and have fewer side effects. I'm 2 weeks into a 6-month “healthy weight” program offered through my HMO. The weekly weigh-ins are helping to hold me accountable, and I really benefit from having the structure of a class. I'm also taking advantage of my HMO’s free wellness coaching program, where I have monthly calls with a coach. My first call with my coach, Cathy, was uplifting and reaffirming.

I have started eating healthy again and tracking my foods using my old friend, SparkPeople. To make healthy eating a practical and sustainable lifestyle change, I am committed to practicing moderation and balance—no fad diets, eliminating food groups, severely cutting calories or following an overly restrictive diet. My diet needs to be sensible and flexible. I am embracing the mantra of “moderation in all things.”

I am focusing on learning about intuitive eating. Right now I'm reading an excellent book on the topic, and it's helping me see things from a different perspective. For example, I'm learning to stop thinking of foods as “good” or “bad,” or my food cravings as an enemy to be silenced rather than an important source of information about what I'm needing physically or psychologically. I realize that I have to learn how to trust and interpret my body’s hunger signals, and how to manage food cravings using better coping skills.

To alleviate my chronic back pain, I'm joining a water therapy program offered through a program called Easter Seals. I hope that swimming will allow me to exercise safely and painlessly and improve my mobility. I've resumed a daily routine of physical therapy and have scheduled some acupuncture sessions. I'm reading several books on the topic of food addiction and emotional eating to get further insight into my compulsive eating and learn strategies for managing my addiction.

I'm realizing now that the secret to long-term success with weight loss is learning to have self-compassion. After two decades of fighting with my self-image and using dieting and bingeing to “fix” myself, I now realize that I can never hate my body into loving it. In order to overcome my food addiction and depression, I have to learn to be forgiving and accepting of myself. I dieted and binged all those years because I hated my body and wanted to change it, not because I wanted to love and nourish it. Once I confront and challenge the negative thoughts I have about my body, I begin to genuinely enjoy healthy eating and exercising. By practicing regular self-care, I'm gaining the strength to continue on my weight loss journey - not for anyone else, but for myself. I will no longer lose weight in order to gain love and acceptance from others because I will seek this from within myself.

If you're still with me at this point, thank you and sorry for the super long post! I didn't realize how much I needed to share until I started writing. I hope my story can inspire you to open up and reach out to me or others for support as well. I'm happy to listen and remind you that you're amazing! And please please please leave any thoughts, ideas, suggestions that you may have in the comments, I'd love to connect with SparkPeeps who are on a similar journey. :-)

Until next time, keep the faith and take good care.

- Jen
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