Welcome back, friend! Before you read this update, I want to say thank you. Thank you for your kind words and support after reading my intro blog! This blog was harder to write because I had to take a deep look at some parts of myself that I don’t really like. I am a strong and confident woman with complexities that I feel like many women can relate to – and so much of our relationship with food is psychological and deep-rooted. I’ll be writing about tougher issues this time – my childhood, grief, trauma, and how those experiences have shaped my psychological view of food.
I have always listened to authority figures and trusted the experts in my life. Upon going to college, I came to understand that knowledge, facts, and science were my source of truth. Knowledge and facts, and how well I can memorize and apply them, were what I based my success on. However, I came to realize in my first appointment with Dr. Egan that I have a bit of a rebellious outlook when it comes to my weight. I think the reason for the rebellion stems from needing a sense of autonomy and control over my own body. I feel like myself, and women, feel a lot of pressure and shame from dieting advertisements and the ideal image of what a woman should look like. All of the voices saying what I should do or should look like became such a loop that I just rejected them all completely and rebelled against the status quo.
My first visit
My first visit was an introduction and orientation where we laid out the plan. We did some blood tests, an EKG to check my heart health, and then we talked about the next steps. Dr. Egan and I discussed weight loss medication and we decided to try the very low-calorie diet with the meal replacements to start. It was decided that we can revisit medication if needed down the line. My blood tests for my thyroid came back normal and I should just continue taking vitamin supplements, but I need to add vitamin D to my regimen, especially since we are transitioning out of summer.
After my initial checks, and going over medical history, Dr. Egan asked me, “Tell me about your experience with food.” My immediate response was, “Well I’ve tried several diets and just haven’t felt like anything has worked or been sustainable.”
Dr. Egan responded, “Okay sure, but what is your relationship with food? How did you grow up with food? What were your parents like with food?”
I had to take a step back and look at my overall experience with food. It’s hard to look at such a large concept and start poking holes in it, but I started to see that my thoughts around food were related to control. Feeling control (and rebellious) in the sense that I would obey my parents, but food was the one thing that I wouldn’t let anyone dictate for me. I was not a picky eater, but I remember things needing to be done on my terms. The whole “You’ll sit there until everything on your plate is gone” thing did NOT work on me. I would sit there for hours just minding my business and waiting for my parents’ willpower to crumble. Then they let me leave the table. Fun kid, right?
Connecting with my childhood
I remember “junk food” being a unifying factor for my dad and me. We LOVED Oreo cookies and it was a nightly tradition to have a few with a glass of milk. After my dad died in a car accident when I was 13, I turned to food for comfort because it was a way for me to feel close to him. I think we all have a sense of nostalgia connected to certain foods. Looking back, I don’t think this was something I did consciously. Rather the part of my brain that connected food and comfort started to take the lead on soothing my grief.
Thinking more about my childhood, my dad’s eating habits swung more into an unhealthy food category, while my mom fits into a healthy food category. I remember times in my childhood when my mom would go on a diet, and the whole family would start to eat healthier. Relating to my rebellious streak, my dad would sneak me out to go to our favorite hot dog stand and we’d cheer and toast with our cold root beers. I always treasured those memories because I felt like we were in it together – breaking the rules and not caring about the consequences. That thought process carried on through my eating habits as an adult, where I felt like people can’t tell me what to do or what to eat.
Trauma + the “ping” to eat
In an effort to be vulnerable and honest about this experience, I think that being a survivor of sexual assault plays a role in feeling a sort of dissociation from my body. So many women experience sexual assault and it can have a lot of different effects on the brain and body. Emotionally I have dissociated from a lot of my relationships as a trauma response, but I also feel like I have been disconnected from my body. My first reaction to cravings is to placate and seek comfort. Logically, I view it almost as an act of self-care or spoiling myself because I deserve it after all the bad experiences my body has felt or been through. However, indulging in my every whim has done harm to my body and now it’s time to flip the script.
Dr. Egan explained that there are 2 parts of our brain. We could think of them as our logical/human brain, and our “animal brain”. She used the example of driving home from work. Our “animal brain” kind of takes over and we zone out on our way home, so when we pull into the driveway, we might say to ourselves, “I don’t remember any of that drive. I hope I didn’t break any laws!” We’ve all been there, right? So, say you were driving home after work and you get cut off by a car and almost get into an accident. Your heart is racing, you get sweaty, and maybe even let a few (or a lot) curse words lose. That is the point when your logical brain kicks in and you start calming yourself, “We are ok. We didn’t die. It’s all good.” Eating and cravings are driven by this same system. The “animal brain” drives these cravings unconsciously and makes it really uncomfortable to deny a craving or comfort. However, the logical side of the brain knows that nothing bad will actually happen if I don’t satisfy that craving.
Having Dr. Egan identify the “ping” and how to question it gives me a different perspective of why my brain is doing this, while also empowering me to make good food decisions. It is so easy to placate the “animal brain” and just sit back and watch Netflix and snack, but that gets out of control so quickly, and soon I’ve eaten an entire bag of chips!
I am really looking forward to exploring more on this aspect of control within myself. I have always been sort of territorial about food and my weight because it felt like the one thing I could completely control. No one could tell me how to feel about my weight and food habits because it was mine. However, I am coming to realize that I need to let down my guard more in that aspect so I can take care of myself better. I think that while taking this time for introspection, I’m realizing that disordered eating can go both ways. People who seek control may deprive themselves of food, while others (like myself), seek control by eating whatever, whenever they want.
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At this point in my weight journey, I feel like everything is getting so real. I am nervous because I feel like I am giving up my safety blanket and comfort in food. In the same respect, I am excited that my outlook and bond with food can change from a comfort item to a fuel substance. The best part about this process is the support I am given. Sitting and talking with Dr. Egan made me feel so understood, and I feel more educated speaking about hunger and eating. It has given me a new perspective and language to use when I talk through this experience. Having Dr. Egan a message away in the app has been so reassuring, and I don’t feel like I’m doing this alone.