Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Visit From the Ugly Step Sisters

I have basically hit my goal weight.

I say 'basically', because now I'm in maintenance mode, and it is proving to have its challenges.    I know, logically, that I don't hit that miracle number and just stay there.    Everyone's weight fluctuates up and down a few pounds here and there.   What I wasn't expecting was the mental game this would provoke in me.

Once again, the parallels to getting sober are staggering.   When I was newly sober, and the cravings were bad, the obsession hadn't gone away, every time I made it through another 24 hours without a drink I felt really good, really proud.     It wasn't easy in the early days, but the rewards felt more immediate - feeling better, looking better, my relationships improved, I had more energy.    Not only was I feeling better about myself, but the people around me were checking in constantly, offering support and encouragement.

With time, the cravings went away and the obsession to drink shriveled up and died.   I received medallions for each milestone:  3 months, 6 months, 9 months, one year.  It was motivating, having a little parade for myself as I hit each one.

A little over one year sober, new challenges arose.    People got used to the sober me.  It no longer seemed like such a big deal that I made it another month ... it became my new normal.    The feelings showed up, in droves.   It was no longer simply about not drinking, it was about learning to live a sober life.  

I hit my goal weight a couple of weeks ago.   Since then, it has been a challenge to get used to the new normal, to stay on track even though the scale numbers weren't dropping every week.    It was easy to stay motivated when every week more weight would come off, and I was fitting into smaller and smaller jeans.    I was so focused on getting here, that I didn't think enough about what it would be like when I arrived.  Even the word 'arrive' trips me up, because it isn't a destination, it's a journey.   Logically, I know this.  But keeping my focus for the past couple of weeks has been really hard.

It took me a while to put my finger on why.   This past week I've been hit with cravings, a bottomless hunger that I hadn't experienced before, even in the early days of losing weight.    I couldn't stop thinking about food.   I wanted ice cream, pizza, fistfuls of potato chips.    I didn't eat them, but I couldn't stop obsessing.   It was driving me crazy.

I finally talked to a good friend of mine, who is also in recovery, about how I was feeling.  Through tears I told her how much I was struggling.   She listened sympathetically, and then said, "Honey.  You're afraid."

It hit me, immediately, that she was right.    I am afraid.   Afraid that somehow this new me isn't real, that I won't be able to maintain my weight now that the immediate rewards of losing weight are gone.  I've even had nightmares about this - like the dreams I'd have when I was newly sober that I drank, called "drunk dreams" - I have been plagued by dreams that I wake up and I'm back at my former weight.

I know, logically, that this fear isn't based on anything real.   But getting my brain to realize this is another matter.  In response to the constant fear I was feeling, my brain went into overdrive, went directly to control.    I started over-thinking every bit of food I ate, counting calories like Scrooge counted pennies.   

Control's ugly step-sisters - obsession and compulsion - showed up and made themselves at home.    Because of my fear that this weight loss was some kind of fluke - instead of a consistent, constant process of eating well and exercising - I behaved like a kid who thought someone was going to snatch away her candy; I was fearful, angry, possessive.

Control is a classic response to fear.   When we feel like things are spiraling away from us, we focus our energies on the things we think we can control.  In my case, it was constant calorie counting - something I didn't do much at all for months.  I ate well, exercised, did the next right thing, and the weight came off.    My fear that somehow the weight loss won't stay unless I try harder, do more, led to the obsessive thoughts.   The obsessive thoughts led to cravings.  It owned me. 

I've been here before, in sobriety, and I know what I'm supposed to do.   I'm supposed to surrender my will. 

It's hard.   Such a simple concept, and so difficult to do.   When the obsessive thoughts come, and now that I'm aware of them they aren't hard to identify, I say a simple prayer, like a mantra:   Let go.  Do the next right thing and let go of the outcome.  All you can do is the next thing, so do that, and don't worry about the rest of it. 

I know if I do this, my body will be the size it's supposed to be.   I can't be trusted to know what it is, either.  

I talked to my Jenny Craig consultant about all this, and she understood immediately.   "Don't weigh yourself at home, EVER," she said.   "Come here once a week and we'll walk through it together."     The goal, she went on to explain, is to anesthetize myself to focusing on the number, to begin to trust the process.   "Maintenance is really hard," she said.  "It takes a while to realize that by eating well and exercising, you'll be fine.  It's no more complicated than that."

Just like sobriety: trust the process, let go, do the next right thing and get the hell out of the way. 


  1. ellie this entry is amazing!! ever since having weight loss surgery 5 years ago, me vs. that number has been a consistent battle. i remember early in sobriety watching an intervention where a woman who had a surgery like mine had both gained back all her weight and was so sick from her drinking that she was having symptoms the doctors thought were caner. despite only having a little bit of time sober from alcohol i remember the fear of gaining my weight back scared me more than this woman being 30 and on death's door because of her drinking..

    pretty powerful argument for how strong that fear can be. i am still in the early stages of facing my body image history and seeing healthy weight management as a crucial puzzle piece for my recovery, your honestly and beautiful narrative of the process for you gives me more hope and inspiration than you will ever know. thank you so much!!

  2. This post is so powerful! I too lost weight and I just celebrating 1 year of sobriety and I totally get what you are saying. I find in daily life that so many things run parallel to the sobriety path we walk. The good, the bad, and the difficult.

    Beautiful post.

  3. thanks Ellie, I needed that. I'm stealing your mantra to add to mine: "Be honest and have courage."

  4. I really needed to read this today. I have a lot of weight to lose and I've been messing around, starting Weight Watchers and then falling off the wagon (so to speak) and now I not only understand that I am afraid, I also know that I don't have to control everything all at once. That I can just "do the next right thing." I really needed this today as feeling of anxiety (totally unrelated to anything here) are threatening to overwhelm me. Thank you!

  5. Ellie, bravo to you for using your twelve step program for your weight issues along with the food plan of your choice, Jenny Craig. But, like we say in program, (or at least I've heard in an OA meeting) "I have a step for that." If you have fears about your weight loss, do a 4th step fear inventory. Don't piecemeal your steps for the weight, do this as thoroughly as you've done it for your drinking and you'll have recovery.

  6. Thanks for the comments, everyone .. it helps me to know I'm not alone in feeling this way.

    Christina - I "Be honest and have courage". I'm stealing that one from you. :)

    Linda - That a terrific idea - doing a 4th step around my fear. I think I'm finally getting the first three steps, as it pertains to my weight loss, my eating habits - it makes so much sense to keep on going. Thank you.

  7. I meant to say, in my reply to Christina.. "I LOVE "Be honest and have courage". Typing too fast. :)

  8. This post was so very brave, it takes courage to talk about our fears.... and talking about it helps so much. I meant to tell you yesterday how fabulous you looked... but it seems like once we start talking we don't stop and there's always forgotten things. But you do look fantastic, I think because it radiates from the inside, you know? You're making these changes, lifestyle changes, and it's scary and frightening and new even when it's old.

  9. I've got almost one year of sobriety, and a history of eating disorders -- everything from binge eating/bulimia to anorexia. As hard as it was to give up drinking, the food issues present such a different challenge. Abstinence is just so much easier than moderation, and you cannot abstain from food. You have a good plan -- find the right balance between control and surrendering. And do allow yourself to occasionally indulge a little.

    You look fantastic, great job!

  10. I have friends who want to lose 15lbs and who get very excited for me after I've lost 10lbs. I have 85+lbs to lose and losing the weight isn't the hard part for me, it's maintaining it. So I always hesitate to celebrate any weight loss because I see it as being fairly temporary. It's a hard habit to break, stuffing yourself full of food to suffocate feelings.

  11. Amy, I am SO with you. Notice that there is no real intervention for drowning emotions with food--just shame and embarrassment. People feel for you with any other addiction, but not that one: you're just a fat loser.
    "Control is a classic response to fear." I will take that one to heart. Your honesty keeps you sober and present in life. I will add my favorite movie quote, "The only currency in this bankrupt world is what we share when we are not being cool."