Monday, April 16, 2007

Food For Thought ...

Today, Doreen told me about this show on PBS. I watched the entire thing online.

"FAT: What No One Is Telling You" isn't about shirking responsibility. It's not one of those commercials for a weight-loss pills that reassures, "It's not your fault."

I've struggled with my weight for almost my entire life. These days, I'm thinner, but I'm not thin. I don't know if I'll ever be thin. But thin isn't my goal. Healthy is my goal.

It seems simple enough, right? Eat less, exercise more.

Yup, in theory, that's what it takes.

Except that, as the doctors in this show point out, there's so much we don't understand about the physiology and neurology of our digestive systems. Turns out, people who have gastric bypass surgery don't just lose weight because their stomachs become the size of a walnut. They also lose weight because something is literally changed in their wiring when their small intestine is rerouted.

It's like our gut has a mind of its own, independent of our brain, with the power to override our conscious, logical mind. Which would go a long way toward explaining why we can look at, say, a hot fudge sundae and know we shouldn't eat it, but eat it anyway.

And the thing is, anyone who's never been overweight can't understand the struggle. It's not as simple as, "Well, don't eat that." It's far more complex, not just physiologically, but psychologically, emotionally, genetically.

Food comforts us. Food makes us feel less lonely. Food is our friend. Food is our lover. Food is always there. Food doesn't judge. We judge ourselves.

And it's a swift and steep spiral, our judgment. Eat a cheeseburger and fries and it gets much easier to say, "Well, I might as well have the milkshake, too." And on it goes.

Rocky, a subject of the documentary, decides to undergo gastric bypass. In a heart-wrenching scene, he sits in the dark, crying. "... I really want to lose the weight. But I don't think I'm ready to say goodbye to food," he says. "It's just really hard. But I'm not going to eat tonight. I will not eat. I won't. I won't do it because I know if I do it, I'm not going to have the surgery. I want to be skinny. I want to be healthy. Yeah, I want to be skinny. ... I'm gonna have the surgery. It's gonna change my life forever. Everybody's gonna love me. ... I'm not gonna eat tonight, I will not eat tonight. I can't eat tonight."

"Everybody's gonna love me." There it is. If we're thin, people will love us. If we're fat, people won't. That's enormous baggage. We're not just climbing a mountain, we're pulling a boulder behind us. One misstep and we lose ground and we need to start over again. And sometimes, some days, we just stop trying. "To hell with it," we say. "It'll never happen." And we reach for the chips.

Until we reach the nadir, become so filled with disgust and anger that the pendulum swings the other way, and we start climbing the mountain again. And this time, we gain a little more ground.

Some people reach their goals. Some never do. Dr. Lee Kaplan reveals that only five percent of gastric-bypass patients get to a normal weight. And most people who lose any weight by any means gain it back, often gaining more than they lost.

In You On A Diet, Drs. Oz and Roizen recommend making you-turns: If you get off track and eat something you shouldn't, don't beat yourself up, they say. Just get back on track. Nice thought.

But sometimes, our states of mind make us shrug our collective shoulders and say, "The hell with it," and we don't make a you-turn until the next exit comes along, miles and miles and many M&Ms down the road.

And if you were heavy as a child, the struggle is even harder. Your hormones have been affected and willpower simply isn't powerful enough to overcome the subconscious.

Food addiction is just like drug or alcohol addiction. It has to be managed one day at a time. Except that a cocaine addict can live without cocaine. An alcoholic must avoid all alcohol, but a food addict cannot avoid all food. And so every meal, every snack, tests us. We know we should make good choices, but we didn't gain weight by eating too much lettuce.

It's a lot to chew on, a lot to figure out, more than just steering past McDonald's or saying no to a slice of birthday cake. It's healing old emotional wounds, reprogramming our metabolisms, reprogramming our brains. It's not just saying "no."



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